“You know the law. Strict to the letter. No books, no houses, nothing to be produced which in any way suggests ghosts, vampires, fairies, or any creature of the imagination.”
“You’ll be burning Babbitts next!”
“You’ve caused us a lot of trouble, Mr. Stendahl. It’s in the record. Twenty years ago. On Earth. You and your library.”
“Yes, me and my library. And a few others like me. Oh, Poe’s been forgotten for many years now, and Oz and the other creatures. But I had my little cache. We had our libraries, a few private citizens, until you sent your men around with torches and incinerators and tore my fifty thousand books up and burned them. Just as you put a stake through the heart of Halloween and told your film producers that if they made anything at all they would have to make and remake Earnest Hemingway. My God, how many times have I seen For Whom the Bell Tolls done! Thirty different versions. All realistic. Oh, realism! Oh, here, oh, now, oh hell!”
“It doesn’t pay to be bitter!”
“Mr. Garrett, you must turn in a full report, mustn’t you?”
“Then, for curiosity’s sake, you’d better come in and look around. It’ll take only a minute.”
“All right. Lead the way. And no tricks. I’ve a gun with me.”
The door to the House of Usher creaked wide. A moist wind issued forth. There was an immense sighing and moaning, like a subterranean bellows breathing in the lost catacombs.
A rat pranced across the floor stones. Garrett, crying out, gave it a kick. It fell over, the rat did, and from its nylon fur streamed an incredible horde of metal fleas.
“Amazing!” Garrett bent to see.
An old witch sat in a niche, quivering her wax hands over some orange-and-blue tarot cards. She jerked her head and hissed through her toothless mouth at Garrett, tapping her greasy cards.
“Death!” she cried.
“Now that’s the sort of thing I mean,” said Garrett. “Deplorable!”
“I’ll let you burn her personally.”
“Will you, really?” Garrett was pleased. Then he frowned. “I must say you’re taking this all so well.”
“It was enough just to be able to create this place. To be able to say I did it. To say I nurtured a medieval atmosphere in a modern, incredulous world.”
“I’ve a somewhat reluctant admiration for your genius myself, sir.” Garrett watched a mist drift by, whispering and whispering, shaped like a beautiful and nebulous woman. Down a moist corridor a machine whirled. Like the stuff from a cotton-candy centrifuge, mists sprang up and floated, murmuring, in the silent halls.
An ape appeared out of nowhere.
“Hold on!” cried Garrett.
“Don’t be afraid,” Stendahl tapped the animal’s black chest. “A robot. Copper skeleton and all, like the witch. See?” He stroked the fur, and under it metal tubing came to light.
“Yes.” Garrett put out a timid hand to pet the thing. “But why, Mr. Stendahl, why all this? What obsessed you?”
“Bureaucracy, Mr. Garrett. But I haven’t time to explain. The government will discover soon enough.” He nodded to the ape. “All right. Now.”
The ape killed Mr. Garrett.
“Are we almost ready, Pikes?”
Pikes looked up from the table. “Yes, sir.”
“You’ve done a splendid job.”
“Well, I’m paid for it, Mr. Stendahl,” said Pikes softly as he lifted the plastic eyelid of the robot and inserted the glass eyeball to fasten the rubberoid muscles neatly. “There.”
“The spitting image of Mr. Garrett.”
“What do we do with him, sir?” Pikes nodded at the slab where the real Mr. Garrett lay dead.
“Better burn him, Pikes. We wouldn’t want two Mr. Gasretts, would we?”
Pikes wheeled Mr. Garrett to the brick incinerator. “Goodbye.” He pushed Mr. Garrett in and slammed the door.
Stendahl confronted the robot Garrett. “You have your orders, Garrett?”
“Yes, sir.” The robot sat up. “I’m to return to Moral Climates. I’ll file a complementary report. Delay action for at least forty-eight hours. Say I’m investigating more fully.”
“Right, Garrett. Good-by.”
The robot hurried out to Garrett’s rocket, got in, and flew away.
Stendahl turned. “Now, Pikes, we send the remainder of the invitations for tonight. I think we’ll have a jolly time, don’t you?”