Read CHAPTER III of They Twinkled Like Jewels , free online book, by Philip Jose Farmer, on ReadCentral.com.

How easy it would have been to miss all this, if only he had obeyed his father. But Mr. Crane was so ineffectual....

“Jackie,” he had said, “would you please go outside and play, or stay in some other room. It’s very difficult to discuss business while you’re whooping and screaming around, and I have a lot to discuss with Mr. ”

“Yes, Daddy,” Jack said before his father mentioned his visitor’s name. But he was not Jack Crane in his game; he was Uncas. The big chairs and the divan were trees in his imaginative eyes. The huge easy chair in which Daddy’s caller (Jack thought of him only as “Mister”) sat was a fallen log. He, Uncas, meant to hide behind it in ambush.

Mister did not bother him. He had smiled and said in a shrill voice that he thought Jack was a very nice boy. He wore a light grey-green Palm Beach suit and carried a big brown leather briefcase that looked too heavy for his soda straw-thin legs and arms. He was queer-looking because his waist was so narrow and his back so humped. And when he took off his tan Panama hat, a white fuzz exploded from his scalp. His face was pale as the moon in daylight. His broad smile showed teeth that Jack knew were false.

But the queerest thing about him was his thick spectacles, so heavily tinted with rose that Jack could not see the eyes behind them. The afternoon light seemed to bounce off the lenses in such a manner that no matter what angle you looked at them, you could not pierce them. And they curved to hide the sides of his eyes completely.

Mister had explained that he was an albino, and he needed the glasses to dim the glare on his eyes. Jack stopped being Uncas for a minute to listen. He had never seen an albino before, and, indeed, he did not know what one was.

“I don’t mind the youngster,” said Mister. “Let him play here if he wants to. He’s developing his imagination, and he may be finding more stimuli in this front room than he could in all of outdoors. We should never cripple the fine gift of imagination in the young. Imagination, fancy, fantasy or whatever you call it is the essence and mainspring of those scientists, musicians, painters, and poets who amount to something in later life. They are adults who have remained youths.”

Mister addressed Jack, “You’re the Last of the Mohicans, and you’re about to sneak up on the French captain and tomahawk him, aren’t you?”

Jack blinked. He nodded his head. The opaque rose lenses set in Mister’s face seemed to open a door into his naked grey skull.

The man said, “I want you to listen to me, Jack. You’ll forget my name, which isn’t important. But you will always remember me and my visit, won’t you?”

Jack stared at the impenetrable lenses and nodded dumbly.

Mister turned to Jack’s father. “Let his fancy grow. It is a necessary wish-fulfillment play. Like all human young who are good for anything at all, he is trying to find the lost door to the Garden of Eden. The history of the great poets and men-of-action is the history of the attempt to return to the realm that Adam lost, the forgotten Hesperides of the mind, the Avalon buried in our soul.”

Mr. Crane put his fingertips together. “Yes?”

“Personally, I think that some day man will realize just what he is searching for and will invent a machine that will enable the child to project, just as a film throws an image on a screen, the visions in his psyche.

“I see you’re interested,” he continued. “You would be, naturally, since you’re a professor of philosophy. Now, let’s call the toy a specterscope, because through it the subject sees the spectres that haunt his unconscious. Ha! Ha! But how does it work? If you’ll keep it to yourself, Mr. Crane, I’ll tell you something: My native country’s scientists have developed a rather simple device, though they haven’t published anything about it in the scientific journals. Let me give you a brief explanation: Light strikes the retina of the eye; the rods and cones pass on impulses to the bipolar cells, which send them on to the optic nerve, which goes to the brain ...”

“Elementary and full of gaps,” said Jack’s father.

“Pardon me,” said Mister. “A bare outline should be enough. You’ll be able to fill in the details. Very well. This specterscope breaks up the light going into the eye in such a manner that the rods and cones receive only a certain wavelength. I can’t tell you what it is, except that it’s in the visual red. The scope also concentrates like a burning-glass and magnifies the power of the light.

“Result? A hitherto-undiscovered chemical in the visual purple of the rods is activated and stimulates the optic nerve in a way we had not guessed possible. An electrochemical stimulus then irritates the subconscious until it fully wakes up.

“Let me put it this way. The subconscious is not a matter of location but of organization. There are billions of possible connections between the neurons of the cortex. Look at those potentialities as so many cards in the same pack. Shuffle the cards one way and you have the common workaday cogito, ergo sum mind. Reshuffle them, and, bingo! you have the combination of neurons, or cards, of the unconscious. The specterscope does the redealing. When the subject gazes through it, he sees for the first time the full impact and result of his underground mind’s workings in other perspectives than dreams or symbolical behavior. The subjective Garden of Eden is resurrected. It is my contention that this specterscope will some day be available to all children.

“When that happens, Mr. Crane, you will understand that the world will profit from man’s secret wishes. Earth will be a far better place. Paradise, sunken deep in every man, can be dredged out and set up again.”

“I don’t know,” said Jack’s father, stroking his chin thoughtfully with a finger. “Children like my son are too introverted as it is. Give them this psychological toy you suggest, and you would watch them grow, not into the outside world, but into themselves. They would fester. Man has been expelled from the Garden. His history is a long, painful climb toward something different. It is something that is probably better than the soft and flabby Golden Age. If man were to return, he would regress, become worse than static, become infantile or even embryonic. He would be smothered in the folds of his own dreams.”

“Perhaps,” said the salesman. “But I think you have a very unusual child here. He will go much farther than you may think. Why? Because he is sensitive and has an imagination that only needs the proper guidance. Too many children become mere bourgeois ciphers with paunches and round ‘O’ minds full of tripe. They’ll stay on earth. That is, I mean they’ll be stuck in the mud.”

“You talk like no insurance salesman I’ve ever met.”

“Like all those who really want to sell, I’m a born psychologist,” Mister shrilled. “Actually, I have an advantage. I have a Ph.D. in psychology. I would prefer staying at home for laboratory work, but since I can help my starving children I am not joking so much more by coming to a foreign land and working at something that will put food in their mouths, I do it. I can’t stand to see my little ones go hungry. Moreover,” he said with a wave of his long-fingered hand, “this whole planet is really a lab that beats anything within four walls.”

“You spoke of famine. Your accent your name. You’re a Greek, aren’t you?”

“In a way,” said Mister. “My name, translated, means gracious or kindly or well-meaning.” His voice became brisker. “The translation is apropos. I’m here to do you a service. Now, about these monthly premiums ...”

Jack shook himself and stepped out of the mold of fascination that Mister’s glasses seemed to have poured around him. Uncas again, he crawled on all fours from chair to divan to stool to the fallen log which the adults thought was an easy chair. He stuck his head from behind it and sighted along the broomstick-musket at his father. He’d shoot that white man dead and then take his scalp. He giggled at that, because his father really didn’t have any hairlock to take.

At that moment Mister decided to take off his specs and polish them with his breast-pocket handkerchief. While he answered one of Mr. Crane’s questions, he let them dangle from his fingers. Accidentally, the lenses were level with Jack’s gaze. One careless glance was enough to jerk his eyes back to them. One glance stunned him so that he could not at once understand that what he was seeing was not reality.

There was his father across the room. But it wasn’t a room. It was a space outdoors under the low branch of a tree whose trunk was so big it was as wide as the wall had been. Nor was the Persian rug there. It was replaced by a close-cropped bright green grass. Here and there foot-high flowers with bright yellow petals tipped in scarlet swayed beneath an internal wind. Close to Mr. Crane’s feet a white horse no larger than a fox terrier bit off the flaming end of a plant.

All those things were wonderful enough but was that naked giant who sprawled upon a moss-covered boulder father? No! Yes! Though the features were no longer pinched and scored and pale, though they were glowing and tanned and smooth like a young athlete’s they were his father’s! Even the thick, curly hair that fell down over a wide forehead and the panther-muscled body could not hide his identity.

Though it tore at his nerves, and though he was afraid that once he looked away he would never again seize the vision, Jack ripped his gaze away from the rosy view.

The descent to the grey and rasping reality was so painful that tears ran down his cheeks, and he gasped as if struck in the pit of the stomach. How could beauty like that be all around him without his knowing it?

He felt that he had been blind all his life until this moment and would be forever eyeless again, an unbearable forever, if he did not look through the glass again.

He stole another hurried glance, and the pain in his heart and stomach went away, his insides became wrapped in a soft wind. He was lifted. He was floating, a pale red, velvety air caressed him and buoyed him.

He saw his mother run from around the tree. That should have seemed peculiar, because he had thought she was dead. But there she was, no longer flat-walking and coughing and thin and wax-skinned, but golden-brown and curvy and bouncy. She jumped at Daddy and gave him a long kiss. Daddy didn’t seem to mind that she had no clothes on. Oh, it was so wonderful. Jack was drifting on a yielding and wine-tinted air and warmed with a wind that seemed to swell him out like a happy balloon....

Suddenly he was falling, hurtling helplessly and sickeningly through a void while a cold and drab blast gouged his skin and spun him around and around. The world he had always known shoved hard against him. Again he felt the blow in the solar plexus and saw the grey tentacles of the living reality reach for his heart.

Jack looked up at the stranger, who was just about to put his spectacles on the bridge of his long nose. His eyelids were closed. Jack never did see the pink eyes.

That didn’t bother him. He had other things to think about. He crouched beside the chair while his brain tried to move again, tried to engulf a thought and failed because it could not become fluid enough to find the idea that would move his tongue to shriek, No! No! No!

And when the salesman rose and placed his papers in his case and patted Jack on the head and bent his opaque rose spectacles at him and said good-by and that he wouldn’t be coming back because he was going out of town to stay, Jack was not able to move or say a thing. Nor for a long time after the door had closed could he break through the mass that gripped him like hardened lava. By then, no amount of screams and weeping would bring Mister back. All his father could do was to call a doctor who took the boy’s temperature and gave him some pills.