Freudian Slip, p.1Franklin Abel
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This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction May 1952. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
By FRANKLIN ABEL
Illustrated by HARRINGTON
Things are exactly what they seem? Life is real? Life is earnest? Well, that depends.
* * * * *
On the day the Earth vanished, Herman Raye was earnestly fishing fortrout, hip-deep in a mountain stream in upstate New York.
Herman was a tall, serious, sensitive, healthy, well-muscled young manwith an outsize jaw and a brush of red-brown hair. He wore spectaclesto correct a slight hyperopia, and they had heavy black rims becausehe knew his patients expected it. In his off hours, he was fond ofbooks with titles like _Personality and the Behavior Disorders_,_Self-esteem and Sexuality in Women_, _Juvenile Totem and Taboo: Astudy of adolescent culture-groups_, and _A New Theory of EconomicCycles_; but he also liked baseball, beer and bebop.
This day, the last of Herman's vacation, was a perfect specimen: sunnyand still, the sky dotted with antiseptic tufts of cloud. The troutwere biting. Herman had two in his creel, and was casting into theshallow pool across the stream in the confident hope of gettinganother, when the Universe gave one horrible sliding lurch.
Herman braced himself instinctively, shock pounding through his body,and looked down at the pebbly stream-bed under his feet.
It wasn't there.
He was standing, to all appearances, in three feet of clear water withsheer, black nothing under it: nothing, the abysmal color of amoonless night, pierced by the diamond points of a half-dozenincredible stars.
He had only that single glimpse; then he found himself gazing acrossat the pool under the far bank, whose waters reflected the tranquilimagery of trees. He raised his casting rod, swung it back over hisshoulder, brought it forward again with a practiced flick of hiswrist, and watched the lure drop.
Within the range of his vision now, everything was entirely normal;nevertheless, Herman wanted very much to stop fishing and look down tosee if that horrifying void was still there. He couldn't do it.
Doggedly, he tried again and again. The result was always the same. Itwas exactly as if he were a man who had made up his mind to flinghimself over a cliff, or break a window and snatch a loaf of bread, orsay in a loud voice to an important person at a party, "I think youstink." Determination was followed by effort, by ghastly, sweating,heart-stopping fear, by relief as he gave up and did something else.
_All right_, he thought finally, _there's no point going on with it_._Data established: hallucination, compulsion, inhibition._ _Where dowe go from here?_
The obvious first hypothesis was that he was insane. Herman consideredthat briefly, and left the question open. Three or four selectedpsychoanalyst jokes paraded through his mind, led by the classic,"You're fine, how am I?"
There was this much truth, he thought, in the popular belief that allanalysts were a little cracked themselves: a good proportion of thepeople who get all the way through the man-killing course that makesan orthodox analyst--a course in which an M.D. degree is only abeginning--are impelled to do so in the first place by a consuminginterest in their own neuroses. Herman, for example, from the age offifteen up until the completion of his own analysis at twenty-six, hadbeen so claustrophobic that he couldn't force himself into a subwaycar or an elevator.
But was he now insane?
Can a foot-rule measure itself?
Herman finished. At an appropriate hour he waded ashore, cleaned hiscatch, cooked it and ate it. Where the ground had been bare around hiscooking spot, he saw empty darkness, star-studded, rimmed by a tangledwebwork of bare rootlets. He tried to go on looking at it when he hadfinished eating the fish. He couldn't.
After the meal, he tried to take out his notebook and pen. Hecouldn't.
In fact, it occurred to him, _he was helpless to do anything that hewouldn't normally have done_.
Pondering that discovery, after he had cleaned his utensils andfinished his other chores, Herman crawled into his tent and went tosleep.
Burying the garbage had been an unsettling experience. Like a lunaticbuilding a machine nobody else can see, he had lifted successiveshovels-full of nothing, dropped the empty cans and rubbish ten inchesinto nothing, and shoveled nothing carefully over them again....
* * * * *
The light woke him, long before dawn. From where he lay on his back,he could see an incredible pale radiance streaming upward all aroundhim, outlining the shadow of his body at the ridge of the tent,picking out the under-surfaces of the trees against the night sky. Hestrained, until he was weak and dizzy, to roll over so that he couldsee its source; but he had to give up and wait another ten minutesuntil his body turned "naturally," just as if he had still beenasleep.
Then he was looking straight down into a milky transparency thatstarted under his nose and continued into unguessable depths. Firstcame the matted clumps of grass, black against the light, every bladeand root as clear as if they had been set in transparent plastic. Thenlonger, writhing roots of trees and shrubs, sprouting thickets ofhair-thin rootlets. Between these, and continuing downward level bylevel, was spread an infinity of tiny specks, seed-shapes, spores.Some of them moved, Herman realized with a shock. Insects burrowingin the emptiness where the Earth should be?
In the morning, when he crawled out of the tent and went to thebottomless stream to wash, he noticed something he had missed the daybefore. The network of grasses gave springily under his feet--not liketurf, but like stretched rubber. Herman conceived an instant dislikefor walking, especially when he had to cross bare ground, because whenthat happened, he felt exactly what he saw: nothing whateverunderfoot. "Walking on air," he realized, was not as pleasant anexperience as the popular songs would lead you to expect.
Herman shaved, cooked and ate breakfast, washed the dishes, did thechores, and packed up his belongings. With a mighty effort, he priedout the tent stakes, which were bedded in nothing but a loose networkof roots. He shouldered the load and carried it a quarter of a milethrough pine woods to his car.
The car stood at ground level, but the ground was not there any more.The road was now nothing more than a long, irregular trough formed bythe spreading roots of the pines on either side. Shuddering, Hermanstowed his gear in the trunk and got in behind the wheel.
When he put the motor into gear, the sedan moved sedately and normallyforward. But the motor raced madly, and there was no feeling that itwas taking hold. With screaming engine, Herman drove homeward over anonexistent road. Inwardly and silently, he gibbered.
Six miles down the mountain, he pulled up beside a white-painted fenceenclosing a neat yard and a fussy little blue-shuttered house. On theopposite side of the fence stood a middle-aged woman with a floppy hatawry on her head and a gardening trowel in one of her gloved hands.She looked up with an air of vague dismay when he got out of the car.
"Some more eggs today, Dr. Raye?" she asked, and smiled. The smile waslike painted china. Her eyes, lost in her fleshy face, were clearlytrying not to look downward.
"Not today, Mrs. Richards," Herman said. "I just stopped to saygood-by. I'm on my way home."
"Isn't that a shame?" she said mechanically. "Well, come again nextyear."
Herman wanted to say, "Next year I'll probably be in a strait-jacket."He tried to say it. He stuttered, "N-n-n-n--" and ended, glancing atthe ground at her feet, "Tra
The woman's mouth worked. She said, "Yes. I thought I might's well putthem along here, where they'd get more sun. Aren't they pretty?"
"Very pretty," said Herman helplessly.
The petunias, roots as naked as if they had been scrubbed, werenesting in a bed of stars. Mrs. Richards' gloves and trowel werespotlessly clean.
* * * * *
On Fourth Avenue, below Fourteenth Street, Herman met two frightfullittle men.
He had expected the city to be better, but it was worse; it was anightmare. The avenues between the buildings were bottomless troughsof darkness. The bedrock was gone; the concrete was gone; the asphaltwas gone.
The buildings themselves were hardly recognizable unless you knew whatthey were. New York had been a city of stone--built on stone, built ofstone, as cold as stone.
Uptown, the city looked half-built, but insanely occupied, a forest oforange-painted
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