“Am I?” He paused and tried to feel into himself to see what was really there.
“Oh, George!” She looked beyond him, at the nursery door. “Those lions can’t get out of there, can they?”
He looked at the door and saw it tremble as if something had jumped against it from the other side.
“Of course not,” he said.
At dinner they ate alone, for Wendy and Peter were at a special plastic carnival across town and had televised home to say they’d be late, to go ahead eating. So George Hadley, bemused, sat watching the dining-room table produce warm dishes of food from its mechanical interior.
“We forgot the ketchup,” he said.
“Sorry,” said a small voice within the table, and ketchup appeared.
As for the nursery, thought George Hadley, it won’t hurt for the children to be locked out of it awhile. Too much of anything isn’t good for anyone. And it was clearly indicated that the children had been spending a little too much time on Africa. Thatsun. He could feel it on his neck, still, like a hot paw. And thelions. And the smell of blood. Remarkable how the nursery caught the telepathic emanations of the children’s minds and created life to fill their every desire. The children thought lions, and there were lions. The children thought zebras, and there were zebras. Sun—sun. Giraffes—giraffes. Death and death.
Thatlast. He chewed tastelessly on the meat that the table bad cut for him. Death thoughts. They were awfully young, Wendy and Peter, for death thoughts. Or, no, you were never too young, really. Long before you knew what death was you were wishing it on someone else. When you were two years old you were shooting people with cap pistols.
But this—the long, hot African veldt—the awful death in the jaws of a lion. And repeated again and again.
“Where are you going?”
He didn’t answer Lydia. Preoccupied, be let the lights glow softly on ahead of him, extinguish behind him as he padded to the nursery door. He listened against it. Far away, a lion roared.
He unlocked the door and opened it. Just before he stepped inside, he heard a faraway scream. And then another roar from the lions, which subsided quickly.
He stepped into Africa. How many times in the last year had he opened this door and found Wonderland, Alice, the Mock Turtle, or Aladdin and his Magical Lamp, or Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz, or Dr. Doolittle, or the cow jumping over a very real-appearing moon—all the delightful contraptions of a make-believe world. How often had he seen Pegasus flying in the sky ceiling, or seen fountains of red fireworks, or heard angel voices singing. But now, this yellow hot Africa, this bake oven with murder in the heat. Perhaps Lydia was right. Perhaps they needed a little vacation from the fantasy which was growing a bit too real for ten-year-old children. It was all right to exercise one’s mind with gymnastic fantasies, but when the lively child mind settled onone pattern . . . ? It seemed that, at a distance, for the past month, he had heard lions roaring, and smelled their strong odor seeping as far away as his study door. But, being busy, he had paid it no attention.
George Hadley stood on the African grassland alone. The lions looked up from their feeding, watching him. The only flaw to the illusion was the open door through which he could see his wife, far down the dark hall, like a framed picture, eating her dinner abstractedly.
“Go away,” he said to the lions.
They did not go.
He knew the principle of the room exactly. You sent out your thoughts. Whatever you thought would appear. “Let’s have Aladdin and his lamp,” he snapped. The veldtland remained; the lions remained.
“Come on, room! I demand Aladdin!” he said.
Nothing happened. The lions mumbled in their baked pelts.
He went back to dinner. “The fool room’s out of order,” he said. “It won’t respond.”
“Or itcan’t respond,” said Lydia, “because the children have thought about Africa and lions and killing so many days that the room’s in a rut.”