Harlan Ellison

Nighttime in Yancey was a velvet cold thing. The night dropped out of the sky like soft-spun candy and draped itself about my shoulders.

I hunched over, shoved my hands deeper into my pockets -- unconsciously gripping the ring of keys tighter -- and kept walking.

My late evening constitutional or else, I muttered inside my head. Doctor's orders, doctor's orders. The monotony of the phrase was a depressent to my ego. Nothing is more odious than doing something pleasant that is unpleasant because you are forced to do it. If you get what I mean. What I mean is -- Oh, just forget it. It doesn't really matter. Just verbalizing again.

Yancey stood out as an irregularly-marked line of building tops in black against the light black of the night. Every fifteen feet or so the naked yellow unwink of a street lamp flared up the darkness for a moment, then faded into a back-there-behind-me of non-existence.

Boring. This whole constitutional.

But then, I conjectured, isn't everything basically boring? Isn't life itself merely a game that has been played and played and played again with unfailing sameness? There can only be one real ending for the game, and why we persist in taking a whirl at it when we're pre-destined to lose is beyond me. Which is what got me wondering about God and all. Why?

Why what? That's just it! Why a God? Berkeley contended (not too incorrectly I might assure you) that we are all figments of the imagination insofar as we exist. None of this "we are thoughts in the synapses of a greater god" routine, but that actually a thing didn't exist if we couldn't see it, etcetera, because it didn't exist in our frame of reference.

Now you can laugh like Hell at that, but just for the sheer kicks of it I decided I'd try out an extension of Berkeley's theory. Ah, ah, ah, don't quirk up the corners of your lips. If you were walking along the dull, deserted rim of the world on Farrell street at three in the morning, you'd think of something stupid to do, too. You might break windows though. I was merely suppositioning. There is such a word -- isn't there? At any rate, I decided I was going to will something out of existence.

I turned off Farrell onto Causeway Boulevard and stopped for a moment near the corner to light a cigarette, striking the match off the fire alarm box. The click of my heels as I resumed walking followed behind me like a flock of timid grasshoppers. What should I will out of existence? Right then I almost decided it was all poppycock for myself to be doing such childishness and nearly dropped the whole thing as a bad chain of thought. But for some unaccountable reason I persisted. I would will my street out of existence. Not the whole thing, you understand. Just the street and both sidewalks all the distance from Emery Road to Kensington Court, including fire plugs, street lights, gutters, grass peeping up through cement and anything or anyone who happened to be on them at the time. Merciless, wasn't I?

Well it was more fun than fact when I suppositioned it. I cut through the empty lot that bordered the Causeway and Menlo Park Avenue and took up the stride once again. Here was I, the thought lit in my mind for an instant, a man only fifty-two years old, almost in my prime, and about to be cut down by a cardiac condition. I snickered, tossing my head. Tall enough, handsome enough -- you'd be surprised how many barmaids give me the eye -- and actually wealthy enough, though Lord knows those taxes will cut it to nothing if that Renmoro Steel proposition doesn't go through next week. Have to call Kemp in Chicago on that tomorrow. Make a note of it. Mmmm. And who am I to be making references to the Good Lord? Now I am trying to prove he doesn't exist. Oh, well ...

Now let's get right to it with a will. Concentrate. The street in front of your house does not exist. It is gone. Vanished. It never existed it does not exist it will never exist it is gone. Kaput! What is gone? Something that was in front of your house. But there is nothing in front of your house. (Now you're getting it -- that's the proper attitude for willing things out of existence!) Something which never existed is no longer there where it never was. It is gone as completely as Angkor Vat. As completely as the Lost Tribes of Someone-or-other. Have to look that up one of these days. It is gone. Gone. Disappeared. Evaporated.

I was beginning to believe it myself now. I could picture the expanse, running right up to the edge of my front lawn, as a complete total nothing. Funny, but it was the first time in my life I had been able to imagine Nothing. You know how you concentrate everything you have, when you are a little kid, to try and imagine what's outside the universe. Try to imagine Nothing. I never could, till I tried to imagine that street gone. And it worked, it was a huge bottomless hole in the fiber of space that signified eternal and unchanging Nothing. It was a hole in space. It was black Black. I could see it in my mind's retina. Nothing.

I was almost to the corner of Menlo Park and Emery Road. Then it was a short walk step-on-a-crack-break-your-mother's-back to the expanse of Maple Avenue, my street, which ran into Kensington Court. Which in turn was perpendicular to Farrell. Once around the cold, chilly velvet dark block to satisfy some stupid doctor. Maple to Kensington to Farrell to the Causeway. Down the Causeway through the empty lot onto Menlo Park. Menlo Park to Emery Road and Emery halfway up the block to my house. Except there was no street after Emery. Emery was a solid concrete and hardtop asphalt roadway with cars zip-zipping across it, but a black Absence after that where Maple should have been. I wasn't suppositioning, that was the way it was. There just wasn't any street there. And for good measure I lopped off the empty yard that was on the corner of Emery and where Maple used to be. It was right next door to my house and I'd never liked it. No one wanted to build on it. Uneven terrain or soft ground or somesuch ridiculousness.

I was coming to the corner of Emery road. My feet hurt from the walk. The smoke from the cigarette went whipping away in the faint breeze and my foot caught momentarily in the cuff of my pant leg as I walked. How nice it would be to have no cars coughing up Maple. No pedestrians. No street. Just the cliff with the sea behind and below it, up to the edge of my lot behind my house, with Emery running off parallel with the cliff out of town. Quiet.

I turned the corner at Emery and took a step toward my house.

Now I'm not blaming Berkeley. He was theorizing a helluva long while before I was born. And I'm not blaming you fellows from the fire department because they aren't long enough, but goddam it, how do I get across that chasm to my house? I think I left the bathtub running!

the end

**Harlan Ellison

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