Nightmares & GeezenstacksFredric Brown
The Emperor laughed, with his mouth. “Thank you, Bill Garrigan,” he said, “for giving us the best laugh of our lifetimes, I have had you brought here to reward you. I hereby offer you the post of Royal Cartoonist. A post which has not existed before, since we have no cartoonists. Your sole duty will be to draw one cartoon a day.”
“One a day? But where’ll I get the gags?”
“We will supply them. We have excellent gags; each of us has a magnificent sense of humor, both creative and appreciative. We can, however, draw only representationally. You will be the greatest man on this planet, next to me.” He laughed. “Maybe you’ll be even more popular than I—although my people really do like me.”
“I—I guess not,” Bill said. “I think I’d rather go back to—Say, what does the job pay? Maybe I could take it for a while and take some money—or some equivalent—back to Earth.”
“The pay will be beyond your dreams of avarice. You will have everything you want. And you may accept it for one year, with the option of life tenure if you so wish at the end of the year.”
“Well—” Bill said. He was wondering just how much money would be beyond his dreams of avarice. A devil of a lot, he guessed. He’d go back to Earth rich, all right.
“I urge you to accept,” said the Emperor. “Every cartoon you draw—and you may draw more than one a day if you wish—will be published in every publication on the planet. You will draw royalties from each.”
“How many publications have you?”
“Over a hundred thousand. Twenty billion people read them.”
“Well,” Bill said, “maybe 1 should try it a year. But—uh—”
“How’ll I get along here, outside of cartooning? I mean, 1 understand that physically I’m hideous to you, as hideous as you are to—I mean, I won’t have any friends. I certainly couldn’t make friends with—I mean—”
“That has already been taken care of, in anticipation of your acceptance, and while you were unconscious. We have the greatest physicians and plastic surgeons in any of the universes. The wall behind you is a mirror. If you will turn—”
Bill Garrigan turned. He fainted.
One of Bill Garrigan’s heads sufficed to concentrate on the cartoon he was drawing, directly in ink. He didn’t bother with roughs any more. They weren’t necessary with the multiplicity of eyes that enabled him to see what he was doing from so many angles at the same time.
His second head was thinking of the great wealth in his bank account and his tremendous power and popularity here. True, the money was in copper, which was the precious metal in this world, but there was enough copper to sell for a fortune even on Earth. Too bad, his second head thought, that he couldn’t take back his power and popularity with him.
His third head was talking to the Emperor. The Emperor came to see him sometimes, these days. “Yes,” the Emperor was saying, “the time is up tomorrow, but I hope we can persuade you to stay. Your own terms, of course. And, since we do not want to use coercion, our plastic surgeons will restore you to your original—uh—shape—”
Bill Garrigan’s mouth, in the middle of his chest, grinned. It was wonderful to be so appreciated. His fourth collection of cartoons had just been published and had sold ten million copies on this planet alone, besides exports to the rest of the system. It wasn’t the money; he already had more than he could ever spend, here. And the convenience of three heads and six arms—
His first head looked up from the cartoon and came to rest on his secretary. She saw him looking, and her eyestalks drooped coyly. She was very beautiful. He hadn’t made any passes at her yet; he’d wanted to be sure which way he’d decide, about going back to Earth. His second head thought about a girl he’d known once back on his original planet and he shuddered and jerked his mind away from thinking about her. Good Lord, she’d been hideous.
One of the Emperor’s heads had caught sight of the almost-finished cartoon and his mouth was laughing hysterically.
Yes, it was wonderful to be appreciated. Bill’s first head kept on looking at Thwil, his beautiful secretary, and she flushed a faint but beautiful yellow under his state.
“Well, pal,” Bill’s third head said to the Emperor, “I’ll think it over. Yeah, I’ll think it over.”
One of the strange things about it was that Aubrey Walters wasn’t at all a strange little girl. She was quite as ordinary as her father and mother, who lived in an apartment on Otis Street, and who played bridge one night a week, went out somewhere another night, and spent the other evenings quietly at home.
Aubrey was nine, and had rather stringy hair and freckles, but at nine one never worries about such things. She got along quite well in the not-too-expensive private school to which her parents sent her, she made friends easily and readily with other children, and she took lessons on a three-quarter-size violin and played it abominably.
Her greatest fault, possibly, was her predeliction for staying up late of nights, and that was the fault of her parents, really, for letting her stay up and dressed until she felt sleepy and wanted to go to bed. Even at five and six, she seldom went to bed before ten o’clock in the evening. And if, during a period of maternal concern, she was put to bed earlier, she never went to sleep anyway. So why not let the child stay up?
Now, at nine years, she stayed up quite as late as her parents did, which was about eleven o’clock of ordinary nights and later when they had company for bridge, or went out for the evening. Then it was later, for they usually took her along. Aubrey enjoyed it, whatever it was. She’d sit still as a mouse in a seat at the theater, or regard them with little-girl seriousness over the rim of a glass of ginger ale while they had a cocktail or two at a night club. She took the noise and the music and the dancing with big-eyed wonder and enjoyed every minute of it.
Sometimes Uncle Richard, her mother’s brother, went along with them. She and Uncle Richard were good friends. It was Uncle Richard who gave her the dolls.
“Funny thing happened today,” he’d said. “I’m walking down Rodgers Place, past the Mariner Building—you know, Edith; it’s where Doc Howard used to have his office—and something thudded on the sidewalk right behind me. And I turned around, and there was this package.”
“This package” was a white box a little larger than a shoebox, and it was rather strangely tied with gray ribbon. Sam Walters, Aubrey’s father, looked at it curiously.
“Doesn’t look dented,” he said. “Couldn’t have fallen out of a very high window. Was it tied up like that?”
“Just like that. I put the ribbon back on after I opened it and looked in. Oh, 1 don’t mean I opened it then or there. I just stopped and looked up to see who’d dropped it—thinking I’d see somebody looking out of a window. But nobody was, and I picked up the box. It had something in it, not very heavy, and the box and the ribbon looked like—well, not like something somebody’d throw away on purpose. So I stood looking up, and nothing happened, so I shook the box a little and—”
“All right, all right,” said Sam Walters. “Spare us the blow-by-blow. You didn’t find out who dropped it?”
“Right. And I went up as high as the fourth floor, asking the people whose windows were over the place where I picked it up. They were all home, as it happened, and none of them had ever seen it. I thought it might have fallen off a window ledge. But—”
“What’s in it, Dick?” Edith asked.
“Dolls. Four of them. I brought them over this evening for Aubrey. If she wants them.”
He untied the package, and Aubrey said, “Oooo, Uncle Richard, They’re—they’re lovely.”
Sam said, “Hm, Those look almost more like manikins than dolls, Dick. The way they’re dressed, I mean. Must have cost several dollars apiece. Are you sure the owner won’t turn up?”
Richard shrugged. “Don’t see how he can. As I told you, I went up four floors, asking. Thought from the look of the box and the sound of the thud,
it couldn’t have come from even that high. And after I opened it, well—look—” He picked up one of the dolls and held it out for Sam Walters’ inspection.
“Wax. The heads and hands, I mean. And not one of them cracked. It couldn’t have fallen from higher than the second story. Even then, I don’t see how—” He shrugged again.
“They’re the Geezenstacks,” said Aubrey.
“Huh?” Sam asked.
“I’m going to call them the Geezenstacks,” Aubrey said. “Look, this one is Papa Geezenstack and this one is Mama Geezenstack, and the little girl one—that’s—that’s Aubrey Geezenstack. And the other man one, we’ll call him Uncle Geezenstack. The little girl’s uncle.”
Sam chuckled. “Like us, eh? But if Uncle—uh—Geezenstack is Mama Geezenstack’s brother, like Uncle Richard is Mama’s brother, then his name wouldn’t be Geezenstack.”
“Just the same, it is,” Aubrey said. “They’re all Geezenstacks. Papa, will you buy me a house for them?”
“A doll house? Why—” He’d started to say, “Why, sure,” but caught his wife’s eye and remembered. Aubrey’s birthday was only a week off and they’d been wondering what to get her. He changed it hastily to “Why, I don’t know. I’ll think about it.”
It was a beautiful doll house. Only one-story high, but quite elaborate, and with a roof that lifted off so one could rearrange the furniture and move the dolls from room to room. It scaled well with the manikins Uncle Richard had brought.
Aubrey was rapturous. All her other playthings went into eclipse and the doings of the Geezenstacks occupied most of her waking thoughts.
It wasn’t for quite a while that Sam Walters began to notice, and to think about, the strange aspect of the doings of the Geezenstacks. At first, with a quiet chuckle at the coincidences that followed one another.
And then, with a puzzled look in his eyes.
It wasn’t until quite a while later that he got Richard off into a corner. The four of them had just returned from a play. He said, “Uh—Dick.”
“These dolls, Dick. Where did you get them?”
Richard’s eyes stared at him blankly. “What do you mean, Sam? I told you where I got them.” !
“Yes, but—you weren’t kidding, or anything? I mean, maybe you bought them for Aubrey, and thought we’d object if you gave her such an expensive present, so you—uh—”
“No, honest, I didn’t.”
“But dammit, Dick, they couldn’t have fallen out of a window, or dropped out, and not broken. They’re wax. Couldn’t someone walking behind you—or going by in an auto or something—?”
“There wasn’t anyone around, Sam. Nobody at all. I’ve wondered about it myself. But if I was lying, I wouldn’t make up a screwy story like that, would I? I’d just say I found them on a park bench or a seat in a movie. But why are you curious?”
“I—uh—I just got to wondering.”
Sam Walters kept on wondering, too.
They were little things, most of them. Like the time Aubrey had said, “Papa Geezenstack didn’t go to work this morning. He’s in bed, sick.”
“So?” Sam had asked. “And what is wrong with the gentleman?”
“Something he ate, I guess.”
And the next morning, at breakfast, “And how is Mr. Geezenstack, Aubrey?”
“A little better, but he isn’t going to work today yet, the doctor said. Tomorrow, maybe.”
And the next day, Mr. Geezenstack went back to work. That, as it happened, was the day Sam Walters came home feeling quite ill, as a result of something he’d eaten for lunch. Yes, he’d missed two days from work. The first time he’d missed work on account of illness in several years.
And some things were quicker than that, and some slower. You couldn’t put your finger on it and say, “Well, if this happens to the Geezenstacks, it will happen to us in twenty-four hours.” Sometimes it was less than an hour. Sometimes as long as a week.
“Mama and Papa Geezenstack had a quarrel today.”
And Sam had tried to avoid that quarrel with Edith, but it seemed he just couldn’t. He’d been quite late getting home, through no fault of his own. It had happened often, but this time Edith took exception. Soft answers failed to turn away wrath, and at last he’d lost his own temper.
“Uncle Geezenstack is going away for a visit.” Richard hadn’t been out of town for years, but the next week he took a sudden notion to run down to New York. “Pete and Amy, you know. Got a letter from them asking me—”
“When?” Sam asked, almost sharply. “When did you get the letter?”
“Then last week you weren’t—This sounds like a silly question, Dick, but last week were you thinking about going anywhere? Did you say anything to—to anyone about the possibility of your visiting someone?”
“Lord, no. Hadn’t even thought about Pete and Amy for months, till I got their letter yesterday. Want me to stay a week.”
“You’ll be back in three days—maybe,” Sam had said. He wouldn’t explain, even when Richard did come back in three days. It sounded just too damn’ silly to say that he’d known how long Richard was going to be gone, because that was how long Uncle Geezenstack had been away.
Sam Walters began to watch his daughter, and to wonder. She, of course, was the one who made the Geezenstacks do whatever they did. Was it possible that Aubrey had some strange preternatural insight which caused her, unconsciously, to predict things that were going to happen to the Walters and to Richard?
He didn’t, of course, believe in clairvoyance. But was Aubrey clairvoyant?
“Mrs. Geezenstack’s going shopping today. She’s going to buy a new coat.”
That one almost sounded like a put-up job. Edith had smiled at Aubrey and then looked at Sam. “That reminds me, Sam. Tomorrow I’ll be downtown, and there’s a sale at—”
“But, Edith, these are war times. And you don’t need a coat.”
He’d argued so earnestly that he made himself late for work. Arguing uphill, because he really could afford the coat and she really hadn’t bought one for two years. But he couldn’t explain that the real reason he didn’t want her to buy one was that Mrs. Geezen—Why, it was too silly to say, even to himself.
Edith bought the coat.
Strange, Sam thought, that nobody else noticed those coincidences. But Richard wasn’t around all the time, and Edith-well, Edith had the knack of listening to Aubrey’s prattle without hearing nine-tenths of it.
“Aubrey Geezenstack brought home her report card today, Papa. She got ninety in arithmetic and eighty in spelling and—”
And two days later, Sam was calling up the headmaster of the school. Calling from a pay station, of course, so nobody would hear him. “Mr. Bradley, I’d like to ask a question that I have a—uh—rather peculiar, but important, reason for asking. Would it be possible for a student at your school to know in advance exactly what grades… “
No, not possible. The teachers themselves didn’t know, until they’d figured averages, and that hadn’t been done until the morning the report cards were made out, and sent home. Yes, yesterday morning, while the children had their play period.
“Sam,” Richard said, “you’re looking kind of seedy. Business worries? Look, things are going to get better from now on, and with your company, you got nothing to worry about anyway.”
“That isn’t it, Dick. It—I mean, there isn’t anything I’m worrying about. Not exactly, I mean—” And he’d had to wriggle out of the cross-examination by inventing a worry or two for Richard to talk him out of.
He thought about the Geezenstacks a lot. Too much. H only he’d been superstitious, or credulous, it might not have been so bad. But he wasn’t. That’s why each succeeding coincidence hit him a little harder than the last.
Edith and her brother noticed it, and talked about it when Sam wasn’t around.
“He has been acting queer lately, Dick. I’m—I’m really worrie
d. He acts so—Do you think we could talk him into seeing a doctor or a—”
“A psychiatrist? Um, if we could. But I can’t see him doing it, Edith. Something’s eating him, and I’ve tried to pump him about it, but he won’t open up. Y’know—I think it’s got something to do with those damn’ dolls.”
“Dolls? You mean Aubrey’s dolls? The ones you gave her?”
“Yes, the Geezenstacks. He sits and stares at the doll house. I’ve heard him ask the kid questions about them, and he was serious, I think he’s got some delusion or something about them. Or centering on them.”
“But, Dick, that’s—awful.”
“Look, Edie, Aubrey isn’t as interested in them as she used to be, and—Is there anything she wants very badly?”
“Dancing lessons. But she’s already studying violin and I don’t think we can let her—”
“Do you think if you promised her dancing lessons if she gave up those dolls, she’d be willing? I think we’ve got to get them out of the apartment. And I don’t want to hurt Aubrey, so—”
“Well—but what would we tell Aubrey?”
“Tell her I know a poor family with children who haven’t any dolls at all. And—I think she’ll agree, if you make it strong enough.”
“But, Dick, what will we tell Sam? He’ll know better than that.”
“Tell Sam, when Aubrey isn’t around, that you think she’s getting too old for dolls, and that—tell him she’s taking an unhealthy interest in them, and that the doctor advises—That sort of stuff.”
Aubrey wasn’t enthusiastic. She was not as engrossed in the Geezenstacks as she’d been when they were newer, but couldn’t she have both the dolls and the dancing lessons?
“I don’t think you’d have time for both, honey. And there are those poor children who haven’t any dolls to play with, and you ought to feel sorry for them.”
And Aubrey weakened, eventually. Dancing school didn’t open for ten days, though, and she wanted to keep the dolls until she could start her lessons. There was argument, but to no avail.
“That’s all right, Edie,” Richard told her. “Ten days is better than not at all, and-well, if she doesn’t give them up voluntarily, it’ll start a rumpus and Sam’ll find out what we’re up to. You haven’t mentioned anything to him at all, have you?”