“Is it that bad?”
“I’m afraid so. One of the original uses of these nurseries was so that we could study the patterns left on the walls by the child’s mind, study at our leisure, and help the child. In this case, however, the room has become a channel toward—destructive thoughts, instead of a release away from them.”
“Didn’t you sense this before?”
“I sensed only that you had spoiled your children more than most. And now you’re letting them down in some way. What way?”
“I wouldn’t let them go to New York.”
“I’ve taken a few machines from the house and threatened them, a month ago, with closing up the nursery unless they did their homework. I did close it for a few days to show I meant business.”
“Does that mean anything?”
“Everything. Where before they had a Santa Claus now they have a Scrooge. Children prefer Santas. You’ve let this room and this house replace you and your wife in your children’s affections. This room is their mother and father, far more important in their lives than their real parents. And now you come along and want to shut it off. No wonder there’s hatred here. You can feel it coming out of the sky. Feel that sun. George, you’ll have to change your life. Like too many others, you’ve built it around creature comforts. Why, you’d starve tomorrow if something went wrong in your kitchen. You wouldn’t know how to tap an egg. Nevertheless, turn everything off. Start new. It’ll take time. But we’ll make good children out of bad in a year, wait and see.”
“But won’t the shock be too much for the children, shutting the room up abruptly, for good?”
“I don’t want them going any deeper into this, that’s all.”
The lions were finished with their red feast.
The lions were standing on the edge of the clearing watching the two men.
“NowI’m feeling persecuted,” said McClean. “Let’s get out of here. I never have cared for these damned rooms. Make me nervous.”
“The lions look real, don’t they?” said George Hadley. I don’t suppose there’s any way—“
“—that they couldbecome real?”
“Not that I know.”
“Some flaw in the machinery, a tampering or something?”
They went to the door.
“I don’t imagine the room will like being turned off,” said the father.
“Nothing ever likes to die—even a room.”
“I wonder if it hates me for wanting to switch it off?”
“Paranoia is thick around here today,” said David McClean. “You can follow it like a spoor. Hello.” He bent and picked up a bloody scarf. “This yours?”
“No.” George Hadley’s face was rigid. “It belongs to Lydia.”
They went to the fuse box together and threw the switch that killed the nursery.
The two children were in hysterics. They screamed and pranced and threw things. They yelled and sobbed and swore and jumped at the furniture.
“You can’t do that to the nursery, you can’t!”
The children flung themselves onto a couch, weeping.
“George,” said Lydia Hadley, “turn on the nursery, just for a few moments. You can’t be so abrupt.”
“You can’t be so cruel . . .”
“Lydia, it’s off, and it stays off. And the whole damn house dies as of here and now. The more I see of the mess we’ve put ourselves in, the more it sickens me. We’ve been contemplating our mechanical, electronic navels for too long. My God, how we need a breath of honest air!”
And he marched about the house turning off the voice clocks, the stoves, the heaters, the shoe shiners, the shoe lacers, the body scrubbers and swabbers and massagers, and every other machine be could put his hand to.
The house was full of dead bodies, it seemed. It felt like a mechanical cemetery. So silent. None of the humming hidden energy of machines waiting to function at the tap of a button.
“Don’t let them do it!” wailed Peter at the ceiling, as if he was talking to the house, the nursery. “Don’t let Father kill everything.” He turned to his father. “Oh, I hate you!”
“Insults won’t get you anywhere.”