Read Slow Sculpture Online

Authors: Theodore Sturgeon

Slow Sculpture (38 page)

And the ones who did have some experience of yang, the devil’s country, would find much more of the other as they went along, because the balance would be gone. And the more the shift went on, the more innocent, well-meaning, thoughtful people ran the course of their lives and thoughts, the worse they would think of the devil’s country and the worse they would talk about it and him. It would get so you couldn’t trust the books; they’d all been written from the one point of view, the majority side of imbalance. It would begin to look as if the yang part of the universe were a blot which had to be stamped out to make a nice clean alloying universe—and you have your John Knox types and your Cotton Mathers: just good people traveling straight and strong and acting from evidence that was all wrong by reason that couldn’t be rational.

And I thought,
That’s it!

The devil is dead!

I have to do something about it. But what?

Tell somebody, that’s what. Tell everybody, but let’s be practical. There must be somebody, somewhere, who knows what to do about
it—or at least how to explain about the yinyang and how it’s gone wrong, so that everybody could rethink what we’ve done, what we’ve been.

Then I remembered the
Saturday Review
. The
Saturday Review
has a personal column in it that’s read by all sorts of people—judging by the messages. But I mean
all
kinds of people. If I could write the right ad, word it just the right way.

I felt like a damn fool. Year of Our Lord 1950, turning all my skills as a professional copywriter to telling the world that the devil was dead, but it was an obsession, you see, and I had to do something, even something insane. I had to start somewhere.

So I wrote the ad.

The trouble is the light-bearer’s torch is out and we’re all on

the same end of the seesaw. Help or we’ll die of it. Whoever

knows the answer call DU6-1212 Extension 2103
.

I’m not going to tell you how many drafts I wrote or all the reasons why, copywise, that was best, mixed metaphors and all. I knew that whoever could help would know what I was asking.

Now comes the hard part. For you, I mean, not me. Me, I did what I had to. You’re going to have to believe it.

Well, maybe you don’t have to. Just—well, just suspend disbelief until you hear me out, okay?

All right. I wrote up the copy and addressed an envelope. I put on a stamp and a special delivery. I put in the copy and a check. I sealed it and crossed the hall—you know where the mail chute is—right across from my door. Your door. It was late by then, everyone had gone home and my footsteps echoed and I could hear that funny whistle under the elevator doors. I slid the envelope into the slot and let go, and my phone rang.

I’d never heard it ring quite like that before. I can say that, yet I can’t tell you how it was different.

I sprinted into the office and sat down and picked up the phone. I’m glad I sat down first.

There was this Voice.…

I have a hell of an ear, you know that? I’ve thought a lot about that Voice and recalled it to myself and I can tell you what it was
made of—a tone, its octave and the fifth harmonic. I mean if you can imagine a voice made of three notes, two an octave apart and the third reinforcing, but not really three notes at all, because they sounded absolutely together like one. Then, they weren’t pure notes, but voice-tones, with all the overtones that means. And none of that tells you anything either, any more than if I described the physical characteristics of a vibrating string and the sound it produced—when the string happened to be on a cello played by Pablo Casals. You know how it is in a room full of people when you suddenly become aware of a single voice that commands attention because of what it is, not what it says. When a voice like that has, in addition, something to say—well, you listen.

I listened. The first thing I heard—I didn’t even have a chance to say hello—was: “You’re right. You’re absolutely right.”

I said, “Who is this?” and the Voice sighed a little and waited.

Then it said, “Let’s not go into that. It would be best if you figured it out by yourself.”

As things turned out, that was a hundred percent on target. I think if the Voice hadn’t taken that tack I’d have hung up, or anyway wasted a lot of time in being convinced.

The Voice said. “What matters is your ad in the
Saturday Review
.”

“I just mailed it!”

“I just read it,” the Voice said, then explained: “Time isn’t quite the same here.” At least I think that’s what it said. It said, “How far are you willing to go to make everything right again?”

I didn’t know what to say. I remember holding the phone away from my face and looking at it as if it could tell me something. Then I listened again. The Voice told me everything I was going through, carefully, not bored exactly but the way you explain to a child that you know what’s bothering him.

The Voice said, “You know who I am but you won’t think the words. You don’t want to believe any part of this but you have to and you know you will. You’re so pleased with yourself for being right that you cannot think straight—which is only one of the reasons you can’t think straight. Now pull yourself together and answer my question.”

I couldn’t remember the question, so I had to be asked once more—how far was I willing to go to make everything right again?

You have to understand that this Voice meant what it said. If you’d heard it, you’d have believed it—anybody would. I know I was being asked to make a commitment and that was pretty scary, but over and above that I knew I was being told that everything could be made right again—that the crazy tilt that had been plaguing mankind for hundreds, maybe thousands of years could be fixed. And I might be the guy to do it—me, for God’s sake.

If I had any doubts, any this-can’t-be kind of feelings—they disappeared. How far would I go?

I said, “All the way.”

The Voice said, “Good. If this works you can take the credit. If it doesn’t you take the blame—and you’ll have to live with the idea that you might have done it and you failed. I won’t be able to help you with that.”

I said, anyway I’d know I’d tried.

The Voice said, “Even if you succeed you may not like what has to be done.”

I said, “Suppose I don’t do it—what will happen?”

The Voice said, “You ever read 1984?”

I said I had.

The Voice said, “Like that, only more so and sooner. There isn’t any other way it can go now.”

That’s what I’d been thinking—that’s what had upset me when I read the article.

“I’ll do it,” is all I said.

The voice said that was fine.

It said, “I’m going to send you to see somebody. You have to persuade him. He won’t talk to me and he’s the only one who can do anything.”

I began to have cold feet. “But who is he? Where? What do I say?”

“You know what to say. Or I wouldn’t be talking to you.”

I asked, “What do I have to do?”

And all I was told was to take the elevator. Then the line went dead.

So I turned out the lights and went to the door—and then I remembered and went back for my drawings of the yinyang, one as it ought to be and the other showing it out of balance. I held them like you’d hold an airline ticket on a first flight. I went to the elevators.

How am I going to make you believe this?

Well, you’re right—it doesn’t matter if you do or not. Okay, here’s what happened.

I pushed the call button and the door opened instantly, the way it does once in a while. I stepped into the elevator and turned around—and there I was.

The door hadn’t closed, the car hadn’t moved. It all happened when I was turning around. The door was open, but not in the hallway on the twenty-first floor. The scene was gray. Hard gray outdoor ground and gray mist. I stood a while looking out and my heart was thumping like someone was pounding me on the back with fists. But nothing happened, so I stepped out.

I was scared.

Nothing happened. The gray fog was neither still nor blowing. Sometimes there seemed to be shapes out there somewhere—trees, rocks, buildings—but then there was nothing and maybe it was all a vast plain. It had an outdoors feel to it—that’s all I can say for sure.

The elevator door was solidly behind me, which was reassuring. I took one step away from it—a little one, I’ll have you know—and called out. It took three tries before my voice would work.

“Lucifer!”

A voice answered me. Somehow it wasn’t as—well, as grand as the one I’d heard over the phone, but in other ways it was bigger.

It said, “Who is that? What do you want?”

It was cranky. It was the voice of someone interrupted, someone who felt damn capable of handling the interruption, too. And this time there really was something looming closer through the fog.

I clapped my hands over my face. I felt my knees hit the gray dirt. I didn’t kneel down you understand. The knees just buckled as if they didn’t belong to me any more. But hell, the wings. Bat’s wings,
leathery and a tail with a point on it like a big arrowhead. That face, eyes. And thirty feet tall, man!

He touched my shoulder and I would have screamed like a schoolgirl if I’d had the breath for it.

“Come on now.” It was a different voice altogether—he’d changed it—but it was his all the same. He said, “I don’t look like that. That came out of your head. Here—look at me.”

I looked. I guess it was funny, me kind of peeping up quickly so in case it was more than I could take I could hide my face again—as if that would do any good. But I’d had more than I could handle.

What I saw was a middle-aged guy in a buff corduroy jacket and brown slacks. He had graying hair and a smooth suntanned forehead and the brightest blue eyes I have ever seen. He helped me to my feet.

He said, “I don’t look like this either, but—” he shrugged and smiled.

I said, “Well, thanks anyway—” and felt stupid. I looked around at the fog. “Where is this?”

He kind of waved his hand. “I can’t really say. Where would you want it to be?”

How do you answer a question like that? I couldn’t.

He could. He put the back of his hand against my cheek and gently turned my face toward him and bent close. He did something I can only describe as what you do when you pick up a magazine and run your thumb across the edge of the pages and flip it open somewhere. Only he did it inside my head somehow. Anyway there was a blaze of golden light that made me blink.

When I got my eyes adjusted to it the gray was gone. When I was a kid I worked one year on a farm in Vermont. I used to go for the cows in the late afternoon. The day pasture was huge, with a stand of pine at the upper end and the whole thing was steep as a roof, with granite outcroppings all over, gray, and white limestone. That’s where we were, the very smell of it, the little lake with the dirt road around the end of it far down at the bottom and the wind hissing through the pine trees up there and a woodchuck ducking out of sight on the skyline. I could even see three of the Holsteins, standing
level on the sidehill in that miraculous way they have as if they had two short legs and two long ones. I never did figure out how they do it.

And I got a flash of panic, too, because my elevator door was gone—but he seemed to know and just waved his hand casually over to my left. And there it was, a Rockefeller Center elevator door in the middle of a Vermont pasture. Funny. When I was fourteen that door in the pasture would have scared the hell out of me. Now I was scared without it. I looked around me and smelled the late August early evening and marveled.

“It’s so real,” is what I said.

“Seems real.”

“But I was here—right here—when I was a kid.”

“Seemed real then, too, didn’t it?”

I think he was trying to make me rethink all along the line—not so much to doubt things, but to wipe everything clean and start over.

“Belief or nonbelief has no power over objective truth,” is what he told me. He said that if two people believe the same thing from the same evidence, it means that they believe the same thing, nothing more.

While I was chewing on that he took the sketches out of my hand—the same ones I just did for you. I had quite forgotten I was holding them. He looked at them and grunted. “It’s like that, is it?”

I took back the sketches and began to make my speech.

I said, “You see, it’s like this. Here the balance is—” and he kind of laughed a little and said wait, wait, we don’t have to go through all that.

I think he meant, words. I mean he touched the side of my face again and made me face him and did that thing with his eyes inside my head. Only this time it was like taking both your thumbs and pulling open the pages of a book that are sort of stuck together. I wouldn’t say it hurt but I wouldn’t want much more of it either. I remember a single flash of shame that things I’d read, studied, things I’d thought out, I’d been careless with or had forgotten. And all the while—a very short while—he was digging in my head he was curing the shame, too. I began to understand that what he could get
from me wasn’t just what I’d learned and understood—it was everything,
everything
that had ever passed through my pipeline. And all in a moment.

Then he stepped back and said, “Bastard!”

I thought, what have I done?

He laughed at me. “Not you.
Him
.”

I thought, oh. The Voice on the phone. The one who sent me.

He looked at me with those sixty-thousand candle power eyes and laughed again and wagged his head.

“I swore I’d have nothing to do with him any more,” he said, “and now look—he’s thrown me a hook.”

I guess I looked mixed-up, because I was. He began to talk to me kindly, trying to make me feel better.

He said, “It’s not easy to explain. You’ve learned so much that just ain’t so and you’ve learned it from people who also didn’t understand. Couldn’t. It goes back a long time. I mean, for you it does. For me—well, time is different here.”

He thought a bit and said, “Calling me Lucifer was real bright of you, you know that? Lucifer means ‘bringer of light.’ If you’re going to stick with the yinyang symbol—and it’s a good one—you’ll see that there’s a center for the dark part and a center for the light—sometimes they’re drawn in, a little dot on each part right where a pollywog’s eye would be. I am that dot and the Voice you heard is the other one. Lucifer I may be, but I’m not the devil. I’m just the other. It takes two of us to make the whole. What I just might have overlooked is that it takes two of us to keep the whole. Really, I had no idea—” and he leaned forward and got another quick look inside my head “—no idea at all that things would get into such a mess so quickly. Maybe I shouldn’t have left.”

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