Monday, May 5, 2014

percival's secret

by fred flynn

illustrated by roy dismas

originally appeared in the may-june 1947 issue of thrilling bizarre tales

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

percival johnson enjoyed making fires in his fireplace, and he thought he had made an exceptionally good one on this particular evening.

he leaned back in his armchair and lit his pipe and continued digesting his dinner.

"that was a particularly disgusting dinner, louise, even for you."

"i am sorry you did not like it," louise replied, as she took her own chair beside the fireplace and picked up the latest issue of the saturday evening post from the coffee table.

"i am sorry too."

"but do you know," louise continued, "neither of us will have much time to be sorry, because i have a little surprise this evening."

"oh?" percival snatched his pipe from his mouth. "and what that might be?"

"i have invited the mortons over for a game of bridge."

"the mortons?"

"don't play dumb. the couple who just moved next door."

"but they look like riff raff. and bores. i explicitly told you i wanted nothing to do with them. and bridge! how dare you - after all i have told you - after - "

"oh, stop sputtering. did you look at the new book about bridge i gave you? i hope so, as you played so miserably last time."

"no, i did not even glance at it. that is not the point. did i not specifically forbid you - forbid you - to invite people into my house without my permission?"

louise laughed. "your permission? has no one informed you, percival, that this is the year 1950 - the new half-century - and that women are no longer the slaves of their husbands? hmmm?"

percival drew a deep breath. "we will discuss this later - after your precious friends have gone."

"yes, i am sure. why don't you get the booze out of the liquor cabinet? the mortons will be here any minute. maybe they will not be quite so boring to you if we lubricate them a little."

percival just stared at louise.

"oh, go ahead," louise repeated. "and make sure you behave yourself when they get here. or else - "

"or else what?"

"or else i will tell them your secret."

percival flushed. "you wouldn't dare!"

"wouldn't i?"

the doorbell rang.

"that is them now. go on, get the liquor set up."

louise got up and let the mortons in.

the mortons looked around the room, and at the blazing fireplace. they smiled a little nervously.

"welcome to our happy home," louise announced cheerfully. "let me take your coats. percival is opening the liquor cabinet as we speak. just make yourselves comfortable while i get the cards. there are the saturday evening post and the american mercury on the table there."

mrs morton looked at the coffee table. "do you have an ashtray?"

"oh, of course, i am so sorry. i will get one. one for each of you."


the evening passed wretchedly enough.

smoke filled the air. all four participants got soused.

percival embarrassed louise with his inept play.

at one point mr morton announced, "maybe we should play poker instead." he laughed to show that this could be taken as a joke.

"i don't play poker," percival replied .

"any better than he plays bridge," louise added.

mr morton attempted to engage percival in a discussion of the cleveland indians' upcoming season, but only evoked a few grunts.

"can't you see he's concentrating?" louise asked.

finally louise had enough. "do you know," she announced, "that percival has a secret?"

the mortons smiled politely. "really?" mrs morton asked.

"yes, i bet you could never guess what it is."

"i'm not very good at guessing secrets," mrs morton said. "not even my own."

"percival is god," said louise, looking at the cards in her hand.

"heh heh. i guess we all have our little - our little eccentricities," mr morton replied.

"you would think, wouldn't you, " louise continued, "that someone who was god could make more than seven thousand dollars a year. but it's a funny old world."

"uh - we are all better at some things than others," said mr morton.

louise played a card. "percival has a little trick he is always threatening me with. isn't that right, percival?"

percival did not respond to this. neither did the mortons.

"percival's little trick is that, since he is god, he can make the world disappear if he wants. the whole universe just vanish in a puff of smoke. wouldn't that be something, huh? go on, percival, why don't you show us what you can do."

the mortons had lived on earth for a while and were somewhat inured to embarrassment but they were still surprised to see tears forming in percival's eyes.

" i tried so hard this time," percival stammered. "i really thought - i really thought this universe would be the one - the one where - "

louise laughed. "go on, big boy, strut your stuff! show our guests what you're made of! do it!"

percival closed his eyes. a few large tears leaked from them. his face got redder and redder.

then it turned a peculiar shade of blue…


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