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Nick and the Glimmung

Philip K. Dick

  Nick and the Glimmung Copyright © 1988

  by the Estate of Philip K. Dick. All rights reserved.

  Dust jacket and interior illustrations Copyright © 2009 by Phil Parks.

  Interior design Copyright © 2009 by Desert Isle Design LLC.

  All rights reserved.

  First US Edition



  Subterranean Press

  PO Box 190106

  Burton, MI 48519


  List of Illustrations

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  List of Illustrations

  Horace, the Journalist, and the Anti-pet man

  Horace is abducted by werjes

  Burning the father-thing

  The Glimmung comes

  Chapter 1

  NICK knew exactly why his family intended to leave Earth and go to another planet, a colony world, and settle there. It had to do with him and with his cat, Horace. Owning animals of any kind had, since the year 1992, become illegal. Horace, in fact, was illegal, whether anyone owned him or not.

  For two months now, Nick had owned Horace, but he had managed to keep Horace inside the apartment, out of sight. One morning, however, Horace climbed through an open window; he scampered and played out in the back yard which all the apartment-owners in the building shared. Someone, a neighbor perhaps, noticed Horace and called the anti-pet man.

  “I told you what would happen if Horace ever got out,” Nick’s dad said, after he and Nick managed to round up Horace and bring him safely back into the apartment.

  Nick said, “But it’s okay now. We found him.” He was out of breath from chasing after Horace. The cat, on the other hand, seemed calm, not winded at all; Horace seated himself in his accustomed spot before the living room heater and began to wash.

  “It’s not okay at all,” Nick’s father said. As usual, he was tense and worried. “The anti-pet man will be here within the next forty-eight hours. He’ll not only make us pay a fine—he’ll also take Horace away.”

  Nervously, Nick’s mother asked, “Will the fine be very much, Pete?”

  “I don’t care about the fine,” Nick’s dad said. “I care about them taking Horace away; that’s what I care about. I don’t think they should take a child’s pet, or any other pets. I realize that food is scarce, these days. I know why the anti-pet law was passed. But a cat doesn’t eat that much.”

  “It’s the law.” Nick’s mother pointed out. “We have to obey the law, whether we approve of it or not.”

  Nick’s father said, “We can leave Earth. Go to another planet where it’s legal to have pets. And not only pets—we could also raise sheep and cows and chickens, whatever we wanted.”

  A strange feeling came over Nick when he heard his father say this, because he knew, by his father’s tone, that he was serious. His father was actually considering leaving Earth, as he had a number of times during the last two years.

  For a long time now, Earth had been terribly overcrowded. Too many people existed now, more and more of them each year. No one lived in a house any more; that, like owning pets, had become illegal. People here in San Francisco, and everywhere else, lived in giant apartment buildings which rose up floor after floor, and even descended down underground, where families with less money lived. As the number of people increased, food became scarcer; hence the new anti-pet law, and the appearance of the dreaded anti-pet man. Ever since he had found Horace, Nick had been afraid of the day the anti-pet man would come to visit. As his father had often said, it was only a matter of time. Sooner or later the anti-pet man found every animal—found it and took it away.

  It was not known what the anti-pet man did with the animals after taking them away.

  “I’ll take Horace a long way from here,” Nick offered. “I’ll find someone to take him. When the anti-pet man visits us, Horace will be gone.”

  “Don’t you want to leave Earth?” his father asked. “And live on a colony world, where you can have all the animals you want?”

  Nick said, “I don’t know.” He felt a little scared. To go that far away from home…to a wild place of forests and peculiar creatures. A new world, a different life, a very hard life, everyone said.

  Maybe I can ask my teacher, Nick said to himself. Miss Juth can tell me what I should do.

  “I won’t make you go to another planet,” his father said, “unless you actually want to. It has to be voluntary; you and I and your mother, all three of us, have to agree. We must discuss it and consider every detail. We have to think about your giving up school, for example.”

  “It would be very exciting,” Nick’s mother said nervously.

  THE next morning, as he rode the public hovercar to school, Nick planned out what he intended to say.

  Since the anti-pet man already knows about Horace, he thought, I might as well talk about him openly in class. I won’t have to keep him secret any longer. What would Miss Juth say? After all, he and his dad had broken the law. But he had a feeling that Miss Juth liked animals.

  “Good morning. Class,” Miss Juth said—or rather her image on the big television screen at the front of the classroom said. Miss Juth, like all teachers, had too many classes to teach. She could not appear in person in any of them. Instead, she spoke to all her students, in all her classes, by means of a TV screen. In Nick’s class there were sixty-five pupils, and Miss Juth (as she had told them) taught nine other classes, too. So in all, Miss Juth had about six hundred pupils. Nevertheless, she seemed to recognize each pupil. At least, Nick had that impression. When she spoke to him from the big TV screen she seemed to look directly at him, to see him as well as hear him. He usually felt as if Miss Juth were actually in the classroom.

  Nick and the other pupils said. “Good morning, Miss Juth.”

  “Today,” Miss Juth said, “we shall study—” She broke off, then. “I see Nick Graham’s hand up,” she said. “Nick, discussion period for your class doesn’t come until this afternoon. Won’t it wait until then?”

  Standing up, Nick said, “I have a difficult problem, Miss Juth. It can’t wait; I have to ask you about it right now.”

  “Do you think all the classes would be interested?” Miss Juth asked. “If you think so, I’ll turn you on so that you’re visible and audible in all the rooms.”

  Nick took a deep breath and said. “It’s about my cat.”

  AFTER she had recovered from the shock, Miss Juth said, “Good gracious, Nick. I didn’t know you had a cat.” To all her classes she said, “How many of you knew that Nicholas Graham owned a cat?”

  The lights for yes and no blinked on. In all the classrooms, only Donald Hedge, Nick’s best friend, pressed the yes button. The tally read: 602 no, 1 yes, and 11 undecided.

  “But Nick,” Miss Juth protested, “won’t the anti-pet man find your cat and take her away?”

  Nick said, “My cat isn’t a her, and the anti-pet man is coming soon. So that’s why I have to talk to you right away.”

  To all her classes, Miss Juth said, “How many of you think that the anti-pet man ought to take away Nick’s cat? Let’s see your votes.” This time 265 no lights came on and 374 yes lights. “The majority of the students,” Miss Juth said, “think you ought to give up your cat, Nick, and o
bey the law. Which includes, I understand, paying a fine.”

  “My dad,” Nick plunged on, “thinks we should emigrate to another planet. Where we can keep Horace.”

  “What an interesting idea,” Miss Juth said. “Very original and I would say very brave. Well, children? How do you feel? Let’s all of us vote as to whether Nick and his family should emigrate to another planet.”

  In Nick’s classroom a hand went up. It belonged to Sally Sedge. “What does ‘emigrate’ mean, Miss Juth?” Sally asked.

  “Nick, can you tell Sally what ‘emigrate’ means?” Miss Juth said.

  “It means go to live there,” Nick answered. “Not just to visit but to stay.”

  “I see,” Sally Sedge said, “That’s interesting to know.”

  “And now the vote,” Miss Juth said, “as to whether Nick’s father is right in deciding to emigrate from Earth.”

  The votes read; 189 no and 438 yes, plus a number of undecideds.

  “The children agree with your father’s decision,” Miss Juth said. “However, I must cast my vote; which, as you know, is decisive.” She pressed a button on her desk. All the yes lights winked off. Miss Juth, by voting no, had cancelled them out of existence. “I am against your emigrating, Nick,” she explained, “because there are no proper schools on the colony worlds. It would disrupt your training; you would never be able to get a job.”

  Nick said, “But I can’t give up Horace.”

  A hand went up across the aisle from Nick; it belonged to his pal Donald Hedge. “Maybe,” Donald said, when Miss Juth pointed to him, “maybe Nick could become an animal doctor.”

  “But we don’t need any animal doctors on Earth,” Miss Juth pointed out, “since there are no longer any animals.”

  Donald Hedge persisted. “He could be an animal doctor on the colony planet he emigrates to.”

  “I just don’t know,” Miss Juth said doubtfully, shaking her head. “Maybe you’re doing the right thing, Nick; maybe I’m wrong. I just don’t feel that a cat is important enough to cause you and your family to change your entire way of living, in fact to leave Earth completely. Your father will have to give up his job, for instance. Had you thought about that?”

  Nick had a ready answer for that. “My father,” he said, “is not happy at his job. He feels he’s not accomplishing anything. All he does there is—”

  “I’m sorry,” Miss Juth said, interrupting Nick, “but we must turn to our first topic of the day, which is a vital one. How Does One Fight His Way Aboard a Bus? we are to ask ourselves. Boarding a public hoverbus is difficult, even for adults, since these day many persons want to get on a particular bus at a given moment. Press button A on your desk, and the written material on this topic will emerge. Meanwhile, on the TV screen you will see what can go wrong in bus-boarding. It could happen to you, just as it is happening to the man shown.”

  Leaning towards Nick, Donald Hedge whispered, “I think it’s very fair to your cat. For you to emigrate, I mean. And look at all the yes votes you got. Most of the kids agree.”

  A robot monitor standing in the corner of the classroom said in its tinny, loud voice, “No talking.”

  “And,” Donald finished, “you wouldn’t have to go to school. At least not this kind of school, where you just see your teacher on the TV screen. Where you don’t really get to see her or talk to her in real life. And she’s told us she has nine other classes.”

  Nick said. “I like school. And I always have the feeling that Miss Juth really sees me and is talking directly to me.”

  “An illusion,” Donald said, in a tone of voice that showed he knew—or thought he knew—everything.

  “I will call the police,” the robot monitor threatened, “unless the talking ceases.” The robot monitor always said that, Nick knew; it was a recording that played from deep within the machinery of the monitor. It never actually had called the police, not in all the years he had been in the same classroom with it.

  Do I really want to go to another planet? Nick asked himself as he pressed button A on his desk. Is it worth it, just to keep Horace?

  A good question. And, at the moment, one which he could not answer.

  Chapter 2

  THAT night, when Nick got home from school, he found a tall, dark-haired man, with a briefcase, waiting in the living room. Nick had never seen the man before.

  “Are you the anti-pet man?” Nick asked, feeling his heart thud in fear. He looked around for Horace but saw no sign of him. Maybe the anti-pet man had already snatched up the cat; perhaps right now Horace was inside the briefcase. However, the briefcase did not bulge, so it was not likely.

  Nick’s mother, from the kitchen, said, “This is Mr. Deverest, Nick. He’s from the newspaper. He wants to interview your father.” Drying her hands she came into the living room. Her face shone with excitement. “They’re going to write about Horace’s situation and what can be done about it.”

  “How did you know about Horace?” Nick asked Mr. Deverest.

  “We have secret ways,” Mr. Deverest said pleasantly. He looked here and there in the room, one grey eyebrow raised. “I don’t see the cat. Is he outside?”

  “Mr. Deverest is going to take pictures of Horace.” Nick’s mother said. “To awaken public sympathy for him.”

  “Is the cat outside?” Mr. Deverest repeated, picking up his briefcase; from it he took a camera and a tape recorder.

  “Horace is never outside,” Nick said. “Except for yesterday, which was a mistake.” He was not sure if he should show Horace to the newspaperman. The less attention that Horace attracted the better, or so his father often said. But since yesterday everything had changed.

  “Nick wants to wait until his father gets home,” Nick’s mother explained to the newspaperman. She put her hand gently on Nick’s shoulder. “If Pete says it’s all right, we’ll show you the cat.”

  However, at that moment Horace entered the living room. He had heard Nick’s voice, and, as usual, appeared for the purpose of greeting him.

  “He’s not a very large cat,” the newspaperman said, with what sounded like disappointment.

  Nick said, “You just haven’t seen a cat for a long time. Horace is plenty big.”

  With a sideways glance of mild suspicion, Horace eyed the newspaperman. He stopped and seated himself, not coming any further into the room.

  To Nick, the cat seemed large, but in fact Horace was rather undersized. Oddly enough, he had a double chin, a roll of white fur from one ear to the other. Most of him was covered with black—all, in fact, but his stomach and paws and the fluffy white double chin… and, in addition, a white bandit-mask covering the lower part of his face. Horace had a solemn manner, as if he carefully thought every move out before making it…or not making it, as the case might be.

  He had unusually long white whiskers which drooped at the ends, giving him the appearance of a wise man, a sage of great age and learning, with little to say; the cat appeared to observe everything, to understand everyone and every event, but to have little to add. He understood but did not comment; he was detached.

  At one time—during the first year of his life in particular— Horace had asked a Question. It had been his custom to place himself in front of a person and to gaze up, his green eyes protruding and round, like sewn-on glass buttons, and his small mouth turned down, as if from worry. Staring up, his forehead wrinkled with care, the cat had uttered a single baritone miaow, and then had waited for an answer, an answer to a Question which no one could fathom. What is it that Horace is asking? everybody in the family had said at one time or another. The cat waited each time for the answer to come, but of course it never had. Gradually, over the months, he had ceased asking the Question. But his general bewilderment remained to this day.

  Horace now eyed the newspaperman with this traditional concern. It was not a simple confusion; Horace was not asking, Who are you? or Why are you here? He seemed to want to know something deeper, perhaps something philosophical. B
ut, alas, no one would ever know. Certainly not the newspaperman; Mr. Deverest returned the cat’s intent stare with uneasiness—a reaction which most people had to Horace’s scrutiny.

  “What’s he want?” Mr. Deverest asked, as if alarmed.

  Nick said, “No one to this day knows.”

  “Can I take a picture of him?” the newspaperman asked.

  “Sure,” Nick said. But he wished his dad would get home.

  NICK’S dad worked fifteen hours a week, a special privilege; most people were allowed to work no more than ten hours a week. There were, in the world, certain lucky persons who were permitted to work twenty hours, and, in the case of extremely wealthy or powerful persons, twenty-two hours. To be allowed to work was the greatest honor a person could receive because there were so many people alive now that not enough jobs existed to go round. Many unlucky people had never worked a day in their lives. They filed applications, to be sure; they begged to be allowed to work. They wrote out long accounts of their training, their talents and qualifications. The applications were punch-coded and put into great computers…and the persons waited. Year after year passed, and still no jobs showed up; they waited in vain. So Nick’s dad, by present standards, was quite fortunate.

  And yet, Nick knew, his dad did not like his job; his dad did not consider it a real job, not the sort that people had had in the old days. It was more in the nature of a make-believe job; his dad was paid a salary; he had a desk in an office, but—

  “If I ceased to exist,” his father had said once, “things would go on perfectly well without me. My job, after my disappearance, could be abolished without doing any harm. Its absence would not be noticed. My absence would not be noticed.” And he had looked glum.

  Nick’s mother had protested, “But that’s true of most jobs, now! Computers can do just about everything.”

  “I wish,” his father had said then, “that we could live in a world where real tasks, occupations of real importance, still existed. In the old days men called ‘craftsmen’ made beautiful objects with their hands; they made valuable things such as shoes and furniture. They fixed cars and TV sets. The hands of a man were important, once. Look at my hands.” He had held up his hands for Nick and Mrs. Graham to see. “These hands,” he had finished, “make nothing and fix nothing. I ask myself, What am I for? Do I exist to do a job? No. The job exists merely to give me the illusion that I am doing something. But what in fact do I really do? Ed St. James, at the desk to my right, examines documents and then, if they are correct, he signs them. After he has signed them he passes them to me. I make sure that he has not forgotten to sign them after seeing that they are correct. In four years Ed St. James has never made a mistake; he has always signed the documents before passing them on to me.”