Thanks very much for "The Outsider," Lilias! I'm a huge fan of Lovecraft's works. Generally speaking I try to live simply and to own as little as possible, so I'm ashamed to admit that I own not only duplicate copies of the various collections of Lovecraft's works ("Just in case...")
but a copy of the issue of Astounding Stories
that "The Shadow out of Time," perhaps my favorite Lovecraft story, first appeared in. Do I really need a seventy-year-old pulp on my bookshelf? I doubt it, but I'm glad that it's there nonetheless...
By posting a story by Lovecraft, Lilias, you inspired me myself to post an eerie tale that somehow involved time. After all, Lovecraft was fascinated by time; as he stated in "Notes on Writing Weird Fiction," "Conflict with time
seems to me the most potent and fruitful theme in all human expression." I wanted to find something involving retro-PK
, which many people consider even spookier than precognition; for better or for worse, however, I was only able to locate summaries of studies and whatnot. Then it occurred to me that another amazing writer, Philip K. Dick, was also fascinated by time and by how time shaped our perceptions of reality -- or, possibly, how our perceptions of reality shaped time. Why not relate some of his reflections on its mysteries? Therefore, I'm including below an extract from "How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later"
; I've done a little editing to allow it to flow.
From "How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later" by Philip K. Dick
Speaking for myself, I do not know how much of my writing is true, or which
parts (if any) are true. This is a potentially lethal situation. We have fiction mimicking truth, and truth mimicking fiction. We have a dangerous overlap, a dangerous blur. And in all probability it is not deliberate. In fact, that is part of the problem. You cannot legislate an author into correctly labeling his product, like a can of pudding whose ingredients are listed on the label... you cannot compel him to declare what part is true and what isn't if he himself does not know.
It is an eerie experience to write something into a novel, believing it is pure fiction, and to learn later on -- perhaps years later -- that it is true. I would like to give you an example. It is something that I do not understand. Perhaps you can come up with a theory. I can't.
In 1970, I wrote a novel called Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said
. One of the characters is a nineteen-year-old girl named Kathy. Her husband's name is Jack. Kathy appears to work for the criminal underground, but later, as we read deeper into the novel, we discover that actually she is working for the police. She has a relationship going on with a police inspector. The character is pure fiction. Or at least I thought it was.
Anyhow, on Christmas Day of 1970, I met a girl named Kathy -- this was after I had finished the novel, you understand. She was nineteen years old. Her boyfriend was named Jack. I soon learned that Kathy was a drug dealer. I spent months trying to get her to give up dealing drugs; I kept warning her again and again that she would get caught. Then, one evening when we were entering a restaurant together, Kathy stopped short and said, "I can't go in." Seated in the restaurant was a police inspector whom I knew. "I have to tell you the truth," Kathy said. "I have a relationship with him."
Certainly, these are odd coincidences. Perhaps I have precognition. But the mystery becomes even more perplexing; the next stage totally baffles me. It has for four years.
In 1974 the novel was published by Doubleday. One afternoon I was talking to my priest -- I am an Episcopalian -- and I happened to mention to him an important scene near the end of the novel in which the character Felix Buckman meets a black stranger at an all-night gas station, and they begin to talk. As I described the scene in more and more detail, my priest became progressively more agitated. At last he said, "That is a scene from the Book of Acts, from the Bible! In Acts, the person who meets the black man on the road is named Philip -- your name." Father Rasch was so upset by the resemblance that he could not even locate the scene in his Bible. "Read Acts," he instructed me. "And you'll agree. It's the same down to specific details."
I went home and read the scene in Acts. Yes, Father Rasch was right; the scene in my novel was an obvious retelling of the scene in Acts... and I had never read Acts, I must admit. But again the puzzle became deeper. In Acts, the high Roman official who arrests and interrogates St. Paul is named Felix -- the same name as my character. And my character Felix Buckman is a high-ranking police general; in fact, in my novel he holds the same office as Felix in the Book of Acts: the final authority. There is a conversation in my novel that very closely resembles a conversation between Felix and Paul.
Well, I decided to try for any further resemblances. The main character in my novel is named Jason. I got an index to the Bible and looked to see if anyone named Jason appears anywhere in the Bible. I couldn't remember any. Well, a man named Jason appears once and only once in the Bible. It is in the Book of Acts. And, as if to plague me further with coincidences, in my novel Jason is fleeing from the authorities and takes refuge in a person's house, and in Acts the man named Jason shelters a fugitive from the law in his house -- an exact inversion of the situation in my novel, as if the mysterious Spirit responsible for all this was having a sort of laugh about the whole thing.
Felix, Jason, and the meeting on the road with the black man who is a complete stranger. In Acts, the disciple Philip baptizes the black man, who then goes away rejoicing. In my novel, Felix Buckman reaches out to the black stranger for emotional support, because Felix Buckman's sister has just died and he is falling apart psychologically. The black man stirs up Buckman's spirits and although Buckman does not go away rejoicing, at least his tears have stopped falling. He had been flying home, weeping over the death of his sister, and had to reach out to someone, anyone, even a total stranger. It is an encounter between two strangers on the road that changes the life of one of them -- both in the novel and in Acts. And one final quirk by the mysterious Spirit at work: The name Felix is the Latin word for "happy." Which I did not know when I wrote the novel.
A careful study of my novel shows that for reasons that I cannot even begin to explain, I had managed to retell several of the basic incidents from a particular book of the Bible, and even had the right names. What could explain this? That was four years ago that I discovered all this. For four years I have tried to come up with a theory and I have not. I doubt if I ever will.
But the mystery had not ended there, as I had imagined. Two months ago I was walking up to the mailbox late at night to mail off a letter, and also to enjoy the sight of St. Joseph's Church, which sits opposite my apartment building. I noticed a man loitering suspiciously by a parked car. It looked as if he was attempting to steal the car, or maybe something from it; as I returned from the mailbox, the man hid behind a tree. On impulse I walked up to him and asked, "Is anything the matter?"
"I'm out of gas," the man said. "And I have no money."
Incredibly, because I have never done this before, I got out my wallet, took all the money from it, and handed the money to him. He then shook hands with me and asked where I lived, so that he could later pay the money back. I returned to my apartment, and then I realized the money would do him no good, since there was no gas station within walking distance. So I returned, in my car. The man had a metal gas can in the trunk of his car, and, together, we drove in my car to an all-night gas station. Soon we were standing there, two strangers, as the pump jockey filled the metal gas can. Suddenly I realized that this was the scene in my novel -- the novel written eight years before. The all-night gas station was exactly as I had envisioned it in my inner eye when I wrote the scene -- the glaring white light, the pump jockey -- and now I saw something that I had not seen before. The stranger whom I was helping was black.
We drove back to his stalled car with the gas, shook hands, and then I returned to my apartment building. I never saw him again. He could not pay me back because I had not told him which of the many apartments was mine or what my name was. I was terribly shaken up by the experience. I had literally lived out a scene completely as it had appeared in my novel. Which is to say, I had lived out a sort of replica of the scene in Acts where Philip encounters the black man on the road.
What could explain all this?
The answer I have come up with may not be correct, but it is the only answer I have. It has to do with time. My theory is this: In some certain important sense, time is not real
. Or perhaps it is real, but not as we experience it to be or imagine it to be.
These represent just a few of Dick's many bizarre experiences. If you found them interesting, I encourage you to plunge deeper into Dick's writings!
I'm snuffing out another candle. Seventy-six candles remain...
Wait a moment... what's that
Goodness -- it's the light of dawn! The morning of November 1 has arrived! The season of the witch has come to an end...
Well, it seems that we weren't able to extinguish all of the candles by Halloween. No matter: The ghosts will be here next year. Thank you again, Lilias, HairyHeretic, Oniya, Valerian, Mathim, and RogueLady. I really enjoyed the stories that we shared. I hope that you did too! :)