The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Elroom

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Title: The Elroom

Author: Jerry Sohl

Illustrator: Paul Orban

Release date: March 29, 2019 [eBook #59149]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at


The Elroom


Timmy was getting too much 3-dimension
television, and he was mistaking it for
Mother Nature. So his parents took him out
to see the natural wonders, which he
unhappily mistook for 3-D television....

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Worlds of If Science Fiction, March 1955.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

She had never seen violinists work so hard. They were running their bows back and forth so fast their hands were blurred. The musicians' faces were studies in concentration and the concertmaster—he wasn't two feet from her—had worked himself into such a frenzy veins were standing out on his red face.

Mrs. Briggs almost laughed, the way the conductor was sweeping his baton to within inches of her head. Several times she had an impulse to reach up and catch it.

So this was Virilio! Disjointed, cacophonic, sometimes sweet but more often deafening. She had never caught him before. But it was just as advertised, all right. Exciting. And moving. She didn't know if there was supposed to be a love theme in Virilio's new Plenitude on a Thursday Afternoon, but it definitely stirred her.

Just then the door opened and Timmy came walking through the musicians, eating an apple. Once he stopped to stare at the tympani and a second fiddler's bow kept running through his head. It was rather ghostly, Mrs. Briggs thought.

"Timmy!" she yelled above the music. "I didn't see you go. Where have you been?" As if she didn't know.

"Had to get a glass of water. The music made me thirsty," he said loudly, taking his seat beside her. "This is a lousy program, Mom. What's next?"

"Drama in History," she said absently, her eyes on a flutist's mustache, wondering how he managed to play.

Timmy chomped on his apple, but in the face of his gustatory enjoyment she couldn't find the heart to tell him to be quiet.

At intermission, she left the Elroom to let Timmy take in the commercial and returned in time for the beginning of Drama in History.

There was a salt spray in the air and a cool wind whipped around them as the lights went out completely. The roar of waves grew loud and the deck creaked beneath their feet.

The ship moved through the dim light. Sailors stood like statues about the deck.

"We're even with the inshore ships, sir!" a voice called hoarsely.

"We've got the French between us, then." Though he was a small man, there was a ring of authority in the voice of the man on the bridge.

"There's the Orient, sir!"

"One of ours has gone aground!"

"She'll mark the shoal for the rest of the fleet," the little man replied calmly. "Ready, Mr. Creston!"

"What's he think he's doing?" the captain's boy whispered.

"Quiet, lad," a peg-legged sailor said softly. "Admiral Nelson will see us through. You'll have your share of action afore mornin', mate!"

The darkness was split by faraway flashes of light. Instantly, there was returning cannon fire that caused the ship to shudder and groan. The Battle of Aboukir Bay had begun....

The red flashers above the door winked their message.

"Damn!" Mrs. Briggs said, switching off.


"There's someone at the door, Timmy. If it's a salesman—!"

Mrs. Briggs checked the dials on the electrocooker as she went to the door. A small but efficient-looking woman in the standard white and blue of school uniforms had alighted from her g-car and stood at the door.

The woman said she was Bernice Pomeroy from the office of the director of Timmy's public school and Mrs. Briggs, scarcely glancing at her offered identification card, pushed for mezzanine. The woman said nothing; she merely waited until the floor came down hydraulically to mez level. Then Mrs. Briggs ran the magnetic curtains around, and when they were private she saw that the woman was sitting on one of the soft lounge cushions, straight-backed, adjusting her glasses on the small bridge of her nose. She drew a sheaf of papers from her portfolio.

"Mrs. Briggs," Miss Pomeroy said, looking up with officious grey eyes. Then she saw Timmy. "Timmy, I suppose."

"Yes." Mrs. Briggs wished she'd get on with it. It was hard enough leaving Admiral Nelson at the mouth of the Nile, without having her settling down as if for all day.

"Maybe it would be best," Miss Pomeroy coughed a little, "if Timmy—"

"If Timmy what?"

"It's about him, you see."

"I'll send him to the Elroom."

"No," Miss Pomeroy said at once. Then she added: "Perhaps it would be best if he stayed after all." She riffled her papers. "Timmy's latest Auden-Gronet test shows his personality has dropped at least five points from positive during the first half of the school year."

Mrs. Briggs looked at her nine-year-old son. He was down to the core of his apple now, a nice looking boy, she thought, with bright blue eyes, hair that insisted on drooping too far down on his forehead—she'd have to start training it in earnest soon—and a fair supply of freckles. He carried himself well. Had a pleasant speaking voice, she thought, and a good vocabulary. She had noticed no—slipping?

"Timmy's not too far behind factually, Mrs. Briggs," Miss Pomeroy said, referring to her records. "In fact, we'll admit he's ahead in stability and adjustment. But he's getting more negative in aggressiveness and personality development. He just doesn't seem to care. That factor may account for his stability—he doesn't have any reason to be unstable, you see? And he adjusts easily because he doesn't care enough not to. There is a reason, of course."

Mrs. Briggs was annoyed. The schools had gone too far. "And what, may I ask, is the reason?"

"Too much time in the Elroom, Mrs. Briggs."

Mrs. Briggs managed a good-natured laugh. "Miss Pomeroy, you have Timmy all wrong. He doesn't spend any more time in the Elroom than other children do."

"Children are all different," Miss Pomeroy countered.

"But not Timmy."

"Parents are often poor judges of their own children, Mrs. Briggs."

"Are you trying to tell me I don't know my own child?"

"Mrs. Briggs, I am not trying to tell you anything," Miss Pomeroy's cheeks were red. "I am telling you your child is spending too much time watching these programs. Sublimating so much, in fact, that he's beginning to find it difficult telling the difference between life itself and the Elroom."


"Escape. You didn't know? Yes." The teacher smiled tolerantly. "First sublimation room for elevating one's self—sublime the verb. Then SubL for short. Then just L and L-room to Elroom. You didn't know?"

"That, my dear," Mrs. Briggs said heatedly, "is just so much hogwash."

"Tell me, Mrs. Briggs, just what does your husband think of the Elroom?"

"He doesn't have much time to spend in it."

"You mean he'd rather do something else?"

"He's interested in typically man things—cars, mostly." Because Timmy had gone over to the curtains and was starting to walk through, and because she wanted to show Miss Pomeroy she was capable of some discipline, she said, "And where are you going, young man?"

"Probably back to the Elroom," Miss Pomeroy put in. Mrs. Briggs gave her an acid look.

Timmy swallowed the last bite of apple. "To get a drink. I'm thirsty."

When he had gone, Miss Pomeroy leaned forward. "You must keep him out of the Elroom, Mrs. Briggs. We'll send you a list of programs. He can have sublimation only one hour a day."

"Ridiculous!" Mrs. Briggs snapped.

Miss Pomeroy adjusted her glasses and looked at her severely. "Are you saying you will not comply?"

"I said it's ridiculous, didn't you hear? Why, you won't find a better child than Timmy—"

"Obviously your only child."

"And what has that to do with it?"

"It is not my job to explain," Miss Pomeroy said icily. "Only to inform. I'm afraid I'll have to report that you will not heed the directive."

"The Elroom is instructive. Why, we were learning something about history just now. We were watching Nelson sink the French fleet when you came."

"It's not the program. It's the identification with it. Let's say Timmy has too much imagination—but then I have already told you what I came to tell. I'll be going now, Mrs. Briggs."

From the way George sent the gyrocar into a long swoop that ended inside the garage, Laura Briggs knew her husband was angry and she braced herself for battle. But she wasn't quite prepared for such an immediate outburst, the moment he got in the door.

"Stoops!" he cried, robbed of slamming the door because of the automatic permaglass cushion. Timmy scurried away, frightened at this aspect of his father. "The psychocenter we've got to go to yet!"

The electrocooker had dinged a minute ago, and Mrs. Briggs was ready to take everything out and put it on the table, but she could only look at him in amazement. "You're not making sense!"

"Ha!" George's heavy eyebrows hovered high in his forehead, then plunged down over his eyes. His big face was crimson, his blue eyes steely. "Neither are they, and they called just before I left the office. Wouldn't tell me why. Have you done anything?"

"Well—" Mrs. Briggs started tentatively and he gave her a sharp look. "It's about the Elroom."

"The Elroom!"

She told him about the visit of Miss Pomeroy. "She must have reported it."

"Then we'll get rid of the damned thing!" His eyes brightened. "I told you we should have gotten a new car instead."

"But we've got a car, George."

"Not a good one." He leaned against the cooker, his face blissful. "Imagine us—us—driving a new Caddie gyro—room for eight, you know—supersonic drive—sleek, too—we could get a red one—you'd like red, wouldn't you?—a thousand horsepower with twin turbos for level flight—and those off-center firing tubes with folding back overhead vertical flight pins—Gad!"

"Our present car—"


"But it runs, and we don't need a car like that for just in-town driving."

"But what about our vacation? Think of it, Laura: We could make it to Alaska, Tibet, Africa—we could go around the world in our three weeks."

"We could do the same with the Elroom, George. And there are a lot more things besides travel." Mrs. Briggs's lower lip was trembling. "You're siding with those nasty school people. You think they're right about Timmy."

"Where is he?"

Timmy stuck his head up from behind the lounge. His big eyes were wide.

"Look at him, George. Ever seen a more normal boy? How could they think a boy like that could get so involved in a program he'd think he was living it."

"Yeah, but if those school people—"

Her eye caught the clock and she drew in her breath quickly. "Say! We've got to hurry if we're going to see Cameron Capers."

Dr. Vincent Potter was a large man with a shining expanse of flesh between two islands of black, bristling hair above heavy brows that met over his nose and almost concealed the bright, intelligent eyes that glittered beneath them.

"So. You cannot understand. Yes." He nodded his head, made a tent with his hands, and rocked. "But this is what we are for. To understand. For you." He smiled. "If understanding easily came, then we would be not needed. No? You see?" He laughed a little, jerked upright. The movement nearly made the three of them jump.

"Doctor," George said. "There are millions of kids in Elrooms all over the country."

"You tell me something new?" The doctor frowned. "Millions of people there are. So? Must they be alike every one? They are not. Yes?" The doctor leaned toward Timmy who was playing with a desk calendar. "Who is your mother?" Timmy pointed to Mrs. Briggs. "Your father?" Timmy pointed to George. "See? He knows."

"Of course," Mrs. Briggs said.

"Exactly," the doctor agreed. Then he was upright, waving his forefinger before them, looking from beneath dark brows. "For how long, Mrs. Briggs? For how long, I am asking? And now, I am telling how long. Who knows? Who can tell how many times you will let him see these things?"

"What day is today?" Timmy asked.

"He is asking what day it is," the doctor laughed.

"Well, why don't you answer him?" Mrs. Briggs suggested.

"The twelfth of June," the doctor said. "And why does Timmy ask such a question?"

"You forgot to tear off yesterday." And Timmy tore the little sheet off, proceeded to make a dart of it.

"Well, what you've been meaning to say," George said, "is that we're going to have to cut down on Timmy's Elroom time."

"Aw, Dad!" Timmy protested.

"No. Cut it down we will not do." The doctor shook his head gravely. "We will cut it out altogether."

"Cut it out?" George said hopefully. He leaned forward with interest. "Maybe we should get rid of our outfit?"

"Mr. Briggs. You do not know, perhaps, sublimation can be dangerous. Confusing reality, stimulating unreality, stunting thinking, bringing on neuroses. Tolerance. He needs tolerance. Timmy cannot develop tolerance with too much of a dose, as he has had. Do you see now? The AG test—ah!—it is good. It shows us he is leaving reality. We can't let him psychotic become."

"But he doesn't believe the programs!" Mrs. Briggs exclaimed.

"Not yet, Mrs. Briggs! Not yet. If he sublimes enough he will soon, though. No?"

"I can't stand the thought of locking Timmy out of it," Mrs. Briggs said sadly.

"I'm in favor of getting rid of it," George muttered. "There are other things—cars—"

Dr. Potter took an official form from a drawer. "A change of environment you need. Timmy needs. You leave tomorrow on a month's vacation."

"But my vacation doesn't come up for six months," George said. "Or doesn't that matter?" he added hopefully.

"You will leave tomorrow, as said. No? Your office will I inform of the necessary departure. Sector administration will be knowing." He wrote on a sheet of paper. "The colorful spots. That you will see. Timmy will see things as they really are. Itineraries will send the route by facsimile. Good. Not?"

"Why, I think it's wonderful!" George said.

"Timmy must see the sunrise. The sea, he must swim in. Things, he must do. Remember. Yes?"

"Yes," George said. "No?" He turned to his wife. "There's an agency where we can rent a car—and they have new Caddies—"

The tapering white obelisk thrust upward from the earth like a giant needle. The Briggses entered the base of it, went up the elevator, and caught glimpses of stairway landings as the cage rose slowly. When they stepped out on the platform near the top, they walked to the pair of port openings on one side and looked out.

In the time it had taken them to get to the top of Washington Monument, a light fog, borne on the slight evening breeze, had enveloped the tall shaft at its midsection; they could see nothing of the ground below. They were isolated from Earth, connected to it only by the elevator well.

"Isn't this eerie?" Mrs. Briggs asked Timmy.

He looked around casually and yawned. "On an Elroom program," he said, "you would be able to see all the way down. I don't think this is so hot." He yawned again. "I'm thirsty."

"We'll be going down in a minute, Timmy."

"I've got the route figured better than Itineraries for the next stop," George said. "If we could leave in twenty minutes—"

Aragonite crystals on the cavern's ceiling twinkled brightly in reflection of glowing electric lights. The fragile beauty of the boxwork formation took Mrs. Briggs's breath away.

"It's just like lace," she whispered to George, pointing to the frosty tracery glistening in the honeycombed walls.

"Tom Bingham discovered this cave," the guide intoned before the tourists seated in the giant chamber, his voice echoing from the walls. "He heard a whistling sound and found it came from a small opening. That's why they call this Wind Cave. The wind goes in and out."

"Why does it do that?" someone asked.

"Difference in atmospheric pressure," the guide said. "Another interesting thing about this cave: It's always forty-seven degrees. Doesn't make any difference whether it's summer or winter. Always the same in here."

"I don't hear any wind," Timmy said to his mother and father. "Why isn't the wind whistling?"

"When the barometer falls, the wind blows out," his father explained. "When the barometer rises, the wind blows in."

"Why isn't the wind whistling now?" Timmy insisted.

"The barometer must be standing still, son."

"This isn't any good. On an Elroom program the wind would be whistling."

"Hush," Mrs. Briggs said.

"I'm thirsty," Timmy said.

"We'll be leaving in a few minutes."

"You'll get plenty of wind when I rev up the Caddie on our next hop," George said.

"Think of that," George said. "It's a whole mile down to the river."

Timmy leaned forward to take a deep look over the precipice at Yaki point.

"Boy!" he said. "This is pretty good. Almost makes me dizzy."

Below, the Colorado River was bright quicksilver, threading its way circuitously through the canyon. The striated walls rose majestically from the floor to towering temples.

The boy turned from the rock to look at the tufts of clouds floating by in the deep blue sky.

"I'm thirsty," he said.

Mrs. Briggs, still fascinated by the view, said, "Well, go get a drink, then."

Timmy walked over the edge, screamed as he fell.

Mrs. Briggs could only stare, stunned.

George uttered a cry and ran to the cliffs rim.

Tourists nearby ran up, looked down with George.

A hundred feet below on the slope at a point where it dropped off to nothing, a horrified Timmy was crouched clutching a small tree.

"Hold on!" George called encouragingly.

A few minutes later someone had found a long rope in a gyrocar trunk and roped it about George's middle. They let him over the edge gently, dropped him down the slope slowly.

"Hang on, Timmy!" George yelled, running a tongue over dry lips and momentarily closing his eyes to the dizzying depths. "Don't let the little rocks coming down worry you."

A while later, a dust-streaked Timmy was back on the ledge in his mother's arms, sobbing.

George, his shirt wet with sweat, and struggling out of the rope, panted: "Whatever came over you, Timmy?"

"It was so real I thought it was the Elroom. I was just going out to the kitchen to get a drink of water."

"And I—I told him to go," Mrs. Briggs said, horrified. "It was that real to me, too."


ELROOM, complete. Like new. Reasonable. Or will trade for new Cadillac 8-passenger, twin-turbo gyro, red preferred. George Briggs, 7228 Rose Terrace. Phone CARberry 7-9087.