Come And Go Mad and Other Stories [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Fredric Brown
eBook Category: Science Fiction/Fantasy
eBook Description: An undercover reporter. An elaborate ruse to get committed in an asylum to discover the story of lifetime. It should be a simple enough assignment; pretend to be crazy, get inside, observe, have someone to certify you are cured, and then get out. The story will be published and awards may be given to the intrepid reporter who braved the high walls of a nuthouse in search of the truth. However, for reporter George Vine, the assignment is far from being exciting. It is scary and anxiety-provoking, for deep inside him, George thinks that he is not really George, but Napoleon Bonaparte in George's body. Is he mad for thinking he is Napoleon? Is he a crazy man pretending to be sane pretending to be mad just to enter the sanitarium? Your concept of reality and fiction will certainly be challenged in the devious twists and turns of this story by award-winning mystery and science fiction writer Fredric Brown. More than this novella, however, this collection also gathers some of Brown's great short stories. There's a story of the last Martian village, a Russian space traveling mouse called Mitkey, the world as perceived by the winning pieces in a chess game, and a picture sent by aliens to a painter for a writer to write a story about. In all these, Brown displayed his wit and humor, his innovative way of writing, and his penchant for playing with words. "A stand-up comic," a reviewer once called Brown, and it is never truer than in this collection of his work. This collections contains the stories: Come and Go Mad, Star Mouse, Recessional, Earthman Bearing Gifts, The Frownzly Florgels, and The End
eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks
Fictionwise Release Date: September 2010
Come and Go Mad
He had known it, somehow, when he had awakened that morning. He knew it more surely now, staring out of the editorial room window into the early afternoon sunlight slanting down among the buildings to cast a pattern of light and shadow. He knew that soon, perhaps even today, something important was going to happen. Whether good or bad he did not know, but he darkly suspected. And with reason; there are few good things that may unexpectedly happen to a man, things, that is, of lasting importance. Disaster can strike from innumerable directions, in amazingly diverse ways.
A voice said, "Hey, Mr. Vine," and he turned away from the window, slowly. That in itself was strange for it was not his manner to move slowly; he was a small, volatile man, almost catlike in the quickness of his reactions and his movements.
But this time something made him turn slowly from the window, almost as though he never again expected to see that chiaroscuro of an early afternoon.
He said, "Hi, Red."
The freckled copy boy said, "His Nibs wants to see ya."
"Naw. Atcher convenience. Sometime next week, maybe. If yer busy, give him an apperntment."
He put his fist against Red's chin and shoved, and the copy boy staggered back in assumed distress.
He went over to the water cooler. He pressed his thumb on the button and water gurgled into the paper cup.
Harry Wheeler sauntered over and said, "Hiya, Nappy. What's up? Going on the carpet?"
He said, "Sure, for a raise."
He drank and crumpled the cup, tossing it into the wastebasket. He went over to the door marked Private and went through it.
Walter J. Candler, the managing editor, looked up from the work on his desk and said affably, "Sit down, Vine. Be with you in a moment," and then looked down again.
He slid into the chair opposite Candler, worried a cigarette out of his shirt pocket and lighted it. He studied the back of the sheet of paper of which the managing editor was reading the front. There wasn't anything on the back of it.
The M.E. put the paper down and looked at him. "Vine, I've got a screwy one. You're good on screwy ones."
He grinned slowly at the M.E. He said, "If that's a compliment, thanks."
"It's a compliment, all right. You've done some pretty tough things for us. This one's different. I've never yet asked a reporter to do anything I wouldn't do myself. I wouldn't do this, so I'm not asking you to."
The M.E. picked up the paper he'd been reading and then put it down again without even looking at it. "Ever hear of Ellsworth Joyce Randolph?"
"Head of the asylum? Hell yes, I've met him. Casually."
"How'd he impress you?"
He was aware that the managing editor was staring at him intently, that it wasn't too casual a question. He parried. "What do you mean? In what way? You mean is he a good Joe, is he a good politician, has he got a good bedside manner for a psychiatrist, or what?"
"I mean, how sane do you think he is?"
He looked at Candler and Candler wasn't kidding. Candler was strictly deadpan.
He began to laugh, and then he stopped laughing. He leaned forward across Candler's desk. "Ellsworth Joyce Randolph," he said. "You're talking about Ellsworth Joyce Randolph?"
Candler nodded. "Dr. Randolph was in here this morning. He told a rather strange story. He didn't want me to print it. He did want me to check on it, to send our best man to check on it. He said if we found it was true we could print it in hundred and twenty line type in red ink." Candler grinned wryly. "We could, at that."
He stumped out his cigarette and studied Candler's face. "But the story itself is so screwy you're not sure whether Dr. Randolph himself might be insane?"
"And what's tough about the assignment?"
"The doc says a reporter could get the story only from the inside."
"You mean, go in as a guard or something?"
Candler said, "As something."
He got up out of the chair and walked over to the window, stood with his back to the managing editor, looking out. The sun had moved hardly at all. Yet the shadow pattern in the streets looked different, obscurely different. The shadow pattern inside him was different, too. This, he knew, was what had been going to happen. He turned around. He said, "No. Hell no."
Candler shrugged imperceptibly. "Don't blame you. I haven't even asked you to. I wouldn't do it myself."
He asked, "What does Ellsworth Joyce Randolph think is going on inside his nut-house? It must be something pretty screwy if it made you wonder whether Randolph himself is sane."
"I can't tell you that, Vine. Promised him I wouldn't, whether or not you took the assignment."
"You mean--even if I took the job I still wouldn't know what I was looking for?"
"That's right. You'd be prejudiced. You wouldn't be objective. You'd be looking for something, and you might think you found it whether it was there or not. Or you might be so prejudiced against finding it that you'd refuse to recognize it if it bit you in the leg."
He strode from the window over to the desk and banged his fist down on it.
He said, "God damn it, Candler, why me? You know what happened to me three years ago."
"Sure, amnesia. Just like that. But I haven't kept it any secret that I never got over that amnesia. I'm thirty years old--or am I? My memory goes back three years. Do you know what it feels like to have a blank wall in your memory only three years back?
"Oh, sure, I know what's on the other side of that wall. I know because everybody tells me. I know I started here as a copy boy ten years ago. I know where I was born and when and I know my parents are both dead. I know what they look like--because I've seen their pictures. I know I didn't have a wife and kids, because everybody who knew me told me I didn't. Get that part--everybody who knew me, not everybody I knew. I didn't know anybody.
"Sure, I've done all right since then. After I got out of the hospital--and I don't even remember the accident that put me there--I did all right back here because I still knew how to write news stories, even though I had to learn everybody's name all over again. I wasn't any worse off than a new reporter starting cold on a paper in a strange city. And everybody was as helpful as hell."
Candler raised a placating hand to stem the tide. He said, "Okay, Nappy. You said no, and that's enough. I don't see what all that's got to do with this story, but all you had to do was say no. So forget about it."
The tenseness hadn't gone out of him. He said, "You don't see what that's got to do with the story? You ask--or, all right, you don't ask, you suggest--that I get myself certified as a madman, go into an asylum as a patient. When--how much confidence could anyone have in his own mind when he can't remember going to school, can't remember the first time he met any of the people he works with every day, can't remember starting on the job he works at, can't remember--anything back of three years before?"
Abruptly he struck the desk again with his fist, and then looked foolish about it. He said, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get wound up about it like that."
Candler said, "Sit down."
"The answer's still no."
"Sit down, anyway."
He sat down and fumbled a cigarette out of his pocket, got it lighted.
Candler said, "I didn't even mean to mention it, but I've got to now. Now that you talked that way. I didn't know you felt like that about your amnesia. I thought that was water under the bridge.
"Listen, when Dr. Randolph asked me what reporter we had that could best cover it, I told him about you. What your background was. He remembered meeting you, too, incidentally. But he hadn't known you had amnesia."
"Is that why you suggested me?"
"Skip that till I make my point. He said that while you were there, he'd be glad to try one of the newer, milder forms of shock treatment on you, and that it might restore your lost memories. He said it would be worth trying."
"He didn't say it would work."
"He said it might; that it wouldn't do any harm."
He stubbed out the cigarette from which he'd taken only three drags. He glared at Candler. He didn't have to say what was in his mind; the managing editor could read it.
Candler said, "Calm down, boy. Remember I didn't bring it up until you yourself started in on how much that memory-wall bothered you. I wasn't saving it for ammunition. I mentioned it only out of fairness to you, after the way you talked."
Candler shrugged. "You said no. I accepted it. Then you started raving at me and put me in a spot where I had to mention something I'd hardly thought of at the time. Forget it. How's that graft story coming? Any new leads?"
"You going to put someone else on the asylum story?"
"No. You're the logical one for it."
"What is the story? It must be pretty woolly if it makes you wonder if Dr. Randolph is sane. Does he think his patients ought to trade places with his doctors, or what?"
He laughed. "Sure, you can't tell me. That's really beautiful double bait. Curiosity--and hope of knocking down that wall. So what's the rest of it? If I say yes instead of no, how long will I be there, under what circumstances? What chance have I got of getting out again? How do I get in?"
Candler said slowly, "Vine, I'm not sure any more I want you to try it. Let's skip the whole thing."
"Let's not. Not until you answer my questions, anyway."
"All right. You'd go in anonymously, so there wouldn't be any stigma attached if the story wouldn't work out. If it does, you can tell the whole truth--including Dr. Randolph's collusion in getting you in and out again. The cat will be out of the bag, then.
"You might get what you want in a few days--and you wouldn't stay on it more than a couple of weeks in any case."
"How many at the asylum would know who I was and what I was there for, besides Randolph?"
"No one." Candler leaned forward and held up four fingers of his left hand. "Four people would have to be in on it. You." He pointed to one finger. "Me." A second. "Dr. Randolph." The third finger. "And one other reporter from here."
"Not that I'd object, but why the other reporter?"
"Intermediary. In two ways. First, he'll go with you to some psychiatrist; Randolph will recommend one you can fool comparatively easily. He'll be your brother and request that you be examined and certified. You convince the psychiatrist you're nuts and he'll certify you. Of course it takes two doctors to put you away, but Randolph will be the second. Your alleged brother will want Randolph for the second one."
"All this under an assumed name?"
"If you prefer. Of course there's no real reason why it should be."
"That's the way I feel about it. Keep it out of the papers, of course. Tell everybody around here--except my--hey, in that case we couldn't make up a brother. But Charlie Doerr, in Circulation, is my first cousin and my nearest living relative. He'd do, wouldn't he?"
"Sure. And he'd have to be intermediary the rest of the way, then. Visit you at the asylum and bring back anything you have to send back."
"And if, in a couple of weeks, I've found nothing, you'll spring me?"
Candler nodded. "I'll pass the word to Randolph; he'll interview you and pronounce you cured, and you're out. You come back here, and you've been on vacation. That's all."
"What kind of insanity should I pretend to have?"
He thought Candler squirmed a little in his chair. Candler said, "Well--wouldn't this Nappy business be a natural? I mean, paranoia is a form of insanity which Dr. Randolph told me, hasn't any physical symptoms. It's just a delusion supported by a systematic framework of rationalization. A paranoiac can be sane in every way except one."
He watched Candler and there was a faint twisted grin on his lips. "You mean I should think I'm Napoleon?"
Candler gestured slightly. "Choose your own delusion. But--isn't that one a natural? I mean, the boys around the office always kidding you and calling you Nappy. And--" He finished weakly, "--and everything."
And then Candler looked at him squarely. "Want to do it?"
He stood up. "I think so. I'll let you know for sure tomorrow morning after I've slept on it, but unofficially--yes. Is that good enough?"
He said, "I'm taking the rest of the afternoon off; I'm going to the library to read up on paranoia. Haven't anything else to do anyway. And I'll talk to Charlie Doerr this evening. Okay?"
He grinned at Candler. He leaned across the desk. He said, "I'll let you in on a little secret, now that things have gone this far. Don't tell anyone. I am Napoleon!"
It was a good exit line, so he went out.
He got his hat and coat and went outside, out of the air-conditioning and into the hot sunlight. Out of the quiet madhouse of a newspaper office after deadline, into the quieter madhouse of the streets on a sultry July afternoon.
He tilted his panama back on his head and ran his handkerchief across his forehead. Where was he going? Not to the library to bone up on paranoia; that had been a gag to get off for the rest of the afternoon. He'd read everything the library had on paranoia--and on allied subjects--over two years ago. He was an expert on it. He could fool any psychiatrist in the country into thinking that he was sane--or that he wasn't.
He walked north to the park and sat down on one of the benches in the shade. He put his hat on the bench beside him and mopped his forehead again.
He stared out at the grass, bright green in the sunlight, at the pigeons with their silly head-bobbing method of walking, at a red squirrel that came down one side of a tree, looked about him and scurried up the other side of the same tree.
And he thought back to the wall of amnesia of three years ago.
The wall that hadn't been a wall at all. The phrase intrigued him: a wall at all. Pigeons on the grass, alas. A wall at all.
It wasn't a wall at all; it was a shift, an abrupt change. A line had been drawn between two lives. Twenty-seven years of a life before the accident. Three years of a life since the accident.
They were not the same life.
But no one knew. Until this afternoon he had never even hinted the truth--if it was the truth--to anyone. He'd used it as an exit line in leaving Candler's office, knowing Candler would take it as a gag. Even so, one had to be careful; use a gag-line like that often, and people begin to wonder.
The fact that his extensive injuries from that accident had included a broken jaw was probably responsible for the fact that today he was free and not in an insane asylum. That broken jaw--it had been in a cast when he'd returned to consciousness forty-eight hours after his car had run head-on into a truck ten miles out of town--had prevented him from talking for three weeks.
And by the end of three weeks, despite the pain and the confusion that had filled him, he'd had a chance to think things over. He'd invented the wall. The amnesia, the convenient amnesia that was so much more believable than the truth as he knew it.
But was the truth as he knew it?
That was the haunting ghost that had ridden him for three years now, since the very hour when he had awakened to whiteness in a white room and a stranger, strangely dressed, had been sitting beside a bed the like of which had been in no field hospital he'd ever heard of or seen. A bed with an overhead framework. And when he looked from the stranger's face down at his own body, he saw that one of his legs and both of his arms were in casts and that the cast of the leg stuck upward at an angle, a rope running over a pulley holding it so.
He'd tried to open his mouth to ask where he was, what had happened to him, and that was when he discovered the cast on his jaw.
He'd stared at the stranger, hoping the latter would have sense enough to volunteer the information and the stranger had grinned at him and said, "Hi, George. Back with us, huh? You'll be all right."
And there was something strange about the language--until he placed what it was. English. Was he in the hands of the English? And it was a language, too, which he knew little of, yet he understood the stranger perfectly. And why did the stranger call him George?
Maybe some of the doubt, some of the fierce bewilderment, showed in his eyes, for the stranger leaned closer to the bed. He said, "Maybe you're still confused, George. You were in a pretty bad smash-up. You ran that coupe of yours head-on into a gravel truck. That was two days ago, and you're just coming out of it for the first time. You're all right, but you'll be in the hospital for a while, till all the bones you busted knit. Nothing seriously wrong with you."
And then waves of pain had come and swept away the confusion, and he had closed his eyes.
Another voice in the room said, "We're going to give you a hypo, Mr. Vine," but he hadn't dared open his eyes again. It was easier to fight the pain without seeing.
There had been the prick of a needle in his upper arm. And pretty soon there'd been nothingness.
When he came back again--twelve hours later, he learned afterwards--it had been to the same white room, the same strange bed, but this time there was a woman in the room, a woman in a strange white costume standing at the foot of the bed studying a paper that was fastened to a piece of board.
She smiled at him when she saw that his eyes were open. She said, "Good morning, Mr. Vine. Hope you're feeling better. I'll tell Dr. Holt that you're back with us."
She went away and came back with a man who was also strangely dressed, in roughly the same fashion as had been the stranger who had called him George.
The doctor looked at him and chuckled. "Got a patient, for once, who can't talk back to me. Or even write notes." Then his face sobered. "Are you in pain, though? Blink once if you're not, twice if you are."
The pain wasn't really very bad this time, and he blinked once. The doctor nodded with satisfaction. "That cousin of yours," he said, "has kept calling up. He'll be glad to know you're going to be back in shape to--well, to listen if not to talk. Guess it won't hurt you to see him a while this evening."
The nurse rearranged his bedclothing and then, mercifully, both she and the doctor had gone, leaving him alone to straighten out his chaotic thoughts.
Straighten them out? That had been three years ago, and he hadn't been able to straighten them out yet:
The startling fact that they'd spoken English and that he'd understood that barbaric tongue perfectly, despite his slight previous knowledge of it. How could an accident have made him suddenly fluent in a language which he had known but slightly?
The startling fact that they'd called him by a different name. "George" had been the name used by the man who'd been beside his bed last night. "Mr. Vine," the nurse had called him. George Vine, an English name, surely.
But there was one thing a thousand times more startling than either of those: It was what last night's stranger (Could he be the "cousin" of whom the doctor had spoken?) had told him about the accident. "You ran that coupe of yours head-on into a gravel truck."
The amazing thing, the contradictory thing, was that he knew what a coupe was and what a truck was. Not that he had any recollection of having driven either, of the accident itself, or of anything beyond that moment when he'd been sitting in the tent after Lodi--but--but how could a picture of a coupe, something driven by a gasoline engine arise to his mind when such a concept had never been in his mind before.
There was that mad mingling of two worlds--the one sharp and clear and definite. The world he'd lived his twenty-seven years of life in, the world into which he'd been born twenty-seven years ago, on August 15th, 1769, in Corsica. The world in which he'd gone to sleep--it seemed like last night--in his tent at Lodi, as General of the Army in Italy, after his first important victory in the field.
And then there was this disturbing world into which he had been awakened, this white world in which people spoke an English--now that he thought of it--which was different from the English he had heard spoken at Brienne, in Valence, at Toulon, and yet which he understood perfectly, which he knew instinctively that he could speak if his jaw were not in a cast. This world in which people called him George Vine, and in which, strangest of all, people used words that he did not know, could not conceivably know, and yet which brought pictures to his mind.
Coupe, truck. They were both forms of--the word came to his mind unbidden--automobiles. He concentrated on what an automobile was and how it worked, and the information was there. The cylinder block, the pistons driven by explosions of gasoline vapor, ignited by a spark of electricity from a generator--
Electricity. He opened his eyes and looked upward at the shaded light in the ceiling, and he knew, somehow, that it was an electric light, and in a general way he knew what electricity was.
The Italian Galvani--yes, he'd read of some experiments of Galvani, but they hadn't encompassed anything practical such as a light like that. And staring at the shaded light, he visualized behind it water power running dynamos, miles of wire, motors running generators. He caught his breath at the concept that came to him out of his own mind, or part of his own mind.
The faint, fumbling experiments of Galvani with their weak currents and kicking frogs' legs had scarcely foreshadowed the unmysterious mystery of that light up in the ceiling; and that was the strangest thing yet; part of his mind found it mysterious and another part took it for granted and understood in a general sort of way how it all worked.
Let's see, he thought, the electric light was invented by Thomas Alva Edison somewhere around--Ridiculous; he'd been going to say around 1900, and it was now only 1796!
And then the really horrible thing came to him and he tried--painfully, in vain--to sit up in bed. It had been 1900, his memory told him, and Edison had died in 1931--And a man named Napoleon Bonaparte had died a hundred and ten years before that, in 1821.
He'd nearly gone insane then.
And, sane or insane, only the fact that he could not speak had kept him out of a madhouse; it gave him time to think things out, time to realize that his only chance lay in pretending amnesia, in pretending that he remembered nothing of life prior to the accident. They don't put you in a madhouse for amnesia. They tell you who you are, let you go back to what they tell you your former life was. They let you pick up the threads and weave them, while you try to remember.
Three years ago he'd done that. Now, tomorrow, he was going to a psychiatrist and say that he was--Napoleon!