Dating from the late 1960s and early 1970s, this volume includes all the stories from David Gerrold’s collection With a Finger in My I, including “In the Deadlands”—a bizarre and disturbing journey into a landscape of madness, nominated for the Nebula Award for best novelette of the year. Also featured are four additional works written during the same period—and revealing notes from the author.
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With a Finger in My I
For the record, I was not doing drugs before, during, or after I wrote this story.
It started as a dream — I dreamt I was looking in a mirror. I saw no pupil in my left eye. Or was it my right? Hard to tell. The mirror reversed everything.
When I woke up, the dream was still with me, so I sat down at my desk and started typing.
It wasn't a story. It wasn't even half a story. It had no meaning at all. It was just a stream of vaguely connected sentences where everything was taken so literally that all sense disappeared.
Then about six pages in, I got to a point where I didn't know what came next, so I put it in the drawer and forgot about it.
A year or two later, Harlan Ellison began assembling stories for Again, Dangerous Visions, a sequel to his landmark anthology, Dangerous Visions. He rejected the one I thought he should buy (more about that later), so I dug out my weird little dream and added a Lewis Carroll ending to it.
He bought it. This is it.
When I looked in the mirror this morning, the pupil was gone from my left eye. Most of the iris had disappeared too. There was just a blank white area and a greasy smudge to indicate where the iris had previously been.
At first I thought it had something to do with the contact lenses, but then I realized that I don't wear lenses. I never have.
It looked kind of odd, that one blank eye staring back at me, but the unsettling thing about it was that I could still see out of it. When I put my hand over my good right eye, I found that the eyesight in my left was as good as ever, and it concerned me.
If I hadn't been able to see out of it, I wouldn't have worried. It would have meant only that during the night I had gone blind in that eye. But for the pupil of the eye to just fade away without affecting my sight at all — well, it bothered me. It could be a symptom of something serious.
Of course, I thought about calling the doctor, but I didn't know any doctors, and I felt a little bit embarrassed about troubling a perfect stranger with my problems. But there was that eye and it kept staring at me, so finally I went looking for the phone book.
Only, the phone book seemed to have disappeared during the night. I had been using it to prop up one end of the bookshelf, and now it was gone. So was the bookshelf — I began to wonder if perhaps I had been robbed.
First my eye, then the phone book, now my bookshelf had all disappeared. If it had not been that today was Tuesday, I should have been worried. In fact, I was already worried, but Tuesday is my day to ponder all the might-have-beens that had become never-wases. Monday is my day to worry about personal effects (such as eyes and phone books) and Monday would not be back for six days. I was throwing myself off schedule by worrying on a Tuesday. When Monday returned, then I would worry about the phone book, if I didn't have something else of a more pressing nature to worry about first.
(I find that pigeonholing my worrying like that helps me to keep an orderly mind — by allotting only so much time to each problem I am able to keep the world in its proper perspective.) But there was still the matter of the eye, and that was upsetting me. Moreover, it was distorting my perspective.
I resolved to do something about it immediately. I set out in search of the phone, but somewhere along the way that too had disappeared, so I was forced to abandon that exploration.
It was very frustrating — this distressing habit of disappearing that the inanimate objects had picked up. Every time I started to look for something, I found that it had vanished, as if daring me to find it. It was like playing hide-and-go-seek, and since I had long ago given up such childish pastimes, I resolved not to encourage them any further and refused to look for them anymore. (Let them come to me.)
I decided that I would walk to the doctor. (I would have put on my cap, but that would have meant looking for it, and I was afraid that it too would have disappeared by the time I found it.)
Once outside, I noticed that people were staring at me in a strange way as they passed. I realized that it must be my eye. I had forgotten about it, not realizing that it might look a bit strange to others.
I started to turn around to go back for my sunglasses, but I knew that if I started to look for them, they too would surely disappear. So I turned around and headed once again for the doctor's.
"Let them come to me," I muttered, thinking of the sunglasses. I must have startled the old lady I was passing at the time because she turned to stare at me in a most peculiar manner.
I shoved my hands into my coat pockets and pushed onward. Almost immediately I felt something hard and flat in my left-hand pocket. It was my sunglasses in their case. They had indeed come to me. It was rewarding to see that I was still the master of the inanimate objects in my life.
I took the glasses out and put them on, only to find that the left lens of the glasses had faded to a milky white. It matched my eye perfectly, but I found that, unlike my eye, I was quite unable to see through the opaqued lens. I would just have to ignore the stares of passersby and proceed directly on to the doctor's office.
After a bit, however, I realized that I did not know where I was going — as I noted earlier, I did not know any doctors. And I most certainly knew that if I started to search for the office of one, I would probably never find if at all. So I stood on the sidewalk and muttered to myself, "Let them come to me."
I must confess that I was a little bit leery of this procedure — remembering what had happened with the sunglasses — but in truth, I had no alternative. When I turned around, I saw a sign on the building behind me. It said, "Medical Center." So I went in.
I walked up to the receptionist, and I looked at her. She looked at me. She looked me right in the eye (the left one) and said, "Yes, what can we do for you?"
I said, "I would like to see a doctor."
"Certainly," she said. "There goes one down the hall now. If you look quickly, you can catch a glimpse of him. See! There he goes!"
I looked and she was right — there was a doctor going down the hall. I could see him myself. I knew he was a doctor because he was wearing golf shoes and a sweater; then he disappeared around a bend in the corridor. I turned back to the girl. "That wasn't exactly what I meant, I said.
"Well, what was it you meant?"
I said, "I would like for a doctor to look at me."
"Oh," she said. "Why didn't you say so in the first place?"
"I thought I did," I said, but very softly.
"No, you didn't," she said. "And speak up. I can hardly hear you." She picked up her microphone and spoke into it. "Dr. Gibbon, puh-lease come to reception. ..." Then she put down her microphone and looked at me expectantly.
I did not say anything. I waited. After a moment, another man in golf shoes and sweater came out of one of the nearby doors and walked over to us. He looked at the girl behind the desk, and she said to him, "This gentleman would like a doctor to look at him."
The doctor took a step back and looked at me. He looked me up and down, then asked me to turn around and he looked at me some more. Then he said, "Okay," and walked back into his office.
I asked, "Is that all?"
She said, "Of course that's all. That's all you asked for. That will be ten dollars please."
"Wait a minute," I said. "I wanted him to look at my eye."
"Well," she said, "you should have said so in the first place. You know we're very busy here. We haven't got time to keep calling doctors down here to look at just anyone who wanders in. If you had wanted him to look at your eye in particular, you should have said so."
"But I don't want someone to just look at my eye." I said. "I want someone to cure it."
"Why?" she said. "Is there something wrong with it?"
I said, "Can't you see? The pupil has disappeared."
"Oh," she said. "So it has. Did you look for it?"
"Yes, I did. I looked all over for it — that's probably why I can't find it."
"Maybe you left it somewhere," she cooed softly. "Where was the last place you were?"
"I wasn't anywhere," I said.
"Well, maybe that's your trouble."
"I meant that I stayed home last night. I didn't go anywhere! And I don't feel very well."
"You don't look very well," she said. "You should see a doctor."
"I already have," I said. "He went down that hall."
"Oh, that's right I remember now."
"Look," I said. I was starting to get a little angry. "Will you please get me an appointment with a doctor?"
"Is that what you want an appointment?"
"Yes, that is what I want."
"You're sure that's all you want now? You're not going to come back later and complain that we didn't give you what you want?"
"I'm sure," I said. "I'm not going to come back."
"Good. That's what we want to be sure of."
By now, everything seemed to be all wrong. The whole world seemed to be slipping off sideways — all squished together and stretched out and tilted so that everything was sliding down towards the edge. So far, nothing had gone over, but I thought I could see tiny cracks appearing in the surface.
I shook my head to clear it, but all that did was produce a very distinct rattling noise — like a very small walnut in a very large shell.
I sat down on the couch to wait — I was still unable to think clearly. The fog swirled in thicker than ever, obscuring everything. Visibility had been reduced to zero and the controllers were threatening to close down all operations until the ceiling lifted. I protested, no — wasn't the ceiling all right where it was? — but they just ignored me.
I stood up then and tried to push the ceiling back by hand, but I couldn't reach it and had to stand on a chair. Even then, the surface of it was hard and unyielding. (Although I was close enough to see that there were numerous cracks and flaws in it.)
I started to push on it again, but a strong hand on my shoulder and a deep voice stopped me. "Lay down on the couch," she said. "Just close your eyes. Relax. Lie back and relax."
"All right," I said, but I did not lie on my back. I lay on my stomach and pressed my face into the hard unyielding surface.
"Relax," she said again.
"I'll try," I said, forcing myself.
"Look out the window," the doctor said. "What do you see?'
"I see clouds," I said.
"Yes. What kind?"
I looked again. "Cottage cheese clouds. Little scuds of cottage cheese clouds."
"Cottage cheese clouds —?" asked the doctor.
"Yes," I said. "Cottage cheese clouds. Hard and unyielding."
"Large curd or small curd?"
"Huh?" I asked. I rolled over and looked at her. She did not have on golf shoes, but she was wearing a sweater. Instead of the golf shoes, she had on high heels. But she was a doctor — I could tell that. Her shoes still had cleats.
"I asked you a question," she rumbled in that deep voice of hers.
"Yes, you did." I agreed. "Would you mind repeating it?"
"No, I wouldn't mind," she said and waited quietly. I waited also. For a moment there was silence between us. I pushed the silence to one side and asked, "Well, what was it?"
"I asked whether the clouds were large curd or small curd."
"I give up," I said. "What were they?"
"That's very good of you to give up — otherwise we'd have had to come in after you and take you by force. By surrendering your misconceptions now you've made it so much easier for both of us."
The whole thing was coming disjointed and teetered precariously on the edge. Bigger cracks were beginning to appear in the image, and tiny pieces were starting to slip out and fall slowly to the ground where they shattered like so many soap bubbles.
"Uh —" I said. "Uh, Doctor — there's something wrong with my eye."
"Uh, yes. The pupil is gone."
"The pupil is gone from your I?" The doctor was astounded. "How astounding!"
I could only nod — so I did. (A bit too hard perhaps. A few more pieces came flaking off and fluttered gently to the floor. We watched for a moment.)
"Hm," she said. "I have a theory about that. Would you like to hear it?"
I didn't answer. She was going to tell me her theory whether I wanted to hear it or not.
"The world is coming to an end," she whispered conspiratorially.
"Right now?" I asked, somewhat worriedly. I still hadn't fed the cat.
"No, but soon," she reassured me.
"Oh," I said.
We sat there in silence. After a bit, she cleared her throat. "I Think ..." she began slowly, then she trailed off.
"That's nice," I said, but she didn't hear me.
"... I think that the world exists only as a reflection of our minds. It exists the way it does only because that's the way we think it does."
"I think — therefore I exist," I said. But she ignored me. She told me to be quiet.
"Yes, you exist," she confirmed. (I'm glad she did — I was beginning to be a bit worried — and this was the wrong day for it. The last time I looked this was Tuesday.) "You exist," she said, "because you think you do. And the world also exists because you think it does."
"Then, when I die — the world ends with me ...?" I asked hopefully, making a mental note not to die.
"No — that's nonsense. No sane and rational man believes in solipsism." She scratched at her eyeball with a fork and went on.
"When you die — you cease to exist," she said. "But the world goes on — it goes on because everybody else who's still alive still believes that it exists. (The only thing they've stopped believing in is you.) You see, the world is a collective figment of all of our individual imaginations."
"I'm sorry," I said stiffly. "I do not believe in collectivism." I unbent a little so as to sit up. "I am a staunch Republican."
"Don't you see?" she said, ignoring my interruption. "This mass hallucination that the world is real just keeps on going because of its own momentum. You believe in it because that's the way it was when you first began to exist — that is, when everybody else first began to believe you existed. When you were born, you saw that the world followed a certain set of rules that other people believed in, so you believed in them too — the fact that you believe in them just gives them that much more strength."
"Oh," I said. I lay there listening to her, trying to figure out some way to leave gracefully. My eye was starting to hurt, and I couldn't see the ceiling any more. The fog was rolling in again.
"Look at the church!" she said suddenly.
"Huh?" I said.
"Look at the church!" she said it again, insistent.
I tried to. I lifted my head and tried to look at the church, but the fog was too thick. I couldn't even see my toes.
"Look at it," she said. "Faith is the basic precept of religion — faith that what they're telling you is true! Don't they tell you to have faith in the church, that faith can work miracles?!! Well, I'll tell you something — it can! If enough people believe in something, it becomes reality!"
By now, my eye was throbbing most painfully. I tried to sit up, but her strong hands held me back. She leaned closer and whispered intensely, "Yes! It's true. It is."
"If you say so," I nodded.
She went on. "Fortunately, the church long ago abandoned miracles in favor of conservatism — now, it's fighting to preserve the status quo! The church is one of the last bastions of reality — it's one of the few things holding back chaos!"
"The world is changing," she explained. "Man is changing it."
I nodded. "Yes, I know. I read the newspapers too."
"No, no! That's not what I meant! Man is changing his world unconsciously! More and more people are starting to believe that they really can change their environment — and the more they believe it, the more drastically it changes. I'll give you an example — fossils!"
"Yes, fossils. Nobody ever discovered any fossils until people started believing in evolution — then when they did start to believe in it, you couldn't turn around without tripping over fossils."
"You really believe this?" I asked.
"Yes, I do!" she said intensely.
"Then it must be so," I said.
"Oh, it is," she agreed, and I knew that she really did believe it. She made a very convincing case. In fact, the more she talked, the more I began to believe it too.
"Why did you tell me all this?" I asked.
"Because we're in great danger. That's why." She whispered fiercely, "The world isn't changing uniformly. Everybody is starting to believe in different things, and they're forming pockets of noncausality."
"Like a pimple?" I offered.
"Yes," she said, and I could see a small one forming on the tip of her nose. "It works this way: a fanatic meets another fanatic, then the two of them meet with some other people who share the same hallucinations, and pretty soon there are a whole bunch of fanatics all believing the same thing — pretty soon, their delusions become real for them — they've started to contradict the known reality and replaced it with a node of nonreality."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "In the Deadlands"
Copyright © 2014 David Gerrold.
Excerpted by permission of BenBella Books, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword: The Inevitability of Envy,
With a Finger in My I,
All of Them Were Empty—,
Oracle for a White Rabbit,
Love Story in Three Acts,
Afternoon with a Dead Bus,
An Infinity of Loving,
Battle Hum and the Boje,
How We Saved the Human Race,
This Crystal Castle,
In the Deadlands,