Title: Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories.
Author: Charles Beaumont.
Genre: Fiction, literature, short stories, horror, science fiction, fantasy.
Publication Date: 1952-1961 (this collection 2015).
Summary: This collection includes 23 short stories in the horror, fantasy, and science fiction genres. In Perchance to Dream (1958), a man seeks the help of a psychiatrist when he believes that he has lost control of his imagination in his dreams, and is convinced he would die the next time he allows himself to sleep. In The Jungle (1954), in an over-populated and half-exhausted world, Richard Austin builds a high-tech city that replaces the jungles of Kenya, but there is a severe clash with the local native population, and they have ancient and menacing powers at their disposal. In Sorcerer's Moon (1959), the last two warlocks left on earth try to do away with each other with the help of an opportunistic private detective. In You Can't Have Them All (1956), an exhausted and emaciated man relates to his doctor his fantastic and obsessive quest of conquering every woman in the world he finds attractive. In Fritzchen (1953), a pet shop owner's son finds a strange creature in a cove of shallow water, and the father makes the ill-advised choice to add the thing to his shop. In Oh Father of Mine (aka Father, Dear Father) (1956), a man is possessed with the question of what would happen if he went back in time and killed his own father before he himself was conceived, and gets a chance to satisfy his burning curiosity when he succeeds in building a time machine. In The Howling Man (1959), an American man recovering from a sudden illness in an abbey in a small town in Germany, comes across a mysterious man locked away from the world who may or may not be Satan himself. In A Classic Affair (1955), a man decides to take advantage of his friend's sudden fixation on a car to swindle him out of a wife. In Place of Meeting (1953), after all humans on earth perish of a disease, a mysterious group of all somehow left alive gathers for a meeting. In A Song for a Lady (1960), a newly-married couple take a British cruise on a decrepit cruiser on her last voyage, but soon notice the boat is full of only elderly people who don't seem too thrilled with the newlyweds' presence. In Blood Brother (1961), a vampire comes to a psychiatrist to complain about his blood-thirsty existence. In In His Image (aka A Man Who Made Himself) (1956), a man suffering with muddled memories finally comes to face the tragic origins of his own existence. In The Monster Show (1956), two movie executives discuss their new vapid, brain-washing programming techniques with a sinister ulterior motive. In The Beautiful People (1952), a young woman living in a world where people are modified to be perfect and flawless at the age of nineteen fights against the society she lives in to remain herself. In Free Dirt (1955), a man obsessed by bargains begins to spin out of control when he realizes that the free cemetery dirt the cemetery makes vegetables thrive in large amounts, and becomes obsessed with getting more. In The Magic Man (1960), an old travelling magician drawing to the end of his career, makes an ill-advised choice of trying to repay the town who's loved him the most. In Last Rites (1955), a dying man summons a priest, a good friend of many decades, to his death bed to present him with a stunning theological and philosophical conundrum. In The Music of the Yellow Brass (1958), an impoverished young man is thrilled when he's finally given the chance at fame and fortune as a Matador, but finds out the tragic truth of his newfound dream-come-true shortly before his match. In The New People (1958), after a young family moves into a new neighbourhood, they soon find out their neighbours are engaged in a bizarre and dangerous games of seeking to alleviate their ever-present boredom. In A Death in the Country (aka Deadly Will to Win) (1957), an ageing and broke race-car driver enters a small-town race and is threatened in his need to win by a enthusiastic and young but rash and inexperienced driver. In Träumerei (1955), two criminal lawyers who lost a case for their death-row client discuss his claims that the world is his dream and if they put him to death, they will cease to exist. In Night Ride (1957), a jazz band gets an incredibly talented but depressed pianist, and things get dark when it turns out the band's manager believe only the heart-broken and damaged can play good music. In The New Sound (1955), an audiophile's life begins to spin out of control as he gets deeper and deeper into his obsession, deciding to create the world's most comprehensive library of death sounds.
My rating: 7.5/10.
♥ His voice was friendly, concerned; but not patronizing. "Running away won't do you much good, will it?"
"Forgive the cliché. Actually, running away is often the best answer. But I don't know yet that yours is that sort of problem."
♥ "It was my imagination. It was, and I realized it even then. But—I got just as scared. Just as scared as if a ghost actually had opened that door! And that's the whole point. The mind, Doctor. It's everything. If you think you have a pain in your arm and there's no physical reason for it, you don't hurt any less... My mother died because she thought she had a fatal disease. The autopsy showed malnutrition, nothing else. But she died just the same!"
"I won't dispute the point."
"All right. I just don't want you to tell me it's all in my mind. I know it is. ..Again, Doctor: understand me. I knew it was my imagination. I had no doubt at all that the back seat was empty—hell, I kept the car locked and I double-checked! But, I told myself, you keep thinking this way, Hall, and you'll see those hands. It'll be a reflection, or somebody's headlights, or nothing at all—but you'll see them! Finally, one night, I did seem them! The car lurched a couple of times and went down the embankment. ..I knew how powerful the mind was, then," Hall continued. "I know that ghosts and demons did exist, they did, if you only thought about them long enough and hard enough. After all, one of them almost killed me!"
~~Perchance to Dream.
♥ Suddenly it was there. On foxfeet, invisibly, it had crept, past all the fences and traps he had laid, past all the barriers. And now it sat inside his mind, a part of him, like his pulse, like the steady beat of his heart.
♥ A disquieting, even a frightening thing; but without terror for the builders of the new city; not sufficient to make them abandon their work or to spark mass evacuations. Panic was by now so forgotten by most that it had become a new emotion, to be learned all over again.
It had not taken very long to relearn, Austin recalled. Terror had come soon enough.
♥ But, the city had grown, implacably, spreading its concrete and alloy fingers wider every day over the dark and feral country. Nothing could stop it. Mountains were stamped flat. Rivers were dammed off or drained or put elsewhere. The marshes were filled. The animals shot from the trees and then the trees cut down. And the big gray machines moved forward, gobbling up the jungle with their iron teeth, chewing it clean of its life and all its living things.
Until it was no more.
Leveled, smoothed as a highway is smoothed, its centuries choked beneath millions and millions of tons of hardened stone.
The birth of a city... It had become the death of a world.
And Richard Austin was its murderer.
♥ Let them wallow in their backward filth? In their disease and corruption, let them die—merely because their culture had failed to absorb scientific progress? No. You do not permit a man to leap off the top of a hundred-story building just because he has been trained to believe it is the only way to get to the ground floor—even though you insult him and blaspheme against his gods through your intervention. You restrain him, at any cost. Then, much later, you show him the elevator. And because he is a man, with a brain no smaller than yours, he will understand. He will understand that a crushed superstition is better than a crushed head. And he will thank you, eventually.
That is logic.
♥ Austin thought of his old college friend Barney—and of what Barney had once told him. Staring at Bokawah, at this scrawny, painted savage, he saw the big Texan clearly, and he remembered his wild undergraduate theories—exhuming the antique view of primitives and their religions, their magics.
"Go on, pal, laugh at their tabus," Barney, who was an anthropologist, used to be fond of saying, "sneer, while you throw salt over your shoulder. Laugh at their manas, while you blab about our own "geniuses"!"
He had even gone beyond the point of believing that magic was important because it held together the fabric of culture among these natives, because it—and their religious superstitions—gave them a rule for behavior, therefore, in most cases, happiness. He had even come to believe that native magic was just another method of arriving at physical truths.
Of course, it was all semantic nonsense. It suggested that primitive magic could lift a ship into apace or destroy disease or...
♥ He looked up at the half-minaretted tower that was one of the 'copter repairs centers. It was located in exactly the opposite direction to the one he thought he'd taken.
Austin sank onto a stone bench. Images floated through his mind. He was lost; precisely as lost as if he had wandered into the jungle that had stood here before the building of Mbarara, and then tried to find his way back.
He closed his eyes and saw a picture, startlingly clear, of himself, running through the matted growths of dark green foliage, stumbling across roots, bumping trees, face grotesque with fear, and screaming...
♥ The shaman's voice slithered into his mind. Chanting. "...you were destroying us against our will, Mr. Austin. Our world, our life. And such is your mind, and the mind of so-called "civilized" men, that you could not see this was wrong. You have developed a culture and a social structure that pleased you, you were convinced that it was right; therefore, you could not understand the existence of any that differed. You saw us as ignorant savages—most of you did—and you were anxious to "civilize" us. Not once did it occur to you that we, too, had our culture and our social structure; that we knew right and wrong; that, perhaps, we might look upon you as backward and uncivilized..."
The sound of birds came to Austin; birds calling in high trees, circling impossibly in the night sky.
"...we have clung to our "magic," as you call it, and our "superstitions" for longer than you have clung to yours. Because—as with your own—they have worked for us. Whether magic can be explained in Roman numerals or not, what is the difference, so long as it works? Mr. Austin, there is not only one path to the Golden City—there are many. Your people are on one path—"
He heard the chatter of monkeys, some close, some far away, the sound of them swinging on vines, scolding, dropping to mounds of foliage, scrambling up other trees.
"—my people are on another. There is room in this world for both ways. But your failure to grasp this simple fact has killed many of us and it will kill many more of you. For we have been on our path longer. We are closer to the Golden City..."
Austin clapped his hands to his ears. But he did not stop walking.
From the smooth stone streets, from the direction of the physics department, came the insane trumpeting of elephants, their immense bulks crashing against brittle bark, their huge feet crunching fallen limbs and branches...
The shaman's voice became the voice of Barney Chadfield... He spoke again of his theory that if one could only discover the unwritten bases of black magic and apply formulae to them, we would find that they were merely another form of science... perhaps less advanced, perhaps more.
The sounds piled up, and the feelings, and the sensations. Eyes firmly open, Austin thought of Mag and felt needled leaves slap invisibly against his legs; he smelled the rot and the life, the heavy, wild air of the jungle, like animal steam; the odors of fresh blood and wet fur and decaying plants; the short rasping breath of a million different animals—the movement, all around him, the approaches, the retreats, the frenzied unseen...
Eyes open he felt and smelled and heard all these things; and saw only the city.
♥ Upon entering the hotel room and glancing at its occupant, Doctor Lenardi assumed that hearty, cheerful manner which is characteristic of all physicians once they have abandoned hope.
♥ So I was more than pleased when a young coed named Bobbi indicated a fondness for me. She was an entrancing creature, 34-24-36, as attractive as she was cooperative, and we saw the stars up close.
♥ It was a beginning. In just such a way, I imagine, are most great advances made. One man asking himself: Why not?
♥ You can consider my delight.
I attacked the last phase of the project with something akin to frenzy. Knowing the address of Tiffany's, I realized, did not automatically put a diamond necklace about one's throat. One must be able to afford the necklace, or—one must be an accomplished thief.
♥ Then there was Detroit's Natasha, a fiery, mordant pseudo-intellectual with advanced views and retarded intentions...
♥ When she left, I tried to sleep, but I could not sleep. How did Edison feel a few hours before he switched on the first electric light? Or Shakespeare, just before he dashed off Hamlet? I could only taste, again and again, the heady draught of Victory. One more, I kept saying, and the everlasting, long-enduring dream of my life would be realized! I'd be satisfied, for in essence I would have had every beautiful woman—beautiful, to me—on the list. All that existed when the list was made.
~~You Can't Have Them All.
♥ It had once been a place for dreaming. For lying on your back in the warm sand and listening to the silence and making far-away things seem real. The finest place in all the world, for all the reasons that ever were.
♥ Sol didn't care for animals. He was old, his mind had fallen into a ravine; it paced the ravine; turned and paced, like a contented baboon. He was old.
♥ They all listened.
It could have been a crazed elephant shambling madly through a straw village...
Or a whale blind with the pain of sharp steel, thrashing and leaping in inimitable waters...
Or it could have been a massive hawk swooping in outraged vengeance upon the killers of her young...
The killers of her young!
In that moment before the rustling sound grew huge, before the windows shattered and the great nightmarish shadow came into the shop, Mr. Peldo understood the meaning of Fritzchen's inconsolable cries.
They were the cries of a lost infant for its mother.
♥ To Mr. Pollet, Time was a highway: a vast, gleaming, empty highway, waiting to be traveled. "It has roadblocks, to be sure," he would say, "and there are altogether too many dangerous curves, much too sharp for even the minimum speed. Still, it's not unlikely that a really clever man will get through someday."
Of course, Mr. Pollet hoped to be that man. To this end he had devoted thirty-seven of his fifty-three years; unswervingly, tirelessly, and with almost monomaniacal faith. Friends he had none. Acquaintances, few. His wife was afraid of him. And in the scientific clubs he was persona non grata: for when he was not mumbling jiggery-pokery about the "space-time continuum" and "the pretzel of the Past," he was nudging people and asking them his famous, and perpetually wearisome question:
"Well, now, what about you, what is your opinion? If I were to go back in Time and kill my own father—what would happen?"
..The question haunted him. He went to sleep with it and arose with it and carried it about with him through the days.
Indeed, it was for no other purpose then to solve this perennial riddle that he labored on his Time Machine. History certainly did not intrigue him. He was not excited over the prospect of visiting past ages. Nor was he unduly concerned with the fame that would surely come to the first man to pierce the time barrier. The Future? It was a bore.
Mr. Pollet wanted little. Only the answer to the question.
What would happen?
~~Father, Dear Father.
♥ The Germany of that time was a land of valleys and mountains and swift dark rivers, a green and fertile land where everything grew tall and straight out of the earth. There was no other country like it. Stepping across the border from Belgium, where the rain-caped, mustached guards saluted, grinning, like operetta soldiers, you entered a different world entirely. Here the grass became as rich and smooth as velvet; deep, thick woods appeared; the air itself, which had been heavy with the French perfume of wines and sauces, changed: the clean, fresh smell of lakes and pines and boulders came into your lungs. You stood a moment, then, at the border, watching the circling hawks above and wondering, a little fearfully, how such a thing could happen. In less than a minute you had passed from a musty, ancient room, through an invisible door, into a kingdom of winds and light. Unbelievable! But there, at your heels, clearly in view, is Belgium, like all the rest of Europe, a faded tapestry from some forgotten mansion.
♥ In that time, before I had heard of St. Wulfran's, of the wretch who clawed the stones of a locked cell, wailing in the midnight hours, or of the daft Brothers and their mad Abbot, I had strong legs and a mind on its last search, and I preferred to be alone. A while and I'll come back to this spot. We will ride and feel the sickness, fall, and hover on the edge of death, together. But I am not a writer, only one who loves wild, unhousebroken words; I must have a real beginning.
♥ Paris beckoned in my youth. I heeded, for the reason most young men just out of college heed, although they would never admit it: to lie with mysterious beautiful women. A solid, traditional upbringing among the corseted ruins of Boston had succeeded, as such upbringings generally do, in honing the urge to a keen edge. My nightly dreams of beaded bagnios and dusky writhing houris, skilled beyond imagining, reached, finally, the unbearable stage beyond which lies either madness or respectability. Fancying neither, I managed to convince my parents that a year abroad would add exactly the right amount of seasoning to my maturity, like a dash of curry in an otherwise bland, if not altogether tasteless, chowder. I'm afraid that Father caught the hot glint in my eye, but he was kind. Describing, in detail, and with immense effect, the hideous consequences of profligacy, telling of men he knew who'd gone to Europe, innocently, and fallen into dissolution so profound they'd not been heard of since, he begged me at all times to remember that I was an Ellington and turned me loose. Paris, of course, was enchanting and terrifying, as a jungle must be to a zoo-born monkey. Our of respect to the honored dead, and Dad, I did a quick trot through the Tuileries, the Louvre, and down the Champs Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe; then, with the fall of night, I cannoned off to Montmartre and the Rue Pigalle, embarking on the Grand Adventure. Synoptically, it did not prove to be so grand as I'd imagined; nor was it, after the fourth week, so terribly adventurous. Still: important to what followed, for what followed doubtless wouldn't have bit for the sweet complaisant girls.
♥ I would explore Europe. But not as a tourist, safe and fat on his fat, safe bus, insulated against the beauty and the ugliness of changing cultures by a pane of glass and a room of the English-speaking hotel. No. I would go like an unprotected wind, a seven-league-booted leaf, a nestless bird, and I would see this dark strange land with the vision of a boy on the last legs of his dreams. I would go by bicycle, poor and lonely and questing—as poor and lonely and questing, anyway, as one can be with a hundred thousand in the bank and a partnership in Ellington, Carruthers & Blake waiting.
So it was. New England blood and muscles wilted on that first day's pumping, but New England spirit toughened as the miles dropped back. Like an ant crawling over a once-lovely, now decayed and somewhat seedy Duchess, I rode over the body of Europe. I dined at restaurants where boar's heads hung, all vicious-tusked and blind; I slept at country inns and breathed the musty age, and sometimes girls came to the door and knocked and asked if I had everything I needed ("Well...") and they were better than the girls in Paris, though I can't imagine why. No matted. Out of France I pedaled, into Belgium, out, and to the place of cows and forests, mountains, brooks, and laughing people: Germany. (I've rhapsodized on purpose for I feel it's quite important to remember how completely Paradisical the land was then, at that time.)
♥ "The sounds that maniacs hear seem quite real to them."
I know. I know!
♥ "You were near death. No physician was available. You would have perished. Still, perhaps that would have been better."
"My recovery seems to have disappointed a lot of people," I commented. "I assure you it was inadvertent."
♥ I went about my daily work, as every man must do, if sane, although he may have seen the dead rise up or freed a bottled djinn or fought a dragon, once, quite long ago.
But I could not forget.
~~The Howling Man.
♥ Of course, at first I thought she was kidding. There was a time when she might have pulled such a gag; but I reminded myself that this wasn't my Ruth. This was Hank's, another person entirely. A housewife. Feet on the ground, eyes on the budget, not the sort to pull gags.
♥ —but a year isn't very long. Mot long enough, anyway, for a person to reverse his character.
♥ Except that he loved Ruth. Almost as much as I did, maybe; and when you feel this way about Ruth, extra-curricular activities simply don't interest you much. They couldn't.
♥ He hasn't come close to me for months," she said, and waited for it to sink in. It did.
♥ He must have talked for hours, showing me every square inch of the car, giving me a complete history. I could see that it was for real, however fantastic it might seem. Old gray Hank had flipped his wig over an auto, and since people like Hank usually live out their whole lives without flipping their wigs over anything, he was taking it hard.
~~A Classic Affair.
♥ It swept down from the mountains, a loose crystal-smelling wind, an autumn chill of moving wetness. Down from the mountains and into the town where it set the dead trees hissing and the sign-boards creaking. And it even went into the church, because the bell was ringing and there was no one to ring the bell.
The people in the yard stopped their talk and listened to the rusty music.
..It came another wind then, mountain-scattered and fast: it billowed dresses, set damp hair moving; it pushed over pewter vases and smashed dead roses and hydrangeas to swirling dust against the gritty tombstones. Its clean rain smell was gone now, though, for it had passed over the fields with the odors of rotting life.
..The people were silent. The wind had died again, so there was no sound at all. Across the corroded wire fence the grey meadows lay strewn with the carcasses of cows and horses and, in one of the fields, sheep. No flies buzzed near the dead animals; there were no maggots burrowing. No vultures; the sky was clean of birds. And in all the untended rolling hills of grass and weeds which had once sung and pulsed with a million hidden voices, in all the land there was only this immense stillness now, still as years, still as the unheard motion of the stars.
~~Place of Meeting.
♥ The travel agent had warned us. It was an old ship, very old, very tired. And slow. ..And I think that's the reason we picked the Lady Anne for our first trip abroad. There was something appealing about taking part in a ship's last voyage, something, Eileen said, poignant and special.
♥ I kissed her and felt, then, that things wouldn't be too bad. It would take more than a grumpy old Englishman and a crazy stateroom to spoil our trip. A lot more.
Unfortunately, a lot more was fast in coming.
♥ We looked at each other, then out over the white-thatched balding sea of heads—some drooping in afternoon sleep already—and back at each other; and I'm proud to say that neither of us wept.
♥ "Everything was arranged for young people. For anyone else, I imagine the ship must have been a bit on the absurd side. Love has its own particular point of view, you know: it sees everything larger than life. Nothing is too ornate for it, or too fancy, or too dramatic. If it is a good love, it demands the theatrical—and then transfigures it. It turns the grotesque into the lovely, as a child does..." The old woman raised her eyes. "Where a shipping line ever found that particular vision, I shall never know. But they made the Lady Anne into an enchanted gondola and took that moment of happiness and—pure—sweet pain that all lovers have and made the moment live for two really unspeakably pleasant weeks..."
♥ "God Almighty, are all of you so ancient, so feeble that you can't see the truth? Don't you know why they want to scrap the Lady?"
Sanders shrugged. "Outlived her usefulness," he said.
"Usefulness? Usefulness to whom, sir? Nonsense! D'you hear? She's the best ship on the sea." Van Vlyman scowled darkly. "A little slow, perhaps—but, I put it to you, Sanders, by whose standards? Yours? Mine? Thirteen, fourteen days for a crossing is fast enough for anyone in his right mind. Only people aren't in their right minds any more, that's the trouble. That's the core of it right there. People, I say, have forgotten how to relax. They've forgotten how to appreciate genuine luxury. Speed: that's all that counts nowadays. Get it over with! Why? Why are they in such a hurry?" He glared at me. "What's the damned rush?"
♥ The next twelve days were like a lazy, endless dream. We had trouble, at first, adjusting to it. When you've lived most of your life in a city, you forget that leisure can be a creative thing. You forget that there is nothing sinful in relaxation. But the Lady Anne was good to us. She gave us time, plenty of time. And on the fourth day I stopped fidgeting and began to enjoy the pleasures of getting to know the woman I'd married. Eileen and I talked together and made love together and walked the ancient deck together, hoping that it would never end, secure in the knowledge that it would... but not for a while.
♥ "A most unusual man, the captain," said Burgess. "He understands things. Like the rest of us, actually—except that his wife is a ship. Still, I doubt I love my Cynthia more than he loves the Lady Anne."
♥ For an eternity she lay poised, then the dark mass of her slipped with incredible speed down beneath the waves, sliding, sinking into the water as quickly and smoothly as a giant needle into velvet.
It could not have taken more than fifteen minutes. Then the sea was as calm and as empty as it ever was before there were such things as ships and men.
~~Song for a Lady.
♥ She smelled of hospital corridors, pressed ferns, dust: age had devoured her. Now there was nothing left, except the eyes which flashed.
♥ "I know what you mean," he said. "It's too good."
"No." Jess did busy things with the chicken. "It's just that I'm happy—understand? And that's enough to give any girl the creeps this day and age."
♥ "What's wrong with me?"
"I'm not sure. But—look, Pete. You're me. Everything you know or feel or think reflects some portion of myself, Walter Cummings. If you wished to kill—I've read the papers, I know about it; the conductor caught a glimpse of you—it could only mean that there is some part of me that wished to kill. My own death-wish, inverted. Everyone has it. I mean, we're all potential suicides or murderers or rapists or thieves. We all have the seeds of paranoia, schizophrenia, or worse, lying inside us, somewhere—from the moment we're born to the moment we die. But—and here's the thing—if we're normal, we're protected. We're protected by our inhibitions. These instincts are never given a chance to get out of hand. We may want to kill the loudmouthed woman downstairs, or we may want to commit suicide at times—but usually we don't."
"So, Pete, it would appear that my own "seeds" are more developed than I'd realized. In you, they are. In giving you parts of myself, I also have you—although unintentionally—my latent psychoses. Big ones. But enough to break through..."
There was a long silence.
"To put it even clearer," the tall man said, "you're insane."
~~In His Image.
♥ "I ask you, Mr. Average World Family, at night when you're all blasted out and ready for the old air-matt do you like to get spooned a lot of maloop you have got to think about, or do you like to get round?"
The Big Man made a solemn circle with his ginger.
"And what is the roundest? Something long and complex and all drawn out? Nay. Variety: that's what is the roundest. So we give you a variety show. Starting things off with a kronch, we have a half-hour trained dog act. Then right into fifteen minutes of old Western movie footage, with the middle reel of a British mystery of the capper. Then a full hour of wrestling, male and female. Ears?"
"A mere starteroo, B.P. We punch 'em with twenty minutes of hillbilly-style Used Car commersh, and then we really start fighting. A right cross with Rev. Vincent Bell on How to Live Up to the Hilt: a left jab with the first installment of a new detergent-operas, Jill Jackson, Jet-Wife: an uppercut to the jaw with Who's Zoo—keep moving; don't give 'em a chance to think, see—followed by a flurry of lightning blows to the face and body: Chef Gaston Escargot's School of Cookery! Mike Tomeredst, Private Op! A Ten-Year Roundup of Stock Turbo and Jaloppy Racing! A musical remake of the old motion picture Waterloo Bridge, now called London Derriere!" The Official Coordinator was warming to his topic: his eyes were wide and his lower lip moist. "Do we swing?"
The Big Man nodded. "Speaking as Mr. Average World Family," he said, "I am getting slightly interested. Wing on."
"Well, we got 'em dizzy now, flap? Kay. We ease off with a handcream commersh: you know, the voodoo dance routine? Thirty minutes. Then, quos! Right in the old schwanzola!"
"What do we do, what do we do?" the Big Man asked.
"We let 'em have it. POW!" The Official Coordinator needled a vein ecstatically, and exploded: "The old haymaker. The slamboreeno. Twenty of the world's greatest comedians on-stage, going through their most famous routines, all at the same time!
..One of the creatures, slightly more lavender than the rest, stepped forward. "Extremely well," it said. "In fact, perfectly. The Earth people are all dead. Thanks, Volshak, to you."
"Nonsense, the Big Man said, turning into a lavender creature with slimy akin and no nose at all. "I have had quite enough idolatry. I prefer to think of myself as an agent who tried to do his job."
"Volshak, Volshak," the creature hissed, "Such modesty is touching, and a credit to our race; but there is not getting around it. You are a hero. Why, if there had been the slightest resistance, we would have failed. We had few weapons, a bare handful of warriors—frankly, we were very nearly ready to descend into The Great Abyss. But even the gulfs are full of vanquished invaders: we did not have, so to speak, a pit to pass in. But now we may revel in the sunlight and enjoy the blessings of propagation on a new world without having lost a single thrimp." The creature put a boneless tentacle forward. "How did you manage it? Volshak, how did you manage to put all the Earth people to sleep at the same time?
But Volshak was blushing. He turned his unproboscidean face to the wall and muttered, in a small, proud voice: "It was easy."
~~The Monster Show.
♥ The Transformation Parlor was terribly quiet.
Mary walked past the people, Mother and the men in back of her, following. She looked at the people, too, as she did in her room through turned-on windows. It was no different. The people were beautiful, perfect, without a single flaw. Except the young ones, young like herself, seated on couches, looking embarrassed and ashamed and eager.
But, of course, the young ones did not count.
All the beautiful people. All the ugly people, staring out from bodies that were not theirs. Walking on legs that had been made for them, laughing with manufactured voices, gesturing with shaped and fashioned arms.
Mary walked slowly despite the prodding. In her eyes, in her eyes, was a mounting confusion; a wide, wide wonderment.
She looked down at her own body, then at the walls which reflected it. Flesh of her flesh,mbone of her bone, all hers, made by no person, built by herself or Someone she did not know... Uneven kneecaps making two ginning cherubs when they straightened, and the old familiar rubbing together of fat inner thighs. Fat, unshapely, unsystematic Mary. But Mary.
Of course. Of course! This was what Darryl meant, what Grandpa and the books meant. What they would know if they would read the books or hear the words, the good, unreasonable words, the words that signified more, so much more, than any of this...
"Where are these people?" Mary said, half to herself. "What has happened to them and don't they miss themselves, these manufactures things?"
She stopped, suddenly.
"Yes! That is the reason. They have all forgotten themselves!"
♥ The beautiful people looked. Cameras turned, Tapes wound. "You'll have to excuse us now. Only the machines allowed."
Only the machines.
The people filed out, grumbling.
Mary saw the rooms in the mirror. Saw things in the rooms, the faces and bodies that had left, the woman and the machines and the old young men standing about, adjusting, readying.
Then she looked at the picture in the screen.
A woman of medium height stared back at her. A woman with a curved body and thin legs; silver hair, pompadoured, cut short; full sensuous lips, small breasts, flat stomach, unblemished skin.
A strange woman no one had ever seen before.
.."Be still, child, stop, stop making those noises. You know perfectly well nothing is going to hurt."
"But what will you do with me?"
"What was all explained to you."
"No, no—with me, me!"
"You mean the cast-offs? The usual. I don't know, exactly. Somebody takes care of it."
"I want me!" Mary cried. "Not that!" She pointed at the image in the screen.
Her chair was wheeled into a semi-dark room. She was naked now, and the men lifted her to a table. The surface was like glass, black filmed. A big machine hung above in shadows.
Straps. Clamps pulling, stretching limbs apart. The screen with the picture brought in. The men and the women, more women now. Doctor Hortel in a corner, sitting with his legs crossed, shaking his head.
Mary began to cry loudly, as hard as she could, above the hum of the mechanical things.
"Shhh. My gracious, such a racket! Just think about your job waiting for you, and all the friends you'll have and how lovely everything will be. No more troubles now."
The big machine groaned an descended from the darkness.
"Where will I find me?" Mary screamed. "What will happen to me?"
A long needle slid into rough flesh and the beautiful people gathered around the table.
And then they turned on the big machine.
~~The Beautiful People.
♥ No fowl had ever looked so posthumous. Its bones lay stacked to one side of the plate like kindling: white, dry, and naked in the soft light of the restaurant. Bones only, with every shard and filament of meat stripped methodically off. Otherwise, the plate was a vast glistening plain.
The other, smaller, dishes and bowls were equally virginal. They shone fiercely against one another. And all a pale cream color fixed upon the snow white of a tablecloth unstained by gravies a unspotted by coffee and free from the stigmata of breadcrumbs, cigarette ash, and fingernail lint.
Only the dead fowl's bones and the stripped traceries of hardened red gelatine clinging timidly to the bottom of a desert cup gave evidence that these ruins had once been a dinner.
♥ Mr. Aorta did something inwardly which resembled a smile..
♥ Mr. Aorta felt an almost sexual satisfaction—by which is meant, he had had enough... for now.
♥ Mr. Aorta, who had never up to this point found occasion to scream, screamed. It was quite successful, despite the fact that no one heard it.
♥ They carried Mr. Aorta's body through the weeded but otherwise empty and desolate back yard, past the mournful dead tree and the rock fence.
They gave him a decent funeral, out of the goodness of their hearts, since no provision had been made.
And then they laid him to rest in a place with a moldering greenwood board wall: the wall had a little sign nailed to it.
And the wind blew absolutely Free.
♥ In the clear September moonlight now the prairie lay silent and cool and the color of lakes. Dust coated it like rich fur, and there was only the night wind sliding and sighing across the tabled land, and the wolves—always the wolves—screaming loneliness at the skies: otherwise, as immense as the end of things.
♥ Outside the wagon, the night was chill. Dr. Silk got out his hand-carved pipe and sat down on the wagon steps and watched the wind for a while. He watched it race along the prairie, lifting dust and making little gray dances, and he began to think, as he had many times before on just such nights, of the invisible life that surrounded him, existing in unseen magic.
♥ He forgot about the cold, pulled at his pipe, and let tomorrow take form.
It warmed him.
♥ Then dawn came, slowly, spilling its cold light over the desert. Leather-toned dust had mounded up around the wagon wheels and the still sleeping mules, high, as if the rig were some forgotten tomb unburied for an hour.
♥ "It didn't take no more than a glance to see he was ailing with a rare tropical disease, the kind that makes your toes drop off. And holler? You'd of thought he was trying to call home a hog. And there I was. It was my opportunity to run out the back way and escape to my freedom—but I couldn't do it."
"Why not?" the freckled boy asked.
"Because of the king. You never let a man die without trying to help, do you?"
♥ He went over to a thin man at the end of the bar and Dr. Silk watched and listened and forgot that there lived a lonely, withered old man named Micah Jackson, too tired to care, too old to run, ready for death to catch up.
The men in the bar had their eyes fastened on him. As they would if he were the President: more than that, though, more than mere respect. These were adults, some of them with years painted into their faces, tottering grandfathers; and still, were their eyes much different from the children's, now? He studied their eyes in the big bar mirror.
There was respect, yes; a little fear, perhaps; and love—certainly there was that, abundantly.
Why? he wondered, as he always did. Was it because he was a man who could fool them with illusions? Only because he knew how to make pigeons fly out of an ordinary hat?
He threw down the rest of the applejack and hoped this wasn't the answer. The liquid warmed a path. Perhaps, he thought, it was because he brought a little honest wonder into their lives one night out of the year...
Then he remembered the prairie that surrounded this small and weary town. And the applejack made him want to turn and say something to the men. You don[t have to wait for me, he wanted to say. Just open your eyes: there's magic in the air. Show me a tree, I'll show you a trick no magician alive could ever do. The dust underneath your boots is a riddle to keep you up nights: What did it used to be before it was dust? Mountains? And the sun! Hey, keep your eyes on the yellow ball—now it's there, now it isn't. Where does it go to? And why? A stone, a hill, a lake—now there's tricks that are tricks, gentlemen! There is magic for you. And I'd give a lot to figure out how they're done, yes, sir, a lot...
But he didn't say any of this.
♥ Every man in the bar had now joined the group. Dr. Silk looked around, took a breath, and began to talk.
He knew they would believe him. After all, how can you doubt the word of a man who pulls roses out of the air?
♥ The people stood smiling out as far as you could see. Bowing, Dr. Silk listened to their applause; he listened and felt the love as it cascaded over the oil lamps. And he knew it was the sweetest, most marvelous feeling that could be: he wished he could do more—something to repay them for this love which, if they knew it, kept him alive, nourished him, let the heart of Micah Jackson beat on. If he could make them see the magic around them, that would be repayment—but how many ever saw this magic? No, he couldn't do that for the people. Yet—
♥ Gradually the squealings died. The audience thinned. But the Magic Man did not notice: he could think of nothing but the love the people had given him and how he must repay them. So he did not feel the wrinkles jumping back into his face, or the dust of far-off places falling from his suit; or hear the way the crowd was turning quiet; or see the children's faces, with their hundred dimming lights.
When at last he had come to the enchanted basket—snakes coiled neatly in the false bottom—Dr. Silk stopped, and blinked away the wetness. "We're all magicians now," he said, his smile poised, waiting.
There were murmurs beyond the flickering of the lamps, and shufflings.
The people were silent. They looked at one another furtively, and a few giggled, while a few wore angry expressions.
Slowly, they began to disperse.
The people began to go away.
Dr. Silk felt the pain another time, more strongly than ever before: almost a new kind of pain, wrenching at his heart. He saw the boy with the freckles who had been with him this afternoon. The boy's eyes were moist. He paused, staring, then he wheeled and tore away into the shadows.
.."Obadiah—" Dr. Silk took a hold of the Negro's thin shoulders. "They didn't actually believe in me, did they? Did they honestly believe I could—"
Obadiah shrugged. "Let's us get out of here," he said. Then he began to pick up the tarnished wonders, quickly, and hurl them into the box.
"All right." Dr. Silk looked down at his hands, at the lint-flecked, worn black suit, at the cracking patent-leather shoes. "All right." He thought of the children and all their dying faces, of the men and their faces—hard and astonished and dumbfounded, as if they'd just seen God come down in a dirty nightshirt, as if they'd heard God snore, and watched Him get drunk, and found that He was no different from them, and so, once more, they were left with nothing to believe in.
He felt the pain come rushing.
"Why? Lord, tell me that."
~~The Magic Man.
♥ ""...the gentleman lay graveward with his furies..." Do you remember that, Father?"
"Yes," the priest said. "Thomas, isn't it?"
"Thomas, He's been here with me, you know, really; and I've been asking him things. On the theory that poets aren't entirely human. But he just grins. "You're dying of strangers." he says; and grins. Bless him." The old man lowered his head. "He disappointed me."
♥ "We have this man, then. He's artificial, but he's perfect: great pains have been taken to see to this. Perfect, no detail spared, however small. He looks human, and he acts human, and for all the world knows, he is human. In fact, sometimes even he, our man, gets confused. When he feels a pain in his heart, for instance, its difficult for him to remember that he has no heart. When he sleeps and awakes refreshed, he must remind himself that this is all controlled by an automatic switch somewhere inside his brain, and that he doesn't actually feel refreshed. He must think, I'm not real, I'm not real, I'm not real!
"But this becomes impossible, after a while. Because he doesn't believe it. He begins to ask, Why? Why am I not real? Where is the difference, when you come right down to it? Humans eat and sleep—as I do. They talk—as I do. They move the work and laugh—as I do. What they think, I think, and what they feel, I feel. Don't I?
"He wonders, this mechanical man does, Father, what would happen if all the people on earth were suddenly to discover they were mechanical also. Would they feel any the less human? Is it likely that they would rush off to woo typewriters and adding machines? It would they think, perhaps, of revising they definition of the word, 'Life'?
"Well, our man thinks about it, and thinks about it, but he never reaches a conclusion. He doesn't believe he's nothing more than an advanced calculator, but he doesn't really believe he's human, either: not completely.
"All he knows is that the smell of wet grass is a fine smell to him, and that the sound of the wind blowing through trees is very sad and very beautiful, and that he loves the whole earth with an impossible passion..."
♥ (..If a person died and remained dead for an hour and were then revived, would he be haunted by his own ghost?)
♥ "What happens to the body? Do you tell the townspeople they have been living with a mechanical monster all these years?"
"What do you think, George?"
"I think it would be unwise. They remember our theoretical man as a friend, you see. The shock would be terrible. Also, they would never believe he was the only one of his kind: they'd begin to suspect their neighbors of having clockwork interiors. And some of them might be temped to investigate and see for sure. And, too, the news would be bound to spread, all over the world. I think it would be a bad thing to let anyone know, Father."
♥ Juanito walked into the Plaza. Children screamed at him. He listened to the screams. He collected them. The screams, the soft smell of old wood and the sharp smell of the cattle, crowds above, the men who looked at him with sadness, love, respect; these things he forced inside him, forcing past and future out, for now, the golden now.
~~The Music of the Yellow Brass.
♥ "Being bored. It's about the worst thing in the world, don't you agree? Someone once remarked they thought it was the only real sin a human could commit."
♥ Prentice followed his neighbor across the yards, walking carefully, and wondering why. He thought of his neat little office on Harmon Street, old Mrs. Gleason, the clean, well-lighted restaurant where he had his lunch and read newspaper headlines; and they seemed terribly far away.
Why, he asked himself, am I creeping around backwards with a lunatic at midnight?
~~The New People.
♥ (..But you're losing it. The coordination's on the way out; you don't think fast any more, you don't move fast; you don't drive fast.)
A big Lincoln, dipping with the ruts, rolled by. The driver stared. I'm sorry, Buck told him. I'd like to die for you, Buddy, but I just ain't up to it; I been kind of sick, you know how it goes. But come to the track anyway; I mean, you never can tell. Maybe I'll go on my head, maybe I'll fall out and the stinking car will roll over on top of me and they'll have to get me up with a rake. It could happen.
♥ Perspiration began to course down Buck's forehead, and when he tried nerfing 14, and found that it wouldn't work, that 14 wasn't going to scare, the thought suddenly brushed his mind that perhaps he would not finish third after all. But if he didn't, then he wouldn't be able to pay for gas to the next town or for a hotel, even, or anything.
His shoulders hunched forward, and Buck Larsen began to drive; not the way he had been driving for the past two years, but as he used to, when he was young and worried about very little, when he had friends and women.
You want to impress your girlfriend, he said to the Pontiac. I just want to go on eating.
~~A Death in the Country.
♥ "When he heard me, he came to 'Mr. Kaplan,' he says, 'you've got to make them believe me, you've got to make them understand—' His eyes go real big then, and—Hank, I'm scared."
"I don't know. Just him, maybe. I'm not sure."
"He's carrying the same line?"
"Yeah. But worse this time, more intense somehow..."
Ritchie tried to keep the smile. He remembered, all right. Much too well. The whole story was crazy, normally enough to get the kid off with a life sentence in the criminally insane ward. But it was a little too crazy, so the psychiatrists wouldn't buy.
"Can't get his words out of my mind," Kaplan was saying. His eyes were closed. "'Mister, tell them, tell them. If you kill me, then you'll all die. This whole word of yours will die...'"
Because, Ritchie remembered, you don't exist, any of you, excerpt in my mind. Don't you see? I'm asleep and dreaming all this. You, your wives, your children, it's all part of my dream—and when you kill me then I'll wake up and that will be the end of you...
"Well," Ritchie said, "it's original."
.."It's just that—well, who is this particular lunatic anyway? We don't know any more about him than the day he was caught. Even the name we had to make up. Who is he, where'd he come from, what's his home?"
My homes... a world of eternities, an eternity of worlds... I must destroy, hurt, kill before I wake always... and then once more I must sleep... always, always...
♥ "He says—what? We're a dream he's having, right? Okay—then what about our parents, and their parents, everybody who never heard of the kid?"
"First thing I thought of. And you know his answer."
"Well, think it over, for God's sake. He says every dream is a complete unit in itself. You—haven't you ever had nightmares about people you'd never seen before? ..All right, even though they were projections of your subconscious—or whatever the hell it's called—they were complete, weren't they? Going somewhere, doing something, all on their own? ..Where were they going, what were they doing? See? The kid says every dream, even ours, builds its own whole world—complete, with a past and—as long as you stay asleep—a future."
"Nonsense! What about us, when we sleep and dream? Or us the period when we're unconscious the time he's up and around? And keep in mind that everybody doesn't sleep at the same time—"
"You're missing the point, Hank. I said it was complete, didn't I? And isn't sleeping part of the pattern?"
.."What will you wake up to?"
"My home. You would not understand."
"Then I sleep again and dream another world."
"Why did you kill George Sanderson?"
"It is my eternal destiny to kill and suffer punishment."
In my world I committed a crime; it is the punishment of my world, this destiny..."
♥ The kid swung into some chestnuts, like "St. James Infirmary" and "Bill Bailey," but what he did to them was vicious. St. James came out a place full of spiders and snakes and screaming broads, and Bailey was a dirty bastard who left his woman when she needed him most. He played "Stardust": like a Boy Scout helping a cripple across the street. And you want to know something about "Sweet Georgia Brown"? Just another seedy hustler too tired to turn a trick, that's all.
Of course, nobody knew what he was doing. To the customers, those smears and slides and minor notes were only mistakes; or maybe the ears didn't even notice.
♥ Jazz might have been born in New Orleans, but it left home a long time ago.
♥ He grinned. It was the kind of a grin a hangman might flash at a caught killer, but I didn't know that.
♥ "We're a jazz band, Green. Do you know what jazz is?"
Davey threw me a glance and ran his hand over his hair. "You tell me."
"I can't. No one can. It was a stupid question." Max was pleased: if the kid had tried an answer, that would've been bad. "But I'll tell you one of the things it is. It's a vocabulary. A way of saying something. You can have a small vocabulary or a large one. We have a large one, because we have a lot on our minds. If you want to make it with the Angels, you've got to remember that."
♥ I don't bug easy, never did, but I had a crawly kind of thing inside me and it wouldn't move. They have a word for it: premonition.
♥ We were just as smart, could play all the different jazz, but we were blues men. We played mostly for the dame at the end of the bar, all alone, with too much paint or too much fat. Or for the little guy who won't dance so they think he hates women, only he's crazy about women, but he's scared of what will happen when he's up that close. We played for little chicks with thick glasses, thick chicks with little asses, and that drunk loser who kissed it all good-by.
♥ He powdered; then, the next night, it went and blew itself to pieces.
♥ "Here's the thing, Deek—our boss has quite a unique little approach to jazz. He believes you've got to be brought down before you can play. The worse off you are, and the longer you stay that way, the better the music is. Right, Max? ..Look around you. You: ten years ago—it was ten, wasn't it, Deek?—you got drunk one night and got in a car and hit a little girl. Killed her. Rollo, over there—he's queer and doesn't like it. Hughie, what's your cross? ..Oh, yeah: cancer. Hughie's gonna die one of these days soon. Bud Parker and Sig, poor babies: hooked. Main stream. And me—a bottle hound. Max picked me out of Bellevue. Shall I go on? ..For for some reason Max couldn't find a real brought-down piano man. They pretended to be miserable, but hell, it turned out they only had a stomach ache or something. Then—he found David Green. Or you did, Deek. So we were complete, at last. Eight miserable bastards. See?" Parnelli patted Max's head, and hiccuped. "But don't get bugged because you didn't catch on. Ol' Dailey's smart. You might have pulled out of your wing-ding years ago, only he kept the knife in. Every now and then he'd give it a twist—like winding us up, so we'd cry about it out loud, for the public."
Hughie Wilson said, "Bull. It's all bull. I can play just as good happy as—"
Max brought his hands down on the chair, and that was the last time he ever looked powerful and strong. "No," he said. He was trembling and red. "Look back, Deacon Jones. Who were the great pianos? I mean the great ones. I'll tell you. Jelly Roll—who they said belonged in a whorehouse. Lingle—a hermit. Tatum—a blind man. Who blew the horns that got under your skin and into your bones and wouldn't let you be? I'll tell you that, too. A rum-drum boozie named Biederbecke and a lonely old man named Johnson. And Buddy Bolden—he went mad in the middle of a parade. Look back, I'm telling you, find the great ones. Show them to me. And I'll show you the loneliest, most miserable, beat and gone-to-hell bastards who ever lived. But they're remembered, Deacon Jones. They're remembered."
♥ "You told me something early tonight," he said. "You told me you were going to come back and kill me. What's holding you up?" he went over to the bureau, opened a drawer, took out an old .38. He handed it to me. "Go on," he said. "Kill me."
"I just did," I said, and laid the gun down on the table where he could get at it.
Max looked at me. "Blow out of here, Deek," he said, whispering. "Be free."
I went outside and it was pretty cool. I started walking. But there wasn't any place to go.
♥ Of all the squirrels in a world full of squirrels Mr. Goodhew was by far the squirreliest. That is, he collected things. But whereas once it had been masks and postage stamps and colored rocks and bits of twine, now he collected death. Vigorously, fanatically, lovingly. He would pluck it out of the air and seal it inside plastic and listen to it at night. It made him very happy.
But things were not always so. It had come by degrees, beginning with Mozart and Bach and ending with the mollusks and the bats—which was, of course, the real beginning. As a common audiophile he had filled his apartment with a mushroom growth of phonographs and speakers and attachments and he was kept busy reproducing felicitously the tutti passages of the more violent composers. But then, one day, he happened to purchase an album entitled A World of Sounds. Its cover was of modern design and it had been manufactured in the interests of science. It contained such items as recordings of seals at play, the death cry of a wounded ibex and a horsefly's heartbeat. Bonus-wise it offered the sound of a squid thrashing in waters described as lonely and unfathomable and the somewhat unnerving (though not to Mr. Goodhew) chitter of a vampire bat.
Sounds, wonderful and strange; sounds you could get your teeth into, sounds like none he had ever heard...
Promptly he was lost and the collection was on its way.
♥ At night now, Mr. Goodhew scarcely ever made reference to any of what he termed his Mesozoic period, preferring to concentrate on this latest phase of the collection. Into the weeest hours he would listen and thrill to the death rattles of stilettoed merchants, the last bubblings of drowned spinsters, the dry croaks of nonagenarians, the windcrushed screams of falling eunuchs... Terror and anguish and honesty, the sounds of honesty; of souls laid open—this is what he listened to.
And surely, he thought, there is no limit to my collection now! A sound for every soul in a universe overrun with souls. It would last forever; he would go on collecting and collecting and—
On a human evening high upon his hill Mr. Goodhew got up, walked over to his phonograph and snapped off the seven hundredth shriek of a university student who had yet three hundred to go (the Death of a Thousand Cuts—Mr. Hurke had instituted certain refinements). And so doing, Mr. Goodhew sighed, paced a bit and then proceeded to a hall mirror whereat he stood in contemplation for fifteen minutes. It was difficult to believe; almost, it seemed, impossible to believe. Yet, as he saw those eyes, those lines and wrinkles, that runny scratch of mouth, he knew it was true.
He had become jaded. He had been living off marginalia for years, and now he faced it: he was a Des Esseintes at the end of the trail. There were no more new sounds, none to excite the smallest interest.
His collection was—complete.
He sighed again, and was alarmed at the sudden receipt of a highly whimsical idea. If it is complete, he thought, why then do I feel frustrated? Where is the satisfaction? No. It is not complete; there is yet one more, one last sound.
~~The New Sound.