Excerpt: Two Disturbing Stories from Ron Miller’s Disturbing Stories

What kind of siding do you need to protect your house from werewolves?
Would you kill someone to prevent them from committing suicide?
What would you say to him if you met Dr. Frankenstein?
Imagine building a clockwork god… that truly is God.
How many times can you execute a mass murderer?
What is a goddess to do when her worshippers abandon her for another?
Could you carry out a death sentence yourself?
If you were the last person on Earth, would you know it?
Forget “raised by wolves.” What about the boy raised by birds?
It’s a hard life for the man who is always second.
Imagine a world where nothing dies. Nothing.
What would a zombie have to do to prove his status as undead?

In these Disturbing Stories, Ron Miller answers (or in some cases, asks) questions that will make you look at the world differently, and not necessarily from a position of comfort.

“Ron Miller has the rare gift of being a visionary in two ways: a superb imaginative artist who is also a fine storyteller. I’ve been an admirer of his paintings for many years; what a pleasure it is to discover that his short stories are just as wonderful. Disturbing Stories is a terrific collection; read this book, by all means.” —Allen Steele, three-time Hugo Award-winner

 

Big Game

I only wish that all the jokes you’ve heard about traveling salesmen were true. It’s crossed my mind more than once, I can tell you, that I’ve never gotten my share of farmers’ daughters. In fact, I’ve never even met a farmer’s daughter. I’m not even sure I’d know what to do if I did. Probably try to sell her Lustron porcelain-clad siding, I suppose.

I do know that porcelain-clad steel siding wasn’t the first thing on my mind when the black-haired girl opened the door in answer to my knock. But then, she was no farmer’s daughter, either. Tall, slender as one of those Vogue models but a lot healthier-looking, with startlingly wide-set green eyes set in a face as white as a #2 Vanilla Creme Premium panel. It seemed to take her a second to focus on me, as though it were an effort to swing those wide-set glims onto something standing as close to her as I was, like a Navy rangefinder taking aim at an enemy cruiser.

“Yes?” she said, pleasantly enough, though there was something about her voice that sent a shiver down my back. But a good shiver, if you get what I mean.

“Good morning,” I said. “My name is Barrow, Creighton Barrow. I represent the Lustron company, manufacturers of the finest porcelain-clad steel home siding on the market today. I have an appointment with a Mr. Helsinki…”

“Isn’t that nice!” she interrupted with what seemed to be genuine enthusiasm. “I’m Susi. That’s with an I but no E. It’s Finnish. Please come in.. I’m sure my—guardian—will be delighted to hear what you have to say about your splendid product.”

She stood aside to let me in, but I passed close enough to her to smell her. She wore a strange perfume, musky and earthy. She smelled a little like a pet shop but I liked it and thought about saying something, but figured I’d better concentrate on my job. If she wasn’t the one who paid the bills around there, flattering her wasn’t going to get me anywhere and I had two more appointments later that evening.

She closed the door behind me and, with a gesture, indicated that I should follow her, which I did and was glad of it. Her swaying hips reminded me of the slow, sinuous undulations of a cobra.

She led me to pair of sliding doors. She opened the doors just wide enough to allow her to lean into the room beyond and say, “Arno, there’s a man here to see you.”

She must have gotten a positive answer because she stepped aside, opened the doors all the way and, with a smile, gestured for me to go on in. I hefted my sample case—porcelain-clad steel is no featherweight, you understand—and did.

What a room! I’d never seen anything like it, at least not since my last visit to the Natural History Museum and that had been when I was a kid. There must have been five hundred stuffed animals in the place if there was one, and there was. Every level surface had some sort of furry, scaly or feathered creature sitting on it while the walls were covered from floor to ceiling with heads mounted on big wooden plaques. Dozens and dozens of glassy-eyed faces were staring down at me from every direction, making me feel uncomfortably like a participant in some strange spectator sport, or maybe the victim in a car accident as a crowd of rubber-neckers gathered around to gawk at the mess.

What I had taken at first to be a stuffed grizzly bear whimsically decked out in a red velvet smoking jacket and cravat startled me by removing a cigar from its mouth, grinning like a demon and extending a hairy paw toward me.

“Good evening, Mr. Barrow!” it said in a very good imitation of Wallace Beery. “I very much appreciate your coming at such a late hour!”

There’s hardly any need for me to describe Helsinki any further other than to say he looked as though someone had told Max Baer he ought to audition for the part of Mephistopheles in a revival of “Faust,” if “Faust” is the play I’m thinking of. His big hairy hand engulfed mine like a badger sucking down a mouse as an after-dinner mint.

He was one of those big, hearty manly men who are so aggressively masculine you wonder what they keep in their underwear drawers to dance around in when the doors are locked and the shades drawn. But to keep this short, if you think of the gypsy in Walt Disney’s “Pinocchio” you’ll pretty much have the right impression.

“Glad you could come! Glad you could come!” he roared, drawing me across the room like a little red wagon. “I was afraid when I called your office they wouldn’t have anyone to send out on such short notice!”

“I always check in before calling it a day,” I said. “It’s often paid off for me.”

“Well, I’ll be betting you’ll be thinking you hit the jackpot today, my friend! Did you take a look at my house as you came up?”

Of course I had. The place was as big as the main top at Barnum & Bailey and just about as tasteful. But I said, “Sure did, Mr. Helsinki! Beautiful layout you got here, mighty fine!”

“You bet your sweet life it’s fine! Biggest damn house in the tri-county area! Can I get you a drink? You look like a scotch-and-soda man to me!”

Any sort of alcoholic beverage makes me break out, but I said, “Sure thing, Mr. Helsinki! It’s after six so I guess I can sort of consider myself kind of off duty. But just a small one, please, with lots of ice. I got to keep my wits about me if I’m going to be doing business.”

“Smart fella!” he said, ho-ho-hoing like a department store Santa Claus. ‟Plenty smart! But a quick jolt never hurt a real man! Here you go!” he bellowed, shoving a tumbler full of amber liquid into my hand. “Here’s to good hunting!”

“Um, yes, to good hunting!” I replied, making the most enthusiastic salute I could with my glass. If I drink this thing, I thought, I’ll wake up in the morning with blisters all over my face the size of biscuits. I took a sip and carefully set the tumbler onto the glass-topped bar.

“Now, Mr. Helskinki—” I began, hoping I could distract him from the subject of alcohol.

“Arno!” he boomed. “Arno! We’re all friends here! Just a couple of bluff, hearty fellows talking some plain, down to earth business talk!”

“Uh, yes. Well, um, Arno…my office told me that you were interested in cladding your entire, um, house in Lustron porcelain-clad steel siding…”

“You got that right, my friend! You got that right! The whole shebang! Top to bottom! Side to side! Every damn square inch!”

Holy smoke! I tried to keep the glitter of sheer avarice out of my eyes. The entire house! Why, the thing must have a surface area measurable in acres!

“That’d be fine, just fine!” I managed to say as non nonchalantly as I could, if nonchalant means what I think it does. “An excellent decision, Mr., um, Arno, an excellent decision, indeed! Lustron porcelain-clad steel paneling is the best investment a man can make in his home.”

“Tough stuff, ain’t it?”

“Oh, yes indeed, indeed it is! Here, let me show you a few samples!”

I scrambled to get my case open before he could realize that I was ignoring my drink. He wasn’t ignoring his, I noticed. In fact, he was pouring himself another pint as I undid the latch and revealed the samples. I could tell that even a big brute like Helsinki was impressed, as well he should be. The gleaming squares of porcelain-clad steel looked as brilliant and clean and inviting as ice cream. I would have said jewels except that jewels aren’t normally opaque and four inches square. No, ice cream was the simile that always came to my mind, if simile is the word I want. Cool, glimmering, smooth and in all the colors ice cream comes in and more. I took one of the gleaming tiles from the case and handed it to Helsinki.

“Great heavens! It looks like marzipan but it’s as heavy as armor plate!”

“You bet it is, Arno! A genuine Lustron porcelain-clad steel tile is as tough as the skin of any battle cruiser! Rain, hail, B-Bs, baseballs, you name it, Lustron can take it! That finish, sir, may look as fragile as the varnish on a lady’s dainty fingernail but I can tell you right now that it’ll outlast the house you put it on! You’ll never have to paint again…just hose ‘er down every now and then and she’ll be as bright and pretty as new!”

“Amazing! And tell me…this is proof against hail, baseballs—as you say—but what about animals?”

“Animals?”

“Yes, you know…the tearing, rending tusks of the enraged wild boar, the razor-sharp talons of the blood-maddened puma, the scimitar-like claws of the berserk kodiak…you know, that sort of thing!”

“Well, I do know that bullets will bounce off it. We tried that and you can see the amazing results in our promotional film, ‘Lustron Beauty versus Tommy Gun Lead.’ It’s a wonderful little movie. Shows how Dillinger would be alive today if he’d only hidden out in a Lustron-clad house.”

“Excellent! This gets better every moment!”

“Yes, not even one of those monsters up there,” I said, gesturing grandly toward the snarling, glassy-eyed heads that loomed on the walls that surrounded us, “could get through a Lustron-clad wall!”

“Not even the horn of the mighty rhinoceros?”

“Be like a can opener trying to unzip an aircraft carrier!”

“Not even the gleaming, ivory tusks of a charging rogue elephant?”

“He’d bounce off it like a ping pong ball!”

“Well, I think you’ve sold me, Mr. Barrow! Indeed I think you have!”

“Not that you would ever have to worry about such things, not in rural Illinois, at any rate,” I said perhaps a little too lightly, the sip of whiskey I’d had earlier obviously having gone to my head.

“Do you hunt, Mr. Barrow?”

“Pardon? Hunt? No,” I said, a little puzzled by the sudden change in topic. I hoped he wasn’t thinking twice about the sale and determined to get him back on track before too much momentum was lost, if momentum is the word I want. “I’m afraid I’m strictly a city boy. Never hunted for anything wilder than a parking space.”

“Hum! I’ve hunted all over the world…as you can see! There hasn’t been a creature worth hunting that hasn’t fallen before my eagle eye, steady nerves and lightning-like trigger finger. The mighty bear—brown, black and grizzly—the bighorn sheep, the cape buffalo, water buffalo and bison, wildebeest, zebra and elephant—African and Asian—swans, ducks, bantengs, the kangaroo, crocodile, wild pig and wild groat, the caribou, chukar, goose and grouse—both black and red—hare, elk, peccary, muskrat and moose, the pronghorn antelope, wild boar, turkey, pheasant and woodcock, deer—red, roe, fallow, sika, muntjac and Chinese water—walrus, seal, polar bear and whale! I suppose you can imagine how boring this became after a while?”

“Easily.”

“It was then I discovered the existence of an entirely new world of hitherto unknown game animals! What a revelation it was! It was like discovering a parallel universe, one which exists alongside our own but entirely unknown, unperceived by everyone! Unperceived, yes, but hinted at in the old myths and legends!”

I had no idea what he was talking about. I glanced at my watch and saw that it was getting to be very late. The last glow of sunset had faded and, through the east window, I could see the milky glow of the full moon about to rise. If Helsinki kept this up I wouldn’t be back to my hotel before midnight. Still, it wouldn’t pay to be too abrupt so I decided to humor him for a few more minutes before turning the conversation back to Lustron porcelain-clad steel siding.

“You mean like the Loch Ness monster?” I asked.

“Something like that! But better and infinitely more dangerous, more cunning, more worthy of my mighty skills as a hunter!”

“Well, I can’t—”

“You are familiar, of course,” he said, his voice suddenly dropping to a conspiratorial whisper, “with werebeasts?”

“You mean like Lon Chaney?”

Pfft! Lon Chaney is as a tame Pekingese compared to the mighty creatures I’m talking about! A mere lap dog! Imagine human beings with inhuman strength and speed, imagine animals with human cunning and cruelty! There you have the werebeasts!”

“There’s more than one kind?”

“Study the folklore of every nation and you’ll find tales of were animals that will keep you awake and wide-eyed for weeks! Not only your common or garden-variety werewolf, but werebears, weresnakes, werebats, wereboars and werecats of every kind! You name it! Why, the Irish even have were seals, of all things!”

“Were seals, eh? Well, well! Think how pretty a seal would look, surrounded by glistening white Lustron…”

“It’s taken years and years but I’ve gotten them all! Oh, the stories I could tell you…”

“And you have no idea how anxious I am to hear them, but…” I gave a subtle glance toward my watch, but Helsinki was not a man susceptible to subtleties.

“They were terrifying at first, even to me, if you can believe that! But I soon learned that I could beat them, beat them all! Soon enough, they held no further terrors for me! If anyone had any reason to be afraid, it was them, the werebeasts! But…” He refilled his tumbler. I had lost count of how many times he had done this, but I did notice that the bottle was now empty. Helsinki looked at it rather forlornly, as though it were a brilliant child who had just brought home an F on its report card. “But,” he continued, “times have changed since the Middle Ages! This is an age of communication and organization! I discovered that it was no longer I against individual prey, but a prey that had unionized! I might shoot a werewolf one night, but the next day his kith and kin were telephoning and telegraphing one another—and not only their fellow werewolves, but werebeasts of any kind, all of whom had to become human some time during the day, all who were anywhere near a telephone or telegraph office! And in this day and age who is not? I would find myself on another hunt a week later surrounded by were creatures of every type, animals who would never be caught dead together in the wild were now organized against their common enemy: me! Now I think you understand my interest in your fine product, Mr. Barrow!”

“The Lustron porcelain-clad…”

“Yes! Yes! I want my house to be armor-plated! I want it proof against claw, talon, hoof, antler, horn, fang and tooth!”

The man was obviously insane and I wondered if it were in the cards to get his name on a contract before he went completely berserk and started snapping at my ankles and cackling like a chicken. Or even worse, as I realized that in addition to the macabre collection of stuffed heads the room was a veritable arsenal of deadly weapons. Guns of every vintage and variety, knives, swords, axes…God knew what all…filled cabinets and littered the floor. I then noticed, to my horror, that a huge pistol lay within inches of the hairy brute’s trembling fist.

“Look,” I said, trying to keep my voice level, “I realize this will be a big decision for you. Let me leave some of these samples with you along with a few pieces of descriptive literature. Look it all over at your leisure. Take your time! Here’s my card. Feel free to call me whenever you’ve decided what you need. Be delighted to send one of my men out to process the contract. Delighted. Absolutely delighted.”

The room had been growing dark as Helsinki had been talking, but suddenly the moon rose above the trees and a silvery light flooded through the open window. Apparently Helsinki had been distracted by our conversation since this seemed to have taken him entirely by surprise. “No!” he cried, like a startled bull, and rushed to the tall window. Beyond the glass I could see dozens of tiny, glittering points of light. Fireflies, I thought. How pretty! But how unusual, too, that they would all be moving about in pairs.

“Too late! Too late! Too late!” Helsinki was shouting as he blundered around the room like a madman…which I presumed was exactly what he was. He tore the door from one of the gun cabinets with his bare hands, flinging the shattered wood and glass to the floor. “I thought I had them fooled at last! I changed my address! I bought this place under an assumed name! I grew a beard! How? How? How so soon? They must have hired detectives!”

I had pretty much realized by this point that I wasn’t going to make a Lustron porcelain-clad siding sale and began edging toward the door, hoping that whatever it was beyond the window that was exciting Helsinki so much would keep him distracted from me. I threw a final glance through the window and was amazed to see the fireflies still there. Strange fireflies that didn’t blink and, oddest thing of all, still moved about in pairs, like luminous dancing partners. No, I take that back. The oddest thing was that they all seemed to be moving toward the house.

The moon cleared the last branches and the room was as brilliantly lit as if someone had thrown a switch. I instinctively turned away from the window, toward the walls covered with the gruesome trophies. The hairy, scaly, feathered, armored, brutish faces glowed in the moonlight as though splashed with phosphorescent paint. Then…

Then they began to change.

Where there had once been decapitated boars, wolves, cats and God knows what all, there were now the heads of men. Men of all ages and races, their faces filled with fury and…and surprise. And then I realized that there were not only the heads of men but women, too, some of them heart-stoppingly beautiful, others with the faces of degenerate hags. But worst of all were the children…

I didn’t wait to see any more of that. I bolted through the door, not really bothering to see if it were open or not, and flung myself headlong down the hall toward the front door. The latter was unlocked, thank God, and my car was still where I’d left it. As I wrenched the door open and started to clamber into the front seat I heard shots from the house, then a terrible, terrible wailing. An ululation—if ululation is the word I want—that rose and rose and rose, then collapsed into a horrible gurgle.

Before I could even begin to imagine what that had been all about, I had the engine started and was half a mile away from that damned house.

I don’t know how long I drove before I realized that I wasn’t alone in the car. I could hear something breathing softly in the back seat. I glanced into the rear view mirror but whatever it was was hiding behind my seat.

“Wh-wh-who…?” I managed to croak.

“Mr. Barrow?”

It wasn’t a snarl or a hiss or a growl, so I was reassured. In fact, it was a very pleasant voice indeed…which was even more reassuring.

“Who is it?” I asked, though I was pretty sure I knew the answer already. As I glanced again in the mirror I saw a pale face rise into the glass. It reminded me, for a terrifying moment, of the moon rising into the window back at the house. But instead, it was who I thought it was: the “ward” I’d met earlier that evening. Her face looked like a hard-boiled egg nestled in black velvet. The only color was in her vast green eyes.

“It’s me, Mr. Barrow. Mr. Helsinki’s ward…”

“Yes, of course. Uh, Susi. But what are you doing here?”

“The same thing you are, Mr. Barrow…escaping that awful house!”

“You’d better climb into the front seat with me. I have to look at you to talk and if I keep my eyes on the mirror we’re going to get killed because I can tell you right now, I’m not stopping for anything!”

“I don’t blame you one little bit, Mr. Barrow!” she said as she clambered over the seat back. I was astonished at the grace with which she did that—and maybe a little disappointed at the lack of leg revealed in the process. She seemed to flow over the seat like warm taffy. “Where are we going?”

“Which way is Helsinki’s place?”

“Back there,” she said, gesturing over her shoulder.

“Then we’re going this way,” I replied, pointing straight ahead.

We didn’t say much to one another after that, but instead drove deeper into the night. It took a couple of hours before either of us calmed down enough to trust our thoughts to words.

“I’m sorry you had to go through that, Mr. Barrow.”

“Please, call me Creighton.”

“Yes…Creighton. It must have been an awful experience for you.”

“You aren’t just whistling Dixie, baby! What in the hell was that all about?”

“I guess it was pretty much what Arno told you—I was listening at the door, I confess. He was a monomaniac…and a megalomaniac at the same time. A pretty bad combination, I guess.”

“I guess.”

“Well, anyway, I was practically a prisoner back there. He…he’d taken me in when my parents were killed.”

“I’m sorry…”

“I’m pretty sure he was the one who killed them.”

What? Why?”

“He’s…he was a collector. I suppose I was just one more specimen for him. I guess he must have thought I was beautiful.”

She was all of that, all right. For all that he was a nut of the first order, I couldn’t fault Helsinki on his taste. I stole a quick glance toward the girl, just to confirm my conclusion that she was the most perfectly beautiful thing I’d ever seen. She was.

We drove along like that for a couple of hours, not saying much at all. I started to slow down and pay attention to where I was going as my nerves got back to normal. And as these things happened, I became more and more aware of the girl sitting quietly next to me. I was aware of the almost phosphorescent quality of her pale skin, which was the color of a cup of cream with a single drop of blood stirred into it, of the way her black hair glistened in the light of passing cars and street lamps, but mostly of that sweet, musky scent she had. It was almost unpleasant but never quite crossed that line. Instead, it seemed to get into my head like one of those tunes you hear and can’t shake for days.

“It must be nearly dawn,” she said. They were the first words she’d spoken in hours and the sound of her voice startled me. I’d forgotten how husky and sibilant it was…or maybe I’d never noticed before. She was right, though. Dead ahead of us the sky was growing light.

“I suppose it’s about time we thought about where we’re going,” I said. “I haven’t been paying a lot of attention. We must be in the middle of nowhere.”

“It doesn’t matter to me. All I care about is being as far away as I can get from…from that cage!”

I wouldn’t have thought it possible to hiss a word that had no S’s in it, but she managed to do it—and the vehemence with which she spit it out startled me. Scared me a little, too. I was a little surprised, too, at her use of the word “cage.” Helsinki had a pretty swank place, as near as I could tell, so “cage” seemed to me a little over-dramatic.

“I guess I can’t imagine what Helskinki was doing to you back there.”

“No, no you can’t. Nor what he has done.”

“You told me about your parents.”

“Yes!” This time the word had an S in it and she used it. “He wanted me, wanted me desperately. He ten forced me to marry him. It was easily done back in the old country. But he didn’t care about me…never loved me. I was nothing but a—a trophy wife to him. Just another trophy.”

Well, I had to admit to myself I could hardly blame the man. The girl was a looker, for sure. But that was no reason for anyone to abuse her. There’s never a good excuse for abusing a woman. I’m a gentleman and I know better.

“He collected were-animals; you know that now. He was obsessed with them and, to the were-world, he became a murderer. No, worse: a serial killer. A mad criminal to be hunted down and eliminated. They were determined to stop him…and finally did, as you saw last night.”

“But what could all of that have to do with you? I know you’re not a were-something-or-another. I mean, we’ve been driving under a full moon all night and you’re still you.”

“My dear new friend. If there are were-animals doesn’t it make sense that there must also be were-humans?”

As she turned to look at me the first rays of the rising sun topped the horizon ahead of us and fell fully onto her face. Her pale skin seemed to become incandescent, like white-hot iron, and for a moment I imagined her face melting in the glare.

“Good grief!” I said. “I had no idea that your eyes were so big and round!”

“All the better to see my handsome new friend!”

“Your ears, too! I never noticed before how large they are!”

“All the better to listen to the wonderful things you say to me!”

“And your mouth…Holy smoke! Your teeth!”

“Oh, Creighton, all the better to eat with!”

Fortunately, there was a roadside diner just around the next bend. I wasn’t terribly hungry after everything I’d been through and just picked at my food but Susi, she ate like a wolf.

 

***

MS Found At The End Of The World

P.T. Barnum’s prize elephant Jumbo was killed on September 15, 1885, while crossing railroad tracks in St. Thomas, Ontario. The collision derailed the train and 150 people were required to haul the elephant’s body up an embankment.

Day I

When God retired in the year 2173, no one but the most mean-spirited begrudged him. After all, had the human race been less of a pain in the ass, the poor fellow surely would not have been forced into a premature dotage at a time when most other gods are just entering their prime. His retirement threw the churches for a loop, of course, once prayers started coming back with “Address Unknown” stamped on them. The Bible Belt had a fit, naturally, since everyone expected Satan and his minions to run riot over the Earth, but it turned out that there was no such thing as the devil or demons or even hell for that matter. God had invented the whole thing.

But it turned out that whether a deity actually existed or not, or whether it had any active interest in the activities of mankind, was of small interest to most religions, so after a little regrouping, most of them got along just as they had before.

It was the larger issues that caused the problems. The big things—gravity, photosynthesis, time, the electromagnetic spectrum and the like—were easily and smoothly taken over by the big corporations. They were used to working on a large scale so that the privatization of the natural utilities went on pretty much as before. Consolidated Edison, for instance, took over the production of the Earth’s magnetic field, subcontracting the aurora borealis and aurora australis to Industrial Light and Magic. Except for the fact that compasses now pointed precisely toward the geographic north pole, I doubt if many people ever noticed the difference, which was, after all, an improvement in any case.

As I suggested, the privatization of the natural utilities was a bonanza for the big corporations, but that still left plenty for the enterprising entrepreneur.

“Everyone should be a god at least once in their lives,” said my friend at breakfast this morning. “I can certainly recommend it. When I worked with Barnum, I was the biggest thing there was. You just have no idea, Wally, what it’s like, being the biggest and best. It’s quite a dizzying experience, I can tell you, and it can quite easily go to your head if you are not careful.”

I am sure he was right. He usually is about such things.

Day II

You will probably have noticed that I have been using Roman numerals to designate the days in this diary. This is because of a certain laxness that has crept into the products of Federated Mathematics, Inc. that I attribute to the pervasive influence of unions and the indiscriminate use of foreign labor. For instance, just two days ago I went to the grocery to purchase a few necessary items. I reproduce a facsimile of my receipt here:

Aspirin $2.58

Vitamins $4.98

Q-Tips $3.12

Clove oil $2.19

Chocolate bar $0.75

Total: $14.00

Of course, I saw the error immediately: the cashier had rounded the total to the nearest whole number. I might not have said anything, except that the error had occurred in the store’s favor. I brought the discrepancy to the attention of the assistant manager, who agreed that it did not look correct, but no matter how many times we added the figures, it always came out to fourteen dollars. Even when I took out my own pencil and notebook and totted up the numbers, there it was: fourteen dollars.

This was nothing but inexcusably slovenly work on the part of the employees of Mathematics, Inc. I wrote a sharply worded letter to the management. At least now you can see why I have had to resort to Roman numerals. Here, I’ll show you. This entry is being written on Day 27.3. See what I mean? And I just looked back to check the date I wrote for when God retired. Just as I expected: it is entirely wrong. No one is paying the slightest attention. Fortunately, I know the fellow at Math, Inc. who is in charge of Roman numerals. Been there for years and years and in spite of the fact that practically no one uses the things any more, he takes enormous pride in his craftsmanship. I shall be sure to let him know about this diary—it will give him some pleasure, I am sure, to see his numbers put to such good use.

“Jenny Lind used to feed me peanuts,” my friend said this morning. “They used to taste of lavender, from the touch of her fingers. But for one time, I never got to watch her sing since we were all herded back to the menagerie during her performances, the lions and tigers and horses and the other elephants, though I could hear her, of course.”

“You said but for one time?”

“Yes . . . yes . . . It was an extraordinary evening. That was back when there was still a moon, you know, quite a while before your time. She came out to my pen, as luminous as an opal in the moonlight she was, and sang to me. You can’t imagine what she sounded like, Wally, you’ve never lived in a time when there were anything more than eight whole notes. But it was heaven, Wally, or the nearest thing to it. Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes.”

And he was speaking the truth, too, since I saw him myself wipe a tear away with the end of his trunk.

The sun seemed to set a little early tonight and I didn’t approve of the sunset colors at all. There are some things that ought to remain traditional.

Day IV

I suppose I should have mentioned right off the bat that I work for General Naturalistics, Inc., where I have been assistant manager of Surface Tension for nearly ten years. It is a position of some considerable responsibility. The average person takes surface tension entirely for granted, but let them try to do without for a day! Listen to the howls of complaints that would rise then! But, I am proud to say, our department—at least as long as I have been associated with it—has never allowed surface tension to vary by more than 0.00012 percent. Let’s just see Air Resistance or Combustibility try to match that figure! And as for Inertia, why, they are hardly even in the running!

“Gargantua and I would share a bottle of wine a couple of evenings every week,” my friend said. “He was one of the most pleasant companions one could possibly wish for and probably the best friend I ever had at Barnum’s. It was too bad about his face—it had been scarred terribly by acid—but it didn’t bother him in the slightest. ‘Jumbo’, he would say, ‘This face has been my fortune and, besides, I don’t have to look at myself in a mirror if I don’t want to, so what difference does it make to me what I look like?’ See what I mean, Wally? Gargantua was like that, a real philosopher. Could bend a steel rail like a paper clip but wouldn’t hurt a fly. Would you please pass the marmalade?”

The water has been rising I see. Whether this is due to the cutbacks in United Gravity’s budget or not I am in no position to say, but I do feel unusually light on my feet today.

Day XII

I’m sorry I complained about the sunsets earlier. Today I learned that in order to avoid laying off the entire staff of its Spectrum Department, Amalgamated Prismatics has instead cut back on the number of colors. Instead of red, orange, yellow, blue and green we now have just red, yellow and blue. I suppose that will do for most people. Goodness knows, though, what this means for taupe and mauve.

“It’s funny you should ask,” said my friend as we finished our morning coffee. “I hardly recall my youth at all—that is, the years I spent in the African jungle before joining Mr. Barnum’s great organization. Just fleeting images that mean very little to me any more: large green leaves, open plains of yellow grass, tremendously bright sunlight—not like the sunlight you get nowadays, not since Universal Illumination & Heat cut output last year—but the real thing, so bright you could see it with your skin.”

“You must have missed that, I suppose.”

“No, not that I recall. Perhaps I did for a while, but I was too young. The circus was a wonderful adventure, you know, one that any child would have given its teeth to have been part of.”

Federated Mathematics, Inc. adjusted the Laws of Diminishing Returns for the second quarter in a row, creating quite a nice dividend for its stockholders. I’m not so sure I approve of the new amendments to the Law of Averages, however. The Division of Probability has ties to gangsters, I am positive, no matter what anyone says to the contrary.

The sun set late again today, but at least the sunset didn’t look too bad, albeit a trifle monochromatic.

Day XVII

I can’t say I am in the best of moods, not after the past few days. I am normally a placid sort of individual, but I do have my limits. I cannot be imposed upon with impunity.

I am in the habit of taking public transportation to and from my place of employment. It is inexpensive and I believe it my duty to help in even that small way to reduce traffic and pollution. Normally, the ride is a quiet and comfortable one and I employ the time usefully by reading the newspaper or a good, edifying book. But lately . . . Well, the first thing I shall do after completing this entry in my diary will be to compose a very sharp letter to General Geometry, Ltd., telling them in no uncertain words the havoc their slipshod standards have played with the wheels of my bus. Making pi equal to three, indeed! I shall write to my senator if need be.

“Have you ever been to London?” my friend asked as he poured himself a fresh cup of coffee.

“No, I’m afraid I have not had that pleasure.”

“Wonderful city! Just wonderful! I believe I’ve told you it was my second home after leaving Africa. Lived in the Paris zoo first, for a short while, but I don’t have very clear memories of that place. Took a rhinoceros in trade for me, I understand, which just goes to show you something. Well, I lived in London for some three years and was the darling of the city. The kids just loved me, I tell you. Whole city raised a hell of a stink when Barnum came and wanted to buy me, but the zoo couldn’t say no to ten thousand dollars. To tell you the truth, I think they were just tired of feeding me.”

“Really? Why, if anyone were to ask me, I’d say you eat like a bird!”

Day XIX

The speed of sound was lowered today and the speed of light cut even more drastically. It is making my typing difficult. But I suppose it is necessary so that more essential services can be maintained. Momentum will only operate from 6 AM to midnight on weekdays, 6 AM to 6 PM on Saturdays and not at all on Sundays. But I usually stay in on weekends, so I will probably never notice any difference.

“People have said a lot of ugly things about P.T. Barnum,” my friend said as he picked toast crumbs from his chin. “But I tell you I liked the man. Yes, sir, I did! Did I ever tell you about what he did after that train hit me? Well, the man cried like a baby, he did. Couldn’t bear to see me buried, so he had me stuffed instead. I continued to travel with the show for years and, to tell you the truth, I hardly felt dead at all.”

“Must have saved Barnum a fortune on food, I imagine.”

“There is that, now that you mention it.”

Pluto was canceled as well as the asteroid belt and the moons of Uranus and Neptune. Just as well, I say. They were just an unnecessary waste of natural resources.

Day LVI

I see in today’s paper that they’ve decided to eliminate ghosts, poltergeists and imaginary friends. At first this worried me a little, but the elephant is hardly imaginary. And would a ghost make me breakfast? As for being a poltergeist, I understand they are extraordinarily mischievous and destructive. Aside from some wear and tear on the sofa and the unusually large quantities of toilet paper I purchase, I would hardly know he was there at all.

Among other things, jackals, flatworms, nutrias, armadillos and eleven species of spiders have been canceled as well, I see. I do miss robins and squirrels, but I daresay it won’t make much difference to me one way or the other about nutrias. I don’t even know what they are. Good riddance to the spiders. Nasty things.

“I do have to watch what I eat,” my friend said, nibbling at his bran muffin and gesturing with a butter-laden knife. “Even though I was once one of the largest animals ever displayed publicly, I have no desire to return to my old state of corpulence. No sir! You just try being eleven feet six inches tall and tote around a good seven tons and you’ll see quick enough that it’s no fun.”

“I can imagine,” I replied, nibbling at a piece of melba toast I had soaked in a little warmed skimmed milk.

“You know it took one hundred and fifty men to haul off my carcass after that locomotive rammed it?”

He’d mentioned that before, but I feigned surprise.

Day LXII

The most distressing thing happened today. I was halfway through my breakfast before I realized that my friend was not eating with me! How strange and disturbing it was, to not have noticed. After all, we’d had breakfast together every day for years and years. I wonder where he has gone to?

He did not appear for lunch or dinner, either, which is most unlike him. I checked his room and his bed had not been slept in. This worries me.

It is very hard typing this today. I don’t approve at all of the recent changes by Refraction—they are making my glasses practically useless. I called their service representative, but she told me it was all to blame on the new speed of light. I don’t believe her for an instant.

Letter arrived from the Entropy Commission. Appears that there will be even more leaks. No wonder I’ve been feeling so run down lately.

Day LXIII

I find I have some difficulty in recalling just what my friend looks like. Isn’t that the oddest thing? Perhaps I need an aspirin, though I dislike taking medication unnecessarily. When I close my eyes and concentrate, all I get is an impression of two small, pleasant eyes and a good deal of grey.

Day LXIV

I don’t think he is coming back. I don’t think I will remember him any longer, either. I close my eyes and there is nothing there. I am writing “him” because I don’t quite recall if he had a name. I’m sure he must have. I checked his room again this morning, but it seems that I have never had a spare room down the hall from my own. His coffee cup is missing from the cupboard, too.

I had better write this down before he is gone forever. I don’t want to forget him, I really don’t. He is the best friend I ever had.

I miss my elephant.

Day LXV

Isn’t that the oddest thing? I just reread my entry from yesterday and it doesn’t seem to make the slightest bit of sense. What elephant?

I see that due to reductions in government subsidies and a series of strikes twilight, mitosis, sleet, Bernoulli’s Law, violets and parallelograms have been canceled. The water keeps rising, too.

***

RON MILLER

I am an illustrator and author living in South Boston, Virginia. Before becoming a free-lance illustrator in 1977, I was art director for the National Air & Space Museum's Albert Einstein Planetarium. Prior to this I was a commercial advertising illustrator. My primary work today entails the writing and illustration of books specializing in astronomical, astronautical and science fiction subjects. My special interest is in exciting young people about science and in recent years I have focused on writing books for young adults. To date I have more than 70 titles to my credit, with three new books appearing later this year. My work has also appeared on scores of book jackets, book interiors and for magazines such as Scientific American, Smithsonian, Air & Space, Sky & Telescope, Newsweek, Natural History, Discover, Geo, etc.

Several of my books have been Book-of-the-Month Club Feature Selections (as well as selections of the Science, Quality Paperback and Astronomy Book Clubs) and have seen numerous translations. I have received more than twenty commendations and awards as well. My "Worlds Beyond" series received the prestigious American Institute of Physics Award of Excellence, The Dream Machines was nominated for the prestigious IAF Manuscript Award and won the Booklist Editor's Choice Award The Art of Chesley Bonestell received a Hugo Award and is the basis for the award-winning documentary film, “A Brush With the Future.”

I designed a set of ten commemorative stamps for the U.S. Postal Service. One of these is attached to the New Horizons spacecraft and is now in the Guinness Book of World Records as the furthest- traveling stamp in history. I have been a production illustrator for motion pictures, mostly notably Dune. I have also done preproduction concepts, consultation and special effects art for David Lynch, George Miller, John Ellis, UFO Films and James Cameron. I have taken part in numerous international space art workshops and exhibitions, including seminal sessions held in Iceland and the Soviet Union (where I had been invited by the Soviet government to take part in the 30th anniversary celebration of the launch of Sputnik), and have lectured on space art and space history in the U.S., France, Japan, Italy
and Great Britain. I have been on the faculty of the International Space University. My original paintings are in numerous private and public collections, including the Smithsonian Institution and the Paul Allen Family Trust.

I am the art director for Black Cat Weekly, a contributing editor for Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine, a member of the history committee of the American Astronautical Society, a Life Member, Fellow and past Trustee of the International Association for the Astronomical Arts and a past Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society.

You can obtain a copy of Disturbing Stories on the Fantastic Books webiste

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