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Nightmares & Geezenstacks

Fredric Brown

  “No. But maybe it would make him feel better to know they were—”

  “I wouldn’t. We don’t know just what it is about them that fascinates or repels him. Wait till it happens, and then tell him. Aubrey has already given them away. Or he might raise some objection or want to keep them. If I get them out of the place first, he can’t.”

  “You’re right, Dick. And Aubrey won’t tell him, because I told her the dancing lessons are going to be a surprise for her father, and she can’t tell him what’s going to happen to the dolls without telling the other side of the deal.”

  “Swell, Edith.”

  It might have been better if Sam had known. Or maybe everything would have happened just the same, if he had.

  Poor Sam. He had a bad moment the very next evening. One of Aubrey’s friends from school was there, and they were playing with the doll house. Sam watching them, trying to look less interested than he was. Edith was knitting and Richard, who had just come in, was reading the paper.

  Only Sam was listening to the children and heard the suggestion.

  “… and then let’s have a play funeral, Aubrey. Just pretend one of them is—”

  Sam Walters let out a sort of strangled cry and almost fell getting across the room.

  There was a bad moment, then, but Edith and Richard managed to pass it off casually enough, outwardly. Edith discovered it was time for Aubrey’s little friend to leave, and she exchanged a significant glance with Richard and they both escorted the girl to the door.

  Whispered, “Dick, did you see—”

  “Something is wrong, Edie, Maybe we shouldn’t wait. After all, Aubrey has agreed to give them up, and—”

  Back in the living room, Sam was still breathing a bit hard. Aubrey looked at him almost as though she was afraid of him. It was the first time she’d ever looked at him like that, and Sam felt ashamed. He said, “Honey, I’m sorry I—But listen, you’ll promise me you’ll never have a play funeral for one of your dolls? Or pretend one of them is badly sick or has an accident—or anything bad at all? Promise?”

  “Sure, Papa. I’m-I’m going to put them away for tonight.”

  She put the lid on the doll house and went back toward the kitchen.

  In the hallway, Edie said, “I’ll—I’ll get Aubrey alone and fix it with her. You talk to Sam. Tell him—look, let’s go out tonight, go somewhere and get him away from everything. See if he will.”

  Sam was still staring at the doll house.

  “Let’s get some excitement, Sam,” Richard said. “How’s about going out somewhere? We’ve been sticking too close to home. It’ll do us good.”

  Sam took a deep breath. “Okay, Dick. If you say so. I—I could use a little fun, I guess.”

  Edie came back with Aubrey, and she winked at her brother. “You men go on downstairs and get a cab from the stand around the corner. Aubrey and I’ll be down by the time you bring it.”

  Behind Sam’s back, as the men were putting on their coats, Richard gave Edith an inquiring look and she nodded.

  Outside, there was a heavy fog; one could see only a few yards ahead. Sam insisted that Richard wait at the door for Edith and Aubrey while he went to bring the cab. The woman and girl came down just before Sam got back.

  Richard asked, “Did you—?”

  “Yes, Dick. I was going to throw them away, but I gave them away instead. That way they’re gone; he might have wanted to hunt in the rubbish and find them if I’d just thrown—”

  “Gave them away? To whom?”

  “Funniest thing, Dick. I opened the door and there was an old woman going by in the back hall. Don’t know which of the apartments she came from, but she must be a scrubwoman or something, although she looked like a witch really, but when she saw those dolls I had in my hands—”

  “Here comes the cab,” Dick said. “You gave them to her?”

  “Yes, it was funny. She said, ‘Mine? To Keep? Forever?’ Wasn’t that a strange way of asking it? But I laughed and said, ‘Yes, ma’am. Yours forev—’ ”

  She broke off, for the shadowy outline of the taxi was at the curb, and Sam opened the door and called out, “Come on, folks!”

  Aubrey skipped across the sidewalk into the cab, and the others followed. It started.

  The fog was thicker now. They could not see out the windows at all. It was as though a gray wall pressed against the glass, as though the world outside was gone, completely and utterly. Even the windshield, from where they sat, was a gray blank.

  “How can he drive so fast?” Richard asked, and there was an edge of nervousness in his voice. “By the way, where are we going, Sam?”

  “By George,” Sam said, “I forgot to tell her.”


  “Yeah. Woman driver. They’ve got them all over now. I’ll—”

  He leaned forward and tapped on the glass, and the woman turned.

  Edith saw her face, and screamed.


  Professor Jones had been working on time theory for many years.

  “And I have found the key equation,” he told his daughter one day. “Time is a field. This machine I have made can manipulate, even reverse, that field.”

  Pushing a button as he spoke, he said, “This should make time run backward run time make should this,” said he, spoke he as button a pushing.

  “Field that, reverse even, manipulate can made have I machine this. Field a is time.” Day one daughter his told he, “Equation key the found have I and.”

  Years many for theory time on working been had Jones Professor.