“It was! Every man, they said, must face reality. Must face the Here and Now! Everything that was not so must go. All the beautiful literary lies and flights of fancy must be shot in mid-air. So they lined them up against a library wall one Sunday morning thirty years ago, in 1975; they lined them up, St. Nicholas and the Headless Horseman and Snow White and Rumpelstiltskin and Mother Goose—oh, what a wailing!–and shot them down, and burned the paper castles and the fairy frogs and old kings and the people who lived happily ever after (for of course it was a fact that nobody lived happily ever after!), and Once Upon A Time became No More! And they spread the ashes of the Phantom Rickshaw with the rubble of the Land of Oz; they filleted the bones of Glinda the Good and Ozma and shattered Polychrome in a spectroscope and served Jack Pumpkinhead with meringue at the Biologists’ Ball! The Beanstalk died in a bramble of red tape! Sleeping Beauty awoke at the kiss of a scientist and expired at the fatal puncture of his syringe. And they made Alice drink something from a bottle which reduced her to a size where she could no longer cry ‘Curiouser and curiouser,’ and they gave the Looking Glass one hammer blow to smash it and every Red King and Oyster away!”
He clenched his fists. Lord, how immediate it was! His face was red and he was gasping for breath.
As for Mr. Bigelow, he was astounded at this long explosion. He blinked and at last said, “Sorry. Don’t know what you’re talking about. Just names to me. From what I hear, the Burning was a good thing.”
“Get out!” screamed Stendahl. “You’ve done your job, now let me alone, you idiot!”
Mr. Bigelow summoned his carpenters and went away.
Mr. Stendahl stood alone before his House.
“Listen here,” he said to the unseen rockets. “I came to Mars to get away from you Clean-Minded people, but you’re flocking in thicker every day, like flies to offal. So I’m going to show you. I’m going to teach you a fine lesson for what you did to Mr. Poe on Earth. As of this day, beware. The House of Usher is open for business!”
He pushed a fist at the sky.
The rocket landed. A man stepped out jauntily. He glanced at the House, and his gray eyes were displeased and vexed. He strode across the moat to confront the small man there.
“Your name Stendahl?”
“I’m Garrett, Investigator of Moral Climates.”
“So you finally got to Mars, you Moral Climate people? I wondered when you’d appear.”
“We arrived last week. We’ll soon have things as neat and tidy as Earth.” The man waved an identification card irritably toward the House. “Suppose you tell me about that place, Stendahl?”
“It’s a haunted castle, if you like.”
“I don’t like. Stendahl, I don’t like. The sound of that word ‘haunted.’”
“Simple enough. In this year of our Lord 2005 I have built a mechanical sanctuary. In it copper bats fly on electronic beams, brass rats scuttle in plastic cellars, robot skeletons dance; robot vampires, harlequins, wolves, and white phantoms, compounded of chemical and ingenuity, live here.”
“That’s what I was afraid of,” said Garrett, smiling quietly. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to tear your place down.”
“I knew you’d come out as soon as you discovered what went on.”
“I’d have come sooner, but we at Moral Climates wanted to be sure of your intentions before we moved in. We can have the Dismantlers and Burning Crew here by supper. By midnight your place will be razed to the cellar. Mr. Stendahl, I consider you somewhat of a fool, sir. Spending hard-earned money on a folly. Why, it must have cost you three million dollars—“
“Four million! But, Mr. Garrett, I inherited twenty-five million when very young. I can afford to throw it about. Seems a dreadful shame, though, to have the House finished only an hour and have you race out with your Dismantlers. Couldn’t you possibly let me play with my Toy for just, well, twenty-four hours?”