The world would beat a path to
Elmer's door—but he had to go
carry the door along with him!
It was the darnedest traffic
jam I'd ever seen in White
Plains. For two blocks ahead
of me, Main Street was gutter to
gutter with stalled cars, trucks
If I hadn't been in such a hurry
to get back to the shop, I might
have paid more attention. I might
have noticed nobody was leaning
on his horn. Or that at least a
quarter of the drivers were out
peering under their hoods.
But at the time it didn't register.
I gave the tie-up a passing
glance and was turning up the
side street toward Biltom Electronics—Bill-Tom,
I saw Marge threading her
way to the curb. She was leading
a small blonde girl of about
eight, who clutched a child-size
hatbox in her hand. Marge was
hot and exasperated, but small
fry was as cool and composed as
a vanilla cone.
I waited. Even flushed and
disheveled, Marge is a treat to
look at. She is tall and slender,
with brown eyes that match her
hair, a smile that first crinkles
around her eyes, then sneaks
down and becomes a full-fledged
But I'm getting off the subject.
"Honestly, Bill!" Marge said
as she saw me. "The traffic nowadays!
We've been tied up for
fifteen minutes. I finally decided
to get off the bus and walk, even
though it is about a hundred in
"Come along to the shop," I
suggested. "The reception room
is air-conditioned and you can
watch the world's first baseball
game telecast in color. The Giants
versus the Dodgers, Carl Erskine
Marge brightened. "That'll be
more fun than shopping, won't
it, Doreen?" she asked, looking
down at the kid. "Bill, this is
Doreen. She lives across the street
from me. Her mother's at the
dentist and I said I'd look after
her for the day."
"Hello, Doreen," I said. "What
have you in the hatbox? Doll
Doreen gave me a look of faint
disgust. "No," she piped, in a
high treble. "An unhappy genii."
"An unhappy—" I did a
double take. "Oh, an unhappy
genii? Maybe he's unhappy because
you won't let him out, ha
ha." Even to myself, I sounded
Doreen looked at me pityingly.
"It's not a he, it's a thing. Elmer
I knew when I was losing, so I
I hurried Marge and Doreen
along toward our little two-story
building. Once we got into
the air-conditioned reception
room, Marge sank down gratefully
onto the settee and I switched
on the television set with the
big 24-inch tube Tom had built.
Biltom Electronics makes TV
components, computer parts,
things like that. Tom Kennedy
is the brains. Me, Bill Rawlins,
I do the legwork, and tend to the
"It's uncanny the way all those
cars suddenly stopped when our
bus broke down," Marge said as
we waited for the picture to come
on. "Any day now this civilization
of ours will get so complicated
a bus breaking down someplace
will bring the whole thing
to a halt. Then where will we
"Elmer says silly-zation is
doomed!" Doreen put in happily.
The way she rolled the word
out made me stare at her.
Marge only nodded. "That's
what Elmer says, all right," she
agreed, a trifle grim.
"Why does Elmer say silly-zation
is doomed?" I asked Doreen.
"Because it's getting hotter."
The kid gave it to me straight.
"All the ice at the North Pole is
gonna melt. The ocean is gonna
rise two hundred feet. Then everybody
who doesn't live on a
hill is gonna be drownded. That's
what Elmer says and Elmer isn't
Doreen they called her! Why
not Cassandra? The stuff kids
spout these days!
I gave her a foolish grin. I
wanted Marge to get the idea I
was really a family man at heart.
"That's very interesting, Doreen.
Now look, there's the baseball
game. Let's watch, shall we?"
We weren't very late after all.
It was the top half of the second
inning, the score one to one, Erskine
in trouble with two men on
and only one down. The colors
were beautiful. Marge and I were
just settling back to watch when
Doreen wrinkled her nose.
"I saw that game yesterday!"
"You couldn't have, sweetheart,"
I told her. "Because it's
only being played today. The
world's first ball game ever
broadcast in color."
"There was a game on Elmer's
TV," Doreen insisted. "The picture
was bigger and the colors
"Absolutely impossible." I was
a little sore. I hate kids who tell
fibs. "There never was a game
broadcast in color before. And,
anyway, you won't find a color
tube this big any place outside
of a laboratory."
"But it's true, Bill." Marge
looked at me, wide-eyed. "Elmer
only has a little seven-inch black
and white set his uncle gave him.
But he's rigged up some kind of
lens in front of it, and it projects
a big color picture on a white
I saw that she was serious. My
eyes bugged slightly. "Listen," I
said, "who is this Elmer character?
I want to meet him!"
"He's my cousin from South
America," Doreen answered. "He
thinks grownups are stupid." She
turned to Marge. "I have to go
to the bathroom," she said
"Through that door." Marge
Doreen trotted out, clutching
her hat box.
"Elmer thinks grownups are
stupid?" I howled. "Listen,
how old is this character who
says silly-zation is doomed and
can convert a black and white
broadcast into color?"
"He's thirteen," Marge told
me. I goggled at her. "Thirteen,"
she repeated. "His father is some
South American scientist. His
mother died ten years ago."
I sat down beside her. I lit a
cigarette. My hands were shaking.
"Tell me about him. All
"Why, I don't know very
much," Marge said. "Last year
Elmer was sick, some tropic disease.
His father sent him up here
to recuperate. Now Alice—that's
his aunt, Doreen's mother—is at
her wits' end, he makes her so
I lit another cigarette before I
realized I already had one. "And
he invents things? A boy genius?
Young Tom Edison and all
Marge frowned. "I suppose
you could say that," she conceded.
"He has the garage full of
stuff he's made or bought with
the allowance his father sends
him. And if you come within ten
feet of it without permission, you
get an electric shock right out
of thin air. But that's only part
of it. It—" she gave a helpless
gesture—"it's Elmer's effect on
everybody. Everybody over fifteen,
that is. He sits there, a little,
dark, squinched-up kid wearing
thick glasses and talking about
how climatic changes inside fifty
years will flood half the world,
cause the collapse of civilization—"
"Wait a minute!" I cut in.
"Scientists seem to think that's
possible in a few thousand years.
"Elmer says fifty," Marge
stated flatly. "From the way he
talks, I suspect he's figured out a
way to speed things up and is
going to try it some day just to
see if it works. Meanwhile he
fools around out there in the garage,
sneering about the billions
of dollars spent to develop color
TV. He says his lens will turn
any ordinary broadcast into color
for about twenty-five dollars. He
says it's typical of the muddled
thinking of our so-called scientists—I'm
quoting now—to do
everything backward and overlook
"Bro-ther!" I said.
Doreen came trotting back in
then, with her hat box. "I'm tired
of that game," she said, giving
the TV set a bored glance. And
as she said it the tube went dark.
The sound cut off.
"Damn!" I swore. "Must be a
power failure!" I grabbed the
phone and jiggled the hook. No
dice. The phone was dead, too.
"You're funny," Doreen giggled.
"It's just the unhappy
She flicked over the catch on
And the picture came back on.
The sound started up. "—swings
and misses for strike two!" The
air conditioner began to hum.
Marge and I stared. Mouths
"You did that, Doreen?" I
asked it very carefully. "You
made the television stop and
"The unhappy genii did," Doreen
told me. "Like this." She
flicked the catch back. The TV
picture blacked out. The sound
stopped in the middle of a word.
The air conditioner whispered
Then she flipped the catch the
"—fouls the second ball into
the screen," the announcer said.
Picture okay. Air conditioner
operating. Everything normal except
my pulse and respiration.
"Doreen, sweetheart—" I took
a step toward her—"what's in
that box? What is an unhappy
"Not unhappy." You know
how scornful an eight-year-old
can be? Well, she was. "Unhap-pen.
It makes things unhappen.
Anything that works by electracity,
it stops. Elmer calls it his
unhappen genii. Just for fun."
"Oh, now I get it," I said
brightly. "It makes electricity
not work—unhappen. Like television
sets and air conditioners
and automobiles and bus engines."
Marge sat bolt upright. "Doreen!
You caused that traffic jam?
You and that—that gadget of
Doreen nodded. "It made all
the automobile engines stop, just
like Elmer said. Elmer's never
Marge looked at me. I looked
"A field of some kind," I said.
"A field that prevents an electric
current from flowing. Meaning
no combustion motor using an
electric spark can operate. No
electric motors. No telephones.
No radio or TV."
"Is that important?" Marge
"Important?" I yelled. "Think
of the possibilities just as a weapon!
You could blank out a
whole nation's transportation, its
communications, its industry—"
I got hold of myself. I smiled
my best I-love-children smile.
"Doreen," I said, "let me look at
Elmer's unhappen genii."
The kid clutched the box.
"Elmer told me not to let anybody
look at it. He said he'd
statuefy me if I did. He said nobody
would understand it anyway.
He said he might show it
to Mr. Einstein, but not anybody
"That's Elmer, all right,"
I found myself breathing hard.
I edged toward Doreen and put
my hand on the hatbox. "Just
one quick look, Doreen," I said.
"No one will ever know."
She didn't answer. Just pulled
the box away.
I pulled it back.
"Bill—" Marge called warningly.
Too late. The lid of the
hatbox came off in my hands.
There was a bright flash, the
smell of insulation burning,
and the unhappen genii fell out
and scattered all over the floor.
Doreen looked smug. "Now
Elmer will be angry at you. Maybe
he'll disintegrate you. Or paralalize
you and statuefy you.
"He might at that, Bill,"
Marge shuddered. "I wouldn't
put anything past him."
I wasn't listening. I was scrambling
after the mess of tubes,
condensers and power packs scattered
over the rug. Some of them
were still wired together, but most
of them had broken loose. Elmer
was certainly one heck of a sloppy
workman. Hadn't even soldered
the connections. Just
twisted the wires together.
I looked at the stuff in my
hands. It made as much sense as
a radio run over by a truck.
"We'll take it back to Elmer,"
I told Doreen, speaking very
carefully. "I'll give him lots of
money to build another. He can
come down here and use our
shop. We have lots of nice equipment
Doreen tossed her head. "I
don't think he'll wanta. He'll be
mad at you. Anyway, Elmer is
busy working on aggravation
"That's for sure!" Marge said
in heartfelt tones.
"Aggravation, eh?" I grinned
like an idiot. "Well, well! I'll bet
he's good at it. But let's go see
him right away."
"Bill!" Marge signaled me to
one side. "Maybe you'd better
not try to see Elmer," she whispered.
"I mean, if he can build
a thing like this in his garage,
maybe he can build a disintegrator
or a paralysis ray or something.
There's no use taking
"You read too many comics,"
I laughed it off. "He's only a kid,
isn't he? What do you think he
is? A superman?"
"Yes," Marge said flatly.
"Look, Marge!" I said in feverish
excitement. "I've got to talk
to Elmer! I've got to get the
rights to that TV color lens and
this electricity interruptor and
anything else he may have developed!"
Marge kept trying to protest,
but I simply grabbed her and
Doreen and hustled them out to
my car. Doreen lived in a wooded,
hilly section a little north of
White Plains. I made it in ten
Marge had said Elmer worked
in the garage. I kept
going up the driveway, swung
sharp around the big house—and
slammed on the brakes.
We skidded to a stop with our
front end hanging over what
looked like a bomb crater in the
middle of the driveway.
I swallowed my heart down
again, while I backed away fast.
We had almost plunged into a
hole forty feet across and twenty
feet deep in the middle. The hole
was perfectly round, like a half
section of a grapefruit.
"What's this?" I asked.
"Where's the garage?"
"That's where the garage
should be." Marge looked dazed.
"But it's gone!"
I took another look at that
hole scooped out with geometrical
precision, and turned to
Doreen. "What did you say Elmer
was working on?"
"Agg—" she sobbed, "agg—agg—aggravation."
She began to
bawl in earnest. "Now he's gone.
He's mad. He won't ever come
back, I betcha."
"That's a fact," I muttered.
"He may not have been mad, but
he certainly was aggravated.
Marge, listen! This is a mystery.
We've just got to let it stay a
mystery. We don't know anything,
understand? The cops will
finally decide Elmer blew himself
up, and we'll leave it at that.
One thing I'm pretty sure about—he's
not coming back."
So that's how it was. Tom Kennedy
keeps trying and trying
to put Elmer's unhappen
genii back together again. And
every time he fails he takes it
out on me because I didn't get to
Elmer sooner. But you can see
perfectly well he's way off base,
trying to make out I could have
done a thing to prevent what
Is it my fault if the dumb kid
didn't know enough to take the
proper precautions when he decided
to develop anti-gravitation—and
got shot off, garage and
all, someplace into outer space?
What do they teach kids nowadays,
Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net
This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction May 1955.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
typographical errors have been corrected without note.