Short Fiction

By R. A. Lafferty.


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The Six Fingers of Time

He began by breaking things that morning. He broke the glass of water on his night stand. He knocked it crazily against the opposite wall and shattered it. Yet it shattered slowly. This would have surprised him if he had been fully awake, for he had only reached out sleepily for it.

Nor had he wakened regularly to his alarm; he had wakened to a weird, slow, low booming, yet the clock said six, time for the alarm. And the low boom, when it came again, seemed to come from the clock.

He reached out and touched it gently, but it floated off the stand at his touch and bounced around slowly on the floor. And when he picked it up again it had stopped, nor would shaking start it.

He checked the electric clock in the kitchen. This also said six o’clock, but the sweep hand did not move. In his living room the radio clock said six, but the second hand seemed stationary.

“But the lights in both rooms work,” said Vincent. “How are the clocks stopped? Are they on a separate circuit?”

He went back to his bedroom and got his wristwatch. It also said six; and its sweep hand did not sweep.

“Now this could get silly. What is it that would stop both mechanical and electrical clocks?”

He went to the window and looked out at the clock on the Mutual Insurance Building. It said six o’clock, and the second hand did not move.

“Well, it is possible that the confusion is not limited to myself. I once heard the fanciful theory that a cold shower will clear the mind. For me it never has, but I will try it. I can always use cleanliness for an excuse.”

The shower didn’t work. Yes, it did: the water came now, but not like water; like very slow syrup that hung in the air. He reached up to touch it there hanging down and stretching. And it shattered like glass when he touched it and drifted in fantastic slow globs across the room. But it had the feel of water, wet and pleasantly cool. And in a quarter of a minute or so it was down over his shoulders and back, and he luxuriated in it. He let it soak his head and it cleared his wits at once.

“There is not a thing wrong with me. I am fine. It is not my fault that the water is slow this morning and other things awry.”

He reached for the towel and it tore to pieces in his hands like porous wet paper.

Now he became very careful in the way he handled things. Slowly, tenderly, and deftly he took them so that they would not break. He shaved himself without mishap in spite of the slow water in the lavatory also.

Then he dressed himself with the greatest caution and cunning, breaking nothing except his shoe laces, a thing that is likely to happen at any time.

“If there is nothing the matter with me, then I will check and see if there is anything seriously wrong with the world. The dawn was fairly along when I looked out, as it should have been. Approximately twenty minutes have passed; it is a clear morning; the sun should now have hit the top several stories of the Insurance Building.”

But it had not. It was a clear morning, but the dawn had not brightened at all in the twenty minutes. And that big clock still said six. It had not changed.

Yet it had changed, and he knew it with a queer feeling. He pictured it as it had been before. The hour and the minute hand had not moved noticeably. But the second hand had moved. It had moved a third of the dial.

So he pulled up a chair to the window and watched it. He realized that, though he could not see it move, yet it did make progress. He watched it for perhaps five minutes. It moved through a space of perhaps five seconds.

“Well, that is not my problem. It is that of the clock maker, either a terrestrial or a celestial one.”

But he left his rooms without a good breakfast, and he left them very early. How did he know that it was early since there was something wrong with the time? Well, it was early at least according to the sun and according to the clocks, neither of which institutions seemed to be working properly.

He left without a good breakfast because the coffee would not make and the bacon would not fry. And in plain point of fact the fire would not heat. The gas flame came from the pilot light like a slowly spreading stream or an unfolding flower. Then it burned far too steadily. The skillet remained cold when placed over it; nor would water even heat. It had taken at least five minutes to get the water out of the faucet in the first place.

He ate a few pieces of leftover bread and some scraps of meat.

In the street there was no motion, no real motion. A truck, first seeming at rest, moved very slowly. There was no gear in which it could move so slowly. And there was a taxi which crept along, but Charles Vincent had to look at it carefully for some time to be sure that it was in motion. Then he received a shock. He realized by the early morning light that the driver of it was dead. Dead with his eyes wide open!

Slowly as it was going, and by whatever means it was moving, it should really be stopped. He walked over to it, opened the door, and pulled on the brake. Then he looked into the eyes of the dead man. Was he really dead? It was hard to be sure. He felt warm. But, even as Vincent looked, the eyes of the dead man had begun to close. And close they did and open again in a matter of about twenty seconds.

This was weird. The slowly closing and opening eyes sent a chill through Vincent. And the dead man had begun to lean forward in his seat. Vincent put a hand in the middle of the man’s chest to hold him upright, but he found the forward pressure as relentless as it was slow. He was unable to keep the dead man up.

So he let him go, watching curiously; and in a few seconds the driver’s face was against the wheel. But it was almost as if it had no intention of stopping there. It pressed into the wheel with dogged force. He would surely break his face. Vincent took several holds on the dead man and counteracted the pressure somewhat. Yet the face was being damaged, and if things were normal, blood would have flowed.

The man had been dead so long however, that (though he was still warm) his blood must have congealed, for it was fully two minutes before it began to ooze.

“Whatever I have done, I have done enough damage,” said Vincent. “And, in whatever nightmare I am in, I am likely to do further harm if I meddle more. I had better leave it alone.”

He walked on down the morning street. Yet whatever vehicles he saw were moving with an incredible slowness, as though driven by some fantastic gear reduction. And there were people here and there frozen solid. It was a chilly morning, but it was not that cold. They were immobile in positions of motion, as though they were playing the children’s game of Statues.

“How is it,” said Charles Vincent, “that this young girl (who I believe works across the street from us) should have died standing up and in full stride? But, no. She is not dead. Or, if so, she died with a very alert expression. And⁠—oh, my God, she’s doing it too!”

For he realized that the eyes of the girl were closing, and in the space of no more than a quarter of a second they had completed their cycle and were open again. Also, and this was even stranger, she had moved, moved forward in full stride. He would have timed her if he could, but how could he when all the clocks were crazy? Yet she must have been taking about two steps a minute.

He went into the cafeteria. The early morning crowd that he had often watched through the windows was there. The girl who made flapjacks in the window had just flipped one and it hung in the air. Then it floated over as if caught by a slight breeze, and sank slowly down as if settling in water.

The breakfasters, like the people in the street, were all dead in this new way, moving with almost imperceptible motion. And all had apparently died in the act of drinking coffee, eating eggs, or munching toast. And if there were only time enough, there was even a chance that they would get the drinking, eating, and munching done with, for there was the shadow of movement in them all.

The cashier had the register drawer open and money in her hand, and the hand of the customer was outstretched for it. In time, somewhere in the new leisurely time, the hands would come together and the change be given. And so it happened. It may have been a minute and a half, or two minutes, or two and a half. It is always hard to judge time, and now it had become all but impossible.

“I am still hungry,” said Charles Vincent, “but it would be foolhardy to wait for service here. Should I help myself? They will not mind if they are dead. And if they are not dead, in any case it seems that I am invisible to them.”

He wolfed several rolls. He opened a bottle of milk and held it upside down over his glass while he ate another roll. Liquids had all become perversely slow.

But he felt better for his erratic breakfast. He would have paid for it, but how?

He left the cafeteria and walked about the town as it seemed still to be quite early, though one could depend on neither sun nor clock for the time any more. The traffic lights were unchanging. He sat for a long time in a little park and watched the town and the big clock in the Commerce Building tower; but like all the clocks it was either stopped or the hand would creep too slowly to be seen.

It must have been just about an hour till the traffic lights changed, but change they did at last. By picking a point on the building across the street and watching what moved past it, he found that the traffic did indeed move. In a minute or so, the entire length of a car would pass the given point.

He had, he recalled, been very far behind in his work and it had been worrying him. He decided to go to the office, early as it was or seemed to be.

He let himself in. Nobody else was there. He resolved not to look at the clock and to be very careful of the way he handled all objects because of his new propensity for breaking things. This considered, all seemed normal there. He had said the day before that he could hardly catch up on his work if he put in two days solid. He now resolved at least to work steadily until something happened, whatever it was.

For hour after hour he worked on his tabulations and reports. Nobody else had arrived. Could something be wrong? Certainly something was wrong. But this was not a holiday. That was not it.

Just how long can a stubborn and mystified man plug away at his task? It was hour after hour after hour. He did not become hungry nor particularly tired. And he did get through a lot of work.

“It must be half done. However it has happened, I have caught up on at least a day’s work. I will keep on.”

He must have continued silently for another eight or ten hours.

He was caught up completely on his back work.

“Well, to some extent I can work into the future. I can head up and carry over. I can put in everything but the figures of the field reports.”

And he did so.

“It will be hard to bury me in work again. I could almost coast for a day. I don’t even know what day it is, but I must have worked twenty hours straight through and nobody has arrived. Perhaps nobody ever will arrive. If they are moving with the speed of the people in the nightmare outside, it is no wonder they have not arrived.”

He put his head down on his arms on the desk. The last thing he saw before he closed his eyes was the misshapen left thumb that he had always tried to conceal a little by the way he handled his hands.

“At least I know that I am still myself. I’d know myself anywhere by that.”

Then he went to sleep at his desk.

Jenny came in with a quick click-click-click of high heels, and he wakened to the noise.

“What are you doing dozing at your desk, Mr. Vincent? Have you been here all night?”

“I don’t know, Jenny. Honestly I don’t.”

“I was only teasing. Sometimes when I get here a little early I take a catnap myself.”

The clock said six minutes till eight and the second hand was sweeping normally. Time had returned to the world. Or to him. But had all that early morning of his been a dream? Then it had been a very efficient dream. He had accomplished work that he could hardly have done in two days. And it was the same day that it was supposed to be.

He went to the water fountain. The water now behaved normally. He went to the window. The traffic was behaving as it should. Though sometimes slow and sometimes snarled, yet it was in the pace of the regular world.

The other workers arrived. They were not balls of fire, but neither was it necessary to observe them for several minutes to be sure they weren’t dead.

“It did have its advantages,” Charles Vincent said. “I would be afraid to live with it permanently, but it would be handy to go into for a few minutes a day and accomplish the business of hours. I may be a case for the doctor. But just how would I go about telling a doctor what was bothering me?”

Now it had surely been less than two hours from his first rising till the time that he wakened to the noise of Jenny from his second sleep. And how long that second sleep had been, or in which time enclave, he had no idea. But how account for it all? He had spent a long while in his own rooms, much longer than ordinary in his confusion. He had walked the city mile after mile in his puzzlement. And he had sat in the little park for hours and studied the situation. And he had worked at his own desk for an outlandish long time.

Well, he would go to the doctor. A man is obliged to refrain from making a fool of himself to the world at large, but to his own lawyer, his priest, or his doctor he will sometimes have to come as a fool. By their callings they are restrained from scoffing openly.

Dr. Mason was not particularly a friend. Charles Vincent realized with some unease that he did not have any particular friends, only acquaintances and associates. It was as though he were of a species slightly apart from his fellows. He wished now a little that he had a particular friend.

But Dr. Mason was an acquaintance of some years, had the reputation of being a good doctor, and besides Vincent had now arrived at his office and been shown in. He would either have to⁠—well, that was as good a beginning as any.

“Doctor, I am in a predicament. I will either have to invent some symptoms to account for my visit here, or make an excuse and bolt, or tell you what is bothering me, even though you will think I am a new sort of idiot.”

“Vincent, every day people invent symptoms to cover their visits here, and I know that they have lost their nerve about the real reason for coming. And every day people do make excuses and bolt. But experience tells me that I will get a larger fee if you tackle the third alternative. And, Vincent, there is no new sort of idiot.”

Vincent said, “It may not sound so silly if I tell it quickly. I awoke this morning to some very puzzling incidents. It seemed that time itself had stopped, or that the whole world had gone into super-slow motion. The water would neither flow nor boil, and fire would not heat food. The clocks, which I first believed had stopped, crept along at perhaps a minute an hour. The people I met in the streets appeared dead, frozen in lifelike attitudes. And it was only by watching them for a very long time that I perceived that they did indeed have motion. One car I saw creeping slower than the most backward snail, and a dead man at the wheel of it. I went to it, opened the door, and put on the brake. I realized after a time that the man was not dead. But he bent forward and broke his face on the steering wheel. It must have taken a full minute for his head to travel no more than ten inches, yet I was unable to prevent his hitting the wheel. I then did other bizarre things in a world that had died on its feet. I walked many miles through the city, and then I sat for hours in the park. I went to the office and let myself in. I accomplished work that must have taken me twenty hours. I then took a nap at my desk. When I awoke on the arrival of the others, it was six minutes to eight in the morning of the same day, today. Not two hours had passed from my rising, and time was back to normal. But the things that happened in that time that could never be compressed into two hours.”

“One question first, Vincent. Did you actually accomplish the work of many hours?”

“I did. It was done, and done in that time. It did not become undone on the return of time to normal.”

“A second question. Had you been worried about your work, about being behind?”

“Yes. Emphatically.”

“Then here is one explanation. You retired last night. But very shortly afterward you arose in a state of somnambulism. There are facets of sleepwalking which we do not at all understand. The time-out-of-focus interludes were parts of a walking dream of yours. You dressed and went to your office and worked all night. It is possible to do routine tasks in a somnambulistic state rapidly and even feverishly, with an intense concentration⁠—to perform prodigies. You may have fallen into a normal sleep there when you had finished, or you may have been awakened directly from your somnambulistic trance on the arrival of your co-workers. There, that is a plausible and workable explanation. In the case of an apparently bizarre happening, it is always well to have a rational explanation to fall back on. They will usually satisfy a patient and put his mind at rest. But often they do not satisfy me.”

“Your explanation very nearly satisfies me, Dr. Mason, and it does put my mind considerably at rest. I am sure that in a short while I will be able to accept it completely. But why does it not satisfy you?”

“One reason is a man I treated early this morning. He had his face smashed, and he had seen⁠—or almost seen⁠—a ghost: a ghost of incredible swiftness that was more sensed than seen. The ghost opened the door of his car while it was going at full speed, jerked on the brake, and caused him to crack his head. This man was dazed and had a slight concussion. I have convinced him that he did not see any ghost at all, that he must have dozed at the wheel and run into something. As I say, I am harder to convince than my patients. But it may have been coincidence.”

“I hope so. But you also seem to have another reservation.”

“After quite a few years in practice, I seldom see or hear anything new. Twice before I have been told a happening or a dream on the line of what you experienced.”

“Did you convince your patients that it was only a dream?”

“I did. Both of them. That is, I convinced them the first few times it happened to them.”

“Were they satisfied?”

“At first. Later, not entirely. But they both died within a year of their first coming to me.”

“Nothing violent, I hope.”

“Both had the gentlest deaths. That of senility extreme.”

“Oh. Well, I’m too young for that.”

“I would like you to come back in a month or so.”

“I will, if the delusion or the dream returns. Or if I do not feel well.”

After this Charles Vincent began to forget about the incident. He only recalled it with humor sometimes when again he was behind in his work.

“Well, if it gets bad enough I may do another sleepwalking act and catch up. But if there is another aspect of time and I could enter it at will, it might often be handy.”

Charles Vincent never saw his face at all. It is very dark in some of those clubs and the Coq Bleu is like the inside of a tomb. He went to the clubs only about once a month, sometimes after a show when he did not want to go home to bed, sometimes when he was just plain restless.

Citizens of the more fortunate states may not know of the mysteries of the clubs. In Vincent’s the only bars are beer bars, and only in the clubs can a person get a drink, and only members are admitted. It is true that even such a small club as the Coq Bleu had thirty thousand members, and at a dollar a year that is a nice sideline. The little numbered membership cards cost a penny each for the printing, and the member wrote in his own name. But he had to have a card⁠—or a dollar for a card⁠—to gain admittance.

But there could be no entertainments in the clubs. There was nothing there but the little bar room in the near darkness.

The man was there, and then he was not, and then he was there again. And always where he sat it was too dark to see his face.

“I wonder,” he said to Vincent (or to the bar at large, though there were no other customers and the bartender was asleep), “I wonder if you have ever read Zurbarin on the Relationship of Extradigitalism to Genius?”

“I have never heard of the work nor of the man,” said Vincent. “I doubt if either exists.”

“I am Zurbarin,” said the man.

Vincent hid his misshapen left thumb. Yet it could not have been noticed in that light, and he must have been crazy to believe there was any connection between it and the man’s remark. It was not truly a double thumb. He was not an extradigital, nor was he a genius.

“I refuse to become interested in you,” said Vincent. “I am on the verge of leaving. I dislike waking the bartender, but I did want another drink.”

“Sooner done than said.”

“What is?”

“Your glass is full.”

“It is? So it is. Is it a trick?”

“Trick is the name for anything either too frivolous or too mystifying for us to comprehend. But on one long early morning of a month ago, you also could have done the trick, and nearly as well.”

“Could I have? How would you know about my long early morning⁠—assuming there to have been such?”

“I watched you for a while. Few others have the equipment to watch you with when you’re in the aspect.”

So they were silent for some time, and Vincent watched the clock and was ready to go.

“I wonder,” said the man in the dark, “if you have read Schimmelpenninck on the Sexagintal and the Duodecimal in the Chaldee Mysteries?”

“I have not and I doubt if anyone else has. I would guess that you are also Schimmelpenninck and that you have just made up the name on the spur of the moment.”

“I am Schimm, it is true, but I made up the name on the spur of a moment many years ago.”

“I am a little bored with you,” said Vincent, “but I would appreciate it if you’d do your glass-filling trick once more.”

“I have just done so. And you are not bored; you are frightened.”

“Of what?” asked Vincent, whose glass was in fact full again.

“Of reentering a dread that you are not sure was a dream. But there are advantages to being both invisible and inaudible.”

“Can you be invisible?”

“Was I not when I went behind the bar just now and fixed you a drink?”


“A man in full stride goes at the rate of about five miles an hour. Multiply that by sixty, which is the number of time. When I leave my stool and go behind the bar, I go and return at the rate of three hundred miles an hour. So I am invisible to you, particularly if I move while you blink.”

“One thing does not match. You might have got around there and back, but you could not have poured.”

“Shall I say that mastery over liquids is not given to beginners? But for us there are many ways to outwit the slowness of matter.”

“I believe that you are a hoaxer. Do you know Dr. Mason?”

“I know that you went to see him. I know of his futile attempts to penetrate a certain mystery. But I have not talked to him of you.”

“I still believe that you are a phony. Could you put me back into the state of my dream of a month ago?”

“It was not a dream. But I could put you again into that state.”

“Prove it.”

“Watch the clock. Do you believe that I can point my finger at it and stop it for you? It is already stopped for me.”

“No, I don’t believe it. Yes, I guess I have to, since I see that you have just done it. But it may be another trick. I don’t know where the clock is plugged in.”

“Neither do I. Come to the door. Look at every clock you can see. Are they not all stopped?”

“Yes. Maybe the power has gone off all over town.”

“You know it has not. There are still lighted windows in those buildings, though it is quite late.”

“Why are you playing with me? I am neither on the inside nor the outside. Either tell me the secret or say that you will not tell me.”

“The secret isn’t a simple one. It can only be arrived at after all philosophy and learning have been assimilated.”

“One man cannot arrive at that in one lifetime.”

“Not in an ordinary lifetime. But the secret of the secret (if I may put it that way) is that one must use part of it as a tool in learning. You could not learn all in one lifetime, but by being permitted the first step⁠—to be able to read, say, sixty books in the time it took you to read one, to pause for a minute in thought and use up only one second, to get a day’s work accomplished in eight minutes and so have time for other things⁠—by such ways one may make a beginning. I will warn you, though. Even for the most intelligent, it is a race.”

“A race? What race?”

“It is a race between success, which is life, and failure, which is death.”

“Let’s skip the melodrama. How do I get into the state and out of it?”

“Oh, that is simple, so easy that it seems like a gadget. Here are two diagrams I will draw. Note them carefully. This first, envision it in your mind and you are in the state. Now this second one, envision, and you are out of it.”

“That easy?”

“That deceptively easy. The trick is to learn why it works⁠—if you want to succeed, meaning to live.”

So Charles Vincent left him and went home, walking the mile in a little less than fifteen normal seconds. But he still had not seen the face of the man.

There are advantages intellectual, monetary, and amorous in being able to enter the accelerated state at will. It is a fox game. One must be careful not to be caught at it, nor to break or harm that which is in the normal state.

Vincent could always find eight or ten minutes unobserved to accomplish the day’s work. And a fifteen-minute coffee break could turn into a fifteen-hour romp around the town.

There was this boyish pleasure in becoming a ghost: to appear and stand motionless in front of an onrushing train and to cause the scream of the whistle, and to be in no danger, being able to move five or ten times as fast as the train; to enter and to sit suddenly in the middle of a select group and see them stare, and then disappear from the middle of them; to interfere in sports and games, entering a prize ring and tripping, hampering, or slugging the unliked fighter; to blue-shot down the hockey ice, skating at fifteen hundred miles an hour and scoring dozens of goals at either end while the people only know that something odd is happening.

There was pleasure in being able to shatter windows by chanting little songs, for the voice (when in the state) will be to the world at sixty times its regular pitch, though normal to oneself. And for this reason also he was inaudible to others.

There was fun in petty thieving and tricks. He would take a wallet from a man’s pocket and be two blocks away when the victim turned at the feel. He would come back and stuff it into the man’s mouth as he bleated to a policeman.

He would come into the home of a lady writing a letter, snatch up the paper and write three lines and vanish before the scream got out of her throat.

He would take food off forks, put baby turtles and live fish into bowls of soup between spoonfuls of the eater.

He would lash the hands of handshakers tightly together with stout cord. He unzippered persons of both sexes when they were at their most pompous. He changed cards from one player’s hand to another’s. He removed golf balls from tees during the backswing and left notes written large “you missed me” pinned to the ground with the tee.

Or he shaved mustaches and heads. Returning repeatedly to one woman he disliked, he gradually clipped her bald and finally gilded her pate.

With tellers counting their money, he interfered outrageously and enriched himself. He snipped cigarettes in two with a scissors and blew out matches, so that one frustrated man broke down and cried at his inability to get a light.

He removed the weapons from the holsters of policemen and put cap pistols and water guns in their places. He unclipped the leashes of dogs and substituted little toy dogs rolling on wheels.

He put frogs in water glasses and left lighted firecrackers on bridge tables.

He reset wrist watches on wrists, and played pranks in men’s rooms.

“I was always a boy at heart,” said Charles Vincent.

Also during those first few days of the controlled new state, he established himself materially, acquiring wealth by devious ways, and opening bank accounts in various cities under various names, against a time of possible need.

Nor did he ever feel any shame for the tricks he played on unaccelerated humanity. For the people, when he was in the state, were as statues to him, hardly living, barely moving, unseeing, unhearing. And it is no shame to show disrespect to such comical statues.

And also, and again because he was a boy at heart, he had fun with the girls.

“I am one mass of black and blue marks,” said Jenny one day. “My lips are sore and my front teeth feel loosened. I don’t know what in the world is the matter with me.”

Yet he had not meant to bruise or harm her. He was rather fond of her and he resolved to be much more careful. Yet it was fun, when he was in the state and invisible to her because of his speed, to kiss her here and there in out-of-the-way places. She made a nice statue and it was good sport. And there were others.

“You look older,” said one of his co-workers one day. “Are you taking care of yourself? Are you worried?”

“I am not,” said Vincent. “I never felt better or happier in my life.”

But now there was time for so many things⁠—time, in fact, for everything. There was no reason why he could not master anything in the world, when he could take off for fifteen minutes and gain fifteen hours. Vincent was a rapid but careful reader. He could now read from a hundred and twenty to two hundred books in an evening and night; and he slept in the accelerated state and could get a full night’s sleep in eight minutes.

He first acquired a knowledge of languages. A quite extensive reading knowledge of a language can be acquired in three hundred hours world time, or three hundred minutes (five hours) accelerated time. And if one takes the tongues in order, from the most familiar to the most remote, there is no real difficulty. He acquired fifty for a starter, and could always add any other any evening that he found he had a need for it. And at the same time he began to assemble and consolidate knowledge. Of literature, properly speaking, there are no more than ten thousand books that are really worth reading and falling in love with. These were gone through with high pleasure, and two or three thousand of them were important enough to be reserved for future rereading.

History, however, is very uneven; and it is necessary to read texts and sources that for form are not worth reading. And the same with philosophy. Mathematics and science, pure or physical, could not, of course, be covered with the same speed. Yet, with time available, all could be mastered. There is no concept ever expressed by any human mind that cannot be comprehended by any other normal human mind, if time is available and it is taken in the proper order and context and with the proper preparatory work.

And often, and now more often, Vincent felt that he was touching the fingers of the secret; and always, when he came near it, it had a little bit the smell of the pit.

For he had pegged out all the main points of the history of man; or rather most of the tenable, or at least possible, theories of the history of man. It was hard to hold the main line of it, that double road of rationality and revelation that should lead always to a fuller and fuller development (not the fetish of progress, that toy word used only by toy people), to an unfolding and growth and perfectibility.

But the main line was often obscure and all but obliterated, and traced through fog and miasma. He had accepted the Fall of Man and the Redemption as the cardinal points of history. But he understood now that neither happened only once, that both were of constant occurrence; that there was a hand reaching up from that old pit with its shadow over man. And he had come to picture that hand in his dreams (for his dreams were especially vivid when in the state) as a six-digited monster reaching out. He began to realize that the thing he was caught in was dangerous and deadly.

Very dangerous.

Very deadly.

One of the weird books that he often returned to and which continually puzzled him was the Relationship of Extradigitalism to Genius, written by the man whose face he had never seen, in one of his manifestations.

It promised more than it delivered, and it intimated more than it said. Its theory was tedious and tenuous, bolstered with undigested mountains of doubtful data. It left him unconvinced that persons of genius (even if it could be agreed who or what they were) had often the oddity of extra fingers and toes, or the vestiges of them. And it puzzled him what possible difference it could make.

Yet there were hints here of a Corsican who commonly kept a hand hidden, or an earlier and more bizarre commander who wore always a mailed glove, of another man with a glove between the two; hints that the multiplex-adept, Leonardo himself, who sometimes drew the hands of men and often those of monsters with six fingers, may himself have had the touch. There was a comment of Caesar, not conclusive, to the same effect. It is known that Alexander had a minor peculiarity; it is not known what it was; this man made it seem that this was it. And it was averred of Gregory and Augustine, of Benedict and Albert and Acquinas. Yet a man with a deformity could not enter the priesthood; if they had it, it must have been in vestigial form.

There were cases for Charles Magnut and Mahmud, for Saladin the Horseman and for Akhnaton the King; for Homer (a Seleuciad-Greek statuette shows him with six fingers strumming an unidentified instrument while reciting); for Pythagoras, for Buonarroti, Santi, Theotokopolous, van Rijn, Robusti.

Zurbarin catalogued eight thousand names. He maintained that they were geniuses. And that they were extradigitals.

Charles Vincent grinned and looked down at his misshapen or double thumb.

“At least I am in good though monotonous company. But what in the name of triple time is he driving at?”

And it was not long afterward that Vincent was examining cuneiform tablets in the State Museum. These were a broken and not continuous series on the theory of numbers, tolerably legible to the now encyclopedic Charles Vincent. And the series read in part:

“On the divergence of the basis itself and the confusion caused⁠—for it is five, or it is six, or ten or twelve, or sixty or a hundred, or three hundred and sixty or the double hundred, the thousand. The reason, not clearly understood by the people, is that Six and the Dozen are first, and Sixty is a compromise in condescending to the people. For the five, the ten are late, and are no older than the people themselves. It is said, and credited, that people began to count by fives and tens from the number of fingers on their hands. But before the people the⁠—by the reason that they had⁠—counted by sixes and twelves. But Sixty is the number of time, divisible by both, for both must live together in time, though not on the same plane of time⁠—” Much of the rest was scattered. And it was while trying to set the hundreds of unordered clay tablets in proper sequence that Charles Vincent created the legend of the ghost in the museum.

For he spent his multi-hundred-hour nights there studying and classifying. Naturally he could not work without light, and naturally he could be seen when he sat still at his studies. But as the slow-moving guards attempted to close in on him, he would move to avoid them, and his speed made him invisible to them. They were a nuisance and had to be discouraged. He belabored them soundly and they became less eager to try to capture him.

His only fear was that they would some time try to shoot him to see if he were ghost or human. He could avoid a seen shot, which would come at no more than two and a half times his own greatest speed. But an unperceived shot could penetrate dangerously, even fatally, before he twisted away from it.

He had fathered legends of other ghosts, that of the Central Library, that of University Library, that of the John Charles Underwood Jr. Technical Library. This plurality of ghosts tended to cancel out each other and bring believers into ridicule. Even those who had seen him as a ghost did not admit that they believed in the ghosts.

He went back to Dr. Mason for his monthly checkup.

“You look terrible,” said the Doctor. “Whatever it is, you have changed. If you can afford it, you should take a long rest.”

“I have the means,” said Charles Vincent, “and that is just what I will do. I’ll take a rest for a year or two.”

He had begun to begrudge the time that he must spend at the world’s pace. From now on he was regarded as a recluse. He was silent and unsociable, for he found it a nuisance to come back to the common state to engage in conversation, and in his special state voices were too slow-pitched to intrude into his consciousness.

Except that of the man whose face he had never seen.

“You are making very tardy progress,” said the man. Once more they were in a dark club. “Those who do not show more progress we cannot use. After all, you are only a vestigial. It is probable that you have very little of the ancient race in you. Fortunately those who do not show progress destroy themselves. You had not imagined that there were only two phases of time, had you?”

“Lately I have come to suspect that there are many more,” said Charles Vincent.

“And you understand that only one step cannot succeed?”

“I understand that the life I have been living is in direct violation of all that we know of the laws of mass, momentum, and acceleration, as well as those of conservation of energy, the potential of the human person, the moral compensation, the golden mean, and the capacity of human organs. I know that I cannot multiply energy and experience sixty times without a compensating increase of food intake, and yet I do it. I know that I cannot live on eight minutes’ sleep in twenty-four hours, but I do that also. I know that I cannot reasonably crowd four thousand years of experience into one lifetime, yet unreasonably I do not see what will prevent it. But you say I will destroy myself.”

“Those who take only the first step destroy themselves.”

“And how does one take the second step?”

“At the proper moment you will be given the choice.”

“I have the most uncanny feeling that I will refuse the choice.”

“From present indications, you will refuse it. You are fastidious.”

“You have a smell about you, Old Man without a face. I know now what it is. It is the smell of the pit.”

“Are you so slow to learn that?”

“It is the mud from the pit, the same from which the clay tablets were formed, from the old land between the rivers. I’ve dreamed of the six-fingered hand reaching up from the pit and overshadowing us all. And I have read: ‘The people first counted by fives and tens from the number of fingers on their hands. But before the people the⁠—for the reason that they had⁠—counted by sixes and twelves.’ But time has left blanks in those tablets.”

“Yes, time in one of its manifestations has deftly and with a purpose left those blanks.”

“I cannot discover the name of the thing that goes in one of those blanks. Can you?”

“I am part of the name that goes into one of those blanks.”

“And you are the man without a face. But why is it that you overshadow and control people? And to what purpose?”

“It will be long before you know those answers.”

“When the choice comes to me, it will bear very careful weighing.”

After that a chill descended on the life of Charles Vincent, for all that he still possessed his exceptional powers. And he seldom now indulged in pranks.

Except for Jennifer Parkey.

It was unusual that he should be drawn to her. He knew her only slightly in the common world and she was at least fifteen years his senior. But now she appealed to him for her youthful qualities, and all his pranks with her were gentle ones.

For one thing this spinster did not frighten, nor did she begin locking her doors, never having bothered about such things before. He would come behind her and stroke her hair, and she would speak out calmly with that sort of quickening in her voice: “Who are you? Why won’t you let me see you? You are a friend, aren’t you? Are you a man, or are you something else? If you can caress me, why can’t you talk to me? Please let me see you. I promise that I won’t hurt you.”

It was as though she could not imagine that anything strange would hurt her. Or again when he hugged her or kissed her on the nape, she would call: “You must be a little boy, or very like a little boy, whoever you are. You are good not to break my things when you move about. Come here and let me hold you.”

It is only very good people who have no fear at all of the unknown.

When Vincent met Jennifer in the regular world, as he more often now found occasion to do, she looked at him appraisingly, as though she guessed some sort of connection.

She said one day: “I know it is an impolite thing to say, but you do not look well at all. Have you been to a doctor?”

“Several times. But I think it is my doctor who should go to a doctor. He was always given to peculiar remarks, but now he is becoming a little unsettled.”

“If I were your doctor, I believe I would also become a little unsettled. But you should find out what is wrong. You look terrible.”

He did not look terrible. He had lost his hair, it is true, but many men lose their hair by thirty, though not perhaps as suddenly as he had. He thought of attributing it to the air resistance. After all, when he was in the state he did stride at some three hundred miles an hour. And enough of that is likely to blow the hair right off your head. And might that not also be the reason for his worsened complexion and the tireder look that appeared in his eyes? But he knew that this was nonsense. He felt no more air pressure when in his accelerated state than when in the normal one.

He had received his summons. He chose not to answer it. He did not want to be presented with the choice; he had no wish to be one with those of the pit. But he had no intention of giving up the great advantage which he now held over nature.

“I will have it both ways,” he said. “I am already a contradiction and an impossibility. The proverb was only the early statement of the law of moral compensation: ‘You can’t take more out of a basket than it holds.’ But for a long time I have been in violation of the laws and balances. ‘There is no road without a turning,’ ‘Those who dance will have to pay the fiddler,’ ‘Everything that goes up comes down.’ But are proverbs really universal laws? Certainly. A sound proverb has the force of universal law; it is but another statement of it. But I have contradicted the universal laws. It remains to be seen whether I have contradicted them with impunity. ‘Every action has its reaction.’ If I refuse to deal with them, I will provoke a strong reaction. The man without a face said that it was always a race between full knowing and destruction. Very well, I will race them for it.”

They began to persecute him then. He knew that they were in a state as accelerated from his as his was from the normal. To them he was the almost motionless statue, hardly to be told from a dead man. To him they were by their speed both invisible and inaudible. They hurt him and haunted him. But still he would not answer the summons.

When the meeting took place, it was they who had to come to him, and they materialized there in his room, men without faces.

“The choice,” said one. “You force us to be so clumsy as to have to voice it.”

“I will have no part of you. You all smell of the pit, of that old mud of the cuneiforms of the land between the rivers, of the people who were before the people.”

“It has endured a long time, and we consider it as enduring forever. But the Garden which was in the neighborhood⁠—do you know how long the Garden lasted?”

“I don’t know.”

“That all happened in a single day, and before nightfall they were outside. You want to throw in with something more permanent, don’t you.”

“No. I don’t believe I do.”

“What have you to lose?”

“Only my hope of eternity.”

“But you don’t believe in that. No man has ever really believed in eternity.”

“No man has ever either entirely believed or disbelieved in it,” said Charles Vincent.

“At least it cannot be proved,” said one of the faceless men. “Nothing is proved until it is over with. And in this case, if it is ever over with, then it is disproved. And all that time would one not be tempted to wonder, ‘What if, after all, it ends in the next minute?’ ”

“I imagine that if we survive the flesh we will receive some sort of surety,” said Vincent.

“But you are not sure either of such surviving or receiving. Now we have a very close approximation of eternity. When time is multiplied by itself, and that repeated again and again, does that not approximate eternity?”

“I don’t believe it does. But I will not be of you. One of you has said that I am too fastidious. So now will you say that you’ll destroy me?”

“No. We will only let you be destroyed. By yourself, you cannot win the race with destruction.”

After that Charles Vincent somehow felt more mature. He knew he was not really meant to be a six-fingered thing of the pit. He knew that in some way he would have to pay for every minute and hour that he had gained. But what he had gained he would use to the fullest. And whatever could be accomplished by sheer acquisition of human knowledge, he would try to accomplish.

And he now startled Dr. Mason by the medical knowledge he had picked up, the while the doctor amused him by the concern he showed for Vincent. For he felt fine. He was perhaps not as active as he had been, but that was only because he had become dubious of aimless activity. He was still the ghost of the libraries and museums, but was puzzled that the published reports intimated that an old ghost had replaced a young one.

He now paid his mystic visits to Jennifer Parkey less often. For he was always dismayed to hear her exclaim to him in his ghostly form: “Your touch is so changed. You poor thing! Is there anything at all I can do to help you?”

He decided that somehow she was too immature to understand him, though he was still fond of her. He transferred his affections to Mrs. Milly Maltby, a widow at least thirty years his senior. Yet here it was a sort of girlishness in her that appealed to him. She was a woman of sharp wit and real affection, and she also accepted his visitations without fear, following a little initial panic.

They played games, writing games, for they communicated by writing. She would scribble a line, then hold the paper up in the air whence he would cause it to vanish into his sphere. He would return it in half a minute, or half a second by her time, with his retort. He had the advantage of her in time with greatly more opportunity to think up responses, but she had the advantage over him in natural wit and was hard to top.

They also played checkers, and he often had to retire apart and read a chapter of a book on the art between moves, and even so she often beat him; for native talent is likely to be a match for accumulated lore and codified procedure.

But to Milly also he was unfaithful in his fashion, being now interested (he no longer became enamored or entranced) in a Mrs. Roberts, a great-grandmother who was his elder by at least fifty years. He had read all the data extant on the attraction of the old for the young, but he still could not explain his successive attachments. He decided that these three examples were enough to establish a universal law: that a woman is simply not afraid of a ghost, though he touches her and is invisible, and writes her notes without hands. It is possible that amorous spirits have known this for a long time, but Charles Vincent had made the discovery himself independently.

When enough knowledge is accumulated on any subject, the pattern will sometimes emerge suddenly, like a form in a picture revealed where before it was not seen. And when enough knowledge is accumulated on all subjects, is there not a chance that a pattern governing all subjects will emerge?

Charles Vincent was caught up in one last enthusiasm. On a long vigil, as he consulted source after source and sorted them in his mind, it seemed that the pattern was coming out clearly and simply, for all its amazing complexity of detail.

“I know everything that they know in the pit, and I know a secret that they do not know. I have not lost the race⁠—I have won it. I can defeat them at the point where they believe themselves invulnerable. If controlled hereafter, we need at least not be controlled by them. It is all falling together now. I have found the final truth, and it is they who have lost the race. I hold the key. I will now be able to enjoy the advantage without paying the ultimate price of defeat and destruction, or of collaboration with them.

“Now I have only to implement my knowledge, to publish the fact, and one shadow at least will be lifted from mankind. I will do it at once. Well, nearly at once. It is almost dawn in the normal world. I will sit here a very little while and rest. Then I will go out and begin to make contact with the proper persons for the disposition of this thing. But first I will sit here a little while and rest.”

And he died quietly in his chair as he sat there.

Dr. Mason made an entry in his private journal: “Charles Vincent, a completely authenticated case of premature aging, one of the most clear-cut in all gerontology. This man was known to me for years, and I here aver that as of one year ago he was of normal appearance and physical state, and that his chronology is also correct, I having also known his father. I examined the subject during the period of his illness, and there is no question at all of his identity, which has also been established for the record by fingerprinting and other means. I aver that Charles Vincent at the age of thirty is dead of old age, having the appearance and organic condition of a man of ninety.”

Then the doctor began to make another note: “As in two other cases of my own observation, the illness was accompanied by a certain delusion and series of dreams, so nearly identical in the three men as to be almost unbelievable. And for the record, and no doubt to the prejudice of my own reputation, I will set down the report of them here.”

But when Dr. Mason had written that, he thought about it for a while.

“No, I will do no such thing,” he said, and he struck out the last lines he had written. “It is best to let sleeping dragons lie.”

And somewhere the faceless men with the smell of the pit on them smiled to themselves in quiet irony.

McGonigal’s Worm

When it happened, it happened unnoticed. Though it affected all chordata on Earth (with a possible exception to be noted in a moment), nobody knew of it, not even the Prince of all chordata, Man himself. How could he have known of it so soon?

Though his lifeline had suddenly been cut, it was a long lifeline and death would still be far off. So it was not suspected for nearly twenty-four hours, nor accepted even as a working theory for nearly three days, and not realized in its full implications for a week.

Now, what had occurred was a sudden and worldwide adynatogenesis of all chordata, not, however, adynatotokos; this distinction for many years offered students of the phenomenon some hope.

And another hope was in the fact that one small but genuine member of chordate was not affected: an enteropneustron, a balanoglossida of the oddest sort, a creature known as McGonigal’s Worm. Yet what hope this creature could offer was necessarily a small one.

The catastrophe was first sensed by a hobbyist about a day after it occurred. It was just that certain experiments did not act right and the proper results were not forthcoming. And on the second day (Monday) there were probably a hundred notations of quite unusual and unstatistical behavior, but as yet the pattern was not at all suspected.

On the third day a cranky and suspicious laboratory worker went to a supply house with the angry charge that he had been sold sterile mice. This was something that could not be ignored, and it is what brought the pattern of the whole thing into the open, with corroboration developing with explosive rapidity. Not completely in the open, of course, for fear of panic if it reached the public. But throughout the learned fraternity the news went like a seismic shock.

When it did reach the public a week later, though, it was greeted with hoots of laughter. The people did not believe it.

“The cataloguing of evidence becomes tiresome,” said Director Concord of the newly originated Palingenesia Institute. “The facts are incontrovertible. There has been a loss of the power to conceive in sea squirt, lancelet, hag fish, skate, sea cat, fish, frog, alligator, snake, turtle, seal, porpoise, mouse, bat, bird, hog, horse, monkey, and man. It happened suddenly, perhaps instantaneously. We cannot find the cure. Yet it is almost certain that those children already in the womb will be the last ever born on Earth. We do not know whether it is from a natural cause or an enemy has done this to us. We have, for ten months, tested nearly everything in the world and we have found no answer. Yet, oddly enough, there is no panic.”

“Except among ourselves,” said Appleby, his assistant, “whose province is its study. But the people have accepted it so completely that their main interest now is in the world sweepstakes, with the total sums wagered now in the billions.”

“Yes, the betting on the last child to be born in the world. It will prove one point, at least. The old legal limit on posthumous paternity was a year and a day. Will it be surpassed? The Algerian claimant on all evidence has nearly three months to go. And the betters on the Afghan have not yet given up. The Spanish Pretender is being delayed, according to rumor, medically, and there are some pretty angry protests about this. It is not at all fair; we know that. But then a comprehensive set of rules was never drawn up to cover all nations; Spain simply chose not to join the pact. But there may be trouble if the Spanish backers try to collect.”

“And there is also a newly heard of Mexican claimant.”

“I give little credit to this Juanita-Come-Lately. If she was to be a serious contestant, why was she not known of before?”

The Algerian claimant, however, was the winner. And the time was an unbelievable three hundred and eighty-eight days. So the last child on Earth, in all likelihood, had been born.

There were now about thirty institutes working on the problem, most of them on an international basis. Thirteen years had gone by, and one hope had died. This was that those already in the womb at the time of catastrophe might themselves prove to be fertile. It was now seen that this would not prove so, unless for some reason it was to be quite a delayed fertility.

The Cosmic Causes Council had by no means come to a dead end. It had come to so many live ends as to be even more bewildering.

“The point,” said Hegner in one of his yearly summaries, “is not whether sterility could have been caused by cosmic forces. Of course it could have been. It could have been caused in twenty ways. The miracle is that fertility had ever been possible. There must have been a shield built in for every danger. We know but scantily what some of them are. We do not know which has failed or why.”

“And could the failure have been caused by an enemy?” asked an interlocutor.

“It could have been, certainly. Almost by definition we must call an enemy anything that can harm us. But that it was a conscious enemy is something else again. Who can say what cosmic forces are conscious? Or even what it means to be conscious?”

However, the Possibility Searcher Institute had some spotted success. It had worked out a test, a valid test, of determining whether an individual yet remaining had the spark of possible fertility. And in only a few million tests it had found one male shrew, one male gannet, no less than three males of the yellow perch, one female alligator, and one female mud puppy, all of whom still possessed the potential. This was encouraging, but it did not solve the problem. No issue could be obtained from any possible pairing of these; not that it wasn’t tried.

And when the possibility test was run on all the humans of the Earth, then it was that incredible and unsuspected success crowned the efforts of the institute. For, of a bare three billion persons tested, there were two who tested positive; and (good fortune beyond all hoping), one was male and one was female.

So then the problem was solved. A few years had been lost, it is true, and several generations would be required to get the thing on a sound footing again. But life had been saved. Civilization could yet be transmitted. All was not lost.

Musha ibn Scmuel was an Arabian black, an unthrifty man of tenuous income. His occupation on the cardex was given as thief, but this may have been a euphemism. He was middle-aged and of full vigor, a plain man innocent of shoes or subtlety. He was guilty neither of the wine-hatred of the Musselman nor the garrulousness of the Greek. He possessed his soul in quietude and Port Said whisky and seldom stole more than he needed. And he had a special competence shared by no other man in the world.

Cecilia Clutt was an attractive and snooty spinster of thirty-five. She was a person of inherited as well as acquired wealth, and was an astute business woman and amateur of the arts. She did have a streak of stubbornness in her, but seldom revealed it unless she was crossed.

So, the first time she said no, it was hardly noticed. And the second time she said it, it was felt that she did not quite understand the situation. So it was Carmody Overlark, the silky diplomat, who came to reason with her.

“You are the sole hope of the human race,” he said to her. “In a way, you are the new Eve.”

“I have heard the first one spoken badly of,” said Cecilia. “Yet her only fault was that she could be talked into something. I cannot.”

“But this is important.”

“Not really. If it is our time to disappear, then let us disappear with dignity. What you suggest is without it. It would leave us a little less than human.”

“Miss Clutt, this is a world problem. You are only an individual.”

“I am not only an individual. There is no such thing as only an individual. If ever a person can be spoken of as only an individual, then humanity has already failed.”

“We have tried reason. Now, by special emergency legislation, we are empowered to employ compulsion.”

“We will see. I always did enjoy a good fight.”

Those who read the State Histories of the period will know that it did not come off. But the reasons given there are garbled. “Unforeseen circumstances” cover a multitude of failures. But what really happened was this.

Musha ibn S. had been tractable enough. Though refusing to fly, he had come on shipboard readily. And it was not till they were out of the Inland Sea and on the Atlantic that he showed a certain unease. Finally he asked, reasonably enough, to be shown a picture of his bride. But his reaction on seeing it was not reasonable.

He screamed like a dying camel. And he jumped overboard. He was a determined swimmer and he was heading for home. A boat was put out and it gained on him. But, as it came up to him, he sounded. How deep he dived is not known, but he was never seen again.

On hearing of this, Cecilia Clutt was a little uncertain for the only time in her life. Just to be sure, she asked for a copy of the picture.

“Oh, that one,” said Cecilia. “It is quite a nice picture, really. It flatters me a little. But what an odd reaction. What a truly odd reaction.”

There were repercussions on the economy. The primary schools were now all closed, except for a few turned over to retarded children. In a year or two the high schools would close also. The colleges would perhaps always be maintained, for adult education and for their expanding graduate schools. Yet the zest for the future had diminished, even though the personal future of nobody had been abridged. New construction had almost ceased and multi-bedroom homes became a drug on the market. In a very few years there would be no additions at all to the labor force. Soon there would be no more young soldiers for the armies. And soon the last eyes ever would see the world with the sudden poetic clearness that often comes with adolescence.

There had been a definite letdown in morals. Morals have declined in every generation since the first one, which itself left something to be desired. But this new generation was different. It was a tree that could not bear fruit, a hard-barked, selfish tree. Yet what good to look at it and shudder for the future? The future had already been disposed of.

Now there as a new hobby, a mania that swept the world, the Last Man Clubs, millions of them. Who would be the last person alive on Earth?

But still the institutes labored. The Capsule Institute in particular labored for the codification and preservation of all knowledge. For whom? For those who might come after. Who? Of what species? But still they worked at it.

And the oddest of the institutes was the Bare Chance Transmission Society. In spite of all derision and mockery, it persevered in its peculiar aim: to find some viable creature that could be educated or adapted or mutated to absorb human knowledge and carry on once more the human tradition.

What creature? What possible strain could it be from? What creature on Earth was unaffected?

Well, the largest of them was the giant squid. But it was not promising. It had shown no development in many millions of years; it did not seem capable of development or of education. And, moreover, there are difficulties of rapport with a creature that only can live in the deep sea.

There were the insects. Bees and ants were capable of organization, though intelligence has been denied them. Spiders showed certain rugged abilities, and fruit flies. Special committees were appointed to study each. And then there were the fleas. Old flea-circus grifters were brought out of retirement and given positions of responsibility and power. If fleas could really be taught, then these men could teach them. But though fleas can be taught to wear microscopic spectacles, they cannot be taught to read. It all seemed pretty futile.

And there were the crayfish, the snails, the starfish, the sea cucumber. There were the freshwater flat worm and the liver fluke. There were the polyp, the sponge, the cephalopod. But, after all, none of them was of the main line. They were of the ancestry that had failed. And what of the noble genealogy that had succeeded, that which had risen above all and given civilization, the chordata? Of that noble line, was there nothing left? What was the highest form still reproducing?

McGonigal’s Worm.

It was discouraging.

But for the careful study of M.W., as it was now known, a great new institute was now created. And to the M.W. Institute was channeled all the talent that seemed expedient.

And one of the first to go to work for the Institute in a common capacity was a young lady of thirty-odd named Georgina Hickle. Young lady? Yes. Georgina was within months of being the youngest woman in the world. She was a scatterbrained wife and disliked worms. But one must work and there were at that time no other jobs open.

But she was not impressed by the indoctrination given in this new laboratory.

“You must change your whole way of thinking,” said the doctor who briefed them. “We are seeking new departures. We are looking for any possible breakthrough. You must learn to think of M.W. as the hope of the world.”

“Oog,” said Georgina.

“You must think of M.W. as your very kindred, as your cousin.”

“Oog,” said Georgina.

“You must think of him as your little brother that you have to teach, as your very child, as your cherished son.”

“Oog, oog,” said Georgina, for she disliked worms.

Nor was she happy on the job. She was not good at teaching worms. She believed them both stupid and stubborn. They did not have her sympathy, and after a few weeks they seemed to make her sick.

But her ailment was a mysterious one. None of the young doctors had ever seen anything like it. And it was contagious. Other women in the bright new laboratory began to show similar symptoms. Yet contagion there was impossible, such extreme precautions had been taken for the protection of the worms.

But Georgina did not respond to treatment. And Hickle’s Disease was definitely spreading. Sharper young doctors fresh from the greatest medical schools were called in. They knew all that was to be known of all the new diseases. But they did not know this.

Georgina felt queer now and odd things began to happen to her. Like that very morning on her way to work, that old lady had stared at her.

“Glory be,” said the old lady, “a miracle.” And she crossed herself.

And Georgina heard other comments.

“I don’t believe it. It isn’t possible,” a man said.

“Well, it sure does look like it,” said a woman.

So Georgina took off at noon to visit a psychiatrist and tell him that she imagined that people were staring at her and talking about her, and what should she do. It made her uneasy, she said.

“That’s not what is making you uneasy,” said the psychiatrist. Then he went with her to the laboratory to have a look at some of the other women suffering from this Hickle’s Disease that he had been hearing about. After that, he called the young doctors at the laboratory aside for a consultation.

“I don’t know by what authority you mean to instruct us,” said one. “You haven’t been upgraded for thirty years.”

“I know it.”

“You are completely out of touch with the latest techniques.”

“I know it.”

“You have been described⁠—accurately I believe⁠—as an old fogy.”

“I know that too.”

“Then what could you tell us about a new appearance like Hickle’s Disease?”

“Only that it is not really new. And not, properly speaking, a disease.”

That is why, even today, there are superstitious persons who keep McGonigal’s Worms in small mesh cages in the belief that they insure fertility. It is rank nonsense and rose only because it was in the M.W. laboratory that the return of pregnancy was first noticed and was named for one of the women working there. It is a belief that dates back to that ancient generation, which very nearly became the last generation.

The official explanation, is that the Earth and its solar system, for a period of thirty-five years, was in an area of mysterious cosmic radiation. And afterward it drifted out of that area.

But there are many who still believe in the influence of McGonigal’s Worm.

The Polite People of Pudibundia

“Well, you will soon see for yourself, Marlow. Yes, I know there are peculiar stories about the place. There are about all places. The young pilots who have been there tell some amusing tales about it.”

“Yes. They say the people there are very polite.”

“That is the honorable ancestor of all understatements. One of the pilots, Conrad, told us that the inhabitants must always carry seven types of eyeglasses with them. None of the Puds, you see, may ever gaze directly on another. That would be the height of impoliteness. They wear amber goggles when they go about their world at large, and these they wear when they meet a stranger. But, once they are introduced to him, then they must thereafter look on him through blue glasses. But at a blood relative they gaze through red, and at an in-law through yellow. There are equally interesting colors for other situations.”

“I would like to talk to Conrad. Not that I doubt his reports. It is the things he did not report that interest me.”

“I thought you knew he had died. Thrombosis, though he was sound enough when first certified.”

“But if they are really people, then it should be possible to understand them.”

“But they are not really people. They are metamorphics. They become people only out of politeness.”

“Detail that a little.”

“Oh, they’re biped and of a size of us. They have a chameleon-like skin that can take on any texture they please, and they possess extreme plasticity of features.”

“You mean they can take on the appearance of people at will?”

“So Bently reported.”

“I hadn’t heard of him.”

“Another of the young pilots. According to Bently, not only do the Puds take on a human appearance, they take on the appearance of the human they encounter. Out of politeness, of course.”

“Quite a tribute, though it seems extreme. Could I talk to Bently?”

“Also dead. A promising young man. But he reported some of the most amusing aspects of all: the circumlocutions that the Puds use in speaking our language. Not only is the Second Person eschewed out of politeness, but in a way all the other Persons also. One of them could not call you by your name, Marlow. He would have to say: ‘One hears of one who hears of one of the noble name of Marlow. One hears of one even now in his presence.’ ”

“Yes, that is quite a polite way of saying it. But it would seem that with all their circumlocutions they would be inefficient.”

“Yet they are quite efficient. They do things so well that it is almost imperative that we learn from them. Yet for all our contacts, for all their extreme politeness coupled with their seeming openness, we have been able to learn almost nothing. We cannot learn the secret of the amazing productivity of their fields. According to Sharper, another of the young pilots, they suggest (though so circumspectly that it seems hardly a suggestion, certainly not a criticism) that if we were more polite to our own plants, the plants would be more productive for us; and if we gave the plants the ultimate of politeness, they would give us the ultimate of production.”

“Could I talk to Sharper, or is he also⁠—”

“No, he is not dead. He was quite well till the last several days. Now, however, he is ailing, but I believe it will be possible for you to talk to him before you leave, if he does not worsen.”

“It would still seem difficult for the Puds to get anything done. Wouldn’t a superior be too polite to give a reprimand to an inferior?”

“Probably. But Masters, who visited them, had a theory about it, which is that the inferior would be so polite and deferential that he would do his best to anticipate a wish or a desire, or would go to any lengths to learn the import of an unvoiced preference.”

“Is Masters one of the young pilots?”

“No, an old-timer.”

“Now you do interest me.”

“Dead quite a few years. But it is you who interest me, Marlow. I have been told to give you all the information you need about the Polite People of Pudibundia. And on the subject of the Polite People, I must also be polite. But⁠—saving your presence, and one hears of one who hears and all that⁠—what in gehenna is a captain in Homicide on the Solar Police Force going to Pudibundia about?”

“About murder. That is all I ever go anywhere about. We once had a private motto that we would go to the end of the Earth to solve a case.”

“And now you have amended your motto to ‘to the end of the Earth and beyond’?”

“We have.”

“But what have the Polite People to do with murder? Crime is unknown on Pudibundia.”

“We believe, saving their feelings, that it may not be unknown there. And what I am going to find out is this. There have been pilots for many years who have brought back stories of the Puds, and there are still a few⁠—a very few⁠—young pilots alive to tell those stories. What I am going to find out is why there are no old pilots around telling those stories.”

It wasn’t much of a trip for a tripper, six weeks. And Marlow was well received. His host also assumed the name of Marlow out of politeness. It would have been impossible to render his own name in human speech, and it would have been impossible for him to conceive of using any name except that of his guest, with its modifiers. Yet there was no confusion. Marlow was Marlow, and his host was the One-Million-Times-Lesser-Marlow.

“We could progress much faster,” said Marlow, “if we dispensed with these formalities.”

“Or assumed them as already spoken,” said the One-Million-Times-Lesser-Marlow. “For this, in private, but only in the strictest privacy, we use the deferential ball. Within it are all the formulae written minutely. You have but to pass the ball from hand to hand every time you speak, and it is as if the amenities were spoken. I will give you this for the time of your stay. I beg you never to forget to pass it from hand to hand every time you speak. Should you forget, I would not, of course, be allowed to notice it. But when you were gone, I should be forced to kill myself for the shame of it. For private reasons I wish to avoid this and therefore beseech you to be careful.”

The One-Million-Times-Lesser-Marlow (hereafter to be called OMTLM for convenience but not out of any lack of politeness) gave Marlow a deferential ball, about the size of a ping-pong ball. And so they talked.

“As a police official, I am particularly interested in the crime situation on Pud,” said Marlow. “An index of zero is⁠—well, if I could find a politer word I would use it⁠—suspicious. And as you are, as well as I can determine, the head police official here, though in politeness your office would have another name, I am hoping that you can give me information.”

“Saving your grace, and formula of a formula, what would you have me tell you about?”

“Suppose that a burglar (for politeness sake called something else) were apprehended by a policeman (likewise), what would happen?”

“Why, the policeman (not so called, and yet we must be frank) would rattle his glottis in the prescribed manner.”

“Rattle his gl⁠—I see. He would clear his throat with the appropriate sound. And then the burglar (not so called)?”

“Would be covered with shame, it is true, but not fatally. For the peace of his own soul, he would leave the site in as dignified a manner as possible.”

“With or without boodle?”

“Naturally without. One apprehended in the act is obliged to abandon his loot. That is only common politeness.”

“I see. And if the burglar (not so called) remains unapprehended? How is the loss of the goods or property recorded?”

“It goes into the coefficient of general diminution of merchandise, which is to say shrinkage, wastage or loss. At certain times and places this coefficient becomes alarmingly large. Then it is necessary to use extraordinary care; and in extreme cases a thrice-removed burglar may become so ashamed of himself that he will die.”

“That he will die of shame? Is that a euphemism?”

“Let us say that it is a euphemism of a euphemism.”

“Thrice-removed, I imagine. And what of other crimes?”

Here OMTLM rattled his glottis in a nervous manner, and Marlow hurriedly transferred his deferential ball to the other hand, having nearly forgotten it.

“There being no crime, we can hardly speak of other crimes,” said OMTLM. “But perhaps in another matter of speaking, you refer to⁠—”

“Crimes of violence,” said Marlow.

“Saving your presence, and formula of a formula, what would we have to be violent about? What possible cause?”

“The usual: greed, lust, jealousy, anger, revenge, plain perversity.”

“Here also it is possible for one to die of shame, sometimes the offender, sometimes the victim, sometimes both. A jealous person might permit both his wife and her paramour to die of shame. And the State in turn might permit him to perish likewise, unless there were circumstances to modify the degree of shame; then he might still continue to live, often in circumscribed circumstances, for a set number of years. Each case must be decided on its own merits.”

“I understand your meaning. But why build a fence around it?”

“I do not know what you mean.”

“I believe that you do. Why are the Polite People of Pudibundia so polite? Is it simply custom?”

“It is more than that,” said the polite Pud.

“Then there is a real reason for it? And can you tell it to me?”

“There is a real reason for it. I cannot tell it to you now, though, and perhaps not ever. But there is a chance that you may be given a demonstration of it just before you leave. And if you are very wise, you may be able then to guess the reason. I believe that there are several who have guessed it. I hope that we will have time for other discussions before you leave our sphere. And I sincerely do hope that your stay on Pudibundia is a pleasant one. And now, saving your presence, we must part. Formula of a formula.”

“Formula of a formula and all that,” said Marlow, and went to discover the pleasures of Pudibundia.

Among the pleasures of Pud was Mitzi (Miniature Image a thousand-times-removed of the Zestful Irma) who had now shaped up into something very nice. And shaped up is the correct term.

At first Marlow was shocked by the appearance of all the females he met on Pud. Crude-featured, almost horse-faced, how could they all look like that? And he was even more shocked when he finally realized the reason. He had become used to the men there looking like himself out of politeness. And this⁠—this abomination⁠—was the female version of his own appearance!

But he was a man of resources. He took from his pocket a small picture of Irma that he always carried, and showed it to the most friendly of the girls.

“Could you possibly⁠—?”

“Look like that? Why, of course. Let me study it for a moment. Now, then.”

So the girl assumed the face of Irma.

“Incredible,” said Marlow, “except Irma is redheaded.”

“You have only to ask. The photo is not colored and so I did not know. We will try this shade to start with.”

“Close, but could you turn it just a little darker?”

“Of course.”

And there she was Irma of the most interesting face and wonderful hair. But the picture had been of the face only. Below that, the girl was a sack. If only there were some way to convey what was lacking.

“You still are not pleased with me,” said the Miniature Image a thousand-times-removed of the Zestful Irma (Mitzi). “But you have only to demonstrate. Show me with your hands.”

Marlow with his hands sculptured in the air the figure of Irma as he remembered it, and Mitzi assumed the form, first face on, then face away, then in profile. And when they had it roughly, they perfected it, a little more here, a little less there. But there were points where his memory failed him.

“If you could only give me an idea of the convolutions of her ears,” said Mitzi, “and the underlying structure of the metatarsus. My only desire is to please. Or shall I improvise where you do not remember?”

“Yes, do that, Mitzi.”

And how that girl could improvise!

Marlow and Mitzi were now buddies. They made a large evening of it. They tied one on; formula of a formula, but they tied one on. They went on a thrice-removed bender. At the Betelgeuse Bar and Grill, they partook of the cousin of the cousin of the alcohol itself in the form of the nono-rhumbezoid, made of nine kinds of rum. At the B-flat Starlight Club, they listened to the newest and most exciting music on all Pudibundia. At Alligator John’s, one checks his inhibitions at the door. Here one also checks his deferential ball. Of course the formulae are built into the walls and at each exchange it is always assumed that they are said.

But the Iris Room is really the ultimate. The light comes through seven different colors of glass, and it is very dim when it arrives. And there the more daring remove their goggles entirely and go about without them in the multicolored twilight. This is illegal. It is even foolhardy. There is no Earthly equivalent to it. To divest oneself and disport with Nudists would be tame in comparison. But Mitzi and her friends were of the reckless generation, and the Iris Room was their rendezvous.

The orgy will not be detailed here. The floor show was wild. Yet we cannot credit the rumor that the comedian was so crude as to look directly at the audience even in that colored twilight; or they so gauche as to laugh outright at the jokes, they who had been taught always to murmur, “One knows of one who knows of one who ventures to smile.” Yet there was no doubting that the Iris Room was a lively place. And when they left it at dawn, Marlow was pleased and sleepy and tipsy.

There was a week of pleasure on Pudibundia: swimming with Mitzi down at West Beach, gourmandizing with Mitzi at Gastrophiles, dancing with Mitzi, pub-crawling, romancing, carrying on generally. The money exchange was favorable and Marlow was on an expense account. It was a delightful time.

But still he did not forget the job he was on, and in the midst of his pleasure he sought always for information.

“When I return here,” he said slyly, “we will do the many things that time does not allow. When I come back here⁠—”

“But you will not return,” said Mitzi. “Nobody ever does.”

“And why not? It is surely a pleasant place to return to. Why won’t I return?”

“If you cannot guess, then I cannot tell you. Do you have to know why?”

“Yes, I have to know why. That is why I came here, to find out. To find out why the young men who come here will never be able to return here, or to anywhere else.”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Then give me a clue.”

“In the Iris Room was a clue. It was not till the color-filtered light intruded between us that we might safely take off our goggles. I would save you if I could. I want you to come back. But those higher in authority make the decisions. When you leave, you will not return here, or anywhere else. But already one has spoken to one who has spoken to one who has spoken too much.”

“There is a point beyond which politeness is no longer a virtue, Mitzi.”

“I know. If I could change it, I would.”

So the period of the visit was at an end, and Marlow was at his last conference with OMTLM, following which he would leave Pudibundia, perhaps forever.

“Is there anything at all else you would like to know?” asked OMTLM.

“There is almost everything that I still want to know. I have found out nothing.”

“Then ask.”

“I don’t know how. If I knew the questions to ask, it is possible that I would already know the answers.”

“Yes, that is entirely possible.”

OMTLM seemed to look at him with amused eyes. And yet the eyes were hidden behind purple goggles. Marlow had never seen the eyes of OMTLM. He had never seen the eyes of any of the Puds. Even in the Iris Room, in that strangely colored light, it had not been possible to see their eyes.

“Are you compelling me to do something?” asked Marlow.

“I may be compelling you to think of the question that has eluded you.”

“Would you swear that I have not been given some fatal sickness?”

“I can swear that to the very best of my knowledge you have not.”

“Are you laughing at me with your eyes?”

“No. My eyes have compassion for you.”

“I have to see them.”

“You are asking that?”

“Yes. I believe the answer to my question is there,” Marlow said firmly.

OMTLM took off his purple goggles. His were clear, intelligent eyes and there was genuine compassion in them.

“Thank you,” said Marlow. “If the answer is there, it still eludes me. I have failed in my mission for information. But I will return again. I will still find out what it is that is wrong here.”

“No, you will not return.”

“What will prevent me?” asked Marlow.

“Your death in a very few weeks.”

“What will I die of?”

“What did all your young pilots die of?”

“But you swore that you did not know of any sickness I could have caught here!” Marlow cried.

“That was true when I said it. It was not true a moment later.”

“Did all the pilots ask to see your eyes?”

“Yes. All. Curiosity is a failing of you Earthlings.”

“Is it that the direct gaze of the Puds kills?”

“Yes. Even ourselves it would kill. That is why we have our eyes always shielded. That is also why we erect another shield: that of our ritual politeness, so that we may never forget that too intimate an encounter of our persons may be fatal.”

“Then you have just murdered me?”

“Let us say rather that one hears of one who hears of one who killed unwillingly.”

“Why did you do it to me?” demanded Marlow.

“You asked to see my eyes. It would not be polite to refuse.”

“It takes you several weeks to kill. I can do it in a few seconds.”

“You would be wrong to try. Our second glance kills instantly.”

“Let’s see if it’s faster than a gun!”

But OMTLM had not lied.

It is not polite to lie on Pudibundia.

Marlow died instantly.

And that is why (though you may sometimes hear a young pilot tell amusing stories immediately⁠—oh, very immediately⁠—on his return from Pudibundia) you will never find an old pilot who has ever been there.

In the Garden

The protozoic recorder chirped like a bird. Not only would there be life traces on that little moon, but it would be a lively place. So they skipped several steps in the procedure.

The chordata discerner read “Positive” over most of the surface. There was spinal fluid on that orb, rivers of it. So again they omitted several tests and went to the cognition scanner. Would it show Thought on the body?

Naturally they did not get results at once, nor did they expect to; it required a fine adjustment. But they were disappointed that they found nothing for several hours as they hovered high over the rotation. Then it came⁠—clearly and definitely, but from quite a small location only.

“Limited,” said Steiner, “as though within a pale. As though there were but one city, if that is its form. Shall we follow the rest of the surface to find another, or concentrate on this? It’ll be twelve hours before it’s back in our ken if we let it go now.”

“Let’s lock on this one and finish the scan. Then we can do the rest of the world to make sure we’ve missed nothing,” said Stark.

There was one more test to run, one very tricky and difficult of analysis, that with the Extraordinary Perception Locator. This was designed simply to locate a source of superior thought. But this might be so varied or so unfamiliar that often both the machine and the designer of it were puzzled as to how to read the results.

The E. P. Locator had been designed by Glaser. But when the Locator had refused to read “Positive” when turned on the inventor himself, bad blood developed between machine and man. Glaser knew that he had extraordinary perception. He was a much honored man in his field. He told the machine so heatedly.

The machine replied, with such warmth that its relays chattered, that Glaser did not have extraordinary perception; he had only ordinary perception to an extraordinary degree. There is a difference, the machine insisted.

It was for this reason that Glaser used that model no more, but built others more amenable. And it was for this reason also that the owners of Little Probe had acquired the original machine so cheaply.

And there was no denying that the Extraordinary Perception Locator (or Eppel) was a contrary machine. On Earth it had read “Positive” on a number of crackpots, including Waxey Sax, a jazz tootler who could not even read music. But it had also read “Positive” on ninety percent of the acknowledged superior minds of the Earth. In space it had been a sound guide to the unusual intelligences encountered. Yet on Suzuki-Mi it had read “Positive” on a two-inch-long worm, only one of them out of billions. For the countless identical worms no trace of anything at all was shown by the test.

So it was with mixed expectations that Steiner locked onto the area and got a flick. He then narrowed to a smaller area (apparently one individual, though this could not be certain) and got very definite action. Eppel was busy. The machine had a touch of the ham in it, and assumed an air of importance when it ran these tests.

Finally it signaled the result, the most exasperating result it ever produces: the single orange light. It was the equivalent of the shrug of the shoulders in a man. They called it the “You tell me light.”

So among the intelligences there was at least one that might be extraordinary, though possibly in a crackpot way. It is good to be forewarned.

“Scan the remainder of the world, Steiner,” said Stark, “and the rest of us will get some sleep. If you find no other spot then we will go down on that one the next time it is in position under us, in about twelve hours.”

“You don’t want to visit any of the other areas first? Somewhere away from the thoughtful creature?”

“No. The rest of the world may be dangerous. There must be a reason that thought is in one spot only. If we find no others then we will go down boldly and visit this.”

So they all, except Steiner, went off to their bunks then: Stark, the Captain; Gregory Gilbert, the executive officer; Wolfgang Langweilig, the engineer; Casper Craig, supercargo, tycoon and 51% owner of the Little Probe, and F. R. Briton, S. J., a Jesuit priest who was linguist and checker champion of the craft.

Dawn did not come to the moon-town. The Little Probe hovered stationary in the light and the moon-town came up under the dawn. Then the Probe went down to visit whatever was there.

“There’s no town,” said Steiner. “Not a building. Yet we’re on the track of the minds. There’s nothing but a meadow and some boscage, a sort of fountain or pool, and four streams coming out of it.”

“Keep on towards the minds,” said Stark. “They’re our target.”

“Not a building, not two sticks or stones placed together. That looks like an Earth-type sheep there. And that looks like an Earth-lion, I’m almost afraid to say. And those two⁠ ⁠… why, they could well be Earth-people. But with a difference. Where is that bright light coming from?”

“I don’t know, but they’re right in the middle of it. Land here. We’ll go to meet them at once. Timidity has never been an efficacious tool with us.”

Well, they were people. And one could only wish that all people were like them. There was a man and a woman, and they were clothed either in very bright garments or in no garments at all, but only in a very bright light.

“Talk to them, Father Briton,” said Stark. “You are the linguist.”

“Howdy,” said the priest.

He may or may not have been understood, but the two of them smiled at him, so he went on.

“Father Briton from Philadelphia,” he said, “on detached service. And you, my good man, what is your handle, your monicker, your tag?”

“Ha-Adamah,” said the man.

“And your daughter, or niece?”

It may be that the shining man frowned momentarily at this; but the woman smiled, proving that she was human.

“The woman is named Hawwah,” said the man. “The sheep is named sheep, the lion is named lion, the horse is named horse and the hoolock is named hoolock.”

“I understand. It is possible that this could go on and on. How is it that you use the English tongue?”

“I have only one tongue; but it is given to us to be understood by all; by the eagle, by the squirrel, by the ass, by the English.”

“We happen to be bloody Yankees, but we use a borrowed tongue. You wouldn’t have a drink on you for a tubful of thirsty travellers, would you?”

“The fountain.”

“Ah⁠—I see.”

But the crew all drank of the fountain to be sociable. It was water, but water that excelled, cool and with all its original bubbles like the first water ever made.

“What do you make of them?” asked Stark.

“Human,” said Steiner. “It may even be that they are a little more than human. I don’t understand that light that surrounds them. And they seem to be clothed, as it were, in dignity.”

“And very little else,” said Father Briton, “though that light trick does serve a purpose. But I’m not sure they’d pass in Philadelphia.”

“Talk to them again,” said Stark. “You’re the linguist.”

“That isn’t necessary here, Captain. Talk to them yourself.”

“Are there any other people here?” Stark asked the man.

“The two of us. Man and woman.”

“But are there any others?”

“How would there be any others? What other kind of people could there be than man and woman?”

“But is there more than one man or woman?”

“How could there be more than one of anything?”

The captain was a little puzzled by this, but he went on doggedly: “Ha-Adamah, what do you think that we are? Are we not people?”

“You are not anything till I name you. But I will name you and then you can be. You are named Captain. He is named Priest. He is named Engineer. He is named Flunky.”

“Thanks a lot,” said Steiner.

“But are we not people?” persisted Captain Stark.

“No. We are the people. There are no people but two. How could there be other people?”

“And the damnest thing about it,” muttered Langweilig, “is, how are you going to prove him wrong? But it does give you a small feeling.”

“Can we have something to eat?” asked the Captain.

“Pick from the trees,” said Ha-Adamah, “and then it may be that you will want to sleep on the grass. Being not of human nature (which does not need sleep or rest), it may be that you require respite. But you are free to enjoy the garden and its fruits.”

“We will,” said Captain Stark.

They wandered about the place, but they were uneasy. There were the animals. The lion and lioness were enough to make one cautious, though they offered no harm. The two bears had a puzzling look, as though they wanted either to frolic with you or to mangle you.

“If there are only two people here,” said Casper Craig, “then it may be that the rest of the world is not dangerous at all. It looked fertile wherever we scanned it, though not so fertile as this central bit. And those rocks would bear examining.”

“Flecked with gold, and possibly with something else,” said Stark. “A very promising site.”

“And everything grows here,” added Steiner. “Those are Earth-fruits and I never saw finer. I’ve tasted the grapes and plums and pears. The figs and dates are superb, the quince is as flavorsome as a quince can be, the cherries are excellent. And I never did taste such oranges. But I haven’t yet tried the⁠—” and he stopped.

“If you’re thinking what I’m afraid to think,” said Gilbert, “then it will be the test at least: whether we’re having a pleasant dream or whether this is reality. Go ahead and eat one.”

“I won’t be the first to eat one. You eat.”

“Ask him first. You ask him.”

“Ha-Adamah, is it allowed to eat the apples?”

“Certainly. Eat. It is the finest fruit in the garden.”

“Well, the analogy breaks down there,” said Stark. “I was almost beginning to believe in the thing. But if it isn’t that, then what. Father Briton, you are the linguist, but in Hebrew does not Ha-Adamah and Hawwah mean⁠—?”

“Of course they do. You know that as well as I.”

“I was never a believer. But would it be possible for the exact same proposition to maintain here as on Earth?”

“All things are possible.”

And it was then that Ha-Adamah, the shining man, gave a wild cry: “No, no. Do not approach it. It is not allowed to eat of that one!”

It was the pomegranate tree, and he was warning Langweilig away from it.

“Once more, Father,” said Stark, “you should be the authority; but does not the idea that it was the apple that was forbidden go back only to a medieval painting?”

“It does. The name of the fruit is not mentioned in Genesis. In Hebrew exegesis, however, the pomegranate is usually indicated.”

“I thought so. Question the man further, Father. This is too incredible.”

“It is a little odd. Adam, old man, how long have you been here?”

“Forever less six days is the answer that has been given to me. I never did understand the answer, however.”

“And have you gotten no older in all that time?”

“I do not understand what ‘older’ is. I am as I have been from the beginning.”

“And do you think that you will ever die?”

“To die I do not understand. I am taught that it is a property of fallen nature to die, and that does not pertain to me or mine.”

“And are you completely happy here?”

“Perfectly happy according to my preternatural state. But I am taught that it might be possible to lose that happiness, and then to seek it vainly through all the ages. I am taught that sickness and ageing and even death could come if this happiness were ever lost. I am taught that on at least one other unfortunate world it has actually been lost.”

“Do you consider yourself a knowledgeable man?”

“Yes, since I am the only man, and knowledge is natural to man. But I am further blessed. I have a preternatural intellect.”

Then Stark cut in once more: “There must be some one question you could ask him, Father. Some way to settle it. I am becoming nearly convinced.”

“Yes, there is a question that will settle it. Adam, old man, how about a game of checkers?”

“This is hardly the time for clowning,” said Stark.

“I’m not clowning, Captain. How about it, Adam? I’ll give you choice of colors and first move.”

“No. It would be no contest. I have a preternatural intellect.”

“Well, I beat a barber who was champion of Germantown. And I beat the champion of Morgan County, Tennessee, which is the hottest checker center on Earth. I’ve played against, and beaten, machines. But I never played a preternatural mind. Let’s just set up the board, Adam, and have a go at it.”

“No. It would be no contest. I would not like to humble you.”

They were there for three days. They were delighted with the place. It was a world with everything, and it seemed to have only two inhabitants. They went everywhere except into the big cave.

“What is there, Adam?” asked Captain Stark.

“The great serpent lives there. I would not disturb him. He has long been cranky because plans he had for us did not materialize. But we are taught that should ever evil come to us, which it cannot if we persevere, it will come by him.”

They learned no more of the real nature of the sphere in their time there. Yet all but one of them were convinced of the reality when they left. And they talked of it as they took off.

“A crowd would laugh if told of it,” said Stark, “but not many would laugh if they had actually seen the place, or them. I am not a gullible man, but I am convinced of this: that this is a pristine and pure world and that ours and all the others we have visited are fallen worlds. Here are the prototypes of our first parents before their fall. They are garbed in light and innocence, and they have the happiness that we have been seeking for centuries. It would be a crime if anyone disturbed that happiness.”

“I too am convinced,” said Steiner. “It is Paradise itself, where the lion lies down with the lamb, and where the serpent has not prevailed. It would be the darkest of crimes if we or others should play the part of the serpent, and intrude and spoil.”

“I am probably the most skeptical man in the world,” said Casper Craig the tycoon, “but I do believe my eyes. I have been there and seen it. It is indeed an unspoiled Paradise; and it would be a crime calling to the wide heavens for vengeance for anyone to smirch in any way that perfection.

“So much for that. Now to business. Gilbert, take a gram: Ninety Million Square Miles of Pristine Paradise for Sale or Lease. Farming, Ranching, exceptional opportunities for Horticulture. Gold, Silver, Iron, Earth-Type Fauna. Terms. Special Rates for Large Settlement Parties. Write, Gram, or call in person at any of our planetary offices as listed below. Ask for Brochure⁠—Eden Acres Unlimited.”

Down in the great cave that Old Serpent, a two-legged one among whose names were “Snake-Oil Sam,” spoke to his underlings:

“It’ll take them fourteen days to get back with the settlers. We’ll have time to overhaul the blasters. We haven’t had any well-equipped settlers for six weeks. It used to be we’d hardly have time to strip and slaughter and stow before there was another batch to take care of.”

“I think you’d better write me some new lines,” said Adam. “I feel like a goof saying those same ones to each bunch.”

“You are a goof, and therefore perfect for the part. I was in show business long enough to know never to change a line too soon. I did change Adam and Eve to Ha-Adamah and Hawwah, and the apple to the pomegranate. People aren’t becoming any smarter⁠—but they are becoming better researched, and they insist on authenticity.

“This is still a perfect come-on here. There is something in human nature that cannot resist the idea of a Perfect Paradise. Folks will whoop and holler to their neighbors to come in droves to spoil and mar it. It isn’t greed or the desire for new land so much⁠—though that is strong too. Mainly it is the feverish passion to befoul and poison what is unspoiled. Fortunately I am sagacious enough to take advantage of this trait. And when you start to farm a new world on a shoestring you have to acquire your equipment as you can.”

He looked proudly around at the great cave with its mountains and tiers of materials, heavy machinery of all sorts, titanic crates of foodstuff space-sealed; wheeled, tracked, propped, vaned and jetted vehicles; and power packs to run a world.

He looked at the three dozen space ships stripped and stacked, and at the rather large pile of bonemeal in one corner.

“We will have to have another lion,” said Eve. “Bowser is getting old, and Marie-Yvette abuses him and gnaws his toes. And we do have to have a big-maned lion to lie down with the lamb.”

“I know it, Eve. The lion is a very important prop. Maybe one of the crackpot settlers will bring a new lion.”

“And can’t you mix another kind of shining paint? This itches. It’s hell.”

“I’m working on it.”

Casper Craig was still dictating the gram:

“Amazing quality of longevity seemingly inherent in the locale. Climate ideal. Daylight or half-light. All twenty-one hours from Planet Delphina and from Sol. Pure water for all industrial purposes. Scenic and storied. Zoning and pre-settlement restrictions to insure congenial neighbors. A completely planned globular settlement in a near arm of our own galaxy. Low taxes and liberal credit. Financing our specialty⁠—”

“And you had better have an armed escort when you return,” said Father Briton.

“Why in cosmos would we want an armed escort?”

“It’s as phony as a seven-credit note!”

“You, a man of the cloth doubt it? And us ready skeptics convinced by our senses? Why do you doubt?”

“It is only the unbelieving who believe so easily in obvious frauds. Theologically unsound, dramaturgically weak, philologically impossible, zoologically rigged, salted conspicuously with gold and shot through with anachronisms. And moreover he was afraid to play me at checkers.”


“If I have a preternatural intellect I wouldn’t be afraid of a game of checkers with anyone. Yet there was an unusual mind there somewhere; it was just that he chose not to make our acquaintance personally.”

They looked at the priest thoughtfully.

“But it was Paradise in one way,” said Steiner at last.


“All the time we were there the woman did not speak.”

All the People

Anthony Trotz went first to the politician, Mike Delado. “How many people do you know, Mr. Delado?”

“Why the question?”

“I am wondering just what amount of detail the mind can hold.”

“To a degree I know many. Ten thousand well, thirty thousand by name, probably a hundred thousand by face and to shake hands with.”

“And what is the limit?” Anthony inquired.

“Possibly I am the limit.” The politician smiled frostily. “The only limit is time, speed of cognizance and retention. I am told that the latter lessens with age. I am seventy, and it has not done so with me. Whom I have known I do not forget.”

“And with special training could one go beyond you?”

“I doubt if one could⁠—much. For my own training has been quite special. Nobody has been so entirely with the people as I have. I’ve taken five memory courses in my time, but the tricks of all of them I had already come to on my own. I am a great believer in the commonality of mankind and of near equal inherent ability. Yet there are some, say the one man in fifty, who in degree if not in kind do exceed their fellows in scope and awareness and vitality. I am that one man in fifty, and knowing people is my specialty.”

“Could a man who specialized still more⁠—and to the exclusion of other things⁠—know a hundred thousand men well.”

“It is possible. Dimly.”

“A quarter of a million?”

“I think not. He might learn that many faces and names, but he would not know the men.”

Anthony went next to the philosopher, Gabriel Mindel.

Mr. Mindel, how many people do you know?”

“How know? Per se? A se? Or In Se? Per suam essentiam, perhaps? Or do you mean Ab alio? Or to know as Hoc aliquid? There is a fine difference there. Or do you possibly mean to know in Substantia prima, or in the sense of comprehensive noumena?”

“Somewhere between the latter two. How many persons do you know by name, face, and with a degree of intimacy?”

“I have learned over the years the names of some of my colleagues, possibly a dozen of them. I am now sound on my wife’s name, and I seldom stumble over the names of my offspring⁠—never more than momentarily. But you may have come to the wrong man for⁠—whatever you have come for. I am notoriously poor at names, faces, and persons. I have even been described (vox faucibus haesit) as absentminded.”

“Yes, you do have the reputation. But perhaps I have not come to the wrong man in seeking the theory of the thing. What is it that limits the comprehensive capacity of the mind of man? What will it hold? What restricts?”

“The body.”

“How is that?”

“The brain, I should say, the material tie. The mind is limited by the brain. It is skull-bound. It can accumulate no more than its cranial capacity, though not one tenth of that is ordinarily used. An unbodied mind would (in esoteric theory) be unlimited.”

“And how in practical theory?”

“If it is practical, a pragma, it is a thing and not a theory.”

“Then we can have no experience with the unbodied mind, or the possibility of it?”

“We have not discovered any area of contact, but we may entertain the possibility of it. There is no paradox there. One may rationally consider the irrational.”

Anthony went next to see the priest.

“How many people do you know?”

“I know all of them.”

“That has to be doubted,” said Anthony after a moment.

“I’ve had twenty different stations. And when you hear five thousand confessions a year for forty years, you by no means know all about people, but you do know all people.”

“I do not mean types. I mean persons.”

“Oh, I know a dozen or so well, a few thousands somewhat less.”

“Would it be possible to know a hundred thousand people, a half million?”

“A mentalist might know that many to recognize; I don’t know the limit. But darkened man has a limit set on everything.”

“Could a somehow emancipated man know more?”

“The only emancipated man is the corporally dead man. And the dead man, if he attains the beatific vision, knows all other persons who have ever been since time began.”

“All the billions?”


“With the same brain?”

“No. But with the same mind.”

“Then wouldn’t even a believer have to admit that the mind which we have now is only a token mind? Would not any connection it would have with a completely comprehensive mind be very tenuous? Would we really be the same person if so changed? It is like saying a bucket would hold the ocean if it were fulfilled, which only means filled full. How could it be the same mind?”

“I don’t know.”

Anthony went to see a psychologist.

“How many people do you know, Dr. Shirm?”

“I could be crabby and say that I know as many as I want to; but it wouldn’t be the truth. I rather like people, which is odd in my profession. What is it that you really want to know?”

“How many people can one man know?”

“It doesn’t matter very much. People mostly overestimate the number of their acquaintances. What is it that you are trying to ask me?”

“Could one man know everyone?”

“Naturally not. But unnaturally he might seem to. There is a delusion to this effect accompanied by an euphoria, and it is called⁠—”

“I don’t want to know what it is called. Why do specialists use Latin and Greek?”

“One part hokum, and two parts need; there simply not being enough letters in the alphabet of exposition without them. It is as difficult to name concepts as children, and we search our brains as a new mother does. It will not do to call two children or two concepts by one name.”

“Thank you. I doubt that this is delusion, and it is not accompanied by euphoria.”

Anthony had a reason for questioning the four men since (as a new thing that had come to him) he knew everybody. He knew everyone in Salt Lake City, where he had never been. He knew everybody in Jebel Shah where the town is a little amphitheater around the harbor, and in Batangas and Weihai. He knew the loungers around the end of the Galata bridge in Istambul, and the porters in Kuala Lumpur. He knew the tobacco traders in Plovdiv, and the cork-cutters of Portugal. He knew the dock workers in Djibouti, and the glove-makers in Prague. He knew the vegetable farmers around El Centro, and the muskrat trappers of Barrataria Bay. He knew the three billion people of the world by name and face, and with a fair degree of intimacy.

“Yet I’m not a very intelligent man. I’ve been called a bungler. And they’ve had to reassign me three different times at the filter center. I’ve seen only a few thousands of these billions of people, and it seems unusual that I should know them all. It may be a delusion as Dr. Shirm says, but it is a heavily detailed delusion, and it is not accompanied by euphoria. I feel like green hell just thinking of it.”

He knew the cattle traders in Letterkenny Donegal; he knew the cane cutters of Oriente, and the tree climbers of Milne Bay. He knew the people who died every minute, and those who were born.

“There is no way out of it. I know everybody in the world. It is impossible, but it is so. And to what purpose? There aren’t a handful of them I could borrow a dollar from, and I haven’t a real friend in the lot. I don’t know whether it came to me suddenly, but I realized it suddenly. My father was a junk dealer in Wichita, and my education is spotty. I am maladjusted, introverted, incompetent and unhappy, and I also have weak kidneys. Why would a power like this come to a man like me?”

The children in the streets hooted at him. Anthony had always had a healthy hatred for children and dogs, those twin harassers of the unfortunate and the maladjusted. Both run in packs, and both are cowardly attackers. And if either of them spots a weakness he will never let it go. That his father had been a junk dealer was not reason to hoot at him. But how did the children even know about that? Did they possess some fraction of the power that had come to him lately?

But he had strolled about the town for too long. He should have been at work at the filter center. Often they were impatient with him when he wandered off from his work, and Colonel Peter Cooper was waiting for him when he came in now.

“Where have you been, Anthony?”

“Walking. I talked to four men. I mentioned no subject in the province of the filter center.”

“Every subject is in the province of the filter center. And you know that our work here is confidential.”

“Yes, sir, but I do not understand the import of my work here. I would not be able to give out information that I do not have.”

“A popular misconception. There are others who might understand the import of it, and be able to reconstruct it from what you tell them. How do you feel?”

“Nervous, unwell, my tongue is furred, my kidneys⁠—”

“Ah yes, there will be someone here this afternoon to fix your kidneys. I had not forgotten. Is there anything that you want to tell me?”

“No, sir.”

Colonel Cooper had the habit of asking that of his workers in the manner of a mother asking a child if he wants to go to the bathroom. There was something embarrassing in his intonation.

Well, he did want to tell him something, but he didn’t know how to phrase it. He wanted to tell the colonel that he had newly acquired the power of knowing everyone in the world, that he was worried how he could hold so much in his head that was not noteworthy for its capacity. But he feared ridicule more than he feared anything else and he was a tangle of fears.

But he thought he would try it a little bit on his co-workers.

“I know a man named Walter Walloroy in Galveston,” he said to Adrian. “He drinks beer at the Gizmo bar, and is retired.”

“What is the superlative of so what?”

“But I have never been there,” said Anthony.

“And I have never been in Kalamazoo.”

“I know a girl in Kalamazoo. Her name is Greta Harandash. She is home today with a cold. She is prone to colds.”

But Adrian was a creature both uninterested and uninteresting. It is very hard to confide in one who is uninterested.

“Well, I will live with it a little while,” said Anthony. “Or I may have to go to a doctor and see if he can give me something to make all these people go away. But if he thinks my story is a queer one, he may report me back to the center, and I might be reclassified again. It makes me nervous to be reclassified.”

So he lived with it a while, the rest of the day and the night. He should have felt better. A man had come that afternoon and fixed his kidneys; but there was nobody to fix his nervousness and apprehensions. And his skittishness was increased when the children hooted at him as he walked in the morning. That hated epithet! But how could they know that his father had been a dealer in used metals in a town far away?

He had to confide in someone.

He spoke to Wellington who also worked in his room. “I know a girl in Beirut who is just going to bed. It is evening there now, you know.”

“That so? Why don’t they get their time straightened out? I met a girl last night that’s cute as a correlator key, and kind of shaped like one. She doesn’t know yet that I work in the center and am a restricted person. I’m not going to tell her. Let her find out for herself.”

It was no good trying to tell things to Wellington. Wellington never listened. And then Anthony got a summons to Colonel Peter Cooper, which always increased his apprehension.

“Anthony,” said the colonel, “I want you to tell me if you discern anything unusual. That is really your job, to report anything unusual. The other, the paper shuffling, is just something to keep your idle hands busy. Now tell me clearly if anything unusual has come to your notice.”

“Sir, it has.” And then he blurted it all out. “I know everybody! I know everybody in the world. I know them all in their billions, every person. It has me worried sick.”

“Yes, yes, Anthony. But tell me, have you noticed anything odd? It is your duty to tell me if you have.”

“But I have just told you! In some manner I know every person in the world. I know the people in Transvaal, I know the people in Guatemala. I know everybody.”

“Yes, Anthony, we realize that. And it may take a little getting used to. But that isn’t what I mean. Have you (besides that thing that seems out of the way to you) noticed anything unusual, anything that seems out of place, a little bit wrong?”

“Ah⁠—besides that and your reaction to it, no, sir. Nothing else odd. I might ask, though, how odd can a thing get? But other than that⁠—no, sir.”

“Good, Anthony. Now remember, if you sense anything odd about anything at all, come and tell me. No matter how trivial it is, if you feel that something is just a little bit out of place, then report it at once. Do you understand that?”

“Yes, sir.”

But he couldn’t help wondering what it might be that the colonel would consider a little bit odd.

Anthony left the center and walked. He shouldn’t have. He knew that they became impatient with him when he wandered off from his work.

“But I have to think. I have all the people in the world in my brain, and still I am not able to think. This power should have come to someone able to take advantage of it.”

He went into the Plugged Nickel Bar, but the man on duty knew him for a restricted person from the filter center, and would not serve him.

He wandered disconsolately about the city. “I know the people in Omaha and those in Omsk. What queer names have the towns of the earth! I know everyone in the world, and when anyone is born or dies. And Colonel Cooper did not find it unusual. Yet I am to be on the lookout for things unusual. The question rises, would I know an odd thing if I met it?”

And then it was that something just a little bit unusual did happen, something not quite right. A small thing. But the colonel had told him to report anything about anything, no matter how insignificant, that struck him as a little queer.

It was just that with all the people in his head, and the arrivals and departures, there was a small group that was not of the pattern.

Every minute hundreds left by death and arrived by birth. And now there was a small group, seven persons; they arrived into the world, but they were not born into the world.

So Anthony went to tell Colonel Cooper that something had occurred to his mind that was a little bit odd.

But damn-the-dander-headed-two-and-four-legged-devils, there were the kids and the dogs in the street again, yipping and hooting and chanting:

“Tony the tin man. Tony the tin man.”

He longed for the day when he would see them fall like leaves out of his mind, and death take them.

“Tony the tin man. Tony the tin man.”

How had they known that his father was a used metal dealer?

Colonel Peter Cooper was waiting for him.

“You surely took your time, Anthony. The reaction was registered, but it would take us hours to pinpoint its source without your help. Now then, explain as calmly as you can what you have felt or experienced. Or, more to the point, where are they?”

“No. You will have to answer me certain questions first.”

“I haven’t the time to waste, Anthony. Tell me at once what it is and where.”

“No. There is no other way. You have to bargain with me.”

“One does not bargain with restricted persons.”

“Well, I will bargain till I find out just what it means that I am a restricted person.”

“You really don’t know? Well, we haven’t time to fix that stubborn streak in you. Quickly, just what is it that you have to know?”

“I have to know what a restricted person is. I have to know why the children hoot ‘Tony the tin man’ at me. How can they know that my father was a junk dealer?”

“You had no father. We give to each of you a sufficient store of memories and a background of a distant town. That happened to be yours, but there is no connection here. The children call you Tony the Tin Man because (like all really cruel creatures) they have an instinct for the truth that can hurt; and they will never forget it.”

“Then I am a tin man?”

“Well, no. Actually only seventeen percent metal. And less than a third of one percent tin. You are compounded of animal, vegetable, and mineral fiber, and there was much effort given to your manufacture and programming. Yet the taunt of the children is essentially true.”

“Then, if I am only Tony the Tin Man, how can I know all the people in the world in my mind?”

“You have no mind.”

“In my brain then. How can all that be in one small brain?”

“Because your brain is not in your head, and it is not small. Come, I may as well show it to you; I’ve told you enough that it won’t matter if you know a little more. There are few who are taken on personally conducted sightseeing tours of their own brains. You should be grateful.

“Gratitude seems a little tardy.”

They went into the barred area, down into the bowels of the main building of the center. And they looked at the brain of Anthony Trotz, a restricted person in its special meaning.

“It is the largest in the world,” said Colonel Cooper.

“How large?”

“A little over twelve hundred cubic meters.”

“What a brain! And it is mine?”

“You are an adjunct to it, a runner for it, an appendage, inasmuch as you are anything at all.”

“Colonel Cooper, how long have I been alive?”

“You are not.”

“How long have I been as I am now?”

“It is three days since you were last reassigned, since you were assigned to this. At that time your nervousness and apprehensions were introduced. An apprehensive unit will be more inclined to notice details just a little out of the ordinary.”

“And what is my purpose?”

They were walking now back to the office work area, and Anthony had a sad feeling at leaving his brain behind him.

“This is a filter center, and your purpose is to serve as a filter, of a sort. Every person has a slight aura around him. It is a characteristic of his, and is part of his personality and purpose. And it can be detected, electrically, magnetically, even visually under special conditions. The accumulator at which we were looking (your brain) is designed to maintain contact with all the auras in the world, and to keep a running and complete data on them all. It contains a multiplicity of circuits for each of its three billion and some subjects. However, as aid to its operation, it was necessary to assign several artificial consciousnesses to it. You are one of these.”

The dogs and the children had found a new victim in the streets below. Anthony’s heart went out to him.

“The purpose,” continued Colonel Cooper, “was to notice anything just a little bit peculiar in the auras and the persons they represent, anything at all odd in their comings and goings. Anything like what you have come here to report to me.”

“Like the seven persons who recently arrived in the world, and not by way of birth?”

“Yes. We have been expecting the first of the aliens for months. We must know their area, and at once. Now tell me.”

“What if they are not aliens at all. What if they are restricted persons like myself?”

“Restricted persons have no aura, are not persons, are not alive. And you would not receive knowledge of them.”

“Then how do I know the other restricted persons here, Adrian and Wellington, and such?”

“You know them at first hand. You do not know them through the machine. Now tell me the area quickly. The center may be a primary target. It will take the machine hours to ravel it out. Your only purpose is to serve as an intuitive shortcut.”

But Tin Man Tony did not speak. He only thought in his mind⁠—more accurately, in his brain, a hundred yards away. He thought in his fabricated consciousness:

“The area is quite near. If the colonel were not burdened with a mind, he would be able to think more clearly. He would know that cruel children and dogs love to worry what is not human, and that all of the restricted persons are accounted for in this area. He would know that they are worrying one of the aliens in the street below, and that is the area that is right in my consciousness.

“I wonder if they will be better masters? He is an imposing figure, and he would be able to pass for a man. And the colonel is right: The Center is a primary target.

“Why! I never knew you could kill a child just by pointing a finger at him like that! What opportunities I have missed! Enemy of my enemy, you are my friend.”

And aloud he said to the colonel:

“I will not tell you.”

“Then we’ll have you apart and get it out of you mighty quick.”

“How quick?”

“Ten minutes.”

“Time enough,” said Tony, for he knew them now, coming in like snow. They were arriving in the world by the hundreds, and not arriving by birth.

The Weirdest World


As I am now utterly without hope, lost to my mission and lost in the sight of my crew, I will record what petty thoughts I may have for what benefit they may give some other starfarer. Nine long days of bickering! But the decision is sure. The crew will maroon me. I have lost all control over them.

Who could have believed that I would show such weakness when crossing the barrier? By all the tests I should have been the strongest. But the final test is the event itself. I failed.

I only hope that it is a pleasant and habitable planet where they put me down⁠ ⁠…

Later. They have decided. I am no longer the captain even in name. But they have compassion on me. They will do what they can for my comfort. I believe they have already selected my desert island, so to speak, an out-of-the-way globe where they will leave me to die. I will hope for the best. I no longer have any voice in their councils⁠ ⁠…

Later. I will be put down with only the basic survival kit: the ejection mortar and sphere for my last testament to be orbited into the galactic drift; a small cosmoscope so that I will at least have my bearings; one change of blood; an abridged universal language correlator; a compendium of the one thousand philosophic questions yet unsolved to exercise my mind; a small vial of bug-kill; and a stack of sexy magazines⁠ ⁠…

Later. It has been selected. But my mind has grown so demoralized that I do not even recognize the system, though once this particular region was my specialty. The globe will be habitable. There will be breathable atmosphere which will allow me to dispense with much bothersome equipment. Here the filler used is nitrogen, yet it will not matter. I have breathed nitrogen before. There will be water, much of it saline, but sufficient quantities of sweet. Food will be no problem; before being marooned, I will receive injections that should last me for the rest of my probably short life. Gravity will be within the range of my constitution.

What will be lacking? Nothing but the companionship of my own kind, which is everything.

What a terrible thing it is to be marooned!

One of my teachers used to say that the only unforgivable sin in the universe is ineptitude. That I should be the first to succumb to space-ineptitude and be an awkward burden on the rest of them! But it would be disastrous for them to try to travel any longer with a sick man, particularly as their nominal leader. I would be a shadow over them. I hold them no rancor.

It will be today⁠ ⁠…

Later. I am here. I have no real interest in defining where “here” is, though I have my cosmoscope and could easily determine it. I was anesthetized a few hours before, and put down here in my sleep. The blasted half-acre of their landing is near. No other trace of them is left.

Yet it is a good choice and not greatly unlike home. It is the nearest resemblance I have seen on the entire voyage, which is to say that the pseudodendrons are enough like trees to remind me of trees, the herbage near enough to grass to satisfy one who had never known real grass. It is a green, somewhat waterlogged land of pleasant temperature.

The only inhabitants I have encountered are a preoccupied race of humpbacked browsers who pay me scant notice. These are quadruped and myopic, and spend nearly their entire time at feeding. It may be that I am invisible to them. Yet they hear my voice and shy away somewhat from it. I am able to communicate with them only poorly. Their only vocalization is a sort of vibrant windy roar, but when I answer in kind, they appear more puzzled than communicative.

They have this peculiarity: when they come to an obstacle of terrain or thicket, they either go laboriously around it or force their way through it. It does not seem to occur to them to fly over it. They are as gravity-bound as a newborn baby.

What air-traveling creatures I have met are of a considerably smaller size. These are more vocal than the myopic quadrupeds, and I have had some success in conversing with them, but my results still await a more leisurely semantic interpretation. Such communications of theirs as I have analyzed are quite commonplace. They have no real philosophy and are singularly lacking in aspiration; they are almost total extroverts and have no more than the rudiments of introspection.

Yet they have managed to tell me some amusing anecdotes. They are quite good-natured, though moronic.

They say that neither they nor the myopic quadrupeds are the dominant race here, but rather a large grublike creature lacking a complete outer covering. From what they are able to convey of this breed, it is a nightmarish kind of creation. One of the flyers even told me that the giant grubs travel upright on a bifurcated tail, but this is difficult to credit. Besides, I believe that humor is at least a minor component of the mentality of my airy friends. I will call them birds, though they are but a sorry caricature of the birds at home⁠ ⁠…

Later. I am being hunted. I am being hunted by the giant grubs. Doubling back, I have seen them on my trail, examining it with great curiosity.

The birds had given me a very inadequate idea of these. They are indeed unfinished⁠—they do lack a complete outer covering. Despite their giant size, I am convinced that they are grubs, living under rocks and in masses of rotten wood. Nothing in nature gives the impression of so lacking an outer covering as the grub, that obese, unfinished worm.

These are, however, simple bipeds. They are wrapped in a cocoon which they seem never to have shed, as though their emergence from the larval state were incomplete. It is a loose artificial sheath covering the central portion of the corpus. They seem never to divest themselves of it, though it is definitely not a part of the body. When I have analyzed their minds, I will know the reason for their carrying it. Now I can only conjecture. It would seem a compulsion, some psychological bond that dooms them in their apparent adult state to carry their cocoons with them.

Later. I am captured by three of the giant grubs. I had barely time to swallow my communication sphere. They pinned me down and beat me with sticks. I was taken by surprise and was not momentarily able to solve their language, though it came to me after a short interval. It was discordant and vocal and entirely gravity-bound, by which I mean that its thoughts were chained to its words. There seemed nothing in them above the vocal. In this the giant grubs were less than the birds, even though they had a practical power and cogency that the birds lacked.

“What’ll we do with the blob?” asked one.

“Why,” said the second, “you hit it on that end and I’ll hit it on this. We don’t know which end is the head.”

“Let’s try it for bait,” said the third. “Catfish might go for it.”

“We could keep it alive till we’re ready to use it. Then it would stay fresh.”

“No, let’s kill it. It doesn’t look too fresh, even the way it is.”

“Gentlemen, you are making a mistake,” I said. “I have done nothing to merit death. And I am not without talent. Besides, you have not considered the possibility that I may be forced to kill you three instead. I will not die willingly. Also I will thank you to stop pounding on me with those sticks. It hurts.”

I was surprised and shocked at the sound of my own voice. It nearly as harsh as that of the grubs. But this was my first attempt at their language, and musicality does not become it.

“Hey, fellows, did you hear that? Was that the blob talking? Or was one of you playing a joke? Harry? Stanley? Have you been practicing to be ventriloquists?”

“Not me.”

“Not me either. It sure sounded like it was it.”

“Hey, blob, was that you? Can you talk, blob?”

“Certainly I can talk,” I responded. “I am not an infant. Nor am I a blob. I am a creature superior to your own kind, if you are examples. Or it may be that you are only children. Perhaps you are still in the pupa stage. Tell me, is yours an early stage, or an arrested development, or are you indeed adult?”

“Hey, fellows, we don’t have to take that from any blob. I’ll cave in its blasted head.”

“That’s its tail.”

“It’s its head. It’s the end it talks with.”

“Gentlemen, perhaps I can set you straight,” I said. “That is my tail you are thwacking with that stick, and I am warning you to stop it. Of course I was talking with my tail. I was only doing it in imitation of you. I am new at the language and its manner of speaking. Yet it may be that I have made a grotesque mistake. Is that your heads that you are waving in the air? Well, then, I will talk with my head, if that is the custom. But I warn you again not to hit me on either end with those sticks.”

“Hey, fellows, I bet we could sell that thing. I bet we could sell it to Billy Wilkins for his Reptile Farm.”

“How would we get it there?”

“Make it walk. Hey blob, can you walk?”

“I can travel, certainly, but I would not stagger along precariously on a pair of flesh stilts with my head in the air, as you do. When I travel, I do not travel upside down.”

“Well, let’s go, then. We’re going to sell you to Billy Wilkins for his Reptile Farm. If he can use a blob, he’ll put you in one of the tanks with the big turtles and alligators. You think you’ll like them?”

“I am lonesome in this lost world,” I replied sadly, “and even the company of you peeled grubs is better than nothing. I am anxious to adopt a family and settle down here for what years of life I have left. It may be that I will find compatibility with the species you mention. I do not know what they are.”

“Hey, fellows, this blob isn’t a bad guy at all. I’d shake your hand; blob, if I knew where it was. Let’s go to Billy Wilkins’ place and sell him.”


We traveled to Billy Wilkins’ place. My friends were amazed when I took to the air and believed that I had deserted them. They had no cause to distrust me. Without them I would have had to rely on intuition to reach Billy Wilkins, and even then I would lack the proper introductions.

“Hey, Billy,” said my loudest friend, whose name was Cecil, “what will you give us for a blob? It flies and talks and isn’t a bad fellow at all. You’d get more tourists to come to your reptile show if you had a talking blob in it. He could sing songs and tell stories. I bet he could even play the guitar.”

“Well, Cecil, I’ll just give you all ten dollars for it and try to figure out what it is later. I’m a little ahead on my hunches now, so I can afford to gamble on this one. I can always pickle it and exhibit it as a genuine hippopotamus kidney.”

“Thank you, Billy. Take care of yourself, blob.”

“Goodbye for now, gentlemen,” I said. “I would like you to visit me some evening as soon as I am acclimated to my new surroundings. I will throw a whing-ding for you⁠—as soon as I find out what a whing-ding is.”

“My God,” said Billy Wilkins, “it talks! It really talks!”

“We told you it could talk and fly, Billy.”

“It talks, it talks,” said Billy. “Where’s that blasted sign painter? Eustace, come here. We got to paint a new sign!”

The turtles in the tank I was put into did have a sound basic philosophy which was absent in the walking grubs. But they were slow and lacking inner fire. They would not be obnoxious company, but neither would they give me excitement and warmth. I was really more interested in the walking grubs.

Eustace was a black grub, while the others had all been white; but like them he had no outside casing of his own, and like them he also staggered about on flesh stilts with his head in the air.

It wasn’t that I was naive or hadn’t seen bipeds before. But I don’t believe anyone ever became entirely accustomed to seeing a biped travel in its peculiar manner.

“Good afternoon, Eustace,” I said pleasantly enough. The eyes of Eustace were large and white. He was a more handsome specimen than the other grubs.

“That you talking, bub? Say, you really can talk, can’t you? I thought Mr. Billy was fooling. Now just you hold that expression a minute and let me get it set in my mind. I can paint anything, once I get it set in my mind. What’s your name, blob? Have blobs names?”

“Not in your manner. With us the name and the soul, I believe you call it, are the same thing and cannot be vocalized, so I will have to adopt a name of your sort. What would be a good name?”

“Bub, I was always partial to George Albert Leroy Ellery. That was my grandfather’s name.”

“Should I also have a family name?”


“What would you suggest?”

“How about McIntosh?”

“That will be fine. I will use it.”

I talked to the turtles while Eustace was painting my portrait on tent canvas.

“Is the name of this world Florida?” I asked one of them. “The road signs said Florida.”

“World, world, world, water, water, water, glub, glug, glub,” said one of them.

“Yes, but is this particular world we are on named Florida?”

“World, world, water, water, glub,” said another.

“Eustace, I can get nothing from these fellows,” I called. “Is this world named Florida?”

Mr. George Albert, you are right in the middle of Florida, the greatest state in the universe.”

“Having traveled, Eustace, I have great reservations that it is the greatest. But it is my new home and I must cultivate a loyalty to it.”

I went up in a tree to give advice to two young birds trying to construct a nest. This was obviously their first venture.

“You are going about it all wrong,” I told them. “First consider that this will be your home, and then consider how you can make your home most beautiful.”

“This is the way they’ve always built them,” said one of the birds.

“There must be an element of utility, yes,” I told them. “But the dominant motif should be beauty. The impression of expanded vistas can be given by long low walls and parapets.”

“This is the way they’ve always built them,” said the other bird.

“Remember to embody new developments,” I said. “Just say to yourself, ‘This is the newest nest in the world.’ Always say that about any task you attempt. It inspires you.”

“This is the way they’ve always built them,” said the birds. “Go build your own nest.”

Mr. George Albert,” called Eustace, “Mr. Billy won’t like your flying around those trees. You’re supposed to stay in your tank.”

“I was only getting a little air and talking to the birds,” I said.

“You can talk to the birds?” asked Eustace.

“Cannot anyone?”

“I can, a little,” said Eustace. “I didn’t know anyone else could.”

But when Billy Wilkins returned and heard the report that I had been flying about, I was put in the snake house, in a cage that was tightly meshed top and sides. My cellmate was a surly python named Pete.

“See you stay on that side,” said Pete. “You’re too big for me to swallow. But I might try.”

“There is something bothering you, Pete,” I said. “You have a bad disposition. That can come only from a bad digestion or a bad conscience.”

“I have both,” said Pete. “The first is because I bolt my food. The second is because⁠—well, I forget the reason, but it’s my conscience.”

“Think hard, Pete. Why have you a bad conscience?”

“Snakes always have bad consciences. We have forgotten the crime, but we remember the guilt.”

“Perhaps you should seek advice from someone, Pete.”

“I kind of think it was someone’s smooth advice that started us on all this. He talked the legs right off us.”

Billy Wilkins came to the cage with another “man,” as the walking grubs call themselves.

“That it?” asked the other man. “And you say it can talk?”

“Of course I talk,” I answered for Billy Wilkins. “I have never known a creature who couldn’t talk in some manner. My name is George Albert Leroy Ellery McIntosh. I don’t believe that I heard yours, sir.”

“Bracken. Blackjack Bracken. I was telling Billy here that if he really had a blob that could talk, I might be able to use it in my night club. We could have you here at the Snake Ranch in the daytime for the tourists and kids. Then I could have you at the club at night. We could work out an act. Do you think you could learn to play the guitar?”

“Probably. But it would be much easier for me merely to duplicate the sound.”

“But then how could you sing and make guitar noise at the same time?”

“You surely don’t think I am limited to one voice box?”

“Oh. I didn’t know. What’s that big metal ball you have there?”

“That’s my communication sphere, to record my thoughts. I would not be without it. When in danger, I swallow it. When in extreme danger, I will have to escape to a spot where I have concealed my ejection mortar, and send my sphere into the galactic drift on a chance that it may be found.”

“That’s no kind of gag to put in an act. What I have in mind is something like this.”

Blackjack Bracken told a joke. It was a childish one and in poor taste.

“I don’t believe that is quite my style,” I said.

“All right, what would you suggest?”

“I thought that I might lecture your patrons on the Higher Ethic.”

“Look, George Albert, my patrons don’t even have the lower ethic.”

“And just what sort of recompense are we talking about?” I asked.

“Billy and I had about settled on a hundred and fifty a week.”

“A hundred and fifty for whom?”

“Why, for Billy.”

“Let us make it a hundred and fifty for myself, and ten percent for Billy as my agent.”

“Say, this blob’s real smart, isn’t he, Billy?”

“Too smart.”

“Yes, sir, George Albert, you’re one smart blob. What kind of contract have you signed with Billy here?”

“No contract.”

“Just a gentlemen’s agreement?”

“No agreement.”

“Billy, you can’t hold him in a cage without a contract. That’s slavery. It’s against the law.”

“But, Blackjack, a blob isn’t people.”

“Try proving that in court. Will you sign a contract with me, George Albert?”

“I will not dump Billy. He befriended me and gave me a home with the turtles and snakes. I will sign a joint contract with the two of you. We will discuss terms tomorrow⁠—after I have estimated the attendance both here and at the night club.”


Of the walking grubs (who call themselves “people”) there are two kinds, and they place great emphasis on the difference. From this stems a large part of their difficulties. This distinction, which is one of polarity, cuts quite across the years and ability and station of life. It is not confined only to the people grubs, but also involves apparently all the beings on the planet Florida.

It appears that a person is committed to one or the other polarity at the beginning of life, maintaining that polarity until death. The interlocking attraction-repulsion complex set up by these two opposable types has deep emotional involvements. It is the cause of considerable concern and disturbance, as well as desire and inspiration. There is a sort of poetic penumbra about the whole thing that tends to disguise its basic simplicity, expressible as a simultaneous polarity equation.

Complete segregation of the two types seems impossible. If it has ever been tried, it has now evidently been abandoned as impractical.

There is indeed an intangible difference between the two types, so that before that first day at the Reptile Ranch was finished, I was able to differentiate between the two more than ninety percent of the time. The knowledge of this difference in polarity seems to be intuitive.

These two I will call the Beta and Gamma, or Boy and Girl, types. I began to see that this opposability of the two types was one of the great driving forces of the people.

In the evening I was transported to the night club and I was a success. I would not entertain them with blue jokes or blue lyrics, but the patrons seemed fascinated by my simple imitations of all the instruments of the orchestra and my singing of comic ballads that Eustace had taught me in odd moments that day. They were also interested in the way that I drank gin⁠—that is, emptying the bottle without breaking the seal. (It seems that the grub-people are unable to absorb a liquid without making direct contact with it.)

And I met Margaret, one of the “girl” singers.

I had been wondering to which type of people I might show affinity. Now I knew. I was definitely a Beta type, for I was attracted to Margaret, who was unmistakably a Gamma. I began to understand the queer effect that these types have on each other.

She came over to my cage.

“I want to rub your head for good luck before I go on,” she said.

“Thank you, Margaret,” I replied, “but that is not my head.”

She sang with incomparable sadness, with all the sorrow and sordidness that appear to be the lot of unfortunate Gammas. It was the essence of melancholy made into music. It was a little bit like the ghost music on the asteroid Artemis, a little like the death chants on Dolmena. Sex and sorrow. Nostalgia. Regret.

Her singing shook me with a yearning that had no precedent.

She came back to my cage.

“You were wonderful, Margaret,” I said.

“I’m always wonderful when I’m singing for my supper. I am less wonderful in the rare times that I am well fed. But are you happy, little buddy?”

“I had become almost so, till I heard you sing. Now I am overcome with sorrow and longing. Margaret, I am fascinated with you.”

“I go for you too, blob. You’re my buddy. Isn’t it funny that the only buddy I have in the world is a blob? But if you’d seen some of the guys I’ve been married to⁠—boy! I wouldn’t insult you by calling them blobs. Have to go now. See you tomorrow night⁠—if they keep us both on.”

Now there was a problem to face. It was necessary that I establish control over my environment, and at once. How else could I aspire to Margaret?

I knew that the heart of the entire place here was neither the bar nor the entertainment therein, nor the cuisine, nor the dancing. The heart of the enterprise was the Casino. Here was the money that mattered; the rest was but garnish.

I had them bring me into the gambling rooms.

I had expected problems of complexity here with which the patrons worked for their gain or loss. Instead there was an almost amazing simplicity. All the games were based on first aspect numbers only. Indeed, everything on the Planet Florida seemed based on first aspect numbers.

Now it is an elemental fact that first aspect numbers do not carry within them their own prediction. Nor were the people even possessed of the prediction key that lies over the very threshold of the second aspect series.

These people were actually wagering sums⁠—the symbols of prosperity⁠—blindly, not knowing for sure whether they would win or lose. They were selecting numbers by hunch or at random with no assurance of profit. They were choosing a hole for a ball to fall into without knowing whether that was the right hole!

I do not believe that I was ever so amazed at anything in my life.

But here was my opportunity to establish control over my environment.

I began to play the games.

Usually I would watch a round first, to be sure that I understood just what was going on. Then I would play a few times⁠ ⁠… as many as it took to break the game.

I broke game after game. When he could no longer pay me, Blackjack closed the Casino in exasperation.

Then we played poker, he and I and several others. This was even more simple. I suddenly realized that the grub-people could see only one side of the cards at a time.

I played and I won.

I owned the Casino now, and all of those people were now working for me. Billy Wilkins also played with us, so that in short order I also owned the Reptile Ranch.

Before the evening was over, I owned a race track, a beach hotel, and a theater in a place named New York.

I had begun to establish control over my environment⁠ ⁠…

Later. Now started the golden days. I increased my control and did what I could for my friends.

I got a good doctor for my old friend and roommate, Pete the python, and he began receiving treatment for his indigestion. I got a jazzy sports car for my friend Eustace imported from somewhere called Italy. And I buried Margaret in mink, for she had a fix on the fur of that mysterious animal. She enjoyed draping it about her in the form of coats, capes, cloaks, mantles and stoles, though the weather didn’t really require it.

I had now won several banks, a railroad, an airline, and a casino in somewhere named Havana.

“You’re somebody now,” said Margaret. “You really ought to dress better. Or are you dressed? I never know. I don’t know if part of that is clothes or if all of it is you. But at least I’ve learned which is your head. I think we should be married in May. It’s so common to be married in June. Just imagine me being Mrs. George Albert Leroy Ellery McIntosh! You know, we have become quite an item. And do you know there are three biographies of you out⁠—Burgeoning Blob, The Blob from Way Out, The Hidden Hand Behind the Blob⁠—What Does It Portend? And the governor has invited us to dine tomorrow. I do wish you would learn to eat. If you weren’t so nice, you’d be creepy. I always say there’s nothing wrong with marrying a man, or a blob, with money. It shows foresight on the part of a girl. You know you will have to get a blood test? You had better get it tomorrow. You do have blood, don’t you?”

I did, but not, of course, of the color and viscosity of hers. But I could give it that color and viscosity temporarily. And it would react negative in all the tests.

She mused, “They are all jealous of me. They say they wouldn’t marry a blob. They mean they couldn’t⁠ ⁠… Do you have to carry that tin ball with you all the time?”

“Yes. It is my communication sphere. In it I record my thoughts. I would be lost without it.”

“Oh, like a diary. How quaint!”

Yes, those were the golden days. The grubs appeared to me in a new light, for was not Margaret also a grub? Yet she seemed not so unfinished as the rest. Though lacking a natural outer casing, she had not the appearance of crawling out from under a rock. She was quite an attractive “girl.” And she cared for me.

What more could I wish? I was affluent. I was respected. I was in control of my environment. And I could aid my friends, of whom I had now acquired an astonishing number.

Moreover, my old space-ineptitude sickness had left me. I never felt better in my life. Ah, golden days, one after the other like a pleasant dream. And soon I am to be married!


There has been a sudden change. As on the Planet Hecube, where full summer turns into the dead of the winter in minutes, to the destruction of many travelers, so was it here. My world is threatened!

It is tottering, all that I have built up. I will fight. I will have the best lawyers on the planet. I am not done. But I am threatened⁠ ⁠…

Later. This may be the end. The appeal court has given its decision. A blob may not own property in Florida. A blob is not a person.

Of course I am not a person. I never pretended to be. But I am a personage! I will yet fight this thing⁠ ⁠…

Later. I have lost everything. The last appeal is gone. By definition, I am an animal of indeterminate origin, and my property is being completely stripped from me.

I made an eloquent appeal and it moved them greatly. There were tears in their eyes. But there was greed in the set of their mouths. They have a vested interest in stripping me. Each will seize a little.

And I am left a pauper, a vassal, an animal, a slave. This is always the last doom of the marooned, to be a despised alien at the mercy of a strange world.

Yet it should not be hopeless. I will have Margaret. Since my contract with Billy Wilkins and Blackjack Bracken, long since bought up, is no longer in effect, Margaret should be able to handle my affairs as a person. I believe that I have great earning powers yet, and I can win as much as I wish by gambling. We will treat this as only a technicality. We shall acquire new fortune. I will reestablish control over my environment. I will bring back the golden days. A few of my old friends are still loyal to me, Margaret, Pete the python, Eustace⁠ ⁠…

Later. The world has caved in completely. Margaret has thrown me over.

“I’m sorry, blobby,” she said, “but it just won’t work. You’re still nice, but without money you are only a blob. How could I marry a blob?”

“But we can earn more money! I am talented.”

“No, you’re box-office poison now. You were a fad, and fads die quickly.”

“But, Margaret, I can win as much as I wish by gambling.”

“Not a chance, blobby. Nobody will gamble with you any more. You’re through, blob. I will miss you, though. There will be a new blue note in my ballads when I sing for my supper, after the mink coats are all gone. ’By now.”

“Margaret, do not leave me! What of all our golden days together?”

But all she said was “ ’By now.”

And she was gone forever.

I am desolate and my old space-ineptitude has returned. My recovery was an illusion. I am so ill with awkwardness that I can no longer fly. I must walk on the ground like one of the giant grubs. A curse on this planet Florida and all its sister orbs! What a miserable world this is!

How could I have been tricked by a young Gamma type of the walking grub? Let her crawl back under her ancestral rocks with all the rest of her kind⁠ ⁠… No, no, I do not mean that. To me she will always remain a dream, a broken dream.

I am no longer welcome at the Casino. They kicked me down the front steps.

I no longer have a home at the Reptile Ranch.

Mr. George Albert,” said Eustace, “I just can’t afford to be seen with you any more. I have my position to consider, with a sports car and all that.”

And Pete the python was curt.

“Well, big shot, I guess you aren’t so big after all. And you were sure no friend of mine. When you had that doctor cure me of my indigestion, you left me with nothing but my bad conscience. I wish I could get my indigestion back.”

“A curse on this world,” I said.

“World, world, water, water, glug, glug,” said the turtles in their tanks, my only friends.

So I have gone back into the woods to die. I have located my ejection mortar, and when I know that death is finally on me, I will fire off my communication sphere and hope it will reach the galactic drift. Whoever finds it⁠—friend⁠—space traveler⁠—you who were too impatient to remain on your own world⁠—be you warned of this one! Here ingratitude is the rule and cruelty the main sport. The unfinished grubs have come out from under their rocks and they walk this world upside down with their heads in the air. Their friendship is fleeting, their promises are like the wind.

I am near my end.


He had flared up more brightly than anyone in memory. And then he was gone. Yet there was ironic laughter where he had been; and his ghost still walked. That was the oddest thing: to encounter his ghost.

It was like coming suddenly on Haley’s Comet drinking beer at the Plugged Nickel Bar, and having it deny that it was a celestial phenomenon at all, that it had ever been beyond the sun. For he could have been the man of the century, and now it was not even known if he was alive. And if he were alive, it would be very odd if he would be hanging around places like the Plugged Nickel Bar.

This all begins with the award. But before that it begins with the man.

Professor Aloys Foulcault-Oeg was acutely embarrassed and in a state of dread.

“These I have to speak to, all these great men. Is even glory worth the price when it must be paid in such coin?”

Aloys did not have the amenities, the polish, the tact. A child of penury, he had all his life eaten bread that was part sawdust, and worn shoes that were part cardboard. He had an overcoat that had been his father’s, and before that his grandfather’s.

This coat was no longer handsome, its holes being stuffed and quilted with ancient rags. It was long past its years of greatness, and even when Aloys had inherited it as a young man it was in the afternoon of its life. And yet it was worth more than anything else he owned in the world.

Professor Aloys had become great in spite of⁠—or because of?⁠—his poverty. He had worked out his finest theory, a series of nineteen interlocked equations of cosmic shapeliness and simplicity. He had worked it out on a great piece of butchers’ paper soaked with lamb’s blood, and had so given it to the world.

And once it was given, it was almost as though nothing else could be added on any subject whatsoever. Any further detailing would be only footnotes to it and all the sciences no more than commentaries.

Naturally this made him famous. But the beauty of it was that it made him famous, not to the commonalty of mankind (this would have been a burden to his sensitively tuned soul), but to a small and scattered class of extremely erudite men (about a score of them in the world). Their recognition brought him almost, if not quite, complete satisfaction.

But he was not famous in his own street or his own quarter of town. And it was in this stark conglomerate of dark-souled alleys and roofs that Professor Aloys had lived all his life till just thirty-seven days ago.

When he received the announcement, award, and invitation, he quickly calculated the time. It was not very long to allow travel halfway around the world. Being locked out of his rooms, as he often was, he was unencumbered by baggage or furniture, and he left for the ceremony at once.

With the announcement, award, and invitation, there had also been a check; but as he was not overly familiar with the world of finance or with the English language in which it was written, he did not recognize it for what it was. Having used the back of it to write down a formula that had crept into his mind, he shoved the check, forgotten, into one of the pockets of his greatcoat.

For three days he rode a river boat to the port city, hidden and hungry. There he concealed himself on an ocean tramp. That he did not starve on this was due to the caprice of the low-lifers who discovered him, for they made him stay hidden in a terrible bunker and every day or two they passed in a bucket to him.

Then, several ports and many days later, he left the ship like a crippled, dirty animal. And it was in That City and on That Day. For the award was to be that evening.

“These I have to speak to, all these wonderful men who are higher than the grocers, higher than the butchers even. These men get more respect than a policeman, than a canal boat captain. They are wiser than a mayor and more honored than a merchant. They know arts more intricate than a clockmaker’s and are virtuous beyond the politicians. More perspicacious than editors, more talented than actors, these are the great men of the world. And I am only Aloys, and now I am too ragged and dirty even to be Aloys any more. I no longer am a man with a name.”

For he was very humble as he walked the great town where even the shop girls were dressed like princesses, and all the restaurants were so fine that only the rich people would have dared to go in them at all. Had there been poor people (and there were none) there would have been no place for them to eat.

“But it is to me they have given the prize. Not to Schellendore and not to Ottlebaum, not to Francks nor Timiryaseff, not even to Pitirim-Koss, the latchet of whose shoe I am not⁠—but why do I say that?⁠—he was not, after all, very bright⁠—all of them are inadequate in some way⁠—the only one who was ever able to get to the heart of these great things was Aloys Foulcault-Oeg, who happens to be myself. It is a strange thing that they should honor me, and yet I believe they could not have made a better choice.”

So pride and fear warred in him, but it was always the pride that lost. For he had only a little bit of pride, undernourished and on quaking ground, and against it was a whole legion of fears, apprehensions, shames, dreads, embarrassments, and nightmarish bashfulnesses.

He begged a little bit when he had found a poor part of town. But even here the people were of the rich poor, not the poor as he had known them.

When he had money in his pocket, he had a meal. Then he went to Jiffy Quick While You Wait Cleaners Open Day and Night to have his clothes cleaned. He wrapped himself in dignity and a blanket while he waited. And as the daylight was coming to an end, they brought his clothes back to him.

“We have done all we could do. If we had a week or a month, we might do a little more, but not much.”

Then he went out into the town, cleaner than he had been in many years, and he walked to the hall of the Commendation and Award. Here he watched all the great men arrive in private cars and taxis: Ergodic Eimer, August Angstrom, Vladimir Vor. He watched them and thought of what he would say to them, and then he realized that he had forgotten his English.

“I remember dog, that is the first word I ever learned, but what will I say to them about a dog? I remember house and horse and apple and fish. Oh, now I remember the entire language. But what if I forget it again? Would it not be an odd speech if I could only say apple and fish and house and dog? I would be shamed.”

He wished he were rich and could dress in white like the street sweepers, or in black leather like the newsboy on the corner. He saw Edward Edelstein and Christopher Cronin enter and he cowered on the street and knew that he would never be able to talk to those great men.

A fine gentleman came out and walked directly to him.

“You are the great Professor Foulcault-Oeg? I would have known you anywhere. True greatness shines from you. Our city is honored tonight. Come inside and we will go to a little room apart, for I see that you will have to compose yourself first. I am Graf-Doktor Hercule Bienville-Stravroguine.”

Whyever he said he was the Graf-Doktor is a mystery, because he was Willy McGilly and the other was just a name that he made up that minute.

Within, they went to a small room behind the cloak room. But here, in spite of the smooth kindness of the gracious gentleman, Aloys knew that he would never be able to compose himself. He was an epouvantail, a pugalo, a clown, a ragamuffin. He looked at the nineteen-point outline of the address he was to give. He shuddered and he gobbled like a turkey. He sniffled and he wiped his nose on his sleeve. He was terrified that the climax of his life’s work should find him too craven to accept it. And he discovered that he had forgotten his English again.

“I remember bread and butter, but I don’t know which one goes on top. I know pencil and penknife and bed, but I have entirely forgotten the word for maternal uncle. I remember plow, but what in the world will I say to all these great men about a plow? I pray that this cup may pass from me.”

Then he disintegrated in one abject mass of terror. Several minutes went by.

But when he emerged from the room he was a different man entirely. Erect, alive, intense, queerly handsome, and now in formal attire, he mounted with the sure grace of a panther to the speaker’s platform. Once only he glanced at the nineteen-point outline of his address. As there is no point in keeping it a secret, it was as follows: 1. Cepheid and Cerium⁠—How Long Is a Yardstick? 2. Double Trouble⁠—Is Ours a Binary Universe? 3. Cerebrum and Cortex⁠—the Mathematics of Melancholia. 4. Microphysics and Megacyclic Polyneums. 5. Ego, No, Hemeis⁠—the Personality of the Subconscious. 6. Linear Convexity and Lateral Intransigence. 7. Betelgeuse Betrayed⁠—the Myth of Magnitude. 8. Mu-Meson, the Secret of Metamorphosis. 9. Theogony and Tremor⁠—the Mathematics of Seismology. 10. Planck’s Constant and Agnesi’s Variable. 11. Diencephalon and Di-Gamma⁠—Unconscionable Thoughts about Consciousness. 12. Inverse Squares and the Quintesimal Radicals. 13. The Chain of Error in the Lineal B Translation. 14. Skepticism⁠—the Humor of the Humorless. 15. Ogive and Volute⁠—Thoughts on Celestial Curviture. 16. Conic Sections⁠—Small Pieces of Infinity. 17. Eschatology⁠—Medium Thoughts about the End. 18. Hypo-polarity and Cosmic Hysteresis. 19. The Invisible Quadratic, or This is All Simpler than You Think.

You will immediately see the beauty of this skeleton, and yet to flesh it would not be the work of an ordinary man.

He glanced over it with the sure smile of complete confidence. Then he spoke softly to the master of ceremonies in a whisper with a rumble that could be heard throughout the hall.

“I am here. I will begin. There is no need for any further introduction.”

For the next three and a half hours he held that intelligent audience completely spellbound, enchanted. They followed, or seemed to follow, his lightning flashes of metaphor illumining the craggy chasms of his vasty subjects.

They thrilled to the magnetic power of his voice, urbane yet untamed, with its polyglot phrasing and its bare touch of accent so strange as to be baffling; ancient, surely, and yet from a land beyond the Pale. And they quivered with interior pleasure at the glorious unfolding in climax after climax of these before only half-glimpsed vistas.

Here was a world of mystery revealed in all its wildness, and it obeyed and stood still, and he named its name. The nebula and the conch lay down together, and the ultra-galaxies equated themselves with the zeta mesons. Like a rich householder, he brought from his store treasures old and new, and nothing like them had ever been seen or heard before.

At one point Professor Timiryaseff cried out in bafflement and incomprehension, and Doctor Ergodic Eimer buried his face in his hands, for even these most erudite men could not glimpse all the shattering profundity revealed by the fantastic speaker.

And when it was over they were limp and delighted that so much had been made known to them. They had the crown without the cross, and the odd little genius had filled them with a rich glow.

The rest was perfunctory, commendations and testimonials from all the great men. The trophy, heavy and rich but not flashy, worth the lifetime salary of a professor of mathematics, was accepted almost carelessly. And then the cup was passed quietly, which is to say the tall cool glasses went around as the men still lingered and talked with hushed pleasure.

“Gin,” said the astonishing orator. “It is the drink of bums and impoverished scholars, and I am both. Yes, anything at all with it.”

Then he spoke to Maecenas, who was at his side, the patron who was footing the bill for all this gracious extravagance.

“The check I have never cashed, having been much in movement since I have received it. And as to me it is a large amount, though perhaps not to others, and as you yourself have signed it, I wonder if you could cash it for me now.”

“At once,” said Maecenas, “at once. Ten minutes and we shall have the sum here. Ah, you have endorsed it with a formula! Who but Professor Aloys Foulcault-Oeg could be so droll? Look, he has endorsed it with a formula!”

“Look, look! Let us copy! Why, this is marvelous! It takes us even beyond his great speech of tonight. The implications of it!”

“Oh, the implications!” they said as they copied it off, and the implications rang in their heads like bells of the future.

Now it had suddenly become very late, and the elated little man with the gold and gemmed trophy under one arm and the packet of bank notes in his pocket disappeared as by magic.

Professor Aloys Foulcault-Oeg was not seen again; or, if seen, he was not known, for hardly anyone would have known his face. In fact, when he had painfully released the bonds by which he had been tied in the little room behind the cloak room, and removed the shackles from his ankles, he did not pause at all, but slipped into his greatcoat and ran out into the night. Not for many blocks did he even remove the gag from his mouth, not realizing in his confusion what it was that obstructed his speech and breathing. But when he got it out, it was a pleasant relief.

A kind gentleman took him in hand, the second to do so that night. He was bundled into a kind of taxi and driven to a mysterious quarter called Wreckville. And deep inside a secret building he was given a bath and a bowl of hot soup. And later he gathered with others at a festive board.

Here Willy McGilly was king. As he worked his way into his cups with the gold trophy in front of him, he expounded and elucidated.

“I was wonderful. I held them in the palm of my hand. Was I not wonderful, Oeg?”

“I could not hear all, for I was on the floor of the little room. But from what I could hear, yes, you were wonderful.”

“Only once in my life did I give a better speech. It was the same speech, but it was newer then. This was in Little Dogie, New Mexico, and I was selling a snake-oil derivative whose secret I still cannot reveal. But I was good tonight and some of them cried. And now what will you do, Oeg? Do you know what we are?”


“Why, so we are.”


“The very word.”

“Low-life con men. And the world you live on is not the one you were born on. I will join you if I may.”

“Oeg, you have a talent for going to the core of the apple.”

For when a man (however unlikely a man) shows real talent, then the Wreckville bunch has to recruit him. They cannot have uncontrolled talent running loose in the commonalty of mankind.

Seven-Day Terror

“Is there anything you want to make disappear?” Clarence Willoughby asked his mother.

“A sink full of dishes is all I can think of. How will you do it?”

“I just built a disappearer. All you do is cut the other end out of a beer can. Then you take two pieces of red cardboard with peepholes in the middle and fit them in the ends. You look through the peepholes and blink. Whatever you look at will disappear.”


“But I don’t know if I can make them come back. We’d better try it on something else. Dishes cost money.”

As always, Myra Willoughby had to admire the wisdom of her nine-year-old son. She would not have had such foresight herself. He always did.

“You can try it on Blanche Manners’ cat outside there. Nobody will care if it disappears except Blanche Manners.”

“All right.”

He put the disappearer to his eye and blinked. The cat disappeared from the sidewalk outside.

His mother was interested. “I wonder how it works. Do you know how it works?”

“Yes. You take a beer can with both ends cut out and put in two pieces of cardboard. Then you blink.”

“Never mind. Take it outside and play with it. You hadn’t better make anything disappear in here till I think about this.”

But when he had gone his mother was oddly disturbed.

“I wonder if I have a precocious child. Why, there’s lots of grown people who wouldn’t know how to make a disappearer that would work. I wonder if Blanche Manners will miss her cat very much?”

Clarence went down to the Plugged Nickel, a pot house on the corner.

“Do you have anything you want to make disappear, Nokomis?”

“Only my paunch.”

“If I make it disappear it’ll leave a hole in you and you’ll bleed to death.”

“That’s right, I would. Why don’t you try it on the fire plug outside?”

This in a way was one of the happiest afternoons ever in the neighborhood. The children came from blocks around to play in the flooded streets and gutters, and if some of them drowned (and we don’t say that they did drown) in the flood (and brother! it was a flood), why, you have to expect things like that. The fire engines (whoever heard of calling fire engines to put out a flood?) were apparatus-deep in the water. The policemen and ambulance men wandered around wet and bewildered.

“Resuscitator, resuscitator, anybody wanna resuscitator,” chanted Clarissa Willoughby.

“Oh, shut up,” said the ambulance attendants.

Nokomis, the bar man in the Plugged Nickel, called Clarence aside.

“I don’t believe, just for the moment, I’d tell anyone what happened to that fire plug,” he said.

“I won’t tell if you won’t tell,” said Clarence.

Officer Comstock was suspicious. “There’s only seven possible explanations. One of the seven Willoughby kids did it. I dunno how. It’d take a bulldozer to do it, and then there’d be something left of the plug. But however they did it, one of them did it.”

Officer Comstock had a talent for getting near the truth of dark matters. This is why he was walking a beat out here in the boondocks instead of sitting in a chair downtown.

“Clarissa!” said Officer Comstock in a voice like thunder.

“Resuscitator, resuscitator, anybody wanna resuscitator?” chanted Clarissa.

“Do you know what happened to that fire plug?” asked officer C.

“I have an uncanny suspicion. As yet it is no more than that. When I am better informed I will advise you.”

Clarissa was eight years old and much given to uncanny suspicions.

“Clementine, Harold, Corinne, Jimmy, Cyril,” he asked the five younger Willoughby children. “Do you know what happened to that fire plug?”

“There was a man around yesterday. I bet he took it,” said Clementine.

“I don’t even remember a fire plug there. I think you’re making a lot of fuss about nothing,” said Harold.

“City hall’s going to hear about this,” said Corinne.

“Pretty dommed sure,” said Jimmy, “but I wont tell.”

“Cyril!” cried Officer Comstock in a terrible voice. Not a terrifying voice, a terrible voice. He felt terrible now.

“Great green bananas,” said Cyril, “I’m only three years old. I don’t see how it’s even my responsibility.”

“Clarence,” said Officer Comstock.

Clarence gulped.

“Do you know where that fire plug went?”

Clarence brightened. “No, sir. I don’t know where it went.”

A bunch of smart alecs from the water department came out and shut off the water for a few blocks around and put some kind of cap on in place of the fire plug. “This sure is going to be a funny-sounding report,” said one of them.

Officer Comstock walked away discouraged. “Don’t bother me, Miss Manners,” he said. “I don’t know where to look for your cat. I don’t even know where to look for a fire plug.”

“I have an idea,” said Clarissa, “that when you find the cat you will find the fire plug the same place. As yet it is only an idea.”

Ozzie Murphy wore a little hat on top of his head. Clarence pointed his weapon and winked. The hat was no longer there, but a little trickle of blood was running down the pate.

“I don’t believe I’d play with that any more,” said Nokomis.

“Who’s playing?” said Clarence. “This is for real.”

This was the beginning of the seven-day terror in the heretofore obscure neighborhood. Trees disappeared from the parkings; lamp posts were as though they had never been; Wally Waldorf drove home, got out, slammed the door of his car, and there was no car. As George Mullendorf came up the walk to his house his dog Pete ran to meet him and took a flying leap to his arms. The dog left the sidewalk but something happened; the dog was gone and only a bark lingered for a moment in the puzzled air.

But the worst were the fire plugs. The second plug was installed the morning after the disappearance of the first. In eight minutes it was gone and the flood waters returned. Another one was in by twelve o’clock. Within three minutes it had vanished. The next morning fire plug number four was installed.

The water commissioner was there, the city engineer was there, the chief of police was there with a riot squad, the president of the parent-teachers association was there, the president of the University was there, the mayor was there, three gentlemen of the F.B.I., a newsreel photographer, eminent scientists and a crowd of honest citizens.

“Let’s see it disappear now,” said the city engineer.

“Let’s see it disappear now,” said the police chief.

“Let’s see it disa⁠—it did, didn’t it?” said one of the eminent scientists.

And it was gone and everybody was very wet.

“At least I have the picture sequence of the year,” said the photographer. But his camera and apparatus disappeared from the midst of them.

“Shut off the water and cap it,” said the commissioner. “And don’t put in another plug yet. That was the last plug in the warehouse.”

“This is too big for me,” said the mayor. “I wonder that Tass doesn’t have it yet.”

“Tass has it,” said a little round man. “I am Tass.”

“If all of you gentlemen will come into the Plugged Nickel,” said Nokomis, “and try one of our new Fire Hydrant Highballs you will all be happier. These are made of good corn whisky, brown sugar and hydrant water from this very gutter. You can be the first to drink them.”

Business was phenomenal at the Plugged Nickel, for it was in front of its very doors that the fire plugs disappeared in floods of gushing water.

“I know a way we can get rich,” said Clarissa several days later to her father, Tom Willoughby. “Everybody says they’re going to sell their houses for nothing and move out of the neighborhood. Go get a lot of money and buy them all. Then you can sell them again and get rich.”

“I wouldn’t buy them for a dollar each. Three of them have disappeared already, and all the families but us have their furniture moved out in their front yards. There might be nothing but vacant lots in the morning.”

“Good, then buy the vacant lots. And you can be ready when the houses come back.”

“Come back? Are the houses going to come back? Do you know anything about this, young lady?”

“I have a suspicion verging on a certainty. As of now I can say no more.”

Three eminent scientists were gathered in an untidy suite that looked as though it belonged to a drunken sultan.

“This transcends the metaphysical. It impinges on the quantum continuum. In some ways it obsoletes Boff,” said Dr. Velikof Vonk.

“The contingence on the intransigence is the most mystifying aspect,” said Arpad Arkabaranan.

“Yes,” said Willy McGilly. “Who would have thought that you could do it with a beer can and two pieces of cardboard? When I was a boy I used an oatmeal box and red crayola.”

“I do not always follow you,” said Dr. Vonk. “I wish you would speak plainer.”

So far no human had been injured or disappeared⁠—except for a little blood on the pate of Ozzie Murphy, on the lobes of Conchita when her gaudy earrings disappeared from her very ears, a clipped finger or so when a house vanished as the front door knob was touched, a lost toe when a neighborhood boy kicked at a can and the can was not; probably not more than a pint of blood and three or four ounces of flesh all together.

Now, however, Mr. Buckle the grocery man disappeared before witnesses. This was serious.

Some mean-looking investigators from downtown came out to the Willoughbys. The meanest-looking one was the mayor. In happier days he had not been a mean man, but the terror had now reigned for seven days.

“There have been ugly rumors,” said one of the mean investigators, “that link certain events to this household. Do any of you know anything about them?”

“I started most of them,” said Clarissa. “But I didn’t consider them ugly. Cryptic, rather. But if you want to get to the bottom of this just ask me a question.”

“Did you make those things disappear?” asked the investigator.

“That isn’t the question,” said Clarissa.

“Do you know where they have gone?” asked the investigator.

“That isn’t the question either,” said Clarissa.

“Can you make them come back?”

“Why, of course I can. Anybody can. Can’t you?”

“I cannot. If you can, please do so at once.”

“I need some stuff. Get me a gold watch and a hammer. Then go down to the drug store and get me this list of chemicals. And I need a yard of black velvet and a pound of rock candy.”

“Shall we?” asked one of the investigators.

“Yes,” said the mayor, “it’s our only hope. Get her anything she wants.”

And it was all assembled.

“Why does she get all the attention?” asked Clarence. “I was the one that made all the things disappear. How does she know how to get them back?”

“I knew it!” cried Clarissa with hate. “I knew he was the one that did it. He read in my diary how to make a disappearer. If I was his mother I’d whip him for reading his little sister’s diary. That’s what happens when things like that fall into irresponsible hands.”

She poised the hammer over the gold watch of the mayor on the floor.

“I have to wait a few seconds. This can’t be hurried. It’ll be only a little while.”

The second hand swept around to the point that was preordained for it before the world began. Clarissa suddenly brought down the hammer with all her force on the beautiful gold watch.

“That’s all,” she said. “Your troubles are over. See, there is Blanche Manners’ cat on the sidewalk just where she was seven days ago.”

And the cat was back.

“Now let’s go down to the Plugged Nickel and watch the fire plug come back.”

They had only a few minutes to wait. It came from nowhere and clanged into the street like a sign and a witness.

“Now I predict,” said Clarissa, “that every single object will return exactly seven days from the time of its disappearance.”

The seven-day terror had ended. The objects began to reappear.

“How,” asked the mayor, “did you know they would come back in seven days?”

“Because it was a seven-day disappearer that Clarence made. I also know how to make a nine-day, a thirteen-day, a twenty-seven-day, and an eleven-year disappearer. I was going to make a thirteen-day one, but for that you have to color the ends with the blood from a little boy’s heart, and Cyril cried every time I tried to make a good cut.”

“You really know how to make all of these?”

“Yes. But I shudder if the knowledge should ever come into unauthorized hands.”

“I shudder too, Clarissa. But tell me, why did you want the chemicals?”

“For my chemistry set.”

“And the black velvet?”

“For doll dresses.”

“And the pound of rock candy?”

“How did you ever get to be mayor of this town if you have to ask questions like that? What do you think I wanted the rock candy for?”

“One last question,” said the mayor. “Why did you smash my gold watch with the hammer?”

“Oh,” said Clarissa, “that was for dramatic effect.”

Dream World

He was a morning type, so it was unusual that he should feel depressed in the morning. He tried to account for it, and could not.

He was a healthy man, so he ate a healthy breakfast. He was not too depressed for that. And he listened unconsciously to the dark girl with the musical voice. Often she ate at Cahill’s in the mornings with her girl friend.

Grape juice, pineapple juice, orange juice, apple juice⁠ ⁠… why did people look at him suspiciously just because he took four or five sorts of juice for breakfast?

“Agnes, it was ghastly. I was built like a sack. A sackful of skunk cabbage, I swear. And I was a green-brown color and had hair like a latrine mop. Agnes, I was sick with misery. It just isn’t possible for anybody to feel so low. I can’t shake it at all. And the whole world was like the underside of a log. It wasn’t that, though. It wasn’t just one bunch of things. It was everything. It was a world where things just weren’t worth living. I can’t come out of it.⁠ ⁠…”

“Teresa, it was only a dream.”

Sausage, only four little links for an order. Did people think he was a glutton because he had four orders of sausage? It didn’t seem like very much.

“My mother was a monster. She was a warthoggish animal. And yet she was still recognizable. How could my mother look like a warthog and still look like my mother? Mama’s pretty!”

“Teresa, it was only a dream. Forget it.”

The stares a man must suffer just to get a dozen pancakes on his plate! What was the matter with people who called four pancakes a tall stack? And what was odd about ordering a quarter of a pound of butter? It was better than having twenty of those little pats each on its coaster.

“Agnes, we all of us had eyes that bugged out. And we stank! We were bloated, and all the time it rained a dirty green rain that smelled like a four letter word. Good grief, girl! We had hair all over us where we weren’t warts. And we talked like cracked crows. We had crawlers. I itch just from thinking about it. And the dirty parts of the dream I won’t even tell you. I’ve never felt so blue in my life. I just don’t know how I’ll make the day through.”

“Teresa, doll, how could a dream upset you so much?”

There isn’t a thing wrong with ordering three eggs sunny-side up, and three over easy, and three poached ever so soft, and six of them scrambled. What law says a man should have all of his eggs fixed alike? Nor is there anything wrong with ordering five cups of coffee. That way the girl doesn’t have to keep running over with refills.

Bascomb Swicegood liked to have bacon and waffles after the egg interlude and the earlier courses. But he was nearly at the end of his breakfast when he jumped up.

“What did she say?”

He was surprised at the violence of his own voice.

“What did who say, Mr. Swicegood?”

“The girl that was just here, that just left with the other girl.”

“That was Teresa, and the other girl was Agnes. Or else that was Agnes and the other girl was Teresa. It depends on which girl you mean. I don’t know what either of them said.”

Bascomb ran out into the street.

“Girl, the girl who said it rained dirty green all the time, what’s your name?”

“My name is Teresa. You’ve met me four times. Every morning you look like you never saw me before.”

“I’m Agnes,” said Agnes.

“What did you mean it rained dirty green all the time? Tell me all about it.”

“I will not, Mr. Swicegood. I was just telling a dream I had to Agnes. It isn’t any of your business.”

“Well, I have to hear all of it. Tell me everything you dreamed.”

“I will not. It was a dirty dream. It isn’t any of your business. If you weren’t a friend of my Uncle Ed Kelly, I’d call a policeman for your bothering me.”

“Did you have things like live rats in your stomach to digest for you? Did they⁠—”

“Oh! How did you know? Get away from me. I will call a policeman. Mr. McCarty, this man is annoying me.”

“The devil he is, Miss Ananias. Old Bascomb just doesn’t have it in him any more. There’s no more harm in him than a lamp post.”

“Did the lamp posts have hair on them, Miss Teresa? Did they pant and swell and smell green⁠—”

“Oh! You couldn’t know! You awful man!”

“I’m Agnes,” said Agnes; but Teresa dragged Agnes away with her.

“What is the lamppost jag, Bascomb?” asked Officer Mossback McCarty.

“Ah⁠—I know what it is like to be in hell, Mossback. I dreamed of it last night.”

“And well you should, a man who neglects his Easter duty year after year. But the lamppost jag? If it concerns anything on my beat, I have to know about it.”

“It seems that I had the same depressing dream as the young lady, identical in every detail.”

Not knowing what dreams are (and we do not know) we should not find it strange that two people might have the same dream. There may not be enough of them to go around, and most dreams are forgotten in the morning.

Bascomb Swicegood had forgotten his dismal dream. He could not account for his state of depression until he heard Teresa Ananias telling pieces of her own dream to Agnes Schoenapfel. Even then it came back to him slowly at first, but afterwards with a rush.

The oddity wasn’t that two people should have the same dream, but that they should discover the coincidence, what with the thousands of people running around and most of the dreams forgotten.

Yet, if it were a coincidence, it was a multiplex one. On the night when it was first made manifest it must have been dreamed by quite a number of people in one medium-large city. There was a small piece in an afternoon paper. One doctor had five different worried patients who had had dreams of rats in their stomachs, and hair growing on the insides of their mouths. This was the first publication of the shared-dream phenomenon.

The squib did not mention the foul-green-rain background, but later investigation uncovered that this and other details were common to the dreams.

But it was a reporter named Willy Wagoner who really put the town on the map. Until he did the job, the incidents and notices had been isolated. Doctor Herome Judas had been putting together some notes on the Green-Rain Syndrome. Doctor Florenz Appian had been working up his evidence on the Surex Ventriculus Trauma, and Professor Gideon Greathouse had come to some learned conclusions on the inner meaning of warts. But it was Willy Wagoner who went to the people for it, and then gave his conclusions back to the people.

Willy said that he had interviewed a thousand people at random. (He hadn’t really; he had talked to about twenty. It takes longer than you might think to interview a thousand people.) He reported that slightly more than sixty-seven percent had had a dream of the same repulsive world. He reported that more than forty-four percent had had the dream more than once, thirty-two percent more than twice, twenty-seven percent more than three times. Many had had it every damned night. And many refused frostily to answer questions on the subject at all.

This was ten days after Bascomb Swicegood had heard Teresa Ananias tell her dream to Agnes.

Willy published the opinions of the three learned gentlemen above, and the theories and comments of many more. He also appended a hatful of answers he had received that were sheer levity.

But the phenomenon was not local. Wagoner’s article was the first comprehensive (or at least wordy) treatment of it, but only by hours. Similar things were in other papers that very afternoon, and the next day.

It was more than a fad. Those who called it a fad fell silent after they themselves experienced the dream. The suicide index arose around the country and the world. The thing was now international. The cacophonous ditty “Green Rain” was on all the jukes, as was “The Warthog Song.” People began to loathe themselves and each other. Women feared that they would give birth to monsters. There were new perversions committed in the name of the thing, and several orgiastic societies were formed with the stomach rat as a symbol. All entertainment was forgotten, and this was the only topic.

Nervous disorders took a fearful rise as people tried to stay awake to avoid the abomination, and as they slept in spite of themselves and suffered the degradation.

It is no joke to experience the same loathsome dream all night every night. It had actually come to that. All the people were dreaming it all night every night. It had passed from being a joke to being a universal menace. Even the sudden new millionaires who rushed their cures to the market were not happy. They also suffered whenever they slept, and they knew that their cures were not cures.

There were large amounts posted for anyone who could cure the populace of the warthog-people dreams. There was presidential edict and dictator decree, and military teams attacked the thing as a military problem, but they were not able to subdue it.

Then one night a nervous lady heard a voice in her noisome dream. It was one of the repulsive cracked warthog voices. “You are not dreaming,” said the voice. “This is the real world. But when you wake you will be dreaming. That barefaced world is not a world at all. It is only a dream. This is the real world.” The lady awoke howling. And she had not howled before, for she was a demure lady.

Nor was she the only one who awoke howling. There were hundreds, then thousands, then millions. The voice spoke to all and engendered a doubt. Which was the real world? Almost equal time was now spent in each, for the people had come to need more sleep and most of them had arrived at spending a full twelve hours or more in the nightmarish world.

“It could be” was the title of a headlined article on the subject by the same Professor Greathouse mentioned above. It could be, he said, that the world on which the green rain fell incessantly was the real world. It could be that the warthogs were real and the people a dream. It could be that rats in the stomach were normal, and other methods of digestion were chimerical.

And then a very great man went on the air in worldwide broadcast with a speech that was a ringing call for collective sanity. It was the hour of decision, he said. The decision would be made. Things were at an exact balance, and the balance would be tipped.

“But we can decide. One way or the other, we will decide. I implore you all in the name of sanity that you decide right. One world or the other will be the world of tomorrow. One of them is real and one of them is a dream. Both are with us now, and the favor can go to either. But listen to me here: whichever one wins, the other will have always been a dream, a momentary madness soon forgotten. I urge you to the sanity which in a measure I have lost myself. Yet in our darkened dilemma I feel that we yet have a choice. Choose!”

And perhaps that was the turning point.

The mad dream disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared. The world came back to normal with an embarrassed laugh. It was all over. It had lasted from its inception six weeks.

Bascomb Swicegood, a morning type, felt excellent this morning. He breakfasted at Cahill’s, and he ordered heavily as always. And he listened with half an ear to the conversation of two girls at the table next to his.

“But I should know you,” he said.

“Of course. I’m Teresa.”

“I’m Agnes,” said Agnes.

Mr. Swicegood, how could you forget? It was when the dreams first came, and you overheard me telling mine to Agnes. Then you ran after us in the street because you had had the same dream, and I wanted to have you arrested. Weren’t they horrible dreams? And have they ever found out what caused them?”

“They were horrible, and they have not found out. They ascribe it to group mania, which is meaningless. And now there are those who say that the dreams never came at all, and soon they will be nearly forgotten. But the horror of them! The loneliness!”

“Yes, we hadn’t even pediculi to curry our body hair. We almost hadn’t any body hair.”

Teresa was an attractive girl. She had a cute trick of popping the smallest rat out of her mouth so it could see what was coming into her stomach. She was bulbous and beautiful. “Like a sackful of skunk cabbage,” Bascomb murmured admiringly in his head, and then flushed green at his forwardness of phrase.

Teresa had protuberances upon protuberances and warts on warts, and hair all over her where she wasn’t warts and bumps. “Like a latrine mop!” sighed Bascomb with true admiration. The cracked clang of Teresa’s voice was music in the early morning.

All was right with the earth again. Gone the hideous nightmare world when people had stood barefaced and lonely, without bodily friends or dependents. Gone that ghastly world of the sick blue sky and the near-absence of entrancing odor.

Bascomb attacked manfully his plate of prime carrion. And outside the pungent green rain fell incessantly.

Sodom and Gomorrah, Texas

Manuel shouldn’t have been employed as a census taker. He wasn’t qualified. He couldn’t read a map. He didn’t know what a map was. He only grinned when they told him that North was at the top.

He knew better.

But he did write a nice round hand, like a boy’s hand. He knew Spanish, and enough English. For the sector that was assigned to him he would not need a map. He knew it better than anyone else, certainly better than any mapmaker. Besides, he was poor and needed the money.

They instructed him and sent him out. Or they thought that they had instructed him. They couldn’t be sure.

“Count everyone? All right. Fill in everyone? I need more papers.”

“We will give you more if you need more. But there aren’t so many in your sector.”

“Lots of them. Lobos, tejones, zorros, even people.”

“Only the people, Manuel! Do not take the animals. How would you write up the animals? They have no names.”

“Oh, yes. All have names. Might as well take them all.”

“Only people, Manuel.”




“No, Manuel, no. Only the people.”

“No trouble. Might as well take them all.”

“Only people⁠—God give me strength!⁠—only people, Manuel.”

“How about little people?”

“Children, yes. That has been explained to you.”

Little people. Not children, little people.”

“If they are people, take them.”

“How big they have to be?”

“It doesn’t make any difference how big they are. If they are people, take them.”

That is where the damage was done.

The official had given a snap judgement, and it led to disaster. It was not his fault. The instructions are not clear. Nowhere in all the verbiage does it say how big they have to be to be counted as people.

Manuel took Mula and went to work. His sector was the Santa Magdalena, a scrap of bald-headed and desolate mountains, steep but not high, and so torrid in the afternoons that it was said that the old lava sometimes began to writhe and flow again from the sun’s heat alone.

In the center valley there were five thousand acres of slag and vitrified rock from some forgotten old blast that had melted the hills and destroyed their mantle, reducing all to a terrible flatness. This was called Sodom. It was strewn with low-lying ghosts as of people and objects, formed when the granite bubbled like water.

Away from the dead center the ravines were body-deep in chaparral, and the hillsides stood gray-green with old cactus. The stunted trees were lower than the giant bushes and yucca.

Manuel went with Mula, a round easy man and a sparse gaunt mule. Mula was a mule, but there were other inhabitants of the Santa Magdalena of a genus less certain.

Yet even about Mula there was an oddity in her ancestry. Her paternal grandfather had been a goat. Manuel once told Mr. Marshal about this, but Mr. Marshal had not accepted it.

“She is a mule. Therefore, her father was a jack. Therefore his father was also a jack, a donkey. It could not be any other way.”

Manuel often wondered about that, for he had raised the whole strain of animals, and he remembered who had been with whom.

“A donkey! A jack! Two feet tall and with a beard and horns. I always thought that he was a goat.”

Manuel and Mula stopped at noon on Lost Soul Creek. There would be no travel in the hot afternoon. But Manuel had a job to do, and he did it. He took the forms from one of the packs that he had unslung from Mula, and counted out nine of them. He wrote down all the data on nine people. He knew all there was to know about them, their nativities and their antecedents. He knew that there were only nine regular people in the nine hundred square miles of the Santa Magdalena.

But he was systematic, so he checked the list over again and again. There seemed to be somebody missing. Oh, yes, himself. He got another form and filled out all the data on himself.

Now, in one way of looking at it, his part in the census was finished. If only he had looked at it that way, he would have saved worry and trouble for everyone, and also ten thousand lives. But the instructions they had given him were ambiguous, for all that they had tried to make them clear.

So very early the next morning he rose and cooked beans, and said, “Might as well take them all.”

He called Mula from the thorn patch where she was grazing, gave her salt and loaded her again. Then they went to take the rest of the census, but in fear. There was a clear duty to get the job done, but there was also a dread of it that his superiors did not understand. There was reason also why Mula was loaded so she could hardly walk with packs of census forms.

Manuel prayed out loud as they climbed the purgatorial scarp above Lost Souls Creek, “ruega por nosotros pecadores ahora⁠—” the very gulches stood angry and stark in the early morning⁠—“y en la hora de neustra muerte.

Three days later an incredible dwarf staggered into the outskirts of High Plains, Texas, followed by a dying wolf-sized animal that did not look like a wolf.

A lady called the police to save the pair from rock-throwing kids who might have killed them, and the two as yet unclassified things were taken to the station house.

The dwarf was three foot high, a skeleton stretched over with brown-burnt leather. The other was an un-canine looking dog-sized beast, so full of burrs and thorns that it might have been a porcupine. It was a nightmare replica of a shrunken mule.

The midget was mad. The animal had more presence of mind: she lay down quietly and died, which was the best she could do, considering the state that she was in.

“Who is census chief now?” asked the mad midget. “Is Mr. Marshal’s boy the census chief?”

Mr. Marshal is, yes. Who are you? How do you know Marshal? And what is that which you are pulling out of your pants, if they are pants?”

“Census list. Names of everybody in the Santa Magdalena. I had to steal it.”

“It looks like microfilm, the writing is so small. And the roll goes on and on. There must be a million names here.”

“Little bit more, little bit more. I get two bits a name.”

They got Marshal there. He was very busy, but he came. He had been given a deadline by the mayor and the citizen’s group. He had to produce a population of ten thousand people for High Plains, Texas; and this was difficult, for there weren’t that many people in the town. He had been working hard on it, though; but he came when the police called him.

“You Marshal’s little boy? You look just like your father,” said the midget.

“That voice, I should know that voice even if it’s cracked to pieces. That has to be Manuel’s voice.”

“Sure, I’m Manuel. Just like I left, thirty-five years ago.”

“You can’t be Manuel, shrunk three feet and two hundred pounds and aged a million.”

“You look here at my census slip. It says I’m Manuel. And here are nine more of the regular people, and one million of the little people. I couldn’t get them on the right forms, though. I had to steal their list.”

“You can’t be Manuel,” said Marshal.

“He can’t be Manuel,” said the big policemen and the little policeman.

“Maybe not, then,” the dwarf conceded. “I thought I was, but I wasn’t sure. Who am I then? Let’s look at the other papers and see which one I am.”

“No, you can’t be any of them either, Manuel. And you surely can’t be Manuel.”

“Give him a name anyhow and get him counted. We got to get to that ten thousand mark.”

“Tell us what happened, Manuel⁠—if you are. Which you aren’t. But tell us.”

“After I counted the regular people I went to count the little people. I took a spade and spaded off the top of their town to get in. But they put an encanto on me, and made me and Mula run a treadmill for thirty-five years.”

“Where was this?”

“At the little people town. Nuevo Danae. But after thirty-five years the encanto wore off and Mula and I stole the list of names and ran away.”

“But where did you really get this list of so many names written so small?”

“Suffering saddle sores, Marshal, don’t ask the little bug so many questions. You got a million names in your hand. Certify them! Send them in! There’s enough of us here right now. We declare that place annexed forthwith. This will make High Plains the biggest town in the whole state of Texas.”

So Marshal certified them and sent them into Washington. This gave High Plains the largest percentage increase of any city in the nation, but it was challenged. There were some soreheads in Houston who said that it wasn’t possible. They said High Plains had nowhere near that many people and there must have been a miscount.

And in the days that the argument was going on, they cleaned up and fed Manuel, if it were he, and tried to get from him a cogent story.

“How do you know it was thirty-five years you were on the treadmill, Manuel?”

“Well, it seemed like thirty-five years.”

“It could have only been about three days.”

“Then how come I’m so old?”

“We don’t know that, Manuel, we sure don’t know that. How big were these people?”

“Who knows? A finger long, maybe two?”

“And what is their town?”

“It is an old prairie-dog town that they fixed up. You have to dig down with a spade to get to the streets.”

“Maybe they were really all prairie dogs, Manuel. Maybe the heat got you and you only dreamed that they were little people.”

“Prairie dogs can’t write as good as on that list. Prairie dogs can’t write hardly at all.”

“That’s true. The list is hard to explain. And such odd names on it too.”

“Where is Mula? I don’t see Mula since I came back.”

“Mula just lay down and died, Manuel.”

“Gave me the slip. Why didn’t I think of that? Well, I’ll do it too. I’m too worn out for anything else.”

“Before you do, Manuel, just a couple of last questions.”

“Make them real fast then. I’m on my way.”

“Did you know these little people were there before?”

“Oh, sure. There a long time.”

“Did anybody else ever see them?”

“Oh, sure. Everybody in the Santa Magdalena see them. Eight, nine people see them.”

“And Manuel, how do we get to the place? Can you show us on a map?”

Manuel made a grimace, and died quietly as Mula had done. He didn’t understand those maps at all, and took the easy way out.

They buried him, not knowing for sure whether he was Manuel come back, or what he was.

There wasn’t much of him to bury.

It was the same night, very late and after he had been asleep, that Marshal was awakened by the ring of an authoritative voice. He was being harangued by a four-inch tall man on his bedside table, a man of dominating presence and acid voice.

“Come out of that cot, you clown! Give me your name and station!”

“I’m Marshal, and I suspect that you are a late pig sandwich, or caused by one. I shouldn’t eat so late.”

“Say ‘sir’ when you reply to me. I am no pig sandwich and I do not commonly call on fools. Get on your feet, you clod.”

And wonderingly Marshal did.

“I want the list that was stolen. Don’t gape! Get it!”

“What list?”

“Don’t stall, don’t stutter. Get me our tax list that was stolen. It isn’t words that I want from you.”

“Listen, you cicada, I’ll take you and⁠—”

“You will not. You will notice that you are paralyzed from the neck down. I suspect that you were always so from there up. Where is the list?”

“S-sent it to Washington.”

“You bug-eyed behemoth! Do you realize what a trip that will be? You grandfather of inanities, it will be a pleasure to destroy you!”

“I don’t know what you are, or if you are really. I don’t believe that you even belong on the world.”

“Not belong on the world! We own the world. We can show written title to the world. Can you?”

“I doubt it. Where did you get the title?”

“None of your business. I’d rather not say. Oh, well, we got it from a promoter of sorts. A con man, really. I’ll have to admit that we were taken, but we were in a spot and needed a world. He said that the larger bifurcates were too stupid to be a nuisance. We should have known that the stupider a creature, the more of a nuisance it is.”

“I had about decided the same thing about the smaller a creature. We may have to fumigate that old mountain mess.”

“Oh, you can’t harm us. We’re too powerful. But we can obliterate you in an instant.”


“Say ‘Hah, sir’ when you address me. Do you know the place in the mountain that is called Sodom?”

“I know the place. It was caused by a large meteor.”

“It was caused by one of these.”

What he held up was the size of a grain of sand. Marshal could not see it in detail.

“There was another city of you bug-eyed beasts there,” said the small martinet. “You wouldn’t know about it. It’s been a few hundred years. We decided it was too close. Now I have decided that you are too close.”

“A thing that size couldn’t crack a walnut.”

“You floundering fop, it will blast this town flat!”

“What will happen to you?”

“Nothing. I don’t even blink for things like that.”

“How do you trigger it off.”

“You gaping goof, I don’t have time to explain that to you. I have to get to Washington.”

It may be that Marshal did not believe himself quite awake. He certainly did not take the threat seriously enough. For the little man did trigger it off.

When the final count was in, High Plains did not have the highest percentage gain in population in the nation. Actually it showed the sharpest decline, from 7313 to nothing.

They were going to make a forest preserve out of the place, except that it has no trees worthy of the name. Now it is proposed to make it the Sodom and Gomorrah State Park from the two mysterious scenes of desolation there, just seven miles apart.

It is an interesting place, as wild a region as you will ever find, and is recommended for the man who has seen everything.


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Short Fiction
was compiled from short stories and novellas published between 1960 and 1962 by
R. A. Lafferty.

This ebook was produced for
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Homage to Apollinaire,
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