Read Quicker Than the Eye Online

Authors: Ray Bradbury

Quicker Than the Eye

Quicker Than the Eye


Ray Bradbury

To Donn Albright,

my Golden Retriever,

with love


The incredible event occurred during my third visit to Gustav Von Seyfertitz, my foreign psychoanalyst.

I should have guessed at the strange explosion before it came.

After all, my alienist, 
alien, had the coincidental name, Von Seyfertitz, of the tall, lean, aquiline, menacing, and therefore beautiful actor who played the high priest in the 

the wondrous villain waved his skeleton fingers, hurled insults, summoned sulfured flames, destroyed slaves, and knocked the world into earthquakes.

After that, "At Liberty," he could be seen riding the Hollywood Boulevard trolley cars as calm as a mummy, as quiet as an unwired telephone pole.

Where was I? Ah, yes!

It was my 
visit to my psychiatrist. He had called that day and cried, "Douglas, you stupid goddamn son of a bitch, it's time for beddy-bye!

Beddy-bye was, of course, his couch of pain and humiliation where I lay writhing in agonies of assumed Jewish guilt and Northern Baptist stress as he from time to time muttered, "A fruitcake remark!" or "Dumb!" or "If you ever do 
again, I'll kill you!"

As you can see, Gustav Von Seyfertitz was a most unusual 
specialist. Mine? Yes. Our problems are land mines in our heads. 
on them! Shock-troop therapy, he once called it, searching for words. "Blitzkrieg?" I offered.

He grinned his shark grin. "That's it!"

Again, this was my third visit to his strange, metallic-looking room with a most odd series of locks on a roundish door. Suddenly, as I was maundering and treading dark waters, I heard his spine stiffen behind me. He gasped a great death rattle, sucked air, and blew it out in a yell that curled and bleached my hair:

"Dive! Dive!"

I dove.

Thinking that the room might be struck by a titanic iceberg, I fell, to scuttle beneath the lion-claw-footed couch.

"Dive!" cried the old man.

"Dive?" I whispered, and looked up.

To see a submarine periscope, all polished brass, slide up to vanish in the ceiling.

Gustav Von Seyfertitz stood pretending not to notice me, the sweat-oiled leather couch, or the vanished brass machine. Very calmly, in the fashion of Conrad Veidt in 
or Erich Von

like Jack Nicklaus hits a ball? 
A hand grenade!

That was the sound my Germanic friend's boots

made as he knocked them together in a salute 

"Gustav Mannerheim Auschlitz Von Seyfertitz Baron Woldstein, at your service!" He lowered his voice. "Unterderseaboat-"

I thought he might say "Doktor." But:


I scrambled off the floor.

Another crrrack and-The periscope slid calmly down out of the

ceiling, the most beautiful Freudian cigar I had ever seen.

"No!" I gasped.

"Have I ever 
to you?" "Many times!"

"But' '-he shrugged-' 'little white ones.” He stepped to the periscope, slapped two

handles in place, slammed one eye shut, and crammed the other angrily against the view piece, turning the periscope in a slow roundabout of the room, the couch, and me.

"Fire one," he ordered.

I almost heard the torpedo leave its tube. "Fire 
he said.

And a second soundless and invisible bomb

motored on its way to infinity. Struck midships, I sank to the couch.

"You, you!" I said mindlessly. "It!" I pointed

at the brass machine. "This!" I touched couch. 

"Sit down," said Von Seyfertitz.

"I am." 

"I'd rather not," I said uneasily.

Von Seyfertitz turned the periscope so its topmost eye, raked at an angle, glared at me. It had an uncanny resemblance, in its glassy coldness, his own fierce hawk's gaze.

His voice, from behind the periscope, echoed. "So you want to know, eh, how Gustav  Von Seyfertitz, Baron Woldstein, suffered to leave the cold ocean depths, depart his dear North Sea ship, flee his destroyed and beaten fatherland, to become the Unterderseaboat 

"Now that you mention-"

"I never mention! I declare. And my declarations are sea-battle commands."

"So I noticed . .

"Shut up. Sit back-"

"Not just now . . ." I said uneasily.

His heels knocked as he let his right hand spider to his top coat pocket and slip forth yet a forth eye with which to fasten me: a bright, thin monocle which he screwed into his stare as if decupping a boiled egg. I winced. For now the monocle was part of his glare and regarded me with cold fire.

"Why the monocle?" I said.

"Idiot! It is to cover my 
eye so that neither 
eye can 
and my intuition is free to work!”

"Oh," I said.

And he began his monologue. And as he talked I realized his need had been pent up, capped, years, so he talked on and on, forgetting me.

And it was during this monologue that a strange thing occurred. I rose slowly to my feet as Herr Doktor Von Seyfertitz circled, his long, slim cigar printing smoke cumuli on the air, which read like white Rorschach blots.

With each implantation of his foot, a word ca out, and then another, in a sort of plodding grammar. Sometimes he stopped and stood poised with one leg raised and one word stopped in his mouth to be turned on his tongue and examined. Then the shoe went down, the noun slid forth and the verb and object in good time.

Until at last, circling, I found myself in a chair stunned, for I saw:

Herr Doktor Von Seyfertitz stretched on his couch, his long spider fingers laced on his chest.

"It has been no easy thing to come forth on land," he sibilated. "Some days I was the jellyfish, frozen. Others, the shore-strewn octopi, at 
with tentacles, or the crayfish sucked back into my skull. But I have built my spine, year on year, and now I walk among the land men and survive."

He paused to take a trembling breath, then continued:

"I moved in stages from the depths to a houseboat, to a wharf bungalow, to a shore-tent and then

back to a canal in a city and at last to New York

an island surrounded by water, eh? But where,

where, in all this, I wondered, would a submarine commander find his place, his work, his mad love and activity?

"It was one afternoon in a building with the world's longest elevator that it struck me like a hand grenade in the ganglion. Going down, down, down, other people crushed around me, and the numbers descending and the floors whizzing by the glass windows, rushing by flicker-flash, flicker-flash, conscious, subconscious, id, ego-id, life, death, lust, kill, lust, dark, light, plummeting, falling, ninety, eighty, fifty, lower depths, high exhilaration, id, ego, id, until this shout blazed from my raw throat in a great all-accepting, panic-manic shriek:

"'Dive! Dive!'

"I remember," I said.

'Dive!' I screamed so loudly that my fellow passengers, in shock, peed merrily. Among stunned faces, I stepped out of the lift to find one-sixteenth of an inch of pee on the floor. 'Have a nice day!' I said, jubilant with self-discovery, then ran to self-employment, to hang a shingle and next my periscope, carried from the mutilated, divested, castrated unterderseaboat all these years. Too stupid to see in it my psychological future and my final downfall, my beautiful artifact, the brass genitalia of psychotic research, the Von Seyfertitz Mark Nine Periscope!"

"That's quite a story," I said.

"Damn right," snorted the alienist, eyes shut.

"And more than half of it true. Did you listen? What have you learned?"

"That more submarine captains should become psychiatrists."

"So? I have often wondered: did Nemo really die when his submarine was destroyed? Or did he run off to become my great-grandfather and were his psychological bacteria passed along until I came into the world, thinking to command the ghostlike mechanisms that haunt the under tides, to wind up with the fifty-minute vaudeville routine in this sad, psychotic city?"

I got up and touched the fabulous brass symbol that hung like a scientific stalactite in mid-ceiling.

"May I look?"

"I wouldn't if I were you." He only half heard me, lying in the midst of his depression as in a dark cloud.

"It's only a periscope-"

"But a good cigar is a smoke."

I remembered Sigmund Freud's quote about cigars, laughed, and touched the periscope again.

"Don't!" he said.

"Well, you don't 
use this for anything, do you? It's just a remembrance of your past, from your last sub, yes?"

"You think that?" He sighed. "Look!"

I hesitated, then pasted one eye to the viewer, shut the other, and cried:

"Oh, Jesus!"

"I warned you!" said Von Seyfertitz.

were there.

Enough nightmares to paper a thousand cinema screens. Enough phantoms to haunt ten thousand castle walls. Enough panics to shake forty cities into ruin.

My God, I thought, he could sell the film rights to this worldwide!

The first psychological kaleidoscope in history.

And in the instant another thought came: how much of that stuff in there is me? Or Von Seyfertitz? Or both? Are these strange shapes my maundering daymares, sneezed out in the past weeks? When I talked, eyes shut, did my mouth spray invisible founts of small beasts which, caught in the periscope chambers, grew outsize? Like the microscopic photos of those germs that hide in eyebrows and pores, magnified a million times to become elephants on 
Scientific American 
covers? Are these images from other lost souls trapped on that couch and caught in the submarine device, or leftovers from 
eyelashes and psyche?

"It's worth millions!" I cried. "Do you 
what this is!?"

"Collected spiders, Gila monsters, trips to the Moon without gossamer wings, iguanas, toads out of bad sisters' mouths, diamonds out of good fairies ears, crippled shadow dancers from Bali, cut-string puppets from Geppetto's attic, little-boy statues that pee white wine, sexual trapeze performers' 
obscene finger-pantomimes, evil clown faces, gargoyles that talk when it rains and whisper when the wind rises, basement bins

full of poisoned honey, dragonflies that sew every fourteen-year-old's orifices to keep them neat until they rip the sutures, aged eighteen. Towers with mad witches, garrets with mummies for lumber-"

He ran out of steam.

"You get the general drift."

"Nuts," I said. "You're bored. I could get you a five-million-dollar deal with Amalgamated Fruit-cakes Inc. And the Sigmund F. Dreamboats, split three ways!"

"You don't understand," said Von Seyfertitz. "I am keeping myself busy, busy, so I won't remember all the people I torpedoed, sank, drowned mid-Atlantic in 1944. I am not in the Amalgamated Fruitcake Cinema business. I only wish to keep myself occupied by paring fingernails, cleaning earwax, and erasing inkblots from odd bean-bags like you. If I stop, I will fly apart. That periscope contains all and everything I have seen and known in the past forty years of observing pecans, cashews, and almonds. By staring at them I lose my own terrible life lost in the tides. If you won my periscope in some shoddy fly-by-night Hollywood strip poker, I would sink three times in my waterbed, never to be seen again. Have I 
you my waterbed? Three times as large as any pool. I do eighty laps asleep each night. Some-times forty when I catnap noons. To answer your million fold offer, no."

And suddenly he shivered all over. His hands clutched at his heart.

"My God!" he shouted.

Too late, he was realizing he had let me step into his mind and life. Now he was on his feet between me and the periscope, staring at it and me, as if we were both terrors.

"You saw nothing in that! Nothing at all!”

"I did!"

"You lie! How could you 
such a liar? Do you know what would happen if this got out, if you ran around making accusations-?

"My God," he raved on, "If the world knew, if someone said' '-His words gummed shut in his mouth as if he were tasting the truth of what he said, as if he saw me for the first time and I was a gun fired full in his face. "I would be... laughed out of the city. Such a goddamn ridiculous . . . hey, wait a minute. You!"

It was as if he had slipped a devil mask over his face. His eyes grew wide. His mouth gaped.

I examined his face and saw murder. I sidled toward the door.

"You wouldn't 
anything to anyone?” he said.


"How come you suddenly know 
about me?"


"Yes," he admitted, dazed, looking around for a weapon. "Wait."

"if you don't mind," I said, "I'd rather not.” And I was out the door and down the hall, my knees jumping to knock my jaw.

"Come back!" cried Von Seyfertitz, behind me. "I must kill you!"

"I was afraid of that!"

I reached the elevator first and by a miracle it flung wide its doors when I banged the Down button. I jumped in.

"Say good-bye!" cried Von Seyfertitz, raising his fist as if it held a bomb.

"Good-bye!" I said. The doors slammed.

I did not see Von Seyfertitz again for a year.

Meanwhile, I dined out often, not without guilt, telling friends, and strangers on street corners, of my collision with a submarine commander become phrenologist (he who feels your skull to count the beans).

So with my giving one shake of the ripe fruit tree, nuts fell. Overnight they brimmed the Baron's lap to flood his bank account. His Grand Slam will be recalled at century's end: appearances on 
Phil Donahue, Oprah Winfrey, 
in one single cyclonic afternoon, with interchangeable hyperboles, positive-negative-positive every hour. There were Von Seyfertitz laser games and duplicates of his submarine periscope sold at the Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonian. With the super inducement of a half-million dollars, he force-fed and easily sold a bad book. Duplicates of the animalcules, lurks, and curious critters trapped in his brass viewer arose in pop-up coloring books, paste-on tattoos, and inkpad rubberstamp nightmares at Beasts-R-Us.

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