Sherlock Holmes In Iowa
He entered the train compartment politely enough, nodding to the bespectacled, black-haired, hatless fellow in tweed sitting to one side. The fellow was staring directly ahead alertly, but inert to all surroundings. His nod got no response. He sat down on the other side of the compartment and checked his pocket watch. He pulled the New York Times out of the soft leather case on his lap.
The fellow continued to stare directly across the gap between them without seeming to look at him at all.
He held up the newspaper between them and tried to read.
After some minutes, he lowered it and said, “Are you all right?”
There was no response.
He raised the newspaper again.
The train rumbled and swayed across open plain fat with corn.
Wind rippled in waves through high green. Between glances at the scenery and pretending to read his newspaper, he began to grasp the immensity of the country and the monoculture that now dominated and supported it.
He lowered the newspaper once again.
“Pardon me for disturbing you. Are you meditating”, he said, “Or is it a kind of self-mesmerism?”
No answer. He tried to stare back for a bit, unsuccessfully, then raised again the newspaper and went back now and then to glancing at fields flying by.
The train seemed to be somewhere on the far side of Indiana, Illinois—and Iowa was it?
The first referred to Indians—that was obvious. The next two were ultimately derived from the names of tribes.
He recalled the quip of the president of Radcliffe who greeted one of her new charges as “from Ohio.” “No, M'am”, said the fresh new student, “I am from Iowa!”. “Here, my dear.” said the President, “It is pronounced Ohio.”
Periodically they passed through small towns with rails running right down the middle of the asphalt main street.
Whistles blew but there were no stops. It was an express.
Lowering the newspaper, he said, “Pardon me again, but have you any idea where we are exactly?”
In response the same stare, far from vacant but unmoving as stone and with not the slightest reaction.
Well, he thought, if the fellow wishes to be treated as an immovable object, so be it. At least he looks alive, if with an immobility I have never seen before at such close quarters—or have I?
Impassive, wooden indigenes still as the replicas in front of tobacco shops? But the fellow did not look at all an aboriginal.
Suddenly it struck: of course, he is a mime! He almost said it aloud.
He had seen such creatures on street corners and at the occasional state fair. But where, he asked himself, is his make-up and begging bowl?
“I see you are a mime,” he said finally, again lowering the Times, “and quite a good one at that.”
Through the spectacles black eyes flashed.
“Not a mime, then,” he said, “but you hear me and understand English, obviously. Your eyes flashed.”
He raised the newspaper and commenced actually to read it. The scenery resumed its monotonous drone.
The man across from him remained wondrously impassive. He read an article treacly with a tone of charitableness and good works about some new program of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The Temple On Planet XXIII
The temple was a labyrinth of closed doors through which ghosts danced brandishing keys. Suddenly during a double lunar eclipse all the walls disappeared.
The ghosts didn't seem to notice. They jangled their keys. They evanesced through doors in free-standing frames.
Their conclaves continued behind closed doors but were at least as mysterious as they were before. Formerly nothing was known of what transpired. After the walls disappeared, much was heard and seen but was uninterpretable.
The conclaves appeared to commoners as masses of jellyfish swinging and gurgling rhythmically like a chorus of thickly tressed pendulums bathed in chemically generated light.
Raging bulls emerged periodically through the doors. On the inside they too looked like jellyfish. As they moved through to the outside surface of the door they became black-furred and monstrously horned, snorting and bellowing, hoofs clattering on the stone floors.
Or were they buffalos?
The bravest of the brave and the drunkest of the drunk ran ahead of them in the streets to the slaughter ground.
In retrospect the strangest aspect of the disappearance of the walls was that no one inside or out, earthly or ghostly, bothered to look up to see if roof and ceiling had disappeared as well.
The Blank Sea
It was Commander Ustinov of the 77th Lunar Mounted Driller Gorillas.
“Ustinov here, Sir, on the second moon of Erewhon--we just broke through the frozen methane shell.”
He could hear the screeching and whining of quantum drills in the background.
“And?” he said.
“Just as you predicted, Sir”, said Ustinov, “an absolutely blank sea of pure liquid H20—transparent, odorless, colorless, tasteless--kind of like window glass or an empty aquarium.”
The vault was some distance behind the tellers' counter on the first floor.
When first-floorers crossed in front of the vault they invariably went momentarily breathless and near imperceptibly bowed their heads to some unseen third eye.
No one was ever seen actually to kneel and cross themselves.
It was a bank after all.
Operatic ritual would surely have led to dismissal, especially if there were customers present.
Second floorers, whenever they came downstairs, were more expansive, managerially swelling chests behind vests and puffing on imaginary cigars.
The cigars were imaginary because the municipality had recently gone smoke-free.
The expansiveness included the director of personnel, who often wore white shirt and black bow tie under a vest, sometimes with a black skirt, sometimes as part of a pants suit.
At an after hours office celebration when the bank first opened she had actually sported and smoked a Havana brought across the border from Canada.
That was before the new ordinance.
There was also no alcohol allowed on the premises.
The CEO had put a wrought iron table and four chairs on the roof of first floor, where the rear of the first floor jutted out perhaps ten feet farther toward the back parking lot than the second floor. The patio was accessed by a door on the second floor. Every morning a large cooler filled with ice and Mexican beer was set out by the table. Sometimes visiting investors, important customers or Board members disappeared with the CEO to the patio.
Everything else in all corners of the building, inside and out, was recorded by security cameras.