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Slippage: Previously Uncollected, Precariously Poised Stories [MultiFormat]
eBook by Harlan Ellison

eBook Category: Mainstream
eBook Description: Harlan Ellison celebrates four decades of writing and publishes his seventieth book with this critically acclaimed, wildly imaginative and outrageously creative collection. The award-winning novella "Mefisto in Onyx" is the centerpiece of this brilliant collection which also includes screenplays, an Introduction by the author, interspersed segments of autobiographical narrative and such provocatively titled entries as "The Man Who Rowed Columbus Ashore," "Anywhere But Here, With Anybody But You," "Crazy as a Soup Sandwich," "Chatting With Anubis," "The Dragon on the Bookshelf," (written in collaboration with Robert Silverberg) "The Dreams a Nightmare Dreams," "Pulling Hard Time," and "Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral."

eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, Published: 1997
Fictionwise Release Date: May 2011

The Fault In My Lines


* * * *

Where to open the fissure: the earthquake or the heart attack?

The earthquake. It is officially listed as a 6.8-magnitude temblor by the U.S. Geological Survey's geophysicists at the Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado.

The Northridge, California "thruster." It hit at precisely, exactly, 4:31 a.m. on Monday the 17th of January 1994. It had been a pretty lousy year through the 16th, and 1993 hadn't been too cuddly, either. Let us not even talk about '92.

But as rusty as those first sixteen days of the new year had been, they were nothing but sunny days on the beaches of Ibiza by comparison to 4:31 in the dead black morning of January 17th.

First, there was the sound of it. Oh, yeah, trust me on this: first, you hear it coming. You don't know that's what the hell you're hearing, but you catch the sound of it hurtling toward you before your bones and back teeth pick it up.

Let me try to tell you what it sounds like.

Because just the sound of it can scare your hair white, (Mine started to fall out in the months following.)

The unimaginative say it sounds like a train coming toward you. Bullshit. Nothing like a train. I used to ride the freights, like a bindlestiff, when I was a kid. Trains have a decent sound to them. A good sound. Tough, but willing to accommodate you. This damned thruster had absolutely nothing in common with a train. Then there are those whose best analogy is, "It was a deep rumbling noise." Yer ass. A deep rumbling noise is what you get out of your stomach when you've had too many baby-backs and hot links. A cranky bear makes a deep rumbling sound. The radiator. The water pipes trying to carry the load. Krusty the Klown makes a deep rumbling noise. I'll tell you precisely what that muther sounded like:

Ever see one of those Japanese samurai movies featuring the masterless ronin who travels around with his baby son in a wooden cart that rolls on big wooden wheels? The Lone Wolf and Cub films? What they call the "baby cart" series?

Okay, then: are you familiar with "corduroy roads"? They were common and plentiful in this country up until about forty years ago. Mostly, you could find them in backwoods or rural areas, where dirt roads were still in use, macadam hadn't made its inroads, superhighways were distant myths, and country roads were used for hauling heavy loads. So, to make them capable of supporting the weight of a tractor pulling a backhoe, or a fully loaded hay wagon, logs were laid transversely, producing a kind of ribbed look--something like those speed bumps in parking lots that make you slow down--and the buried logs gave the dirt road the topographical surface of the cotten cloth we call corduroy.

When you drove down such a road, there was a metronomic bump-bump-bump sound. I'm trying to be specific here, trying to describe the indescribable. Explain the color red to someone blind from birth.

What it sounded like was this: a gigantic wooden-wheeled baby cart, as big as a mountain, bump-bump-bumping down a corduroy road. Underneath you. Deep underneath you.

I was awake at that hour. I was upstairs here in my office, working. On the second floor of the office wing I designed and had built some years ago. Walls floor-to-ceiling filled with reference and non-fiction books I might need when working, arranged alphabetically by subject. Several thousand books, mostly hardcovers. And an open central atrium that looks down on the first floor of the office wing. And my desk and typewriter over here next to the French doors that give onto the balcony and a view of the San Bernardino Mountains thirty-seven miles away across the San Fernando Valley. My office looks out due north toward those mountains.

At 4:31 in the morning, the thruster zazzed laterally across the Valley floor, west to south, reached the foot of the Santa Monica Mountains (at the top of which my home sits)...and had nowhere to go but up.

(Pause. Know-nothings who live in parts of the country where they endure sub-zero weather, tornados, floods, killing pollution, drought, blight, sand storms, provincial bigotry, ultraconservative censorship, hurricanes or Jesse Helms, have been known to remark, "How can anyone bear living in Southern California with all those earthquakes? They must be really stupid not to flee the state!"

(And go where?

(It's the same everywhichplace these days, folks. New Orleans or Pittsburgh; Kankakee or Kansas; Eugene, Oregon or Oklahoma City. If the twister don't get you, the rabid militia will.

(L.A. is okay. I like it here. But I'm no dope. Long before the thruster, I had hired both seismic engineers and structural experts, as well as soil analysts, to tell me how safe I was here on the crest of the North Benedict Canyon slope. Core drilling had been done, and I was heartened to learn that the house sat solidly, a mere five feet above bedrock. Of even more salutary note was the advisement that not only was the house secure just five feet above bedrock, but the seam ran north-south, in line with the house. Meaning: not even the worst of the "rolling" temblors we knew so well in Southern California could trouble me overmuch. If the rolling came, it would not affect the solid cut under me. I was sanguine. And when the Landers quake hit a few years ago, I barely felt it, despite all the serious damage done in other nearby areas. I was sanguine. "The only way you're going to be in any trouble," said an engineer from the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena--a reader of my work who had offered to bring in some ground-testing equipment as a favor--"any trouble at all, is if the whole damned mountain collapses." I was sanguine.)

The fault line came diagonally across the Valley, got to the base of the mountains, had nowhere to go...so it went up.

The house was lifted with a 4g thrust. It takes only 6 gravs to throw a rocket to the moon.

I heard it coming, and I bolted from my typing chair, and got across the office to the deco stairwell before the first wave hit. The house, and everything in it, went straight up. I was lifted off my feet and thrown across the stairwell, crashing face-first against the south wall of the second-floor landing. The right side of my face smashed into a framed photo of the blind Borges in Baltimore in 1983, sitting at the foot of the memorial to Edgar Allan Poe, running his fingers over the bronze commemorative plaque, paying homage, one great fantasist to another. I hit it so hard it shattered the glass and broke the frame.

Then I was thrown sidewise, as the second wave struck. Thrown left down the winding deco staircase--everything now in pitch darkness--all electricity had gone out across the city--and bent double over the pony wall, cracking my forehead on the leading edge of a Lucite shelf holding pewter figurines of The Ten Greatest Inventions of History.

And then the main torque hit.

I was picked up and thrown forward, never touching the final flight of steps from the lower landing to the first floor. I was picked up and flipped heels-over-head to land flat on my back, missing the edge of the pool table by perhaps two inches. If I had been two inches to the right, it would have blasted open my skull; nothing less than a human omelette.

But before I could rise, off the wall to my left, a heavy painting slightly larger than 3'x3' wrenched itself off its hanger, and crashed down on me.

(Pause: charming little ironies of near-death experiences. The painting is a surreal rendering of a large stone mausoleum with ominous faces perceivable in the walls. It sits on a hill under a dark blue, threatening sky. Carved into the lintel of the building is the legend 6000 SA MO BL. The painting is called "Six thousand, same old bull." The irony is that 6000 SA MO BL is an abbreviation for 6000 Santa Monica Boulevard, the location of the cemetery crypt and mausoleum in Los Angeles where, among others, Al Jolson is buried. The painting weighs a ton. Well, that's figuratively speaking. It's heavy, because it has a double pane of glass on it--the second pane having stars painted on the inside surface, thus giving a very deep-dimensional look to the already eerie landscape--and when 6000 SA MO BL ripped loose, it plummeted and hit me full in the face, breaking my nose, blacking both my eyes, ripping open gashes in my face.) Knocking me unconscious.

Not for long, I guess. It was dark, the earth was still growling, I was woozy--maybe a concussion already, I don't know--and even if there had been light, I couldn't have seen anything. Too much blood in my eyes.

I started to pull myself to my feet, using the edge of the pool table, when the next wave struck; and this time it threw every book on the upper level out of the bookcases, hurled them over the railing, and down on me in the open space below the atrium. I was struck by hundreds of reference books, knocked to my knees, and then clobbered unconscious for the second time.

Everything after that, for two years, was recovery, rebuilding, and lamenting the loss of art and possessions I'd spent a lifetime gathering. No need to dwell on it, I've conveyed the part that's pertinent to this book. So now we can move on to the heart attack.

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