And it was inevitable that some of these people pushed back …
April 2005: USHER II
“’During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback. through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher …’”
Mr. William Stendahl paused in his quotation. There, upon a low black hill, stood the House, its cornerstone bearing the inscription 2005 A.D.
Mr. Bigelow, the architect, said, “It’s completed. Here’s the key, Mr. Stendahl.”
The two men stood together silently in the quiet autumn afternoon. Blueprints rustled on the raven grass at their feet.
“The House of Usher,” said Mr. Stendahl with pleasure. “Planned, built, bought, paid for. Wouldn’t Mr. Poe be delighted?”
Mr. Bigelow squinted. “Is it everything you wanted, sir?”
“Is the color right? Is it desolate and terrible?”
“_Very_ desolate, very terrible!”
“The walls are–_bleak?_”
“The tarn, is it ‘black and lurid’ enough?”
“Most incredibly black and lurid.”
“And the sedge—we’ve dyed it, you know—is it the proper gray and ebon?”
Mr. Bigelow consulted his architectural plans. From these he quoted in part: “Does the whole structure cause an ‘iciness, a sickening of the heart, a dreariness of thought’? The House, the lake, the land, Mr. Stendahl?”
“Mr. Bigelow, it’s worth every penny! My God, it’s beautiful!”
“Thank you. I had to work in total ignorance. Thank the Lord you had your own private rockets or we’d never have been allowed to bring most of the equipment through. You notice, it’s always twilight here, this land, always October, barren, sterile, dead. It took a bit of doing. We killed everything. Ten thousand tons of DDT. Not a snake, frog, or Martian fly left! Twilight always, Mr. Stendahl; I’m proud of that. There are machines, hidden, which blot out the sun. It’s always properly ‘dreary.’”
Stendahl drank it in, the dreariness, the oppression, the fetid vapors, the whole “atmosphere,” so delicately contrived and fitted. And that House! That crumbling horror, that evil lake, the fungi, the extensive decay! Plastic or otherwise, who could guess?
He looked at the autumn sky. Somewhere above, beyond, far off, was the sun. Somewhere it was the month of April on the planet Mars, a yellow month with a blue sky. Somewhere above, the rockets burned down to civilize a beautifully dead planet. The sound of their screaming passage was muffled by this dim, soundproofed world, this ancient autumn world.
“Now that my job’s done,” said Mr. Bigelow uneasily, “I feel free to ask what you’re going to do with all this.”
“With Usher? Haven’t you guessed?”
“Does the name Usher mean nothing to you?”
“Well, what about this name: Edgar Allan Poe?”
Mr. Bigelow shook his head.
“Of course.” Stendahl snorted delicately, a combination of dismay and contempt. “How could I expect you to know blessed Mr. Poe? He died a long while ago, before Lincoln. All of his books were burned in the Great Fire. That’s thirty years ago–1975.”
“Ah,” said Mr. Bigelow wisely. “One of those!”
“Yes, one of those, Bigelow. He and Lovecraft and Hawthorne and Ambrose Bierce and all the tales of terror and fantasy and horror and, for that matter, tales of the future were burned. Heartlessly. They passed a law. Oh, it started very small. In 1950 and ‘60 it was a grain of sand. They began by controlling books of cartoons and then detective books and, of course, films, one way or another, one group or another, political bias, religions prejudice, union pressures; there was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past, afraid of the present, afraid of themselves and shadows of themselves.”
“Afraid of the word ‘politics’ (which eventually became a synonym for Communism among the more reactionary elements, so I hear, and it was worth your life to use the word!), and with a screw tightened here, a bolt fastened there, a push, a pull, a yank, art and literature were soon like a great twine of taffy strung about, being twisted in braids and tied in knots and thrown in all directions, until there was no more resiliency and no more savor to it. Then the film cameras chopped short and the theaters turned dark. and the print presses trickled down from a great Niagara of reading matter to a mere innocuous dripping of ‘pure’ material. Oh, the word ‘escape’ was radical, too, I tell you!”