Sunday, July 25, 2010

For Friday July 30, The Professor's Teddy Bear by Theodore Sturgeon

The Professor's Teddy Bear
Theodore Sturgeon

"Sleep," said the monster. It spoke with its ear, with little lips writhing deep within the folds of flesh, because its mouth was full of blood.
    "I don't want to sleep now. I'm having a dream," said Jeremy. "When I sleep, all my dreams go away. Or they're just pretend dreams. I'm having a real dream now."
    "What are you dreaming now?" asked the monster.
    "I am dreaming that I'm grown up--"
    "Seven feet tall and very fat," said the monster.
    "You're silly," said Jeremy. "I will be five feet, six and three eighth inches tall. I will be bald on top and will wear eyeglasses like little thick ashtrays. I will give lectures to young things about human destiny and the metempsychosis of Plato."
    "What's a metempsychosis?" asked the monster hungrily.
    Jeremy was four and could afford to be patient. "A metempsychosis is a thing that happens when a person moves from one house to another."
    "Like when your daddy moved here from Monroe Street?"
    "Sort of. But not that kind of a house, with shingles and sewers and things. This kind of a house," he said, and smote his little chest.
    "Oh," said the monster. It moved up and crouched on Jeremy's throat, looking more like a teddy bear than ever. "Now?" it begged. It was not very heavy.
    "Not now," said Jeremy petulantly. "It'll make me sleep. I want to watch my dream some more. There's a girl who's not listening to my lecture. She's thinking about her hair."
    "What about her hair?" asked the monster.
    "It's brown," said Jeremy. "It's shiny, too. She wishes it were golden."
    "Why?"
    "Somebody named Bert likes golden hair."
    "Go ahead and make it golden then."
    "I can't! What would the other young ones say?"
    "Does that matter?"
    "Maybe not. Could I make her hair golden?"
    "Who is she?" countered the monster.
    "She is a girl who will be born here in about twenty years," said Jeremy.
    The monster snuggled closer to his neck.
    "If she is to be born here, then of course you can change her hair. Hurry and do it and go to sleep."
    Jeremy laughed delightedly.
    "What happened?" asked the monster.
    "I changed it," said Jeremy. "The girl behind her squeaked like the mouse with its leg caught. Then she jumped up. It's a big lecture-room, you know, built up and away from the speaker-place. It has steep aisles. Her foot slipped on the hard step."
    He burst into joyous laughter.
    "Now what?"
    "She broke her neck. She's dead."
    The monster sniggered. "That's a very funny dream. Now change the other girl's hair back again. Nobody else saw it, except you?"
    "Nobody else saw," said Jeremy. "There! It's changed back again. She never even knew she had golden hair for a little while."
    "That's fine. Does that end the dream?"
    "I s'pose it does," said Jeremy regretfully. "It ends the lecture, anyhow. The young people are all crowding around the girl with the broken neck. The young men all have sweat under their noses. The girls are all trying to put their fists into their mouths. You can go ahead."
The monster made a happy sound and pressed its mouth hard against Jeremy's neck. Jeremy closed his eyes. The door opened. "Jeremy, darling," said Mummy. She had a tired, soft face and smiling eyes. "I heard you laugh."
    Jeremy opened his eyes slowly. His lashes were so long that when they swung up, there seemed to be a tiny wind, as if they were dark weather fans. He smiled, and three of his teeth peeped out and smiled too. "I told Fuzzy a story, Mummy," he said sleepily, "and he liked it."
    "You darling," she murmured. She came to him and tucked the covers around his chin. He put up his hand and kept the monster tight against his neck.
    "Is Fuzzy sleeping?" asked Mummy, her voice crooning with whimsy.
    "No," said Jeremy. "He's hungering himself."
    "How does he do that?"
    "When I eat, the--the hungry goes away. Fuzzy's different."
    She looked at him, loving him so much that she did not--could not think. "You're a strange child," she whispered, "and you have the pinkest cheeks in the whole wide world."
    "Sure I have," he said.
    "What a funny little laugh!" she said, paling.
    "That wasn't me. That was Fuzzy. He thinks you're funny."
    Mummy stood over the crib, looking down at him. It seemed to be the frown that looked at him, while the eyes looked past. Finally she wet her lips and patted his head. "Good night, baby."
    "Good night, Mummy." He closed his eyes. Mummy tiptoed out. The monster kept right on doing it.
It was nap-time the next day, and for the hundredth time Mummy had kissed him and said, "You're so good about your nap, Jeremy!" Well, he was. He always went straight up to bed at nap-time, as he did at bedtime. Mummy didn't know why, of course. Perhaps Jeremy did not know. Fuzzy knew.
    Jeremy opened the toy-chest and took Fuzzy out. "You're hungry, I bet," he said.
    "Yes. Let's hurry."
    Jeremy climbed into the crib and hugged the teddy bear close. "I keep thinking about that girl," he said.
    "What girl?"
    "The one whose hair I changed."
    "Maybe because it's the first time you've changed a person."
    "It is not! What about the man who fell into the subway hole?"
    "You moved the hat. The one that blew off. You moved it under his feet so that he stepped on the brim with one foot and caught his toe in the crown, and tumbled in."
    "Well, what about the little girl I threw in front of the truck?"
    "You didn't touch her," said the monster equably. "She was on roller skates. You broke something in one wheel so it couldn't turn. So she fell right in front of the truck."
    Jeremy thought carefully. "Why didn't I ever touch a person before?"
    "I don't know," said Fuzzy. "It has something to do with being born in this house, I think."
    "I guess maybe," said Jeremy doubtfully.
    "I'm hungry," said the monster, settling itself on Jeremy's stomach as he turned on his back.
    "Oh, all right," Jeremy said. "The next lecture?"
    "Yes," said Fuzzy eagerly. "Dream bright, now. The big things that you say, lecturing. Those are what I want. Never mind the people there. Never mind you, lecturing. The things you say."

The strange blood flowed as Jeremy relaxed. He looked up to the ceiling, found the hairline crack that he always stared at while he dreamed real, and began to talk.
    "There I am. There's the--the room, yes, and the--yes, it's all there, again. There's the girl. The one who has the brown, shiny hair. The seat behind her is empty. This must be after that other girl broke her neck."
    "Never mind that," said the monster impatiently. "What do you say?"
    "I--" Jeremy was quiet. Finally Fuzzy nudged him. "Oh. It's all about yesterday's unfortunate occurrence, but, like the show of legend, our studies must go on."
    "Go on with it then," panted the monster.
    "All right, all right," said Jeremy impatiently. "Here it is. We come now to the Gymnosophists, whose ascetic school has had no recorded equal in its extremism. Those strange gentry regarded clothing and even food as detrimental to purity of thought. The Greeks also called them Hylobioi, a term our more erudite students will notice as analogous to the Sanskrit Vana-Prasthas. It is evident that they were a profound influence on Diogenes Laertius, the Elisian founder of pure skepticism..."
    And so he droned on and on. Fuzzy crouched on his body, its soft ears making small masticating motions; and sometimes when stimulated by some particularly choice nugget of esoterica, the ears drooled.
    At the end of nearly an hour, Jeremy's soft voice trailed off, and he was quiet. Fuzzy shifted in irritation. "What is it?"
    "That girl," said Jeremy. "I keep looking back to that girl while I'm talking."
    "Well, stop doing it. I'm not finished."
    "There isn't any more, Fuzzy. I keep looking and looking back to that girl until I can't lecture any more. Now I'm saying all that about the pages in the book and the assignment. The lecture is over."
    Fuzzy's mouth was almost full of blood. From its ears, it sighed. "That wasn't any too much. But if that's all, then it's all. You can sleep now if you want to."
    "I want to watch for a while."
    The monster puffed out its cheeks. The pressure inside was not great. "Go on, then." It scrabbled off Jeremy's body and curled up in a sulky huddle.
    The strange blood moved steadily through Jeremy's brain. With his eyes wide and fixed, he watched himself as he would be, a slight, balding professor of philosophy.
He sat in the hall, watching the students tumbling up the steep aisles, wondering at the strange compulsion he had to look at that girl, Miss--Miss--what was it?
    Oh. "Miss Patchell!"
    He started, astonished at himself. He had certainly not meant to call out her name. He clasped his hands tightly, regaining the dry stiffness which was his closest approach to dignity.
    The girl came slowly down the aisle steps, her wideset eyes wondering. There were books tucked under her arm, and her hair shone. "Yes, Professor?"
    "I--" He stopped and cleared his throat. "I know it's the last class today, and you are no doubt meeting someone. I shan't keep you very long...and if I do," he added, and was again astonished at himself, "you can see Bert tomorrow."
    "Bert? Oh!" She colored prettily. "I didn't know you knew about--how could you know?"
    He shrugged. "Miss Patchell," he said. "You'll forgive an old--ah--middle-aged man's rambling, I hope. There is something about you that--that--"
    "Yes?" Caution, and an iota of fright were in her eyes. She glanced up and back at the now empty hall

Abruptly he pounded the table. "I will not let this go on for another instant without finding out about it. Miss Patchell, you are becoming afraid of me, and you are wrong."
    "I th--think I'd better..." she said timidly, and began backing off.
    "Sit down!" he thundered. It was the very first time in his entire life that he had thundered at anyone, and her shock was not one whit greater than his. She shrank back and into a front-row seat, looking a good deal smaller than she actually was, except about the eyes, which were much larger.
    The professor shook his head in vexation. He rose, stepped down off the dais, and crossed to her, sitting in the next seat.
    "Now be quiet and listen to me." The shadow of a smile twitched his lips and he said, "I really don't know what I am going to say. Listen, and be patient. It couldn't be more important."
    He sat a while, thinking, chasing vague pictures around in his mind. He heard, or was conscious of, the rapid but slowing beat of her frightened heart.
    "Miss Patchell," he said, turning to her, his voice gentle, "I have not at any time looked into your records. Until--ah--yesterday, you were simply another face in the class, another source of quiz papers to be graded. I have not consulted the registrar's files for information about you. And, to my almost certain knowledge, this is the first time I have spoken with you."
    "That's right, sir," she said quietly.
    "Very good, then." He wet his lips. "You are twenty-three years old. The house in which you were born was a two-story affair, quite old, with a leaded bay window at the turn of the stairs. The small bedroom, or nursery, was directly over the kitchen. You could hear the clatter of dishes below you when the house was quiet. The address was 191 Bucyrus Road."
    "How--oh yes! How did you know?"
    He shook his head, and then put it between his hands. "I don't know. I don't know. I lived in that house, too, as a child. I don't know how I knew that you did. There are things in here--" He rapped his head, shook it again. "I thought perhaps you could help."

She looked at him. He was a small man, brilliant, tired, getting old swiftly. She put a hand on his arm. "I wish I could," she said warmly. "I do wish I could."
    "Thank you, child."
    "Maybe if you told me more--"
    "Perhaps. Some of it is--ugly. All of it is cloudy, long ago, barely remembered. And yet--"
    "Please go on."
    "I remember," he half whispered, "things that happened long ago that way, and recent things I remember--twice. One memory is sharp and clear, and one is old and misty. And I remember, in the same misty way, what is happening now and--and what will happen!"
    "I don't understand."
    "That girl. That Miss Symes. She--died here yesterday."
    "She was sitting right behind me," said Miss Patchell.
    "I know it! I knew what was going to happen to her. I knew it mistily, like an old memory. That's what I mean. I don't know what I could have done to stop it. I don't think I could have done anything. And yet, down deep I have the feeling that it's my fault--that she slipped and fell because of something I did."
    "Oh, no!"
    He touched her arm in mute gratitude for the sympathy in her tone, and grimaced miserably. "It's happened before," he said. "Time and time and time again. As a boy, as a youth, I was plagued with accidents. I led a quiet life. I was not very strong and books were always more my line than baseball. And yet I witnessed a dozen or more violent, useless deaths--automobile accidents, drownings, falls, and one or two--" his voice shook--"which I won't mention. And there were countless minor ones--broken bones, maimings, stabbings...and every time, in some way, it was my fault, like the one yesterday...and I—I--"
    "Don't," she whispered. "Please don't. You were nowhere near Elaine Symes when she fell."
    "I was nowhere near any of them! That never mattered. It never took away the burden of guilt. Miss Patchell--"
    "Catherine."
    "Catherine. Thank you so much! There are people called by insurance actuaries, 'accident prone.' Most of these are involved in accidents through their own negligence, or through some psychological quirk which causes them to defy the world, or to demand attention, by getting hurt. But some are simply present at accidents, without being involved at all--catalysts of death, if you'll pardon a flamboyant phrase. I am, apparently, one of these."
    "Then--how could you feel guilty?"
    "It was--" He broke off suddenly, and looked at her. She had a gentle face, and her eyes were filled with compassion. He shrugged. "I've said so much," he said. "More would sound no more fantastic, and do me no more damage."
    "There'll be no damage from anything you tell me," she said, with a sparkle of decisiveness.
    He smiled his thanks this time, sobered, and said, "These horrors--the maimings, the deaths--they were funny, once, long ago. I must have been a child, a baby. Something taught me, then, that the agony and death of others was to be promoted and enjoyed. I remember, I--almost remember when that stopped. There was a--a toy, a--a--"

Jeremy blinked. He had been staring at the fine crack in the ceiling for so long that his eyes hurt.
    "What are you doing?" asked the monster.
    "Dreaming real," said Jeremy. "I am grown up and sitting in the big empty lecture place, talking to the girl with the brown hair that shines. Her name's Catherine."
    "What are you talking about?"
    "Oh, all the funny dreams. Only--"
    "Well?"
    "They're not so funny."
    The monster scurried over to him and pounced on his chest. "Time to sleep now. And I want to--"
    "No," said Jeremy. He put his hands over his throat. "I have enough now. Wait until I see some more of this real-dream."
    "What do you want to see?"
    "Oh, I don't know. There's something..."
    "Let's have some fun," said the monster. "This is the girl you can change, isn't it?"
    "Yes."
    "Go ahead. Give her an elephant's trunk. Make her grow a beard. Stop her nostrils up. Go on. You can do anything." Jeremy grinned briefly, and then said, "I don't want to."
    "Oh, go on. Just see how funny..."

"A toy," said the professor. "But more than a toy. It could talk, I think. If I could only remember more clearly!"
    "Don't try so hard. Maybe it will come," she said. She took his hand impulsively. "Go ahead."
    "It was--something--" the professor said haltingly, "--something soft and not too large. I don't recall..."
    "Was it smooth?"
    "No. Hairy--fuzzy. Fuzzy! I'm beginning to get it. Wait, now... A thing like a teddy hear. It talked. It--why, of course! It was alive!"
    "A pet, then. Not a toy."
    "Oh, no," said the professor, and shuddered. "It was a toy, all right. My mother thought it was, anyway. It made me dream real."
    "You mean, like Peter Ibbetson?"
    "No, no. Not like that." He leaned back, rolled his eyes up. "I used to see myself as I would be later, when I was grown. And before. Oh. Oh--I think it was then-- Yes! It must have been then that I began to see all those terrible accidents. It was! It was!"
    "Steady," said Catherine. "Tell me quietly,"
    He relaxed. "Fuzzy. The demon--the monster. I know what it did, the devil. Somehow it made me see myself as I grew. It made me repeat what I had learned. It--it ate knowledge! It did; it ate knowledge. It had some strange affinity for me, for something about me. It could absorb knowledge that I gave out. And it--it changed the knowledge into blood, the way a plant changes sunlight and water into cellulose!"
    "I don't understand," she said again.
    "You don't? How could you? How can I? I know that that's what it did, though. It made me--why, I was spouting my lectures here to the beast when I was four years old! The words of them, the sense of them, came from me now to me then. And I gave it to the monster, and it ate the knowledge and spiced it with the things it made me do in my real dreams. It made me trip a man up on a hat, of all absurd things, and fall into a subway excavation. And when I was in my teens, I was right by the excavation to see it happen. And that's the way with all of them! All the horrible accidents I have witnessed, I have half-remembered before they happened. There's no stopping any of them. What am I going to do?"
    There were tears in her eyes. "What about me?" she whispered--more, probably, to get his mind away from his despair than for any other reason.
    "You. There's something about you, if only I could remember. Something about what happened to that--that toy, that beast. You were in the same environment as I, as that devil. Somehow, you are vulnerable to it and--Catherine, Catherine, I think that something was done to you that--"
    He broke off. His eyes widened in horror. The girl sat beside him, helping him, pitying him, and her expression did not change. But--everything else about her did.
    Her face shrank, shrivelled. Her eyes lengthened. Her ears grew long, grew until they were like donkey's ears, like rabbit's ears, like horrible, long hairy spider's legs. Her teeth lengthened into tusks. Her arms shrivelled into jointed straws, and her body thickened.
    It smelled like rotten meat.
    There were filthy claws scattering out of her polished open-toed shoes. There were bright sores. There were--other things. And all the while she--it--held his hand and looked at him with pity and friendliness.
    The professor--

Jeremy sat up and flung the monster away. "It isn't funny!" he screamed. "It isn't funny, it isn't, it isn't, it isn't!"
    The monster sat up and looked at him with its soft, bland, teddy-bear expression. "Be quiet," it said. "Let's make her all squashy now, like soft-soap. And hornets in her stomach. And we can put her--"
    Jeremy clapped his hands over his ears and screwed his eyes shut. The monster talked on. Jeremy burst into tears, leapt from the crib and, hurling the monster to the floor, kicked it. It grunted. "That's funny!" screamed the child. "Ha ha!" he cried, as he planted both feet in its yielding stomach. He picked up the twitching mass and hurled it across the room. It struck the nursery clock. Clock and monster struck the floor together in a flurry of glass, metal, and blood. Jeremy stamped it all into a jagged, pulpy mass, blood from his feet mixing with blood from the monster, the same strange blood which the monster had pumped into his neck...
    Mummy all but fainted when she ran in and saw him. She screamed, but he laughed, screaming. The doctor gave him sedatives until he slept, and cured his feet. He was never very strong after that. They saved him, to live his life and to see his real-dreams; funny dreams, and to die finally in a lecture room, with his eyes distended in horror while horror froze his heart, and a terrified young woman ran crying, crying for help
 

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