Matthew Cheney has published fiction with One Story, Weird Tales, Pindeldyboz, Web Conjunctions, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and elsewhere. He lives in New Hampshire and teaches at Plymouth State University.

We published Cheney’s story “Getting a Date for Amelia” in Issue 4.

Walk in the Light While There Is Light

posted Jan 17, 2012

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He dreamed of voices:

...don’t you think that is an admirable sentiment?... might very well come from someone who was convinced that the business is supernatural...

...I fear that even he has not quite grasped the significance of this sentence...

...I confess that I see no connection...

...this exceeds anything which I could have imagined...

...we are coming now rather into the region of guesswork... in the world can you say that?... is the scientific use of the imagination...

...but we have always some material basis on which to start our speculation...

...I think anything out of the ordinary routine of life well worth reporting...

...there seems to be danger...

...well, that is what we have to find out...

...your request is a very reasonable one...


...nothing... revoir, and good-morning...

He woke to discover two women, both wearing white, standing over his hospital bed.

“How did I get here?” he asked.

“You have many questions, of course,” one of the women said.

“And we have many questions for you,” the other woman said.

“How are you feeling today?”

“How long have you been feeling?”

“What is normality for you?”

“What is the problem now?”

“Do you feel?”

“Have you actually been?”

“Have you had any serious feeling in the past?”

Sharp fluorescent light coming down from the ceiling pushed the room back and forth. Baskerville said, “What is wrong with me?”

“The disease cannot be cured, but we can try our best to control it,” one of the women said.

“There is no problem. You’ll be well,” the other woman said.

He slept.

He woke.

It was not a hospital. Maybe it had been a hospital before, but now it was not. It was a very white room, and he was lying on a bed in it, but it was not a hospital room or a hospital bed. Slowly, he sat up. The room was not as white as it had seemed—that was an effect of the sun pouring through the window opposite the bed. His face had been wrapped in sunbeams. He blinked and squinted.

It was a bedroom. Yes, he remembered now. He had been here before. This was his bedroom. He had lived here as a child. The house had been in the family for generations. His grandfather and his great-grandfather and his great-great-grandfather and his great-great-great-grandfather had all been farmers here. (His great- and great-great- and great-great-great-grandmothers had all been burned at the stake.) His father had become a lawyer and had had the house retrofitted, refurbished, structurally adjusted. Baskerville himself had inherited the house when his father died and his mother took off to live with a landscape architect in a yurt. Yes, he remembered now.

He climbed out of bed. He was wearing his favorite pajamas, the ones covered with cartoon pictures of Leo Tolstoy burping out a balloon filled with the words, “What is art?”

Baskerville stood at the top of the stairs. “Cal?” he said quietly, not certain why he had said it. But Cal should be here. “Cal?”

Art begins when one person, with the object of joining another or others to himself in one and the same feeling, expresses that feeling by certain external indications.

The house was silent.

“This is an unhealthy relationship.”

And it is upon this capacity of man to receive another man’s expression of feeling and experience those feelings himself, that the activity of art is based.

He walked slowly down the stairs. The downstairs rooms seemed barren, despite their furniture. There wasn’t enough. Things were missing. He could not remember what.

If people lacked the capacity to receive the thoughts conceived by the men who preceded them and to pass on to others their own thoughts, men would be like wild beasts, or like Kaspar Hauser.

He opened the screen door and stepped onto the porch. The morning was cool, dry, sunny. The grass needed to be mowed. The barn was sagging and full of bats and swallows. He had never known this house when it was surrounded by livestock, but he could imagine his grandparents working with the animals, and he could imagine roosters crowing in the morning and cattle making their cattle sounds and ducks and geese and sheep and all the other animals waking up, admiring the day, wondering what awaited them and how it might be different from their dreams.

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