Posts Tagged ‘Literature’

My previous post was about the late Margaret Wise Brown, an author of children’s books who bequeathed her future royalties to the nine-year-old son of a family friend.

Brown’s will stated:

“I give and bequeath all of my right, title and interest of every kind and nature in and to all books written by me and published by D.C. Heath & Co., William R. Scott Inc., Harper & Bros., Simon & Schuster, Lothrop Lee & Shepard & Co. Inc., Cadmus Books Agency, Harvill Press and Thomas I. Crowell & Co., and in and to all contracts for the publication thereof, to Albert Clarke, if he survives me.”


In 1957, when Albert Edward Clarke III was 13, the executors of Margaret Brown’s estate estimated that the 79 titles Brown left to Albert would be worth about $17,500 when he turned 21. They valued the copyright to “Goodnight Moon” at $500.

But the Clarke family had more immediate concerns. As young Albert entered adolescence, his behavior was changing from mischievous to criminal.

At age 15, Albert was arrested twice, first for smashing a traffic light and then for taking a car on a joy ride. He was kicked off his high school wrestling team for fighting.

At age 17, he dropped out of school and left home. Living in an abandoned railroad car a few miles from his parents’ house, he stole milk and bread from the doorsteps of nearby homes. He used a sledgehammer to break into parking meters. He sneaked into his family’s kitchen at night to take food.

At 19, Albert joined the Merchant Marine, but was discharged after a confrontation with an officer. When he returned home, he was arrested at various times for burglary, vagrancy, assault, resisting arrest, criminal trespass, criminal possession of a weapon, and grand larceny.

Most of the charges were resolved with a fine, but once, after fighting in public, Albert was sentenced to three months in jail for disorderly conduct. Owing to a jail  fight, the sentence was extended to six months.

In 1964, on Albert’s 21st birthday, he and his father went to the office of Manhattan attorney Samuel Nadler to discuss Margaret’s Brown’s estate. They learned that about $75,000 had accumulated since Brown’s death.

Nadler appealed to Albert to invest the money. Instead, Albert gave half to his family and went on a spending spree with the rest. He was broke within a year.

But the royalties from Margaret Brown’s book rights were still trickling in. Nadler insisted on banking the money and starting Albert on an allowance of $125 per week.

Albert began a life of aimless wandering. Nadler sent the weekly checks by Western Union.

As the years passed, Albert lived idly and comfortably. His weekly allowance went up regularly — to $250, $300, $400.

His run-ins with the law continued. He faced charges of malicious mischief, attempted burglary, and marijuana possession. Nadler dutifully bailed Albert out of jail, represented him in court, and managed his affairs.

In 1970, Albert married a woman in Puerto Rico. Four years later, just days after their second daughter was born, Albert fled Puerto Rico to avoid prosecution on drug charges, leaving his family behind.

His ties with his parents and brothers also faded. Every few years, he spoke to one of his brothers by phone. In the fall of 1984, he learned of his father’s death months after the funeral.

Meanwhile, the popularity of Margaret Brown’s books was increasing. By 1987, the 40th anniversary of “Goodnight Moon,” sales surpassed two million copies. Nadler increased Albert’s weekly allowance to $800.

Albert began wandering the streets of Manhattan and sleeping in an old Dodge van. There, he met a homeless woman, took her in, and sobered her up. They married and had two children.

When Samuel Nadler died in 1992, his records showed that Albert’s accumulated royalties, minus the weekly checks, left some $500,000 in savings.

By then, Albert had not been arrested in five years. He began dealing directly with the publishers, who sent his royalty checks twice a year. Albert was still aimless and had never held a job, but he seemed stable and content.

By 2000, Albert was divorced again and living in a New York suburb. After an ugly custody dispute, in which he accused his wife of child cruelty, the family court gave him custody of the two children, Sharmaine and Albert IV.

In an interview that year, Albert told a Wall Street Journal reporter that he had spoken to his mother Joan only a few times over the years. She died of cancer in a nursing home in Maine in 1998.

In the interview, Albert referred to her as “Mrs. Clarke,” because he believed that Margaret Brown, not Joan Clarke, was his mother.

He claimed he learned the truth when he was 12, hiding behind the couch to eavesdrop on the adults. He said he heard Joan Clarke admit the truth to her sister-in-law.

“Margaret Wise Brown has left Alby an inheritance,” Albert quoted Joan as saying. “She’s left him about $15,000. And did you know that Margaret Wise Brown is his real biological mother?”

No one who knew Margaret Brown, personally or professionally, believes it. Friends said she could not have concealed a pregnancy, and probably wouldn’t anyway.

“It’s delusional thinking,” said Albert’s brother Austin. “It’s a fairy tale to make him feel better.”

At the time the Wall Street Journal profiled him in 2000, Albert was still living on his royalty checks, and he claimed to have about $27,000 in savings.

The Journal reported that Albert had been under investigation by a New York social services agency for verbally abusing the children. Albert denied it. The department declined comment.

After the 2000 interview, Albert and the children moved again and dropped from public view.

Today, if Albert is still alive, he is 72. Over the decades, he has gone through some $5 million in book royalties.

By law, Sharmaine and/or Albert IV will retain Margaret Brown’s copyrights until 2043.


Fascinating stories are all around us.

Albert Edward Clarke III

Albert Edward Clarke III

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Fascinating stories are all around us.


Margaret Wise Brown was a popular writer of children’s books in the 1940s. You know her as the author of the children’s classic “Goodnight Moon.”

Goodnight Moon

Brown was born in New York in 1910 to well-to-do parents. Her grandfather had been a U.S. Senator. The family lived in Brooklyn and summered in Maine.

In 1932, after graduating from college in Virginia, Brown took a job with a New York City publisher as an editor of children’s books.

Soon, encouraged by her employer, she began writing children’s books herself. She was so successful that in 1941, she left the company to write full time.

Brown was attractive, vivacious, socially prominent, and very much a free spirit. Friends called her Brownie and described her as whimsical and childlike. With her first royalty check, she purchased the contents of a street vendor’s flower cart and threw a party.

She once formed a group called the Bird Brain Society. Any member could declare a random day to be Christmas, and the others would gather to celebrate.

Although briefly engaged while in college, Brown never married. As her career blossomed, she had a succession of romances and affairs, often with men in her literary circle.

In 1940, she began a romantic relationship with the former wife of John Barrymore, actress and poet Michael Strange, who was 20 years Brown’s senior. They lived together from 1943 until Strange died in 1950.

Friends said the two were devoted to each other, but they quarreled often. Strange once said to a friend, “Why don’t you marry Margaret and take her off my hands?”

In 1952, Brown became engaged to James “Pebble” Rockefeller, the son of a Rockefeller and a Carnegie.  Later that year, on a book tour in France, while waiting for her fiancé’s yacht to arrive, Brown suffered sudden abdominal pains. She was rushed to a hospital, where she had surgery to remove an ovarian cyst.

During her recovery, she performed a leg kick to show the doctor how well she was doing. The kick dislodged a blood clot that traveled to her heart and killed her instantly. She was 42.

Brown never had children of her own, but she always seemed insightful about their viewpoint and experiences. Her empathy was especially apparent with the children of Joan MacCormick, a close friend since the 1930s.

When Joan MacCormick married Albert Clarke, Jr. in the early 1940s, the Clarkes moved into an apartment next door to Brown. The three Clarke boys grew up thinking of Margaret Brown as part of the family.

Brown gave the boys gifts, encouraged them, and took them to her vacation home in Maine during the summer. The boys later recalled that Brown was more like one of the kids than a grown-up.

Of the three boys, Brown seemed fondest of the middle child, energetic and unruly Albert Clarke III.

In early 1952, Brown decided to make a will “so that the rapacious State of New York cannot take one-third of my horse brasses and Crispian,” her beloved dog.

Brown’s assets included real estate, stocks, jewelry, and her book rights.

She surprised everyone by naming nine-year-old Albert as the beneficiary of the rights to most of her books, effective when he became 21.

At the time, book sales were modest. “Goodnight Moon” sold only 6,000 copies the first year and was expected to go out of print soon. Brown probably thought the royalties would give Albert a small financial boost in future years.

Margaret Brown died six months after she made the will.


In my next post, the story of Albert Clarke III.

Margaret Wise Brown.

Margaret Wise Brown.

Brown with Crispian, her Kerry Blue Terrier.

Brown with Crispian, her Kerry Blue Terrier.

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The Bird Girl statue is, in my humble judgment, an elegant and tasteful work of art.

If you were a knockoff artist looking to cash in on the statue’s popularity by manufacturing and selling cheap replicas and trinkets, surely you would make some effort to retain its better qualities. Surely.

Alas, no. Most of the unauthorized merchandise has been gaudy and cheap. Of the many replica statues that surfaced, you could count those described as elegant and tasteful on a closed fist.

You have to sympathize with the family of Sylvia Shaw Judson, the sculptor who created the Bird Girl back in 1936. Along with the statue’s copyright, Judson’s daughter and granddaughter inherited the task of fending off a steady stream of unauthorized junk.

After the novel “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” became popular, both the internet and the shops of Savannah were flooded with low-quality, hastily marketed Bird Girl stuff. Some examples:






You get the picture.

For years, the family fought back against wholesale copyright infringement, but it was a game of whack-a-mole. Stopping the tide of opportunistic merchandise was nearly impossible.

The family’s only real success came in 1998, when they authorized the manufacture of faithful reproductions of Sylvia Judson’s original sculpture. They contracted with Potina, a North Carolina art company, to produce high quality versions of the Bird Girl in miniature. The result was very handsome.


The Potina statues are made of fiberglass, marble dust, and resin. Versions are available from 15 inches to three feet tall, ranging in price from $100 to $400. Also available is a very nice Bird Girl fountain, if you have major bucks.

To appreciate fully the quality and craftsmanship of the authorized pieces, you have to compare them to some of the unauthorized knockoffs.

Brace yourself.











By the way, the last photo in that cringe-inducing rogue’s gallery was taken two weeks ago in front of a store a few miles from my house.

You may recall that in 1997, Clint Eastwood directed a movie version of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” Alice Judson Hayes, the sculptor’s daughter, later recalled that Warner Brothers asked for a copy of the statue to use in the film.

Hayes said she sent the production company a fiberglass replica and asked that it be returned after filming.

When the statue came back, Hayes reported, the arms had been broken off at some point and glued back on. Backwards.

She said she could tell because the Bird Girl’s thumbs faced the wrong way.

The production company offered no explanation. You stay classy, Warner Brothers.

A few years ago, I purchased one of the 15-inch versions of the Potina replicas, and she is a beauty. I proudly display her at home, like a fine museum piece, on a handsome walnut corner table.

I checked, and her arms and thumbs are on straight.

An old tourism bureau decal. Maybe authorized, maybe not.

An old tourism bureau decal. Maybe authorized, maybe not.


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Thanks to the success of the 1994 best-seller “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” the Bird Girl statue at Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery gained national fame. And fame, as you know, can be both a blessing and a curse.


The “Bird Girl” was created in 1936 by Sylvia Shaw Judson, a sculptor in Lake Forest, Illinois. A Massachusetts family had commissioned the piece for use as a garden sculpture.

Judson used an eight-year-old girl as the model. The four-foot bronze statue depicts a demure female figure in a simple dress, head tilted, elbows at her side. She holds two bowls that serve nicely as bird feeders.

Four statues were cast. One went to the Massachusetts family. Two others went to buyers in Washington, D.C. and Lake Forest.

The fourth was purchased by the Trosdal family of Savannah for use at the family plot at Bonaventure Cemetery. They called the statue “Little Wendy.”

In a cemetery filled with ornate Victorian statuary, Little Wendy was simple and modern, and she raised eyebrows among some traditionalists.

But she was undeniably striking, elegant, and appropriate for the serene setting at Bonaventure. She soon took her place as one of the many sculptures at the cemetery that residents admired and proudly showed off to visitors.

For five decades, the statue remained a familiar fixture at the cemetery. When I was growing up, the Bird Girl was a must-see when we went to Bonaventure. To me, she was no less a Savannah landmark than the beach, the downtown squares, and the seafood restaurants.

Then “The Book” was published.

In 1993, Savannah photographer Jack Leigh was hired to create the cover art for Berendt’s novel. Berendt suggested that Leigh look for a suitable subject at Bonaventure.

Late on his second day of searching, near dusk, Leigh came upon the Bird Girl at the Trosdal family plot. He took a photograph in the fading light.

Back at his studio, he set about editing the photo. He manipulated the contrast to suggest a moonlit night and accentuated the halo of light around the statue’s head. This is the result.


The inscription on the footstone, a verse often used at graveside, is from Second Corinthians: We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the lord.

Midnight-mania had an immediate impact on Bonaventure, Tourism surged. Visitors came in great numbers, individually and in tours, to see the Bird Girl.

At first, the Trosdal family was flattered by the attention. But excess soon reared its ugly head. As the crowds grew, heavy foot traffic began to damage the ground and the vegetation.

At the request of a worried Trosdal family, the cemetery management removed the location of the plot from the public registry. Tourists found it anyway.

Finally, after several lowlifes chipped off pieces of the Bird Girl’s base for souvenirs, the Trosdal family removed the statue from Bonaventure.

Today, the Bird Girl resides on the third floor landing at the Telfair Museum of Art in downtown Savannah. She is under the protection of a guard seated nearby whose job is to prevent anyone from touching the statue or taking pictures.

It’s a sad ending to those of us who remember the Bird Girl when she was still at Bonaventure, at home among the oaks and moss and azaleas and gravestones.

The view down Bonaventure Way toward the Wilmington River.

The view down Bonaventure Way toward the Wilmington River.

Bonaventure Cemetery is an enchanting place. It occupies the site of Bonaventure Plantation, a 600-acre estate founded in 1762. During the Revolutionary War, the plantation was confiscated from its owner, a British loyalist, and sold off in pieces.

In 1869, the plantation’s old family burial site was expanded under the name Evergreen Cemetery. The City of Savannah purchased it in 1907, made it public, and restored the name Bonaventure.

In 1867, naturalist John Muir camped at the cemetery for six nights while waiting on money from home. He proclaimed Bonaventure “one of the most impressive assemblages of animal and plant creatures” he’d ever seen.

“I gazed awe-struck as one new-arrived from another world,” he wrote. “The rippling of living waters, the song of birds, the joyous confidence of flowers, the calm, the undisturbable grandeur of the oaks, mark this place of graves as one of the Lord’s most favored abodes of life and light.”

My very thoughts.

The Bird Girl was whisked away from Bonaventure for her own protection, but plenty of exquisite statues are still there. Here are some of them.


The “broken angel” at the Taliaferro family plot.

The pensive angel contemplating a dove.

The pensive angel contemplating a dove.

The weeping angel.

The weeping angel.

The child angel holding a shell. My personal favorite.

The “shell girl,” a beautiful marble angel at the Baldwin family plot. My personal favorite.

Gracie Watson died of pneumonia in 1889 at age six. The statue's nose was chipped in the 1940s when a little boy hit it with a rock.

Gracie Watson died of pneumonia in 1889 at age six. The statue’s nose was chipped in the 1940s when a little boy hit it with a rock.

This is the grave of Corinne Lawton, who died in 1877 at age 31. According to legend, she was forbidden to marry her true love, who was beneath her station; then, on the eve of an arranged marriage, she threw herself into the Wilmington River. Not so. Documents proved that she died in bed at home after a long illness.

This is the grave of Corinne Lawton, who died in 1877 at age 31. According to legend, she was forbidden to marry her true love, who was beneath her station; then, on the eve of an arranged marriage, she threw herself into the Wilmington River. Not so. Documents proved that she died in bed at home after a long illness.

Sylvia Shaw Judson never saw her Bird Girl sculpture achieve fame. She died in 1978, and her daughter inherited the copyright to the statue.

The daughter spent years fighting copyright infringement, notably the marketing of cheap Bird Girl replicas. After the daughter’s death in 2006, the copyright passed to one of the granddaughters.

Some of the knockoffs are truly awful. More about that in my next post.

Springtime at Bonaventure.

Springtime at Bonaventure.

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You may be familiar with this book, published in 1994.


It’s a novel, loosely based on a 1981 incident in Savannah in which a prominent society gentleman shot and killed a male prostitute.

Eight years and four trials later, the society gentleman was acquitted of murder. The court decided it was a lover’s quarrel that, like, you know, ended badly.

“The Book,” as Savannahians called it, was a huge hit, and it captivated the city in a major way.

Berendt emphasized the eccentric, mysterious, Southern Gothic aspects of Savannah. He sprinkled in numerous colorful characters, some of them well-know locals playing themselves. He flavored the story with doses of hoodoo folk magic, spells, and potions.

The title of the novel refers to the hoodoo idea that midnight is the dividing line between the time of good magic and the time of evil magic. The garden in the title is a cemetery in nearby Beaufort, South Carolina.

Berendt’s novel was critically acclaimed, and umpteen million copies have been sold in a couple of dozen languages. Not only were the locals smitten, but Savannah tourism exploded.

Waves of well-heeled visitors came to see where it all happened. A Midnight-related cottage industry quickly sprang up, selling guided tours, t-shirts, mugs, postcards, and more.

In 1993, the year before Midnight was published, 5 million visitors spent an estimated $587 million in Savannah. Ten years later, in 2003, 12.5 million visitors spent $2.2 billion.

Remarkably, the Midnight phenomenon has not yet faded. The tourists still arrive, still take the trolley tours, still buy the merchandise. In a grateful Savannah, April 26 is now John Berendt Day.

Having a personal connection to Savannah, I know the details about all this. But the truth is, I haven’t read the novel. Nor have I seen the 1997 movie version directed by Clint Eastwood.

Frankly, the plot didn’t appeal to me. Savannah is the Smith family home and all that, but I simply wasn’t interested in the details about some rich guy dispatching his boyfriend.

Moreover, I was kind of offended by the infusion of hoodoo and witchery into the story. It seemed gratuitous. I know Savannah pretty well, and to label it a place of conjuring and folk magic is silly.

Hoodoo spirituality and practices surely exist in a city that size, but Savannah isn’t New Orleans. Forcing it to be for the sake of a book seemed… tacky and uncool.

Well, you ask, if I have such disdain for the story, why did I bring it up?

Because of the photograph on the cover of the book.

The photo was taken at a place close to my heart, Bonaventure Cemetery, where several generations of Smiths are spending eternity. The bronze sculpture in the photo is known as the “Bird Girl.”

The novel made her nationally famous, but she was already a Savannah landmark, a favorite of the locals for decades. When I was growing up, I knew her as just one of the many enchanting statues at Bonaventure.

In my next post, the story of the Bird Girl continues.

Tourists pose in front of the Mercer House, the scene of the infamous murder.

Tourists pose in front of the Mercer House, the scene of the infamous murder.

Savannah's annual Midnight Garden Ride is held in October.

Savannah’s annual Midnight Garden Ride is held in October.

To meet the demand, 25-30 companies offer "Midnight" tours in Savannah.

To meet the demand, 25-30 companies offer “Midnight” tours in Savannah.

Savannah Ghost Tour Hearse 1


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In 1850, Alfred, Lord Tennyson was named Poet Laureate of Great Britain. That same year, he published “In Memoriam A.H.H.,” a poem he had worked on for 17 years. It was a lengthy tribute to his childhood friend Arthur Henry Hallam, who was engaged to Tennyson’s sister, but died at age 22 of a cerebral hemorrhage.

One section of that work (the whole thing is 131 sections long) is often published on its own, under the name “Ring Out, Wild Bells.”

Reportedly, Tennyson was inspired to write the section while staying outside of London in the village of Waltham, not far from the Abbey Church. During the night, the high winds of a raging storm caused the church bells to ring repeatedly.

That back-story is a bit melancholy, but the poem is rousing, inspiring, and certainly appropriate to ring in the new year. In Sweden, “Ring Out, Wild Bells” is recited each year at the national New Year’s Eve celebration, a tradition dating back to 1897.


Ring Out, Wild Bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow;
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

— Alfred, Lord Tennyson


Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892), 1st Baron Tennyson of Aldworth and Freshwater

Fine sentiments, but we all know it won’t happen. Maybe Lord T. was being sarcastic.

Humanity isn’t exactly a noble species, but dammit, that doesn’t prevent us from showing some class individually. Here’s to ringing out the false and ringing in the true. Happy 2015.


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Donald Westlake (1933-2008) began his writing career in the 1950s. He started out writing sci-fi, but soon turned to crime fiction, where he found his groove. Over the next several decades, his mystery novels and short stories won numerous awards, including a Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America.

The early Westlake sci-fi short story below is presented in a humorous vein, but it actually addresses, quite pointedly, the sobering issues that dominated the world in the 1950s: the Cold War and the nuclear arms race.

Speculative fiction is terrifically fertile ground for allegories.


They Also Serve

By Donald E. Westlake
Published in Analog Science Fact & Fiction, September 1961

The launch carrying the mail, supplies and replacements eased slowly in toward the base, keeping the bulk of the Moon between itself and Earth. Captain Ebor, seated at the controls, guided the ship to the rocky uneven ground with the easy carelessness of long practice, then cut the drive, got to his walking tentacles, and stretched. Donning his spacesuit, he left the ship to go over to the dome and meet Darquelnoy, the base commander.

An open ground-car was waiting for him beside the ship. The driver, encased in his spacesuit, crossed tentacles in a sloppy salute, and Ebor returned the gesture quite as sloppily. Here on the periphery, caste formalities were all but dispensed with.

Ebor stood for a moment and watched the unloading. The cargo crew, used to working in spacesuits, had one truck already half full. The replacements, unused to spacesuits and, in addition, awed and a bit startled by the bleakness of this satellite, were moving awkwardly down the ramp.

Satisfied that the unloading was proceeding smoothly, Ebor climbed aboard the ground-car, awkward in his suit, and settled back heavily in the seat to try to get used to gravity again. The gravity of this Moon was slight, of course — barely one-sixth the gravity of the Home World or most of the colonies — but it still took getting used to, after a long trip in free-fall.

The driver sat at the controls, and the car jerked into motion. Ebor, looking up, noticed for the first time that the dome wasn’t there any more. The main dome, housing the staff and equipment of the base, just wasn’t there.

And the driver, he now saw, was aiming the car toward the nearby crater wall. Extending two of his eyes till they almost touched the face-plate of his helmet, he could see activity at the base of the crater wall, and what looked like an air-lock entrance. He wondered what had caused the change, which had obviously been done at top speed. The last time he’d been here, not very long ago, the dome had still been intact, and there had been no hint of any impending move underground.

The driver steered the car into the open air lock, and they waited until the first cargo truck had lumbered in after them. Then the outer door closed, the pumps were turned on, and in a minute the red light flashed over the inner door. Ebor removed the spacesuit gratefully, left it in the car, and walked clumsily through the inner door into the new base.

A good job had been done on it, for all the speed. Rooms and corridors has been melted out of the rock, the floors had been carpeted, the walls painted, and the ceiling lined with light panels. All of the furnishings had been transferred here from the original dome, and the result looked, on the whole, quite livable. As livable as the dome had been, at least.

But the base commander, Darquelnoy, waiting for his old friend Ebor near the inner door of the lock, looked anything but happy with the arrangement. At Ebor’s entrance he raised a limp tentacle in weary greeting and said, “Come in, my friend, come in. Tell me the new jokes from home. I could use some cheering up.”

“None worth telling,” said Ebor. He looked around. “What’s happened here?” he asked. “Why’ve you gone underground? Why do you need cheering up?”

Darquelnoy clicked his eyes in despair. “Those things!” he cried. “Those annoying little creatures on that blasted planet up there!”

Ebor repressed an amused ripple. He knew Darquelnoy well enough to know that the commander invariably overstated things. “What’ve they been up to, Dar?” he asked. “Come on, you can tell me over a hot cup of restno.”

“I’ve been practically living on the stuff for the last two dren,” said Darquelnoy hopelessly. “Well, I suppose another cup won’t kill me. Come on to my quarters.”

“I’ve worked up a fine thirst on the trip,” Ebor told him.

The two walked down the long corridor together and Ebor said, “Well? What happened?”

“They came here,” Darquelnoy told him simply. At Ebor’s shocked look, he rippled in wan amusement and said, “Oh, it wasn’t as bad as it might have been, I suppose. It was just that we had to rush around so frantically, unloading and dismantling the dome, getting this place ready –”

“What do you mean, they came here?” demanded Ebor.

“They are absolutely the worst creatures for secrecy in the entire galaxy!” exclaimed Darquelnoy in irritation. “Absolutely the worst.”

“Then you’ve picked up at least one of their habits,” Ebor told him. “Now stop talking in circles and tell me what happened.”

“They built a spaceship, is the long and the short of it,” Darquelnoy answered.

Ebor stopped in astonishment. “No!”

“Don’t tell me no!” cried Darquelnoy. “I saw it!” He was obviously at his wit’s end.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Ebor.

“I know,” said Darquelnoy. He led the way into his quarters, motioned Ebor to a perch, and rang for his orderly. “It was just a little remote-controlled apparatus, of course,” he said. “The fledgling attempt, you know. But it circled this Moon here, busily taking pictures, and went right back to the planet again, giving us all a terrible fright. There hadn’t been the slightest indication they were planning anything that spectacular.”

“None?” asked Ebor. “Not a hint?”

“Oh, they’ve been boasting about doing some such thing for ages,” Darquelnoy told him. “But there was never any indication that they were finally serious about it. They have all sorts of military secrecy, of course, and so you never know a thing is  going to happen until it does.”

“Did they get a picture of the dome?”

“Thankfully, no. And before they had a chance to try again, I whipped everything underground.”

“It must have been hectic,” Ebor said sympathetically.

“It was,” said Darquelnoy simply.

The orderly entered. Darquelnoy told him, “Two restno,” and he left again.

“I can’t imagine them making a spaceship,” said Ebor thoughtfully. “I would have thought they’d have blown themselves up long before reaching that stage.”

“I would have thought so, too,” said Darquelnoy. “But there it is. At the moment, they’ve divided themselves into two camps — generally speaking, that is — and the two sides are trying like mad to outdo each other in everything. As a part of it, they’re shooting all sorts of rubbish into space and crowing every time a piece of the other side’s rubbish malfunctions.”

“They could go on that way indefinitely,” said Ebor.

“I know,” said Darquelnoy gloomily. “And here we sit.”

Ebor nodded, studying his friend. “You don’t suppose this is all a waste of time, do you?” he asked, after a minute.

Darquelnoy shook a tentacle in negation. “Not at all, not at all. They’ll get around to it, sooner or later. They’re still boasting themselves into the proper frame of mind, that’s all.”

Ebor rippled in sympathetic amusement. “I imagine you sometimes wish you could give them a little prodding in the right direction,” he said.

Darquelnoy fluttered his tentacles in horror, crying, “Don’t even think of such a thing!”

“I know, I know,” said Ebor hastily. “The laws –”

“Never mind the laws,” snapped Darquelnoy. “I’m not even thinking about the laws. Frankly, if it would do any good, I might even consider breaking one or two of the laws, and the devil with my conditioning.”

“You are upset,” said Ebor at that.

“But if we were to interfere with those creatures up there,” continued Darquelnoy, “interfere with them in any way at all, it would be absolutely disastrous.”

The orderly returned at that point, with two steaming cups of restno. Darquelnoy and Ebor accepted the cups and the orderly left, making a sloppy tentacle-cross salute, which the two ignored.

“I wasn’t talking necessarily about attacking them, you know,” said Ebor, returning to the subject.

“Neither was I,” Darquelnoy told him. “We wouldn’t have to attack them. All we would have to do is let them know we’re here. Not even why we’re here, just the simple fact of our presence. That would be enough. They would attack us.”

Ebor extended his eyes in surprise. “As vicious as all that?”

“Chilling,” Darquelnoy told him. “Absolutely chilling.”

“Then I’m surprised they haven’t blown themselves to pieces long before this.”

“Oh, well,” said Darquelnoy, “you see, they’re cowards, too. They have to boast and brag and shout a while before they finally get to clawing and biting at one another.”

Ebor waved a tentacle. “Don’t make it so vivid.”

“Sorry,” apologized Darquelnoy. He drained his cup of restno. “Out here,” he said, “living next door to the little beasts day after day, one begins to lose one’s sensibilities.”

“It has been a long time,” agreed Ebor.

“Longer than we had originally anticipated,” Darquelnoy said frankly. “We’ve been ready to move in for I don’t know how long. And instead we just sit here and wait. Which isn’t good for morale, either.”

“No, I don’t imagine it is.”

“There’s already a theory among some of the workmen that the blow-up just isn’t going to happen, ever. And since that ship went circling by, of course, morale has hit a new low.”

“It would have been nasty if they’d spotted you,” said Ebor.

“Nasty?” echoed Darquelnoy. “Catastrophic, you mean. All that crowd up there needs is an enemy, and it doesn’t much matter to them who that enemy is. If they were to suspect that we were here, they’d forget their own little squabbles at once and start killing us instead. And that, of course, would mean that they’d be united, for the first time in their history, and who knows how long it would take them before they’d get back to killing one another again.”

“Well,” said Ebor, “you’re underground now. And it can’t possibly take them too much longer.”

“One wouldn’t think so,” agreed Darquelnoy. “In a way,” he added, “that spaceship was a hopeful sign. It means that they’ll be sending a manned ship along pretty soon, and that should do the trick. As soon as one side has a base on the Moon, the other side is bound to get things started.”

“A relief for you, eh?” said Ebor.

“You know,” said Darquelnoy thoughtfully, “I can’t help thinking I was born in the wrong age. All this scrabbling around, searching everywhere for suitable planets. Back when the Universe was younger, there were lots and lots of planets to colonize. Now the old problem of half-life is taking its toll, and we can’t even hope to keep up with the birth rate any more. If it weren’t for the occasional planets like that one up there, I don’t know what we’d do.”

“Don’t worry,” Ebor told him. “They’ll have their atomic war pretty soon, and leave us a nice high-radiation planet to colonize.”

“I certainly hope it’s soon,” said Darquelnoy. “This waiting gets on one’s nerves.” He rang for the orderly.

Waiting Game


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Richard Pike Bissell (1913-1977) was born in the Mississippi River town of Dubuque, Iowa, and the river was in his blood. In his youth, he worked on towboats on the Mississippi and other rivers, rising from deckhand to pilot. 

Ultimately, Bissell returned to Dubuque to help run the family garment factory, and he began to write short stories and novels about his river experiences. He proved to be a gifted writer. Many critics called him “the Modern Day Mark Twain.” 

In 1953, Bissell wrote “7-1/2 Cents,” a humorous novel about a strike at a garment factory. The story became the Broadway play and motion picture “The Pajama Game.” 

“I learned three-quarters of what I know about writing from reading Richard Bissell,” Elmore Leonard wrote. “God bless him.”

Bissell’s first novel, “A Stretch on the River,” is a semi-autobiographical story about the colorful, hard-working characters who man the river barges. Especially memorable is the chapter below, which in its own right is an excellent work of fiction. 

The chapter is slow reading, but superb storytelling. 


The Death of Shorty

By Richard Bissell

From the novel A Stretch on the River, 1950

“Now I went and done it,” Shorty thought, “here I am about to be drownd, how and the hell did I ever pull such a dumb one as that?”

Just then his head hit the steel bottom plates of the barge rake: crack! and the current shoved him around the bottom of the rake and under the barges.

“This is worse than the carnival,” Shorty thought. “So long Ma, so long boys. It’s hell to die so young,” and he did so. He felt better immediately.

“It sure is one hell of a lot cooler now, and no more worryin about which watch will get Keokuk lock. Poor Bill, I bet he like to had a hem’rage when I went over. Now they have got the engines stopped, and Joe and Bill and Diamond are gettin the yawl out to look around for me, I must be clear back to the first coupling by now, or maybe by the boat, but I don’t hear the generator, I don’t hear nothin. They can have my stuff, but I hope they send my watch belonged to Pa home. Sargent will go crazy — oh how he hates a drowndin on his boat. And I had no lifejacket on after all his preachin — that will make him even wilder. No sleep for the Captain, I’ll give him bad dreams for a week. Well I’m down here to stay for a while and I know one thing sure, I will never get back to that lock. We must of been right at Victory Bend when I took that dive. I suppose if I can get around the bend without goin aground I will make her down past Lost Channel to De Soto. It all depends on how much water I am drawin by that time. If I would of ate more for supper I s’pose I would drift a little closer to the surface in a couple of days. If I can stay out of the weeds and them little sloughs and cricks down by Indian Camp, maybe I can make her around Lansing Bend about the time I am gettin ripe. If I could get picked up there it would be handy, a nice thing to pull on a guy out in a yawl with his girl, but if I get past Lansing where am I — down the crick and no paddle, nothin below there clean to Lynxville and I would get lost in the pool sure. Maybe some duck hunters next fall would ketch what’s left of me by then; if I can flank in at Lansing somehow and kind of bob around in there by them fishermen’s boats they will see me, more’n likely they will be lookin for me anyways. I suppose Cap will tell them at the lock and they will all know it from here to Guttenberg and be on the lookout for me. That is gonna be tough gettin past them bends and out of the sloughs without no Pilot’s License. I will look nice in a box there on the baggage platform of the Milwaukee at Lansing. Poor Ma. Looks like I ain’t ever gonna see Beardstown again or find out how Uncle Jim’s corn come out. They all tole me I was crazy to go roamin off on the river when I could of worked on the farm. Funny the way I was standin there that day watching the flood and along comes ole Batty Welch, but I didn’t know him then, he said, ‘Boy, how would you like to work on a steamboat?’ I says, ‘I never give it no thought.’ Yes sir, that was the old Western Belle, a beat-up little coal burner with a split wheel. After the first time we come down the Chain of Rocks and past Burlington Elevator and on down under McKinley Bridge and then on down under Eads Bridge and I see the lights of St. Louis and the boats tied up, the Federal boats and the Streckfus boats and the old Ralph Hicks rotting away and the showboat and the Golden Eagle and the Susie Hazard and them big smokestacks up in the air across the river at Cahokia, after that I never could go it no longer down the corn rows. Never would be here now layin under the tow so far from home in the Upper Mississippi if I hadn’t just a been there that day Batty come along and he says, ‘Boy, how would you like to work on a steamboat?’ Was I ever green and they sent me to the Engineer to fetch a bucket of steam, but how the hell did I know the difference? And the first time we made a yawl play at Havana they made me watch the yawl while they went uptown and got beered up. I remember it was a hot afternoon and there was a dead carp layin on the bank where the water had gone down, and an old boy was tryin to patch up a motorboat and I talked to him. I bet Bill will be all tore up about this, the poor bastard will figure he coulda grabbed me, I be god damned if I can figure how come I fell off that barge — I knew that lock line was there, right where it always is, laid out in bights — seems like I slipped in that loose coal on the deck. I always thought it was a lot of bull sweepin them decks off but look at me now, boys, look at me now, no  more beer and no more girls — I ain’t never goin to see that ole Marth no more. It grieves me when I think back on that time we was makin hay to her Dad’s place and we went down to the crick in the evenin, nobody never caught on. We got all mosquito bites and then we use to get in the crick and do it under the water. I wonder where Batty Welch is now, I heard he was pilot on the Chicago Bridge, and then again some deckhand off the Hurley told me he was a mate on one of the City boats, he took me in hand and he says, ‘Boy, I’ll make a deck hand out of you, and you’ll be ridin these cinder throwin devils till you lay down some day and die out on the barges.’ Well, I’m dead all right but I’m under the barges, not on ’em. Then when we broke up our tow there at Cottonwood Island we had barges all over the river and two down through the Burlington railroad bridge and one went down and hit the Quincy highway bridge — we was out there thirty hours and run through a couple of new coils of line and Jackie Winders fell overboard and come near to drowndin. When he was all done and had her made up and Captain Leverett had her goin up the river again we was settin there on the barges too tired to even go back to the galley for coffee, we was right abreast of Hogback Island and Batty says to me, and he give me a tailor made, he says, ‘You done good, kid, you done good, you’ll make a deckhand yet, even with the manure still in your shoes you’re a better deckhand than some I know.’ He meant that wise guy — what was his name, Ken something? — from St. Louis who was always ravin about all the big boats he been on, ole Batty couldn’t stand the sight of him. I wonder if Marth is still workin there in the cafe. What will she think when she sees it in the paper: ‘Randolph Calhoun drowned on the Upper Mississippi, an employee of the Inland Barge Line and the nephew of Jacob Randolph, route #2.’ I must be clear of the boat now and them poor bastards are out in the yawl and Al is out of bed and the other deckhands they got them up to tie the tow off, I reckon, and Bill is givin his version of it again, the poor bastard. They got a fine chance of findin me tonight with no life vest on and the river dark anyways; if the Sprague was sunk in the middle  of the channel, they couldn’t find her tonight, dark as it is. Then after the Jane Collins Batty took me over onto the Federal after he got a watchman’s job over there. We spent the summer on the James W. Good until I fell in that empty lease barge one night at Red Wing and was laid up — it was nice in the hospital and they give me magazines to read. The next season I went back on the Illinois on the Betty Jane but the less about that season the better. Then I got on the Federals again for two seasons and worked for Uncle Jim in the winter. And then there was the Transporter from Cincinnati to Helena and ole Cap Saunders — he was all right except when he would get on the bottle and Flea Williams and I would stand watch together. Flea was a comical bastard — I can laugh myself sick now thinkin of some of the rare ones he use to pull — then he got married and went to work in a fillin station in Hannibal. She’s been a grand ole time and I’d just as soon be down here makin friends with the catfish as of spent all my days shovelin manure and plantin corn. I sure hope they fish me outa here, though. I don’t hanker to stay down here after the heat wave is over. Ole Joe will be sore he got nobody to help him with the jackknifin, I s’pose he will get Bill to help him jackknife and leave Diamond handle the head line and get one of the other watch to stand the stern line. They will prob’ly pick up a deckhand up at La Crosse or Winona or Fountain City if they can find one, some kid out of a ice cream parlor that will last for about two locks, maybe they can get one of them guys at Genoa on the way down , some good deckhands around there. Well, he’s got ole Bill and Diamond anyways and they can hold up their end any time. Here goes my chance at relief watchman I been in line for — Al told me Sargent had me in mind for relief man when he went on next vacation — ain’t that the roses though? Then let’s see, after the Transporter I went over on the dredge for a while and then on the Mackenzie on the Upper Mississippi and spent the summer foolin with that ole fuel flat and we hit the Burlington Bridge and took half the pier right on up the river with us; the ole Mack never even hesitated and the limestone blocks and half the bullnosing was right on the deck of the barge. After that I went over to the Illinois again on the Marcia T., quite a comedown after the big Mack, and we messed with them ice cakes all winter and punched a hole in her bottom at Marseilles and all got off but the messboy — when they raised her they found the poor bastard down in the hole. Lookin for some soap powder, I suppose, when she went down. And we use to go over there to the Ace of Clubs by the landing in Joliete and play the juke box and get lit up and go out in a cab to them whorehouses when we got a chance, and then two months on the little Mortimer Jones in the drainage canal and a few trips down the Sag to South Chicago with one load at a time but that run gets old awful quick and I asked for transfer and got onto the new boat and we run from Joliet to Havana and every time you looked up there was some more out of the Chicago office comin aboard with their wives to see the new boat and the port captain was around all the time and Captain Ferris had to show them what a big rough tough ole boy he was and had the megaphone stuck out the pilot house all the time. What a joke — not only that but all them landins every other day and makin up eight loads at a time, carry out all that riggin just to carry it back forty hours later and make up all over again. To make a long story short, then I tole them I had enough of it and they transferred me to the ole Inland Coal and yours truly is now under water for good. I don’t see I can make it down to Lansing. Thank god they’s plenty of fishermen around her, maybe one of them will pick me up. She’s a rough go and that will be tough gettin past them bends and sloughs without no Pilot’s License.”

And then Shorty was clear of the barges and the towboat, but instead of rising to the surface to help make Genoa lock, he sank slowly and the current and wheel wash gently rolled him over in the soft mud at the bottom of the river.

Bissell, like Mark Twain, was licensed as both a riverboat captain and pilot.

Bissell, like Mark Twain, was licensed as both a riverboat captain and pilot.

A towboat pushes barges down the Mississippi River.

A towboat pushes barges down the Mississippi River.

A deckhand casts a line to secure a barge. The same task is performed despite high winds, snowstorms, and icy decks.

A deckhand casts a line to secure a barge. The same task is performed despite high winds, snowstorms, and icy decks.


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The writing career of science fiction author Philip José Farmer (1918–2009) spanned 60 years and yielded almost as many novels. Plus about 100 short stories.

Farmer was widely respected in the business, but he had his detractors. One critic said Farmer needed to slow down and edit his work more carefully. In 1972, one sourpuss called him “a humdrum toiler in the fields of science fiction.”

Hmmm. That was the year Farmer won the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel. Which was his third Hugo. Humdrum toiler, indeed.

Farmer once said of man’s belief in some kind of life after death, “I can’t see why such miserable, unhappy, vicious, stupid, conniving, greedy, narrow-minded, self-absorbed beings should have immortality.”

That viewpoint ties in nicely with the short story below.


The King of the Beasts

By Philip José Farmer
Published in Galaxy Magazine, June 1964

The biologist was showing the distinguished visitor through the zoo and laboratory.

“Our budget,” he said, “is too limited to re-create all known extinct species. So we bring to life only the higher animals, the beautiful ones that were wantonly exterminated. I’m trying, as it were, to make up for brutality and stupidity. You might say that man struck God in the face every time he wiped out a branch of the animal kingdom.”

He paused, and they looked across the moats and the force fields. The quagga wheeled and galloped, delight and sun flashing off his flanks. The sea otter poked his humorous whiskers from the water. The gorilla peered from behind bamboo. Passenger pigeons strutted. A rhinoceros trotted like a dainty battleship. With gentle eyes a giraffe looked at them, then resumed eating leaves.

“There’s the dodo. Not beautiful, but very droll. And very helpless. Come, I’ll show you the re-creation itself.”

In the great building, they passed between rows of tall and wide tanks. They could see clearly through the windows and the jelly within.

“Those are African elephant embryos,” said the biologist. “We plan to grow a large herd and then release them on the new government preserve.”

“You positively radiate,” said the distinguished visitor. “You really love the animals, don’t you?”

“I love all life.”

“Tell me,” said the visitor, “where do you get the data for re-creation?”

“Mostly, skeletons and skins from the ancient museums. Excavated books and films that we succeeded in restoring and then translating. Ah, see those huge eggs? The chicks of the giant moa are growing within them. There, almost ready to be taken from the tank, are tiger cubs. They’ll be dangerous when grown but will be confined to the preserve.”

The visitor stopped before the last of the tanks.

“Just one?” he said. “What is it?”

“Poor little thing,” said the biologist, now sad. “It will be so alone. But I shall give it all the love I have.”

“Is it so dangerous?” said the visitor. “Worse than elephants, tigers, and bears?”

“I had to get special permission to grow this one,” said the biologist. His voice quavered.

The visitor stepped sharply back from the tank. He said, “Then it must be… But you wouldn’t dare!”

The biologist nodded.

“Yes. It’s a man.”



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One of the pioneers of the “space opera” genre of science fiction that arose in the 1920s was Edmond Hamilton. A prodigy who entered college at 14, then dropped out at 17, Hamilton went on to publish over 200 stories between 1926 and his death in 1977.

Hamilton wrote sci-fi, horror, adventure, and crime fiction for the pulp magazines. Especially in the early years, his stories were known for their romantic, extravagant, high-adventure style.

In 1946, Hamilton married fellow science fiction author Leigh Brackett, whose more mature style made Hamilton’s early tales seem quaint and dated. Thereafter, his stories became more sophisticated and less fantastic.

Brackett, in addition to writing science fiction, spent years as a Hollywood screenwriter. Among her credits: “The Big Sleep,” “The Long Goodbye,” “El Dorado,” “Rio Bravo,” and “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Edmond Hamilton wrote “Exile” in 1943. Although it hints at his “space opera” tendencies, the tale is enjoyable for being downright restrained.



By Edmond Hamilton
Published in Super Science Stories, February 1943

I wish now that we hadn’t got to talking about science fiction that night! If we hadn’t, I wouldn’t be haunted now by that queer, impossible story which can’t ever be proved or disproved.

But the four of us were all professional writers of fantastic stories, and I suppose shop talk was inevitable. Yet, we’d kept off it through dinner and the drinks afterward. Madison had outlined his hunting trip with gusto, and then Brazell started a discussion of the Dodgers’ chances. And then I had to turn the conversation to fantasy.

I didn’t mean to do it. But I’d had an extra Scotch, and that always makes me feel analytical. And I got to feeling amused by the perfect way in which we four resembled a quartet of normal, ordinary people.

“Protective coloration, that’s what it is,” I announced. “How hard we work at the business of acting like ordinary good guys!”

Brazell looked at me, somewhat annoyed by the interruption. “What are you talking about?”

“About us,” I answered. “What a wonderful imitation of solid, satisfied citizens we put up! But we’re not satisfied, you know — none of us. We’re violently dissatisfied with the Earth, and all its works, and that’s why we spend our lives dreaming up one imaginary world after another.”

“I suppose the little matter of getting paid for it has nothing to do with it?” Brazell asked skeptically.

“Sure it has,” I admitted. “But we all dreamed up our impossible worlds and peoples long before we ever wrote a line, didn’t we? From back in childhood, even? It’s because we don’t feel at home here.”

Madison snorted. “We’d feel a lot less at home on some of the worlds we write about.”

Then Carrick, the fourth of our party, broke into the conversation. He’d been sitting over his drink in his usual silent way, brooding, paying no attention to us.

He was a queer chap, in most ways. We didn’t know him very well, but we liked him and admired his stories. He’d done some wonderful tales of an imaginary planet — all carefully worked out.

He told Madison, “That happened to me.”

“What happened to you?” Madison asked.

“What you were suggesting — I once wrote about an imaginary world and then had to live on it,” Carrick answered.

Madison laughed. “I hope it was a more livable place than the lurid planets on which I set my own yarns.”

But Carrick was unsmiling. He murmured, “I’d have made it a lot different — if I’d known I was ever going to live on it.”

Brazell, with a significant glance at Carrick’s empty glass, winked at us and then asked blandly, “Let’s hear about it, Carrick.”

Carrick kept looking dully down at his empty glass, turning it slowly in his fingers as he talked. He paused every few words.

“It happened just after I’d moved next to the big power station. It sounds like a noisy place, but actually it was very quiet out there on the edge of the city. And I had to have quiet, if I was to produce stories.

“I got right to work on a new series I was starting, the stories of which were all to be laid on the same imaginary world. I began by working out the detailed physical appearance of that world, as well as the universe that was its background. I spent the whole day concentrating on that. And, as I finished, something in my mind went click!

“That queer, brief mental sensation felt oddly like a sudden crystallization. I stood there, wondering if I were going crazy. For I had a sudden strong conviction that it meant that the universe and world I had been dreaming up all day had suddenly crystallized into physical existence somewhere.

“Naturally, I brushed aside the eerie thought and went out and forgot about it. But the next day, the thing happened again. I had spent most of that second day working up the inhabitants of my story world. I’d made them definitely human, but had decided against making them too civilized — for that would exclude the conflict and violence that must form my story.

“So, I’d made my imaginary world, a world whose people were still only half-civilized. I figured out all their cruelties and superstitions. I mentally built up their colorful barbaric cities. And just as I was through — that click! echoed sharply in my mind.

“It startled me badly, this second time. For now I felt more strongly than before that queer conviction that my day’s dreaming had crystallized into solid reality. I knew that it was insane to think that, yet it was an incredible certainty in my mind. I couldn’t get rid of it.

“I tried to reason the thing out so that I could dismiss that crazy conviction. If my imagining a world and universe had actually created them, where were they? Certainly not in my own cosmos. It couldn’t hold two universes — each completely different from the other.

“But maybe that world and universe of my imagining had crystallized into reality in another and empty cosmos? A cosmos lying in a different dimension from my own? One which had contained only free atoms, formless matter that had not taken on shape until my concentrated thought had somehow stirred it into the forms I dreamed?

“I reasoned along like that, in the queer, dreamlike way in which you apply the rules of logic to impossibilities. How did it come that my imaginings had never crystallized into reality before, but had only just begun to do so? Well, there was a plausible explanation for that. It was the big power station nearby. Some unfathomable freak of energy radiated from it was focusing my concentrated imaginings, as super-amplified force, upon an empty cosmos where they stirred formless matter into the shapes I dreamed.

“Did I believe that? No, I didn’t believe it — but I knew it. There is quite a difference between knowledge and belief, as someone said who once pointed out that all men know they will die and none of them believe it. It was like that with me. I realized it was not possible that my imaginary world had come into physical being in a different dimensional cosmos, yet at the same time I was strangely convinced that it had.

“A thought occurred to me that amused and interested me. What if I imagined myself in that other world? Would I, too, become physically real in it? I tried it. I sat at my desk, imagining myself as one of the millions of persons in that imaginary world, dreaming up a whole soberly realistic background and family and history for myself over there. And my mind said click!”

Carrick paused, still looking down at the empty glass that he twirled slowly between his fingers.

Madison prompted him. “And of course you woke up there, and a beautiful girl was leaning over you, and you asked ‘Where am I?'”

“It wasn’t like that,” Carrick said dully. “It wasn’t like that at all. I woke up in that other world, yes. But it wasn’t like a real awakening. I was just suddenly in it.

“I was still myself. But I was the myself I had imagined in that other world. That other me had always lived in it — and so had his ancestors before him. I had worked all that out, you see.

“And I was just as real to myself, in that imaginary world I had created, as I had been in my own. That was the worst part of it. Everything in that half-civilized world was so utterly, common-placely real.”

He paused again. “It was queer, at first. I walked out into the streets of those barbaric cities, and looked into the people’s faces, and I felt like shouting aloud, ‘I imagined you all! You had no existence until I dreamed of you!’

“But I didn’t do that. They wouldn’t have believed me. To them, I was just an insignificant single member of their race. How could they guess that they and their traditions of long history, their world and their universe, had all been suddenly brought into being by my imagination?

“After my first excitement ebbed, I didn’t like the place. I had made it too barbaric. The savage violences and cruelties that had seemed so attractive as material for a story were ugly and repulsive at first hand. I wanted nothing but to get back to my own world.

“And I couldn’t get back! There just wasn’t any way. I had had a vague idea that I could imagine myself back into my own world as I had imagined myself into this other one. But it didn’t work that way. The freak force that had wrought the miracle didn’t work two ways.

“I had a pretty bad time when I realized that I was trapped in that ugly, squalid, barbarian world. I felt like killing myself at first. But I didn’t. A man can adapt himself to anything. I adapted myself the best I could to the world I had created.”

“What did you do there? What was your position, I mean?” Brazell asked.

Carrick shrugged. “I don’t know the crafts or skills of that world I’d brought into being. I had only my own skill — that of story telling.”

I began to grin. “You don’t mean to say that you started writing fantastic stories?”

He nodded soberly. “I had to. It was all I could do. I wrote stories about my own real world. To those other people my tales were wild imagination — and they liked them.”

We chuckled. But Carrick was deadly serious.

Madison humored him to the end. “And how did you finally get back home from that other world you’d created?”

“I never did get back home,” Carrick said with a heavy sigh.

“Oh, come now,” Madison protested lightly. “It’s obvious that you got back some time.”

Carrick shook his head somberly as he rose to leave.

“No, I never got back home,” he said soberly. “I’m still here.”

Leigh Brackett and Edmond Hamilton

Leigh Brackett and Edmond Hamilton


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