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Mercurial, belligerent, passionately in love with language and wild ideas, Harlan Ellison has, for half a century, steadily gathered to himself and his thirty-seven books an undeniably fanatical readership. Winner of more awards for imaginative literature than any other living writer, he is the only scenarist ever to win the Writers Guild of America award three times for outstanding teleplay. Though his contemporary fantasies have been compared favorably with the dark visions of Borges, Barthelme, Poe and Kafka, Ellison resists categorization with a vehemence that alienates critics and reviewers seeking easy pigeonholes for an extraordinary writer. The San Francisco Chronicle writes, "The categories are too small to describe Harlan Ellison. Lyric poet, satirist, explorer of odd psychological corners, moralist, purveyor of pure horror and black comedy; he is all these and more." In this, his thirty-seventh book, setting down as never before the mortal dreads we all share, Harlan Ellison has put together his best work to date: sixteen uncollected stories (half of which are award-winners), totaling a marvel-filled 105,000 words and including a brand-new novella, his longest work in over a dozen years.

Writers take tours in other people’s lives.
The purpose of these introductory notes to each story is to reaffirm that fact, over and over again. It cannot be said too often. A writer cannibalizes his own life, that’s true: all we have to relate are the perceptions of ourselves and our experiences that parallel other people’s perceptions and experiences. But you are not alone; where you’ve been, there have I gone; what you’ve felt, I have also felt. Pain and joy and everything that lies between are universal.
I have taken what you’ve given me—though you never knew I was watching—and I’ve run it through the purifier of my imagination for the sole purpose of giving it back to you with, I hope, some clarity. If you would best use these reconstituted snippets and scintillae of your lives, I urge you to hold up the realities portrayed here to the mirror of fantasy. Things often seem clearer in the silver light of the extraordinary. Some call this magic.
Take “Jeffty Is Five” for example.
At the moment, this is one of my half dozen favorite stories. It is both a hard-edged and a romanticized view of the innocence that we all possessed as children. Jeffty has become an image of reverence for the parts of my childhood that were joyous and free of pain.
I suppose what I’m saying is that a large part of myself as an adult is Jeffty. They are parts of my nature I hold very dear. But, sadly, Donny is also a part of me. The part of me that grew up in order to deal with the Real World.
The Real World exists utterly in the Now; in a present time that seems to find the dearly remembered Past abhorrent, unbearable. And so, as this story contends, the Present tries to eradicate the Past. Please note that a distinction is drawn between change and eradication. This is not one of those embalmed adorations of nostalgic sentimentality. It merely suggests for your consideration that there are treasures of the Past that we seem too quickly brutally ready to dump down the incinerator of Progress. At what cost, it suggests, do we pursue the goal of being au courant?
There are those who ask me, “Where do you get your ideas?” Of all the silly questions asked of writers, that one, surely, is the silliest. It presupposes there is a place or a method by which dreams become actualities on paper.
No. There is no such place (though I usually respond with the spine-straightener that I get my stories from an idea service in Poughkeepsie, New York… $25 a week and they send me a fresh six-pack of ideas fifty-two times a year). and there is no universally explicable method (hell, not even Aristotle could codify the act of creation). But you’d be both amazed and appalled at how many people ask me for the address of that idea service in Poughkeepsie.
But this I can tell you of how I came to write “Jeffty Is Five”:
My friends Walter and Judy Koenig invited me to a party. I don’t like parties. I do like Walter and Judy. I also like their kids. I went to the party.
Mostly I sat near the fireplace, friendly but not overly ebullient. Mostly I talked to Walter and Judy’s son, Josh, who is remarkable beyond the telling. And then I overheard a snatch of conversation. An actor named Jack Danon said—I thought he said—something like this—”Jeff is five, he’s always five.” No, not really. He didn’t say anything like that at all. What he probably said was, “Jeff is fine, he’s always fine.” Or perhaps it was something completely different.
But I had been awed and delighted by Josh Koenig, and I instantly thought of just such a child who was arrested in time at the age of five. Jeffty, in no small measure, is Josh: the sweetness of Josh, the intelligence of Josh, the questioning nature of Josh.
Thus from admiration of one wise and innocent child, and from a misheard remark, the process not even Aristotle could codify was triggered. And soon afterward, Jeffty and Donny and the terrible and wonderful thing that happened to them ordered itself on paper.
One more thing about this story.
Despite what seems to be a quality of universality that I attribute to you more than to me or to any great genius in the writing of it, the ending of the story somehow escapes the slovenly reader. It’s all there, what happened to Jeffty. Very clearly. It’s done with what I hope is some subtlety, and you may have to read the last page or so with some careful attention to detail… but it’s all there.
As the Past is always there, if you learn from it; treasure the treasures and let the dross go without remorse.
Writers take tours in other people’s lives. Jeffty is me; he is also you. This is a short, memory-filled trip through your own life.

Writers take tours in other people’s lives. As I write this, I’m sitting on an American Airlines flight between Toronto and Los Angeles. I’ve just come back from delivering a lecture at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, about 265 kilometers from Toronto and I’m sitting here at 37,000 feet above Bryce Canyon annoying the other passengers with the tippy-tap of my portable Olympia.
I tell you this because it happened again in Kingston:
Some wiseass took a tour through my life.
The feep in question is Gary Crawford, an otherwise nice guy who attempted to encapsulate me for a female housemate of his by quoting out of context one line from the introduction to my collection Love Ain’t Nothing but Sex Misspelled.
Her response to that line, when Gary suggested she attend my lecture, was something akin to this: “Go see that sexist pig asshole? Forget it.”
For the introduction to that book, I wrote an essay in which I attempted to summarize everything I thought I knew for sure about love; everything I’d learned in the forty-one years I’d been around at that point, five years ago. It was not a very long essay.
But in that essay I recounted an anecdote concerning myself and the woman who was to become my fourth wife. We had just met, were just beginning to date, and she asked me how many women I had been with. “Been with”: that’s one of those phrases we use.
After a few days of hemming and hawing, and avoiding answering the question because I didn’t think she really wanted to hear the truth, I was pressured into answering, and I did. It was a substantive number of liaisons.
Gary Crawford read that line about how many women I’d “been with” to this total stranger, this Anne who shares the cost of renting a house up in Kingston; and with a demonstration of provincial audacity that resonated perfectly with the concretized tenets of the Judeo-Christian Ethos, she concluded I was a brutalizer of women, a shallow gigolo or profligate tramp; a womanizer of the most odious sort.
Ah, lady, would that it were so. Too much pain and visceral material expended during the course of my love life ever to garner me such unassailable encomiums. No, kiddo, I’m just a slave of love like you.
The judgment is one, clearly, of geography… not morality.
But there it was happening to me again: some reader taking a tour through my life and doing it with considerable ineptitude, and then reporting back to strangers the skewed visions he had had while on his jaunt. And there goes Anne, getting all pruney around the lips and calling me bad names.
I won’t run my credentials. Call me what you will. It’s your problem and none of my own, friends. Anarchist, rakehell, asshole, monster, pyromaniac, child molester, assassin, lover of the music of Lawrence Welk… the most awful things you or I could think of. What the hell do I care? I’m still the one who can write these stories.
And no one ever said Dostoevski was a paragon of the virtues; but I’ll bet he bought his way into Heaven with The Idiot.
Why does he tell us all this?
I tell you all this because the next story you’ll read here is about fucking. No, not lovemaking, or “being with,” or anything more meaningful sexually than fucking. And I tell you all this ahead of time so you will understand that I think love and sex are separate and only vaguely similar. Like the word bear and the word bare. You can get in trouble mistaking one for the other.
The same goes for love and sex.
Writers take tours in other people’s lives. This is a hippity-hop through all of yours; even you too, Anne; you who engage in all that deep breathing about love and romance and the intricate pavane of sexual encounter when the truth of the matter is… the whole damn subject is mostly just funny.

Writers take tours in other people’s lives. Sometimes it’s done casually, an evening stroll whistling down an innocent lane or around a familiar block. Innocent and familiar until the light is seen in the abandoned house, until the fabric of space and time is torn and the gaping hole opens onto The Other Place, until the lurker in the shadows emerges. “Flop Sweat” is one of those. I wrote it innocently enough; but something dark and unexpected happened here that I didn’t plan on.
In December of 1977 I was contacted in Los Angeles by Carole Hemingway, host of the ABC radio affiliate KABC talk show bearing her name. I had done her program a number of times and had apparently been sufficiently weird for her vast audience to ask for return engagements. Several of these listeners remarked on my having written new stories in bookstore windows, and mentioned that I had even written a story over the radio for the Pacifica outlet here in L. A. She was intrigued and asked me if I would repeat the act on her show.
But with the enormous number of commercial interruptions endemic to the show’s format, it was obvious to me that even with a two-hour time-slot I wouldn’t be able to write anything coherent and still be able to carry on a conversation. So an alternate modus operandi was devised. And this was the method:
Carole would announce my forthcoming appearance for a number of days preceding, and as early as possible on the morning of the day I was to be her guest, she would call me and give me a specific thing she wanted me to use as the core of the story. I would take that basic situation or plot-element or whatever and write the story that day, completely that day, without any headstart or preliminary thinking… and have it finished to be read when we went on the air at 8:00 P. M.
Well, even under the most salutary conditions writing a story to order, with that pressing a deadline, from dead stop to completion, is a bit of a throw. But Carole made it that much more difficult by not calling till 1:00 in the afternoon; and when she did finally get through to me, her story springboard was—how shall I put this nicely—less than innervating.
Had she said, “An effluvium-covered brigantine without a living soul on board tacks into San Francisco harbor late in the winter of 1888. In the hold is an incredibly stout cage made of rare bubinga wood. The lock that seals the cage has affixed to it a strange, oddly disturbing runic seal. From within the cage come the sounds of something not-quite-human… in labor,” yeah, had she said that, I’d have been home free.
Or had she said, “Start with a sixty-year-old Viennese violinist who has been having a love affair with a woman who comes to the seedy club where he has played for the past forty-five years since he was a young man, every year, but only once a year, on the anniversary of their first liaison. And he continues to age and wither… but she has stayed twenty years old,” yeah, had she said that, I’d’ve whistled all the way to the studio that night.
Had she even said, “Disprove the existence of ghosts, or God, or Ronald Reagan,” I’d have had something to sink my fangs into. “Tell me a story of the ancient spirit ghosts of the Mohawks, come again to bedevil those modern-day Amerind high-steel workers on Manhattan towers,” okay, that’s a story beginning. “Do me a story that explains why such a high percentage of big business crooks are practicing attorneys,” not bad, a bit nebulous, but a workable basic concept; sure, I could have handled that.
But she said none of those. Nor anything else that might have made my life easier. What she said was:
“Write a story about a female talk show host.”
I think I groaned.
A female talk show host wanted me to write a story about a female talk show host. If true love could ever possibly have blossomed between Carole Hemingway and me, it was brutally crippled in that moment. And it had been so many years since I’d done any radio interviewing myself, I wasn’t sure I could write it with any degree of verisimilitude.
Nonetheless, undaunted, I accepted the challenge, sat down and started plotting. I had 6 ½ hours to devise and write a coherent story that wouldn’t get me laughed off the air. In a few minutes I had the basic idea and started typing “Flop Sweat.”
In the course of typing as fast as I could (I do about 120 words a minute on an Olympia office manual; never an electric, yucchhh; two fingers only), I found I needed some data I didn’t have in my library. So I called her assistant at the station, Fred Harris, and asked him to describe the physical setup of the broadcast booth, how many and what kinds of telephone lines they had (it’s a call-in show), and how many commercials per minute. And more. And more. That kind of stuff.
The dominant news story during that period, here in Los Angeles, was the mystery of the Hillside Strangler. I decided to use that as one of the basic elements in the piece, and I sat here writing the story with Ms. Hemingway’s station blasting away so I’d get the proper cadence of talk-to-commercials that would make the story read realistically.
I wrote all day, and by 7:30 that night had completed the 4500 words… wasting myself in the process. But I then had to shower, get dressed (I’d been working in a bathrobe all day and I was, er, um, a bit fragrant), get in the car, and drive all the way across Los Angeles to KABC-AM.
The show went on the air at eight.
Fortunately, the top of the hour is given over to a five minute news roundup that’s fed from ABC New York. That was all the slack time I needed. In the car, speeding down the Santa Monica Freeway at 80 m. p. h., I heard Carole Hemingway on my radio, saying, “Harlan Ellison isn’t here yet, but as you listeners know, he’s a most unusual person, and I’m sure he’ll rush into the control booth at any moment.”
“I’m coming, godammit, I’m coming’“ I screamed back at her, pounding the padded dashboard.
I hurtled into KABC-AM at 8:16 PM, took a few minutes for salutations and the catching of breath… and proceeded—if one can judge from the subsequent phone calls to the program—to scare the shit out of thousands of radio listeners with the story you’re about to read.
This story has not been revised. It comes to you precisely and exactly as it was written between the hours of 1:00 and 7:30 P. M. on December 21, 1977, the day it was performed over KABC TalkRadio.
Why does he tell me all this? Well, I tell it to you to prove that writers are not mythical creatures that live on crystal mountaintops. They are laborers working with inexplicable and invisible materials, but no more or less noble than a cabinetmaker who takes pride in his or her craft, who makes sure the rabbets are tight and smooth; no less approachable than a classy bricklayer who takes joy in the look of a line of bricks laid even and true; no more mysterious or honorable than a schoolteacher who can bring the Wars of the Roses to life for young people.

Writers take tours in other people’s lives.
And every once in a while the observed becomes an integral part of the life of the observer. Make no mistake, and when the reviews are written and the idle chatter is passed—never permit the deletion: I did not write this story alone. It was a true collaboration between me and one of the most exemplary human beings I have ever known, Haskell Barkin.
We wrote this as a lark, a number of years ago, and it was published in Playboy. In that way, Huck—as we call him—helped me realize a secret desire. I had always wanted to see my work in Playboy but had been unsuccessful in getting them to consider the stories seriously enough. Not only because Playboy is arguably the highest-paying magazine market in the world, but because as times have changed and fiction has waned in importance for that journal, to be replaced by topical nonfiction, the pages allocated for fiction have diminished. They are always hot to publish Cheever or Updike or Le Carré (and with justification because they are excellent), but because those fiction pages are held so dear they are highly selective in whom they permit to occupy that space. Unless one has had a popular success, from which instant name-identification provides an added value for their table of contents, it is strictly the quality of the material that buys a writer the chance at that forum.
Despite my having sent Playboy virtually everything of what I considered first rank for many years, including stories that later won awards and became widely anthologized, I could never get the nod. On one occasion they rejected a story titled “Pretty Maggie Money-eyes” on the grounds that the female character was stronger than the male character. As I say, even at Playboy times have changed. But for many years I was on the outside looking in. And it galled me. On a low energy level, to be sure, but a burr under my saddle nonetheless.
Then one Sunday Huck stopped by with an idea for a story. He told it to me and suggested we write it together, because he’d never written short stories. “Horse puckey,” I said, eschewing harsh language. “Write it yourself, kiddo. It’s a terrific idea and you’ve got the stuff aplenty to write it properly. Never take two people to do a job one can do as well.” (This, from a man who has written an entire book of collaborations. Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes. And while I’m about it, thanks Walt.)
You see, Huck has one of the great antic senses of humor in the civilized world. If anyone ever asked me to define droll, I’d schlep them over to Huck’s house and point at him. He is droll. So I was hardly being humble when I urged him to write the story himself. I was being logical: one hires an expert in matters vitreous when one requires an intricate job of glassblowing… not a window-washer.
The story-idea was a funny one.
And though I like to think many of my stories have an ample dollop of humor in them, droll is one of the many things I ain’t.
So Huck went off and a while later he came back with a story of maybe half a dozen pages. I read them, and the skeleton was there, but it hadn’t really been fleshed out. So I said, “Well, maybe we can make this a little better. Leave it with me, if you like, and I’ll run it through the typewriter again.”
Huck opined that would be peachykeen, and I shoved the story into a pending file till I had a little free time.
Ten thousand years later (to hear Barkin tell it), I got around to unshipping the manuscript, reread it, and did a final draft. I gave it to Huck to read, and he sat there laughing not at all. That’s his way. Droll, yes; effusive, forget it. When he got finished I thought he’d tell me it was ka-ka. Instead, he smiled and said, “It’s terrific; very funny.” Go figure it.
So we sent it out to the late A. C. Spectorsky of Playboy, with a recommendation kindly added by Ted Sturgeon, who was high in favor at Playboy at the time. And a few weeks later they bought it. My first sale to Playboy, a secret dream actualized through the direct involvement in my life of Huck Barkin.
Why is he telling us all this?
I tell you all this because writers take tours in other people’s lives and the dearest treasure one finds, second in importance only to wisdom and insight, is friendship. I write of friendship frequently. Oh, most of the time you may not recognize it, because I have it dressed up in outrageous garb, but that’s one of the most important things in life, as I see it, and I try to examine it as closely as love or courage or the mortal dreads… real friendship. Elsewhere in these pages you’ll find a very long tale about friendship called “All the Lies That Are My Life,” and though this story isn’t about friendship, it came into being because of friendship.
Huck has been my truest friend for a lot of years; going on twenty. The affection I’ve had lavished on me by Huck and his wife Carol and their daughter Tracy has carried me through many thorny times. He is one of the few people ever to call me out because of my bad behavior and do it in such a wise and loving way that I stopped doing what I’d been doing and changed my manner. Tracy has been a constant amazement to me, growing from a clever child into a remarkable young woman, and all the while providing a handy reminder that not all modern kids turn out to be me-generation nitwits or Texas-Tower snipers. Carol, as architect and self-fulfilling prophecy of female determinism in these most parlous times, has filled my home with light and beauty and loyalty.
It helps. God knows it helps. When a writer spends decades taking nasty sojourns through the brutalized lives of the kinds of people that make interesting fiction, being able to balance it off against a happily married, sensibly oriented, constantly growing, decent and honest family unit helps, God knows it helps.
And how do I repay these limitless kindnesses? In ways I do not think Amy Vanderbilt would have approved: first, I blame the faint cavalier tone of adolescent sexism in this story—however innocent and moronically slaphappy it may be—on Huck. It was his fault, Gloria! Second, I used Haskell Barkin’s name for an utterly amoral, vacuous and psychopathic character in another story I wrote a long time ago. It is the perfect name for a big blond beach-bum kinda guy. Go sue me. Art sometimes demands rapacious behavior. (Or as Faulkner once put it: “If a writer has to rob his mother he will not hesitate; the Ode on a Grecian Urn is worth any number of old ladies.”)

This trip is mapped through a dark passage in my recent past. It deals with a mortal dread we all share: the madness that betides us when we have been fucked over once too often by the petty thugs and conscienceless pillagers who infest the world—from venal politicians who manipulate our lives for personal gain, down to the building contractors who promise decent craftsmanship and leave you with leaking roofs. At some point you go blind with rage. Why me? you wail! I don’t cheat people, I do my job honestly and with care… how can creeps like this be permitted to flourish?
Well, I offer you the words of the Polish poet Edward Yashinsky, who said, “Fear not your enemies, for they can only kill you; fear not your friends, for they can only betray you. Fear only the indifferent, who permit the killers and betrayers to walk safely on the earth.”
When I was a kid there was a popular novel titled Leave Her to Heaven. Though the book has long since passed out of my memory, the title has stuck. I don’t believe there is such a thing as “divine retribution.” The universe is neither malign nor benign. It’s just there, and it’s too busy keeping itself together to balance the scales when some feep has jerked you around. I am a strong adherent of the philosophy that one must seek retribution oneself.
And if the courts of the land cannot deliver up these people to justice then don’t form a lynch party, because that forces you to become what you have beheld, as vile as those who did you dirt. Instead, unleash primal forces against them. Force entry and take a trip through their lives in ways they will find most troublesome.
Write a story and let the power of the massmind git’m!

I was riding down Beverly Glen with Arthur Byron Cover. I said to Arthur, “You know, one of the things that always bothered me about those fantasies in which some dude comes across a magic shop that sells real magic, or three wishes, or genuine love potions, or whatever, is they never told you what kind of life was lived by the proprietor. I mean, where did he get his stock? In what sort of coin could you pay someone for things that valuable? When the dude leaves the shop it always vanishes; where does it go? What happened to the poor schmuck who ran the joint? Huh, answer me that?”
Arthur looked at me seriously and said, “You know, you’re a very weird person.”
That is how this story came to be written.
To satisfy my curiosity.
And you can stick it in your ear, Cover.

Art, someone said, is meant to clarify and elucidate complex experience.
This story is intended as clarification and elucidation. The topic under discussion is friendship. As I warned earlier in these pages, this is the long one that forms the core of the collection. It is 22,300 words in length, and it has taken me about twelve years to write it. No, I don’t mean I’ve spent the last twelve years working on this piece to the exclusion of all others… I mean it’s been perking and getting itself born for that long. I knew bits and pieces of it a long time ago; but other parts I simply wasn’t old enough or self-aware enough to understand.
I’m not saying I’m any smarter now than when I first went at this idea. What I am saying is that some stories refuse to let you at them until they’re sure you know what the hell you’re doing.
(Later on in this book there’s a story I wrote before it was ready to be written. I’ve included it because it’s a recent work and I want it in print; but before this book makes the transition from copyedited manuscript to galleys I’ll try to thrash the bejeezus out of that story in hopes I’ve learned enough in the last two years to make it come right. If not, you’ll read a crippled thing. I don’t have to tell you which one it is: you’ll know.)
This is my most recent writing. It tries to deal with just what we mean when we say of someone else, “He’s my friend.”
One time I was arrested and canned for being an “outside agitator” in Valdosta, Georgia. I was not alone; there were quite a few other “outside agitators” who also got swept up by the Laws. But I suppose it was my assertion that I could not possibly be an “outside agitator” because I was a member of the human race, a citizen of the world, just another link in the chain, that prevented me from paying the fine like the others, and being carted to the state line for instant dispersal. They decided to hold me for a few days, just to teach me a lesson.
And sitting there in the Valdosta slam, I complained to the innkeeper that I hadn’t eaten all day and I. d like something plain and downhome. After he stopped laughing he advised me that brunch had long since been served and that I’d have to wait till that night for the sumptuous county-provided meal.
In the next cell was an old man who’d been hauled in for pissing on some woman’s garden. He never told me why he’d taken it upon himself to nourish the flora in that way.
He dug around in his pockets and came up with a half-eaten Power House candy bar. He offered it to me, and I took it. There was no reason why he should have done that, but he did it, and I thanked him. Several times I thanked him.
For a few minutes there in Valdosta, Georgia, that old man was my friend.
Another time, just recently, a man who had been a close friend for eight years, who had assured me that when and if I needed his assistance he would be there, who had always talked a very courageous talk, who came to my home and who shared meals with me, who acted (in all ways that required no demonstration of risk) as if he were my friend… betrayed me in a court of law, while under oath, renouncing what he had said in sworn deposition… and all to the end of trying to cripple a lawsuit it took me four years of my life to get before a judge and jury.
The pain of listening to him dissemble, there in that courtroom, was infinitely greater than the pain inflicted on me by the original injustice, by the days, weeks and months I have lost trying to get justice, by the vast sums of money I have expended trying to counter powerful opponents. During the time he testified I felt the pain of watching a friend die. Despite his perfidy, I won… and won big.
I can only suppose he did it out of self-interest, out of lack of courage, out of fear. Nonetheless, I now realize he could never have been my friend.
So what is friendship?
My answers to that question are no more formidable than my answers to the questions what is love or what is art?
It redefines itself each time the question is confronted. But this I do think is true: there is an element of risk in friendship. It is a quality that defines itself in terms of love and loyalty as the readiness to inconvenience oneself at risk of something valuable. And that seldom means money. It means the skin goes on the line.
I think that’s right.
But maybe not.
In this story a writer delivers his own obituary. Some of that last will and testament is mine. Some is not. The narrator and the protagonist are partially me and partially a close friend of mine, a man I’ve called friend for over twenty-five years. The two of us are purposely intermingled, and large chunks of pure invention have been added to both. This is fiction, not personal memoir. Try not to read too much one-for-one into the bits and pieces of this work.
Writers take tours in other people’s lives, and readers must be canny enough to understand that some writers like to playa mean little game of misdirection when it looks as if they’re inviting entry into the private back rooms of the writer himself.

I wrote this story on the 8th and 9th day of November, 1977, sitting in the front window of the Avenue Victor Hugo Bookstore in Boston.
Bill Desmond effected a sound hookup that permitted me to play the wonderful music of the French-Algerian guitar genius, Django Reinhardt, while I worked.
Writing in the window was a promotional gimmick to bring people into the bookstore because the owners of the shop were footing my hotel bill while I was in Boston lecturing.
As I wrote that story, I had the strangest feeling I was being watched from a far distance by someone no longer with us. Understand: I am a pragmatist. I do not believe in reincarnation or messages from Beyond or ghosts or even the Nameless Ones who lie sleeping in Ultimate Darkness. But I had a prickly feeling all that time in the window.
And it unnerved me as I am seldom unnerved when writing. As if someone were over my shoulder, watching anxiously to make sure I did it right.
Consequently, I had the feeling I’d written the story all wrong; that I didn’t really know what I was writing; that I didn’t understand my own subtext.
When the story was finished I offered it to the editors of Galileo magazine who, not coincidentally, also own the Avenue Victor Hugo Bookstore. They had wanted a story from me for some time, and I’d promised them the fruits of my labors in their windows. I offered the story with trepidation.
While I am occasionally rejected by magazines, even these days, it happens infrequently enough to scare the hell out of me when it seems possible. I suppose one is never inured to the fear of that kind of rejection.
But they liked it, they bought it, they published it, and the story drew sufficient praise to dull my worries. Not enough praise to flense the fear completely, but sufficient to permit my continued arrogance.
When you’re all alone out there, on the end of the typewriter, with each new story a new appraisal by the world of whether you can still get it up or not, arrogance and self-esteem and deep breathing are all you have.
It often looks like egomania. I assure you it’s the bold coverup of the absolutely terrified.
It was not until the story was selected—in a blind judging by Poul Anderson, himself an excellent writer, who did not know who had written what—as the winner of the annual Galileo short story contest, from all the stories the magazine had published that year, that my fears were laid to rest.
Success, no matter how complete, no matter how persistent and ongoing, cannot totally shield us from the mortal dreads.
I wish it were otherwise, gentle readers, but the simple truth is that I am in the box with you.
And there is always someone over your shoulder… watching.

For those whose reading taste runs to People Magazine and TV Guide, whose idea of “conversation” is the self-aggrandizement and flotsam-jetsam chitchat of The Merv Griffin Show, who cannot wait to buy books that reveal Elvis Presley was a dope addict and that Errol Flynn was a Nazi spy (Jesus, do you believe that lunacy? Robin Hood was a Nazi spy! Gimme a break, Lord!)—for all such open receivers of meretricious, mischievous gossip who happened to wander in here, I offer the current information that my fourth marriage broke up several years ago and I am once again loose on the streets of the world.
Why does he tell us this?
I tell you this because the story you’re about to read was begun on the shores of Loch Tummel in Scotland on October 12, 1975, during a stay at the Queen’s View Inn while in company with Lori, whom I later married. (For historians of trivia, I asked Lori to marry me on Saturday, May 8, 1976; we were married on Saturday, June 5, 1976; she left me for Smilin’ Jack on Saturday, November 20, 1976; and the divorce was effected on Wednesday, March 16, 1977.)
I was in love. Apparently Lori was in love. We were in love with each other. And I began what I intended as a love story. Things began falling apart, though, even before we were married; and I wrote only three pages of the story that Sunday night at the Queen’s View. The day before we’d taken the train to Edinburgh, we’d wasted most of the day sleeping in at the Portobello Hotel in London. I’d awakened several times during that lazy morning and afternoon that I’d intended to spend revisiting for the third time the Tate Gallery, and I was struck by how much valuable time is wasted in even the most adventurous and event-filled life. Thought about that, lying there staring out through the French doors at the Stanley Gardens, and went back to sleep. Woke later, more time gone, and thought about it again as a fly buzzed through our room. And slept again.
Just so are stories born. Apocryphally, on that day were sown the seeds of the dissolution of love and marriage—even then, before we were wed, it was falling apart.
And the next evening, in Scotland, where I’d longed to live for as far back as I could remember, sitting there before a roaring fireplace in the Queen’s View Inn, I was overcome with the painful knowledge that I was alien to that place, that love somehow would not endure, that I could never come to make my home in Scotland, and I began the story.
I did not finish that story until September of 1978.
It was concluded in four days of sporadic writing while sitting in a plastic tent on the mezzanine of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona. I was engaged in two mutually contradictory activities at that time. I was the Guest of Honor at the 36th annual World Science Fiction Convention (the IguanaCon) and I was protesting Arizona’s failure to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Quite a lot has been written about all that, and it hasn’t much to do with the writing of this story, so I’ll skip over it, leaving to those whose curiosity has been piqued, all the reams of copy about my subversive, fandom-destroying activities in the name of equal rights.
To the point: because I felt that too often Guests of Honor are inaccessible to the mass of attendees at such World Conventions, I arranged for the IguanaCon committee to erect a work-space in full and open view of the entire membership of the Convention. I promised to write a new story, to be taped to the wall for progressive reading as I worked, that would keep me available to the attendees but would also provide a minimal loss of writing time during that long weekend of Guest-of-Honoring.
I concluded “Count the Clock that Tells the Time” on Sunday, September 3, 1978, just a few hours before I won my seventh Hugo award for “Jeffty is Five,” the story that opens this book.
I finished the story, I won another Hugo, I fulfilled my moral and ethical obligations… and I was once again alone. How time flies when you’re enjoying yourself…

When I was a very little boy in Painesville, Ohio, a woman who lived up the street had my dog, Puddles, picked up by the dogcatcher and gassed while I was away at summer camp. I’ve never forgotten her. I think I hate her as much today, forty years after the fact, as I did the day I came back from camp and my father took me in his arms and explained that Puddles was dead. That old woman is no doubt long gone, but the hate lives on.
Each of us moves through life shadowed by childhood memories. We never forget. We are bent and shaped and changed by those ancient fears and hatreds. They are the mortal dreads that in a million small ways block us off or drive us toward our destiny.
Is it impossible to realize that those memories are merely the dead, ineffectual past; that they need not chain us?
A fine writer named Meyer Levin once wrote, “Three evils plague the writer’s world: suppression, plagiarism, and falsification.”
The first two are obvious. They are monstrous and must be fought at whatever cost, wherever they surface.
The last is more insidious. It makes writers lie in their work. Not because they want to, but because the truth is so terribly clouded by insubstantial wraiths, personal traumas, the detritus of adolescent impressions. Who among us can deny that within each adult is caged a frightened child?
This is a horror story.
There are no ghosts or slimy monsters or antichrist omens. At least none that can physically reach out and muss the hair. The horrors are the ones we create for ourselves; and they are the ones we all share.
This is also a cautionary tale, intended to say You are not alone. We all carry the past with us like the chambered nautilus; and we all must find ways to exorcise it at peril of our destiny.

In recent years—and you’ve probably heard me bitching about this elsewhere—writers of contemporary fantasy have come in for considerable attention from Academe. I’ve been spared more of that kind of literary disembowelment than, say, Bradbury or Heinlein or Le Guin, mostly because I tend to move too fast and too shiftily for any publish-or-perish professor to get a handle on me. (There are those who contend I’m unworthy of serious attention, and to them a tip of the hat. I have this paranoid belief that the more acceptable one becomes to the Establishment, the less dangerous and troublesome is one’s work.)
Notwithstanding these baseless canards, there have been essays and monographs and even treatises published in learned journals about the rampant symbolism in my stories, my preoccupation with the Machine As God, the deeply religious anti-religiousness in Deathbird Stories, obvious uses of the Jungian archetypes, the crucifixion and resurrection symbology peppered through my stories, and the frequency of the use of the word “ka-ka.”
I am always startled at the depths revealed in my stories by these erudite critics. I try not to argue with them. I just smile knowingly and respond, “You little devil, you. You found me out!”
The more profound they think they are, the more they require their students to read you; and that means the poor kids have to buy the books containing my stories. And that means a fat and happy life of work, free from the horrors of maybe having to write television scripts. So who am I to say nay, who am I to suggest they’re stuffed topfull of wild blueberry muffins?
What is beginning to unman me is that this plague seems to be spreading to my readers. Now I conceive of all of you as the noblest, wittiest, most intelligent audience in the world. Otherwise you’d be off reading ka-ka like that proffered by Judith Krantz and Sidney Sheldon, to name only two of the creative typists masquerading as writers.
Well, sir. You can imagine my horror and surprise when I received a letter last February from a reader that went like this: [Letter reprinted by permission of James Griffin, Philadelphia, Pa.]

Dear Mr. Ellison:
Last summer I found, by accident, your story “Croatoan” and was disturbed and excited by the resemblances to the sixth book of Vergil’s Aeneid. There were too many to be accidental, but I still couldn’t imagine you following Vergil intentionally, even to the meeting with the man with no hands. I was afraid I had stumbled on something out of the universal subconscious, and felt responsible for doing something about it.
Tonight I browsed through Strange Wine and noticed the references to Isak Dinesen and [Cyril Connolly’s book of essays] The Unquiet Grave. I read the story again and wondered why the comparison of the child to a lemur hadn’t tipped me off. I’m relieved to think you knew what you were doing.
Thanks for giving us, along with a good story, new ways to think about Vergil.
Sincerely yours, James Griffin

What can I say? Humbly, I bow my head and dimple winsomely. Paw the dirt with my hoof, tug my forelock, suck my thumb and murmur aw, shucks. You’re very perceptive. That’s exactly what I was doing. You little devil, you. You found me out!
There’s just one small glitch in the smooth flow.
I’ve never read Vergil’s Aeneid.
The story you are about to read is stuffed full of very conscious symbolism. Catch it now, friends; I don’t do it that often; maybe three times in twenty-five years.
This story was written in direct response to the killing pain of my last wife taking off with another guy. The pain lasted at least twelve minutes, which is the actually recorded duration of genuine’ pain. Everything over twelve minutes is self-indulgence and pointless attempts to make the first twelve minutes seem more important. We are a vainglorious species, and if we were able to cop to the fact that even the most sauvage of what the French call la grande passion commands only twelve true minutes of intense pain before it begins to mellow, we would all dash to the cliffs and do a lemming. So we justify it by enhancing it, by making it seem more important, more consuming. We wander around for twenty years after the affair has broken up, beating our breasts and wailing at the sky.
No nobler than you, I wandered for several months after my last marriage broke up, beating my breast and wailing at the sky, not to mention my friends, who (with uncommon good sense) told me to shut up already. And one night, during a performance of Jacques Brei Is Alive and Well in Paris, a line from one of his wonderful songs struck right to the core of my lost love, and I wrote this story.
I wish to God I could remember what the line was.

In twenty-five years as a professional writer, I’ve had the kind of Olympian, enriching experience with an editor, mythologized by the career of Maxwell Perkins in relation to Wolfe, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Ring Lardner and James Jones… only twice. What I mean to say is that I have worked hard at learning my craft; there is a continuity in the material; a stance that is my own, a voice I hope is singular: I know more about what I do than anyone else in the world.
Most of the editors with whom I’ve had liaisons have had salient points to make, valid suggestiorls for tightening up this or that, directions they thought I might take. But only twice have I been lifted beyond my abilities by the direct intervention of an editor.
This story is the most significant example, and speaks to a deep sense of loss in me.
“All the Birds Come Home to Roost” took many years to write. I had the idea back in the early seventies. It came to me because a number of women with whom I’d had relationships, which relationships had broken up and the women vanished from my world, suddenly began reappearing. Nothing mysterious about it: when I’d known them they were young and they’d gone off to begin careers, to get married, to discover themselves. Now, eight, nine, ten years later they were going through transition. Marriages dissolved, career changes, youthful escapades having palled on them, they were returning to the scenes of happier times. And they were getting back in touch with those they knew in those brighter days.
But with the mind of the fantasist I made the leap into a fictional construct: what if some guy found his life being run in reverse but only in terms of the women he’d known?
And that meant something ominous had to be at the end of the chain.
Since the story paralleled my own experiences in many ways, experiences shared by so many of us, I decided to take one of those tours through others’ lives by taking one through mine. I used as the focus of the story the fact that the protagonist had had a disastrous first marriage that had haunted him across the years, that had blighted his subsequent relations with women.
Before I proceed, let me reiterate: I do not write diary. A writer cannibalizes his own life and memories, yes, that is true. All we have to work with is what we know and what we dream. But nothing is more boring than kvetching in fiction. Thinly disguised personal reminiscence is not fiction. Those who, in the past, have identified me with everything that goes down in my stories have assumed I am a murderer, a transvestite, a cannibal, a sexist, a feminist, a racist, an egalitarian, an elitist, a vegetarian, an esthete, a commoner, a psychopath, a pacifist, a pederast, a womanizer, a layabout and a workaholic. Despite the fact that I have never used drugs, there is a large segment of my readership that swears I’m a heavy doper.
Why is he telling us all this?
I’m telling you all this because the protagonist of the story before you speaks of his first wife as having been in an insane asylum for many years, and my first wife also went through many years of emotional disorder. But though I have drawn on my own experiences, I am not the Michael Kirxby of this story.
I tell you this to explain why the intervention of my editor at Playboy, Victoria Chen Haider, was so important to the story, and to me. I tell you this because her wisdom is so rare in editorial circles that it must not be forgotten.
After I’d written the story and sent it to Vicky Haider, she called and said she was very high on it, wanted to use it in Playboy,. and had only one reservation. I asked her what that might be.
She made reference to the section in the story where Kirxby is talking about how terrible his marriage had been, how it had damned near driven him crazy, and how he knew if he ever got into his ex-wife’s clutches again it would end in his confinement to a madhouse. Vicky Haider said there was something missing at that point.
“What was so awful about the marriage?” she wanted to know.
My blood ran cold.
Vicky Haider knew nothing of my background, had no awareness of the terror that lurked back there in my past, the four deadly years with Charlotte.
She had no way of knowing that I was only now, twenty-some years later, able to speak of that monstrous period in my life. Oh, I wasn’t paralyzed by it. Not that extreme. I had relegated all those awful memories to a dark cell at the farthest point at the rear of a dank, chill subterranean cavern in my mind. And from time to time I would descend the slippery stone stairs to that cavern, pass between the moist evil-smelling walls and shine a dim light into the cell. I could take quick, short glimpses in there when I had to; but it wasn’t anything I wanted to spend a lot of time examining.
My conscience was clear about what happened to Charlotte, but no one escapes that kind of relationship without feeling some vestigial guilt, deserved or not.
I had mentioned the affair indirectly in one or another story through the years, but I’d never used it as a major element in my fiction. This time I’d been brave, I’d gone down the steps, through the cavern to the cell, and held the dim light up to the barred window for longer than ever before. It had shaken me, but I’d thought I was really courageous in doing it.
Now here was Vicky Haider asking me to go down there and open the door and stare for a long time at the horrible memories chained to the wall. Without any indication save her remarkable instincts as an editor, she had struck directly to the flaming core of the torment in the story. What she was asking me to do was more terrifying than suggestions of diving into a tank of hammerhead sharks. She wanted me to confront one of the most deeply hidden secrets of my life.
How could she have known?
She was an editor, in the noblest, most innovative sense of that word. She was not one of the parvenus who wind up behind desks and call themselves editors; she was an editor. She understood story, understood that it is only when a writer comes to grips with the darkest fears and mortal dreads in his caverns of memory that dangerous, meaningful fiction is produced.
I swallowed hard and told her I’d see what I could do.
Though it had taken years to get the story written, once I’d begun the actual writing it had gone swiftly, only a few full days of unceasing labor.
It took me two months to produce the ten paragraphs she needed, the mere two pages of additional copy that would encapsulate with one incident the four year hell through which Charlotte and I had toiled.
How do you sum it up? What one escapade foreshadows and memorializes all the cumulative ghastliness that ends in divorce and madness? Relationships aren’t like that. They don’t have clear-cut melodramatic parameters. They’re amalgams of a million isolated, minuscule slights, affronts, cruelties and brutalities.
Two months. It took me two months, but I finally did it, and it left me sweating and cold. I sent her the pages and she said, “Yes, this is what was missing.” Yes, it was. The soul of darkness.
This story is one of my best, I now think. It is certainly one of my most painful. And I owe it all to Victoria Chen Haider. I’m glad I got to tell her that.
On May 25, 1979, Vicky Haider died in the O’Hare Airport crash of an American Airlines DC-10. She was on her way to the American Booksellers Association convention here in Los Angeles. We had planned to meet for the first time.
I never talked to Vicky Haider face-to-face, and now she is gone; and as a writer who once tasted the wonder of working with an exceptional editor who knew more about what I was doing than even I knew, my sense of loss is beyond the telling.
When you’re alone, as a writer is alone, locked in single combat with the imagination, allies are rare and special.
Those who understand are even rarer.
This story is as much Vicky Haider’s as it is mine.
And all of us are the poorer because she will never again work her editorial magic.

This one was written to be read on television.
I’ve done so on two occasions: first, on an NBC interview show called At One With…, with the estimable Keith Berwick as host; the second time I read it over the Canadian Broadcasting Company during the go Minutes Live show, then-hosted by Peter Gzowski.
Bringing the spoken word to the tube-enslaved masses.
No, I’m not going to enter another crazed screed against television and its manifest horrors. Consult my last book for everything I care to say on that dreary topic.
Then why does he tell us all this?
I tell you all this because “Opium” was intended as a bit of guerrilla warfare. It is a story that says only one thing: we are entertaining ourselves into oblivion.
I can’t stand it, we say. I work my ass off all day, and I just want to get away from it all, we say. I don’t want any heavy stuff, I just want to be entertained, we say. And so we spend the major part of our nonworking hours escaping the Real World, the pragmatic universe, if you will. Whether it be fast sex, fundamentalist religion, cheap novels, empty-headed movies, booze, dope, sword’n’sorcery fantasy, endless television-watching, fast food or miniature golf, we run from dealings with the Real World like ants from Raid.
So I wrote this story to say that Entropy tries to maintain the status quo in order to keep the system working. And that permits of very little outlawry, very little berserk behavior. And from the desperados, whether they be Einstein or Elizabeth Cady Stanton, come the strength and the upheaval that moves the world forward toward light and reason.
And the “opium of the people” (as Marx called religion) has changed through the centuries. Now it’s all the elements noted above that keep people distracted and dumb. And that includes the deification of sports. (Quoting from another great philosopher, Howard Cosell, who said: “Sports are the Toy Department of life… the primary means for sustaining delusion and illusion. “)
This story, intended as fifth column warfare against the medium of television, to be read on television, says simply that if the Real World isn’t interesting enough to command the attention of the lives it contains, then maybe the Real World will alter itself magically to keep us away from Taco Bell and Laverne & Shirley.
This moment of softness has been brought to you by Zee Toilet Tissue.

I was dragged, kicking and screaming, on a tour through the lives of two women, once upon a time.
It was one of the most awful experiences of all time.
Including the Spanish Inquisition, the murder of Garcia Lorca, the genocide of the Brazilian indians, the crucifixion of Spartacus’ army of slaves, the sinking of the Titanic, the fire-bombing of Dresden and the trial of the Scottsboro Boys. This experience, I tell you, contained elements of all of the above, plus a few personal nasties that make me shudder when I think of them.
The experience does not, in any but one isolated reference, appear in this story. But it was that long night that inspired the writing.
Further, deponent sayeth not.

I have nothing to say about this story.

Everything that is appropriate to say about this final entry of the current grimoire has been said in the general introduction, “Mortal Dreads,” with the possible exception of this:
There is a curse over the door to my tomb. It says, Beware all ye who enter here—because herein lie the proofs of observation that we are all as one, living in the same skin, each of us condemned to handle the responsibility of our past, our memories, our destiny as elements in the great congeries of life. And if you find these dark dreams troubling, perhaps it is because they are your dreams.
It’s been nice visiting with you.
And when next the full moon rises, and the sounds from beyond the campfire are ominously semihuman, we will gather again and I’ll listen to your tales and then write them up in my way, and give them back to you.
Until that time.

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