Edmund R. Schubert

Novels, Short Stories, Articles & Essays

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From New York Times Best-Selling Author Alethea Kontis's introduction:

"Edmund Schubert gave me the best answers I've ever heard in five years of interviewing authors--answers so great, that I suspect he will be receiving penguin-themed gifts until the end of time... (see the infamous 'penguin interview' on pp.158) Even better--I have this lovely short story collection of his to keep me company and remind me what a complete carnival freak he really is. It's true: Edmund and I will never be Cool. We'll just have to be Awesome instead. And we're okay with that."

 

Table of Contents

Introduction - Alethea Kontis

Foreword - Edmund R. Schubert

The Trouble with Eating Clouds

Nothing Interesting To Do

Heather's Flight

Reality-Check on Register Two

The River Is Forever

Of Love and Leather Flight Jackets

Jeannie in a Bottle

Fourth and Goal from the Forty-Eight

Unfathomed

Good With Directions

About Time

A Mid-Winter's Hydro-Engineering Project

A Solid Deal

Just a Piece of String

Legwork

The Penguin Interview

Dedd & Gohn - comics (artwork by Tom Barker)

Breakout

Mean-Spirited

 

 

Free "Jeannie in a Bottle"

"Jeannie in a Bottle" was actually derived from an earlier short story of mine, "Losing It," about a man who woke up one morning to discover that his daughter had ceased to exist. After reading "Losing It," a lot of people wanted to know why or how the little girl had disappeared. Despite my (still) unwavering response that it didn't matter how or why--that was never the point of that story--I heard the question often enough that I couldn't help thinking about possible answers. "JIAB" is one--and only one--possibility, but it intrigued me enough to merit its own story.

"JiaB" is also a perfect example of the need for a writer to believe in him or herself and never quit. Of all the things I've written, maybe three or four have been accepted by the first editor I submitted to; the rest endured numerous rejections before finding a home. "JiaB" was subjected to all that and then some.

First submitted to Weird Tales, "JiaB" came back from WT with a very encouraging personal rejection from the editors. With that in mind, I submitted it again to another magazine, feeling good about my chances after getting such a positive response from Weird Tales. The next editor (whom I shall mercifully allow to remain nameless) also took the time to write a personal note, but this particular editor said that he found the story "boring and predictable." Those were his exact words. Boring and predictable. After Weird Tales had been so positive.

What did I do? I did the same thing I do every time I get a story back from an editor: I sent it out again. Because that's what writers do when a story is rejected; they send it back out.

And I kept sending it out until Gary Fry of Fusing Horizons sent me an e-mail saying the story was "dazzlingly original; just the kind of thing I'm looking to put out."

If you wonder if I was tempted to send Mr. Boring & Predictable a copy of that e-mail along with a big "In your face!" you shouldn't wonder very long. (For the record, I didn't do it, but boy was I tempted.) The experience did, however, teach me an invaluable lesson: editors' opinions are just as subjective as everyone else's.

As an added bonus, Fusing Horizons is a British magazine, so being published there made it possible for me to add "Internationally Published Author" to my resume.



 

 

 

 

Jeannie in a Bottle

 

 

Jeanne O'Connell had never seen Elvis Presley in person--she'd protest that she was far too young for that--but one look at this guy's jet-black hair and sideburns told Jeanne she had just met The King. She pictured him in an all-white jumper suit, his glittering half cape swirling as he struck a dramatic pose and said with a curled lower lip, "Thank you. Thank you very much."

Jeanne had come up with pet names for all the patients at Gilman's Home For The Mentally Retarded. It kept her from getting too close, or (God forbid) attached to any of these people. Her work as a registered nurse provided a healthy paycheck, easy hours, and absolutely no excitement, so if she occasionally needed entertainment and it came at the expense of the patients, well..., as long as she kept it to herself, what was the harm?

At first, Jeanne thought The King was just another retard, though she had to admit, it did strike her as unusual when the agitated old man who committed Elvis to Gilman's filled out the required registration papers and then fled. He gave the impression of someone returning defective merchandise to a store other than where he bought it and expecting to be caught at any moment. Jeanne had also noticed the old man had never made eye contact with anyone, but then, many people were embarrassed about having severely retarded family members.

She had intended to watch the old man as he crossed the parking lot and climbed into his car, but an orderly interrupted, gesturing to The King and saying, "Apparently this guy doesn't talk."

"At all?" asked Jeanne, her attention shifting. This would complicate matters.

"According to his paperwork he hasn't said a word, not to anyone. It says here he can't walk a straight line without somebody holding his hand."

"Maybe he has other things on his mind," she said, and they both laughed.

The orderly handed Elvis's chart to Jeanne; she flipped though the pages as they escorted The King to his room. Jeanne led the way, with Elvis trailing closely, and then the orderly, hauling all of Elvis's worldly accouterment. The King and his entourage.

"Welcome to Gilman's, Mr. Presley," she said by rote, "If you need anything at all, don't hesitate to ring the concierge." Jeanne knew the orderly had heard that joke too often to laugh sincerely, but she appreciated that he made the effort.

Jeanne didn't need paperwork to see that Elvis was in an almost vegetative state. The blank stare, subtle swaying from side to side, incessant spit dribbling down his chin: all classic signs that the patient lacked sufficient active brain cells to know when to remove his hand from a burning stove.

Though the veggies were usually less likely to cause trouble, to Jeanne's practiced eye there was something--call it a vibe or women's intuition--that left her with the impression that having him around was going to be like living with a toaster in the bathtub. You never knew when it might accidentally get plugged in, or who would be in the tub when it happened, but somewhere, somehow, someone was in for a harrowing jolt.

Jeanne knew she was going to watch Elvis carefully. Doctors were free to drop a patient anytime they chose, but the rest of the staff was not so privileged. Every spill to be cleaned up, every trip to the bathroom, every change of clothing--she would watch him. Jeanne didn't take chances; she was in this strictly for the money.

Once, and only once, had she ever agreed to work after hours. For three weeks she diligently came back in after dinner (she wasn't ambitious, but she was honest) and read bedtime stories like The Cat In The Hat and Green Eggs and Ham to a thirty-year-old patient. Dr. Seuss was one doctor she didn't mind dealing with every day. But the patient's family quickly learned that Jeanne's hundred-dollar-a-week fee was keeping them from doing things like eating out or going to the movies on Friday night and cancelled the arrangement. Though Jeanne missed the extra cash, she respected their pragmatism.

Wallowing in thoughts of easy money lost, Jeanne barely noticed that the entourage had passed by Elvis's new address. She backed them up.

"Room one thirteen," she sighed. "Lucky one thirteen."

The orderly packed away Elvis's clothing--even sets of the celery green uniforms Gilman's issued to every patient--and placed the very small box of personal items on the dresser. Unlike most patients who had trinkets and baubles enough to satisfy a small child on a long car ride, Elvis had very few personal items. His greatest treasure was a baseball card, an old thing from 1958: Roger Maris, card number 47. It had been folded, the edges looked like they had been nibbled on by desperate, hungry mice, and if it ever had been worth anything, it certainly wasn't anymore--except to The King. It was one of the few things of which he seemed to display an ongoing awareness.

"Elvis," Jeanne crooned, watching him finger the baseball card. She felt as if she were seeking the attention of a small child. Head listing to the side, he stood still in the doorway, gazing just to the left of infinity and a little below yesterday.

"Elvis," she called again, taking him by the elbow and steering him into the room. He followed easily.

"Well at least you're a compliant retard," she said.

 

At first it seemed like Elvis was simply going to be annoying--a bit of poison ivy around the ankles. He could be irritating, but if she kept busy she was able to forget about him. He was so non-functional that Jeanne began to wonder how he could possibly be any trouble. She could sit Elvis in a chair and walk away for hours, returning to find The King not only in exactly the same place, but in exactly the same position.

Within the first two weeks, though, items started to get misplaced. Dr. Tesbin, who Jeanne thought was overly brusque with all the patients, began discovering that his car keys were missing after The King's weekly check-ups.

"This only happens when I come in his room," the doctor yelled at Jeanne like she was responsible for the problem. He pointed at Elvis. "He's taking them, probably eating them. I want you to keep on eye on his bowel movements."

Jeanne wrinkled her nose in disgust, but within the next week Dr. Tesbin had excused himself from the case.

"That man was looking for an excuse to get out of here. Probably interfered with his tee time," Jeanne told Elvis, taking a slow motion faux golf swing.

Elvis just sat there.

Dr. Tesbin's replacement, Dr. Damsgaard, began each visit by petting Elvis's head, which The King seemed to enjoy. After his first visit, Dr. Damsgaard insisted that Jeanne take him out to the garden for a walk every day.

"I know it's still cold, but it will do him good to get some fresh air and sunshine," were the doctor's exact words. Jeanne resented the extra work, but it was a vast improvement over her last Elvis-related assignment.

The afternoon following Elvis's first outdoor excursion Dr. Damsgaard found a small bird flying around in his office, a red-breasted robin, which the janitor caught and freed without incident. No one gave it a second thought. The next day it was a finch, and on the third a sparrow. With each subsequent outing, additional birds appeared in the doctor's office, including a cardinal and a woodpecker and even a raven. When a pair of doves committed the unforgivable sin of leaving several small white gifts on his desk, Dr. Damsgaard catapulted from wondering if Elvis might be responsible, to determined to bring it to an end.

"No more trips outside. I'm tired of him putting these birds in my office."

"Come on, he doesn't move, he doesn't talk. What makes you think Elv--, uh, Raymond has anything to do with this?"

Jeanne knew Dr. DamnWeird didn't approve of her habit of giving nicknames to the patients.

"This only happens on days he goes outside. What else am I supposed to think?"

Jeanne's incredulousness filled the room. "I'm sure I'd notice if he pounced on any birds."

"I don't care. He stays inside."

Jeanne mentally demoted Dr. DamnWeird to Dr. DumbAss. But it did bring an end to the aviary visitations.

Rather than drive her to frustration, these anomalies captivated Jeanne. While the doctors had decided the inconvenience of disappearing keys and magically appearing birds justified abandoning Elvis, Jeanne found herself increasingly intrigued. He was entertaining, this Pandora's Box she called Elvis--and there was a short supply entertainment in her life.

 

As attached as Elvis clearly was to his beloved baseball card, finding Mr. Maris on the floor was the last thing Jeanne would have expected. But there he lay one March day.

"Out for spring training, Roger?" she asked, scooping him up like a slow-rolling ground ball. She slipped the card into her pocket and forgot all about it.

At home that night she changed and had dinner with her roommate and closest confidant. "Yes, Professor Shepherd," she said to the cat, rolling a meatball across the table, "you are smarter than my patients. Some of the doctors, too."

After dessert she did laundry. Cleaning out her uniform pockets she found the card and carefully set it on the shelf above the washing machine, wondering if Elvis missed it yet. The next morning she stopped to pick it up on her way out. It wasn't on the shelf.

She searched the floor, the laundry basket--she even got on her hands and knees and looked under the washer and dryer--but if Roger was hiding, he was doing a damn fine job of it. She was already running late; this would have to wait until tomorrow.

Only it didn't. When Jeanne took Elvis to breakfast he clutched the card in his hand, same as always. She had inventoried everything in his room the day he was admitted; there was only one baseball card in The King's collection--and it was in his hand.

"Elvis," she said, leading him to the cafeteria, "where did you get this?"

She tried to take the baseball card from him, but he dropped it in his shirt pocket. Jeanne stepped in front of him, holding out her hand.

"Let me see the card."

Elvis spotted something interesting on the other side of the universe and scrutinized it. Jeanne wiped the drool from his chin, then dipped into his pocket to retrieve the card. It wasn't there. She looked around the floor, then checked his hands. Nothing. It had to be somewhere. Lifting up his pant leg, she discovered Roger tucked into his sock. Elvis hadn't so much as bent down. What was she missing? She pulled out the baseball card and studied it. Roger Maris, card 47, 1958, nibbled.

There was no question it was the same card. The question was how did Roger get back to The King.

This escalated matters--it was no longer a mere curiosity; now Jeanne needed answers. She became consumed by the compulsion to know.

The next morning she went to work with a pair of jeans, a sweatshirt, a baseball cap, and some running shoes hidden in the bottom of her over-sized bag. She changed Elvis out of his hospital uniform and into this new outfit, all the while stroking his head like Dr. DumbAss used to.

"I don't care what that man says," she told The King, "we're going out. We'll go for a little drive. Do you like the park?"

Though she was surprised at the ease with which she and Elvis strolled out the front door, without that putrid green outfit to identify him as a patient no one gave them a second glance.

 

At the park they strolled along a deteriorating asphalt pathway that ran parallel to a flowerbed of flower bulbs. Thus far the lingering winter had kept all the plants from poking up, except the early-blooming crocuses, which flaunted their white and yellow and purple blossoms.

Something drew Elvis's attention as they drifted along that border, something that caused him to pull away from Jeanne's guiding hand and kneel in the cold mud. She could see the mud soaking through his pants.

Maybe this hadn't been such a good idea. "I'm the one who's got to change you, your majesty," she fussed, yanking his arm. "Now come on--get up."

Instead, Elvis put one finger to the ground. He drew it upwards, like he was pulling on a yo-yo string, and Jeanne saw a green stem rise through the soil, rapidly following his finger. Four yellow leaves emerged and darkened to a lush green. Then a single bud formed from a stem in the center, swelling quickly to reveal a stunning red tulip. The entire process took ten seconds.

Jeanne scanned the park, anxious that someone might have seen. Assured there were no witnesses, she knelt down next to him, oblivious to the mud soaking through her own uniform.

She touched the flower. It was impossibly, inarguably real.

She turned to Elvis. "How did you do that?"

The faintest smile leapt from his lips to his eyes before he got up and walked away.

"Wait a minute," she called, running after him. She grabbed his elbow and spun him toward her. He tottered briefly, then regained his balance and continued walking in the new direction. Catching him again, she planted herself before him.

"How did you do that?" she demanded, harsher this time. Elvis looked directly at her for the first time since his arrival at Gilman's. He cocked his head.

"Elvis," she said softer, remembering with whom she was dealing. She put one hand on his shoulder and with the other hand stroked his thick hair. "Do you even know what you just did?"

He leaned toward her, into the hand that caressed him like a dog wanting to be pet. She looked into his Neverland eyes.

"You don't, do you," she murmured, mostly to herself.

They needed to get back to Gilman's.

She took his hand and led him to the car, repeatedly looking over her shoulder at the solitary tulip shining in the mud.

Jeanne knew she was going to have to understand Elvis's gift in order to capitalize on it, but she smelled the potential for profit--a huge one.

 

During their return trip to Gilman's, Jeanne's mind continuously returned to one aggravating dilemma: here was a man with the ability to will things to happen--a telepath? Telekinetic? Jeanne didn't know what to call it--yet he had no idea what day it was or how to dress himself. How could she access such power when it was locked up in the mind of a retard? And if he could force a flower to grow, what else could he do? Could he turn things into gold, or control people's actions, or see into the future? Could he change the past, and thereby alter the course of history? His power might be limitless, but it was wasted on a retard who had no idea of his own potential. There had to be some way to get at it--some way for Jeanne O'Connell to take control.

Parking outside of Gilman's, she took Elvis's face in her hands, wanting to try an experiment.

She closed Elvis's eyes with a gentle brush of her fingertips and said softly, "Think about Dr. Damsgaard. Dr. Damsgaard," she repeated, trying to recreate the motion he had used on Elvis's head as best she was able. She thought she had it right when The King let out a light sigh.

"It was Dr. Damsgaard's idea to take you to the park, Elvis. He said you should get more sun. He knew you liked flowers."

She continued caressing his head, repeating that it was the doctor who ordered her to take The King outside, to take him off hospital grounds. Jeanne wanted to see if she could somehow magnify Elvis's reaction.

"Okay, big fella," she said, patting him one last time before leaving him sitting in the car. "I'll be right back."

It was all Jeanne could do to act casual. She slipped through the lobby, turned toward her wing, and passed the nurse's station just as Dr. Damsgaard unexpectedly emerged from the stairwell.

"Miss O'Connell," he said, placing his hand on the doorknob to his office, "I thought you were off today. Is there a problem?"

"No, doctor," she said. "I just forgot to..."

Jeanne reduced her words to a mumble as she ducked into the stairwell. She closed the door behind her, and then pressed her ear to it, which proved quite unnecessary.

"WHAT THE HELL?" boomed Dr. Damsgaard's voice through every wall in the building.

Jeanne bounced out of the stairwell and into his office, where she found the good doctor, standing, staring. On the back of his leather chair was the biggest, most vibrantly colored parrot Jeanne could have ever imagined.

Bug-eyed and bewildered, the doctor turned to Jeanne and repeated, softer, "What the hell?"

But Jeanne's mind had moved on, beyond the outrageous bird with feathers of blue, green, and yellow.

It had worked. It had really worked. Not quite the way she expected it to--she had expected and office full of flowers--but it has worked just the same.

This could only mean one thing: Elvis was her ticket to a new life, a life spent lounging by the side of a swimming pool, with a white-jacketed butler to fetch tropical drinks, a maid to clean her extravagant home, a handsome young chauffeur for her fleet of cars, and a retard in the basement to cater to her every whim.

Jeanne had no idea how she would control Elvis, but she had no question that it could be done, and that the King was her ticket to a life of luxurious excess. She left Dr. Damsgaard to his problems and strolled back to the parking lot, satisfied that this was the last day she would ever again have to set foot in this institution. She sauntered up to the car and gazed at the goose that would lay her golden eggs.

"My, my, my," she said to herself as well as Elvis. "If you think it, it is. You don't just have some power, you have the power of a god. My little genie in a bottle. Only I don't have to settle for three wishes--I can have it all."

 

Jeanne couldn't even wait until she got home. She sat in the parked car with Elvis for almost an hour, leaning her seat back as her thoughts alternated between how to get The King to take specific directions and what kinds of things she wanted from him.

"You know," she finally said to The King, "this would be a lot simpler if I could just get that power out of your head and into mine. Why control the man with the power if I can just own the power myself? You can stay here and be a care-free retard, and I'll see to everything else myself."

She paused, drumming two fingers on her lips as she thought that through. Jeanne could rationalize with the best of them.

"I'd be doing the world a favor," she said eventually. "We've seen the trouble you caused here; who knows what other damage you've done that no one even knows about. If I can get you to give me your power I would certainly use it more responsibly than you ever could. If you can do anything you put your mind to, why not just project your gift into my mind?"

Jeanne set to work on Elvis immediately. She couldn't think of a clever way to talk Elvis into this, so she simply put her forehead against his and bombarded Elvis with her thoughts, determined to have her way by sheer force of will.

Give it to me, she thought at him. Give it to me, and I will take care of you. I'll take care of us both. You want to do this. It will be better this way. Give me your gift.

Jeanne barely opened her own eyes, and she found Elvis's eyes wide open, fixed on her. Jeanne knew at once that she had gotten through. She hadn't expected such an instantaneous response; Elvis eyed her with a sense of purpose she had never seen before, his gaze intensifying to a penetrating stare.

As his scrutiny focused ever sharper, a prickling sensation rose in the middle of her spine, crept up the back of her neck, and over her scalp. Her eyes began to itch, as if they were infested with ladybugs; a few, then hundreds of them, then hundreds of thousands of them, until she had to clench her eyes shut and rub them with the heels of her palms. She couldn't grind the sensation of ladybugs away and they multiplied, swarming over her entire body.

Jeanne saw herself lurch sideways, out the car door, as she attacked her own eyes. She realized she was viewing her car from above, looking down on herself as she fell, still rubbing her eyes crazily.

Elvis sat in his seat, motionless, staring.

Before she could study this new perspective any further her field of view widened to include the entire Gilman's facility, granting her an awareness of every patient, nurse, doctor, and administrator. She heard a low groaning noise and realized it was the collective sound of the houseplants growing. She tried to focus on the sound.

That was when Jeanne found a mouse cowering beneath the giant steel refrigerator and knew it was being hunted by the cook.

She saw 14,278 specks of dust falling to the floor in the main lobby, counting each one as it landed.

...and discovered one single speck of cancer in the janitor's lung, knew it was from the cigarettes he gave up eight years ago--and that it would be his death.

All this was in the first second.

In the next second the world rushed in faster: near Stalingrad she tasted vodka in someone's mouth, then felt the dry ground beneath an elephant's foot as it strode across the African savanna. She waltzed with a blizzard as it screamed over a mountain in the Alps, and inspected every snowflake. Each one really was unique. Then she shared a squid's dying moment as it was eaten by a sperm whale in the icy, black ocean depths, her mind visiting places even the sun had never seen, all the while never losing sight of herself, the mouse, or the blizzard.

During the third second she became aware of Mars' loneliness--right before discovering single-celled organisms teeming under the frozen surface of two of Jupiter's moons. She knew that in three million years their six-armed descendants would be at war with each other.

It was a cold universe, full of death. But each death, she soon discovered, was made possible only by the abundance and variety of life that swarmed in the unlikeliest of places. Wherever Jeanne cast her omniscient eye, she found the cosmos replete with vitality. And it was all hers. It belonged to Jeanne, to watch, to manipulate, to possess. She was heiress to a universe.

Then came the fourth second of her swelling domination over eternity. In that portentous, defenseless fourth second she realized it was too much for the human mind. She saw that she had sought to hold an ocean in a thimble, to catch a star in a butterfly net, and she had one of her last lucid moments.

"Dear God, it is beautiful," she mouthed, assessing the dismal splendor of Gilman's parking lot as her brain shut down, collapsing under the unbearable weight of infinite time and infinite space.

#

Nurse Patricia Richey watched reproachfully as the dark-haired man with the ridiculous sideburns fled across the parking lot. She had been employed at this state-run mental institution long enough to appreciate that many people were embarrassed about having severely retarded family members, but she did not approve of that man's demeanor, no sir.

Tricia had seen the signs before. The man never made eye contact with anyone; he didn't ask for a tour of the facilities; he just filled out the necessary paperwork and ran away. Tricia knew that the poor young woman he had just admitted wouldn't be seeing him again. Ever.

Tricia took the woman by the hand and said, "Don't you worry about a thing, sweetie. We'll take good care of you."

 

 

-The End-