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Harry Collins 2000

From: The Crowded Earth

Harry didn't ask any questions. He just kept his mouth shut and
waited. Maybe Dr. Manschoff suspected and maybe he didn't. Anyway,
there was no trouble. Harry figured there wouldn't be, as long as he
stayed in line and went through the proper motions. It was all a
matter of pretending to conform, pretending to agree, pretending to

So he watched his step--except in the dreams, and then he was always
falling into the yawning abyss.

He kept his nose clean--but in the dreams he smelled the blood and
brimstone of the pit.

He managed to retain a cheerful smile at all times--though, in the
dreams, he screamed.

Eventually, he even met Myrna. She was the pretty little brunette whom
Ritchie had mentioned, and she did her best to console him--only in
dreams, when he embraced her, he was embracing a writhing coil of
slimy smoke.

It may have been that Harry Collins went a little mad, just having to
pretend that he was sane. But he learned the way, and he managed. He
saved the madness (or was it the reality?) for the dreams.

Meanwhile he waited and said nothing.

He said nothing when, after three months or so, Myrna was suddenly
"transferred" without warning.

He said nothing when, once a week or so, he went in to visit with Dr.

He said nothing when Manschoff volunteered the information that
Ritchie had been "transferred" too, or suggested that it would be best
to stay on for "further therapy."

And he said nothing when still a third nurse came his way; a woman who
was callid, complaisant, and nauseatingly nymphomaniac.

The important thing was to stay alive. Stay alive and try to learn.

* * * * *

It took him almost an additional year to find out what he wanted to
find out. More than eight months passed before he found a way of
sneaking out of his room at night, and a way of getting into that
Third Unit through a delivery door which was occasionally left open
through negligence.

Even then, all he learned was that the female patients did have their
living quarters here, along with the members of the staff
and--presumably--Dr. Leffingwell. Many of the women were patients
rather than nurses, as claimed, and a good number of them were in
various stages of pregnancy, but this proved nothing.

Several times Harry debated the possibilities of taking some of the
other men in his Unit into his confidence. Then he remembered what had
happened to Arnold Ritchie and decided against this course. The risk
was too great. He had to continue alone.

It wasn't until Harry managed to get into Unit Four that he got what
he wanted (what he didn't want) and learned that reality and dreams
were one and the same.

There was the night, more than a year after he'd come to the treatment
center, when he finally broke into the basement and found the
incinerators. And the incinerators led to the operating and delivery
chambers, and the delivery chambers led to the laboratory and the
laboratory led to the incubators and the incubators led to the

In the nightmare Harry found himself looking down at the mistakes and
the failures and he recognized them for what they were, and he knew
then why the incinerators were kept busy and why the black smoke

In the nightmare he saw the special units containing those which were
not mistakes or failures, and in a way they were worse than the
others. They were red and wriggling there beneath the glass, and on
the glass surfaces hung the charts which gave the data. Then Harry saw
the names, saw his own name repeated twice--once for Sue, once for
Myrna. And he realized that he had contributed to the successful
outcome or issue of the experiments (outcome? Issue? These horrors?)
and that was why Manschoff must have chosen to take the risk of
keeping him alive. Because he was one of the good guinea pigs, and
he had spawned, spawned living, mewing abominations.

He had dreamed of these things, and now he saw that they were real, so
that nightmare merged with now, and he could gaze down at it with
open eyes and scream at last with open mouth.

Then, of course, an attendant came running (although he seemed to be
moving ever so slowly, because everything moves so slowly in a dream)
and Harry saw him coming and lifted a bell-glass and smashed it down
over the man's head (slowly, ever so slowly) and then he heard the
others coming and he climbed out of the window and ran.

The searchlights winked across the courtyards and the sirens vomited
hysteria from metallic throats and the night was filled with shadows
that pursued.

But Harry knew where to run. He ran straight through the nightmare,
through all the fantastic but familiar convolutions of sight and
sound, and then he came to the river and plunged in.

Now the nightmare was not sight or sound, but merely sensation. Icy
cold and distilled darkness; ripples that ran, then raced and roiled
and roared. But there had to be a way out of the nightmare and there
had to be a way out of the canyon, and that way was the river.

Apparently no one else had thought of the river; perhaps they had
considered it as a possible avenue of escape and then discarded the
notion when they realized how it ripped and raged among the rocks as
it finally plunged from the canyon's mouth. Obviously, no one could
hope to combat that current and survive.

But strange things happen in nightmares. And you fight the numbness
and the blackness and you claw and convulse and you twist and turn and
toss and then you ride the crests of frenzy and plunge into the
troughs of panic and despair and you sweep round and round and sink
down into nothingness until you break through to the freedom which
comes only with oblivion.

Somewhere beyond the canyon's moiling maw, Harry Collins found that
freedom and that oblivion. He escaped from the nightmare, just as he
escaped from the river.

The river itself roared on without him.

And the nightmare continued, too....

Next: Minnie Schultz 2009

Previous: President Winthrop 1999

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