By JAMES McCONNELL
"Happy New Year!" she cried. But how often
should one hear it said in a single lifetime?
Illustrated by DICK FRANCIS
Outside, bells were ringing.
"Happy New Year!"
The mad sound of people
crazed for the moment, shouting,
echoed the bells.
"Happy New Year!"
A sound of music, waxing,
waning, now joined in wild symphony
by the voices, now left
alone to counterpoint the noise
of human celebration....
For a while, Oliver Symmes
heard the raucous music of the
crowd. It became a part of him,
seemed to come from somewhere
inside him, gave him life. And
then, as always, it passed on,
leaving him empty.
The door to his room opened
and a young-looking woman,
dressed in a pleasant green uniform,
came in and turned up the
light. On her sleeve she wore the
badge of geriatrician, with the
motto, "To Care for the Aged."
"Happy New Year, Mr. Symmes,"
she said, and went over to
stand by the window. In the mild
light, the sheen of her hair attracted
attention away from the
slight imperfections of her face.
She watched the crowd outside,
wishing she could be a part
of it. There seemed so little life
inside the prison where the only
function of living was the awaiting
of death. "To Care for the
Aged." That meant to like and
love them as well as to take
physical care of them. Only,
somehow, it seemed so hard to
really love them.
She sighed and turned away
from the window to look at one
of the reasons she could not
be with the rest of the world
He sat bunched up in his chair
like a vegetable. She could
have closed one of her hands
around both his arms together.
Or his legs. Bones and skin and
a few little muscles left, and that
was all. Skin tight, drumlike,
against the skull. Cheeks shrunk,
lips slightly parted by the contraction
of the skin. Even the
wrinkles he should have had
were erased by the shrinkage of
the epidermis. Even in a strong
light, the faint wrinkle lines were
After a moment of looking at
him, she put a smile back on her
face and repeated her greeting.
"I said, 'Happy New Year,'
He raised his eyes to her for
a moment, then slowly lowered
"He looks just a little bit like
a caricature," she said to herself,
feeling a little more tenderness
toward him. "A cute little stick
man made of leaves and twigs
and old bark and ..."
Shadows. For so long there
had been shadows. And for a
time the fleeting passage of
dreams and past memories had
been a solace. But now the shadows
were withered and old, debilitated
and desiccated. They
had been sucked dry of interest
But still they flitted through
his mind on crippled wings,
flapping about briefly in the now-narrowed
shell of his consciousness,
then fading back among the
cobwebs. Every once in a while,
one of them would return to exercise
"Did she say, 'Happy New
Year?'" he wondered. "New
And, at the thought of it, there
came shadows out of the past....
Young Oliver Symmes
laughed. The girl laughed,
too. She was good to hold in
one's arms, soft like a furry animal,
yielding and plush of
"I love you, Ollie," she said;
the warmness of her body close
He laughed again and wrapped
her in his arms. He owned her
now, owned her smile, her love
for him, her mind and her wonderful
body. She belonged to him,
and the thrill of ownership was
strong and exciting.
"I'll always love you, Ollie.
I'll love only you." She ran her
fingers in and out of his hair,
caressing each strand as it went
through her fingers. "I love the
strength of your arms, the firmness
of your body."
Again he laughed, surrendering
all his consciousness to the warm
magic of her spell.
"I love the shading of your
hair and eyes, the smooth angularity
of your tallness, the red
ecstasy of your mind." Her fingers
slipped down the back of
his neck, playing little games
with his flesh and hair. "I'll always
love you, Ollie."
He kissed her savagely.
During the daytime, there was
his work at the anthropological
laboratories, the joy of poking
among the cultures of the past.
And at night there was the joy
of living with her, of sharing the
tantalizing stimulations of the
culture of the present, the infinite
varieties of love mingling with
For months there was this happiness
of the closeness of her.
And then she was gone from him,
for the moment. He still owned
her, but they were physically
apart and there was the hunger
of loneliness in him. The months
his work kept them apart seemed
like centuries, until, finally, he
He was walking through a
happy, shouting crowd,
walking back to her. It was the
eve of the new year, a time for
beginnings, a time for looking
from the pleasures of the past to
those waiting in the future. There
was a happy outcry inside him
that matched the mood of the
"Happy New Year!"
Women stopped him on the
street, asking for his affection.
But he passed them by, for she
was waiting for him and he was
hungry for the possessive love of
He went eagerly into the building
where they lived.
The crowd was gone. A door
was opening. The voice of his
love, sudden, full of naked
surprise, bleated at him. And another
voice, that of a man standing
behind her, croaked with
hasty excuses and fear.
A change of hungers—it
seemed no more complex than
He put his hand to his side and
took out a piece of shaped metal,
pointing it at the man. A blast of
light and the man was dead. He
put the weapon aside.
Young Oliver Symmes walked
toward the girl. She backed away
from him, pleading with words,
eyes, body. He noticed for the
first time the many small imperfections
of her face and figure.
Cornered, she raised her arms
to embrace him. He raised his
arms to answer the embrace, but
his hands stopped and felt their
way around the whiteness of her
neck. He pressed his hands together,
thumbs tight against each
Minutes later, he dropped her
to the floor and stood looking at
her. He had owned her and then
destroyed her when his ownership
was in dispute.
He bent to kiss the lax lips.
Shadows. As a man grows
older, the weight and size of
his brain decrease, leaving cavities
in his mind. The years that
pass are a digger, a giant excavator,
scooping the mass of past
experience up in the maw of dissipation.
The slow, sure evacuation
of the passing decades leaves
wing-room in a man's head for
The withered man looked up
again. The woman in the green
uniform was smiling at him
through parted, almost twisted
"I suppose that this time of
year is the worst for you, isn't
it?" she asked sympathetically.
The first requirement of a good
geriatrician was sympathy and
understanding. She determined
to try harder to understand.
The old man made no answer,
only staring at her face. But his
eyes were blank—seeing, yet
blind to all around him. She
frowned for a moment as she
looked at him. The unnatural
hairlessness of his body puzzled
her, making it difficult for her
to understand him while the
thought was in her mind—that
and the trouble she had getting
through to him.
She stared at him as if to
pierce the blankness of his gaze.
Behind his eyes lay the emptiness
of age, the open wound of stifled
"I'll move you over to the window,
Mr. Symmes," she told him
in soothing tones, her smile reappearing.
"Then you can look
out and see all the people. Won't
that be fun?"
Picking up a box from the
table, she adjusted a dial. The
chair in which he was sitting rose
slightly from the floor and positioned
itself in front of the window.
The woman walked to the
wall beside him and corrected the
visual index of the glass to match
the weakness of the old man's
"See, down there? Just look at
them pushing about."
A rabble of faces swam on the
glass in front of him, faces of
unfamiliar people, all of them unknown
and unknowable to him.
Inside him the whisper of the
wings mounted in pitch with a
whining, leathery sound. The images
of dead faces came flying up,
careening across his mind, mingling
and merging with the faces
of the living. The glass became
an anomalous torrent of faces.
Four walls around him, bare
to the point of boredom.
Through the barred window, the
throbbing throat of the crowd
talked to him. His young body
took it in, his young mind accepted
it, catalogued it and
pushed it out of consciousness.
And for each individual voice
there was an individual face,
staring up at his cell from the
comparative safety of outside.
Young Oliver Symmes could not
see the faces from where he sat,
waiting, but he could sense them.
There came a feel of hands on
his shoulder; his reverie was interrupted.
Arms under his raised
him to his feet. A face smiled,
almost kindly, in understanding.
"They're waiting for you, Mr.
Symmes. It's time to go."
More words. Walking from
this place to that, mostly with a
crowd of people at his shoulders,
pressing him in. Then a door
ahead of him, ornate in carving,
a replica of the doors to the Roman
Palace of Justice many centuries
before. Again his mind
catalogued the impressions.
Then, like the faces of the
people outside his cell, the pictures
of the bas-relief faded
away, melted and merged into a
The doors opened and, with
part of the crowd still at his side,
he went through. The people inside
were standing; stick men, it
seemed to him, with painted balloons
for faces. The sound of the
rapping of a gavel caught his
ear. The people sat, and the trial
"This court will admit to evidence
only those events and artifacts
which are proved true and
relevant to the alleged crime."
An obsequious clearing of
throats. A coughing now and
"... And did you see the defendant,
Oliver Symmes, enter
the apartment of the deceased on
the night of the Thirty-first of
December, two thousand and ..."
"I did. He was wearing a sort
of orange tunic ..."
Someone whispered in his ear.
Oliver Symmes heard and shook
"... You are personally acquainted
with the defendant?"
"I am. We worked for United
Anthropological Laboratories before
The blackness of the judge's
robe puzzled him. A vestige, an
anachronism, handed down from
centuries before. White was the
color of truth, not black.
"You swear that you found the
defendant standing over the body
of the deceased woman on the
night of ..."
"Not standing, sir. He was
bending over, kissing ..."
Days of it, back and forth,
testimony and more testimony.
Evidence and more evidence
and the lack of it. Smiling
lawyers, grimacing lawyers,
soothing lawyers and cackling
lawyers. And witnesses.
"You will please take the
stand, Mr. Symmes."
He walked to the chair and
sat down. The courtroom leaned
forward, the stick men bowed
toward him slightly, as in eager
applause of the coming most
dramatic moment of a spectacle.
"You will please tell the court
in your own words ..."
He mouthed the words. The
whole story, the New Year's
crowd, his hunger for her, his
arrival, the other man and his
babbling, the woman and how
she looked, his feelings, his transfigured
passions, and the deaths.
He told the story again and
again until they seemed satisfied.
"You understand, Mr. Symmes,
that you have committed a
most heinous crime. You have
killed two people in a passion
that, while it used to be forgiven
by the circumstances, is no longer
tolerated by this government.
You have killed, Mr. Symmes!"
The face before him was intense.
He looked at it, not understanding
the reason for the
frozen look of malice and hatred.
"She was mine. When she betrayed
me, I killed her. Is that
The stick men snorted and
poked each other in the ribs with
There were more words and
more questions. He looked at the
face of the judge and wondered,
for a moment, if perhaps the color
of the robe was to match the
apparent disposition of the man.
And then came the silence, a
time of sitting and waiting. He
sensed the wondering stares of
the stick men, wide-eyed in apprehension,
suspended from the
drabness of their own lives for
the moment by the stark visitation
of tragedy in his. They
gabbled among themselves and
wagered on the verdict.
The man next to him leaned
over and tapped him on the arm.
Everyone stood up and then,
curiously, sat down again almost
at once. He felt the tension present
in the courtroom, but was
strangely relaxed himself. It was
peculiar that they were all so
"Your Honor, having duly
considered the seriousness of the
crime and the evidence presented ..."
The balloon faces on the stick
men stretched in anticipation.
"... taking full cognizance of
the admitted passion on the part
of the defendant and the circumstances ..."
The balloons were strained,
contorted out of all proportion in
"... we find the defendant
guilty of murder, making no
recommendation for consideration
by the Court."
The balloons exploded!
Deafening and more than
deafening, the uproar of the
voices was beyond belief. He
threw his hands up over his ears
to shut out the noise.
The gavel crashed again and
again, striking the polished oak
in deadly cadence, stifling the
voices. Over the stillness, one
man spoke. He recognized the
black voice of the judge and took
his hands from his ears and put
them in his lap. He was told to
stand and he obeyed.
"Oliver Symmes, there has
been no taking of human lives in
this nation for many years, until
your shockingly primitive crime.
We had taken pride in this record.
Now you have broken it.
We must not only punish you
adequately and appropriately,
but we must also make of your
punishment a warning to anyone
who would follow your irrational
"Naturally, we no longer have
either the apparatus to execute
anyone or an executioner. We do
not believe that a stupidly unreasoning
act should incite us to
equally unreasoning reprisal, for
we would then be as guilty of irrationality
"We must establish our own
precedent, since there is no recent
one and the ancient punishments
are not acceptable to us.
Therefore, because we are humane
and reasoning persons, the
Court orders that the defendant,
Oliver Symmes, be placed in the
National Hospital for observation,
study and experimentation
so that this crime may never
again be repeated. He is to be
kept there under perpetual care
until no possible human skill or
resource can further sustain life
in his body."
Someone jumped erect beside
him, quivering with horror and
indignation. It was his lawyer.
"Your Honor, we throw ourselves
upon the mercy of the
Court. No matter what the crime
of the defendant, this is a greater
one. For this is a crime not
just against my client, but
against all men. This sentence
robs all men of their most precious
freedom—the right to die at
their appointed times. Nothing
is more damaging to the basic
dignity of the human race than
this most hideous ..."
"... This Court recognizes
only the four freedoms. The freedom
of death is not one of these.
The sentence stands. The Court
There were tears in the eyes of
his lawyer, although young Oliver
Symmes did not quite comprehend,
as yet, their meaning.
Hands, rougher than before,
grasped his arms with strange
firmness and led him off into ...
Shadows. They come in
cycles, each prompted to activity
by the one preceding it.
They flutter in unbelievable
clusters, wheel in untranslatable
formations through the cerebric
wasteland that is the aged mind
of Oliver Symmes. They have no
meaning to him, save for a furtive
spark of recognition that intrudes
upon him once in a while.
The woman in the green uniform,
standing to one side of the
window, smiled at him again. It
was much simpler to care for
him, she thought, if only one
conceived of him as being a sort
of sweet little worn-out teddy
bear. Yes, that was what he was,
a little teddy bear that had gotten
most of its stuffing lost and
had shriveled and shrunk. And
one can easily love and pamper
a teddy bear.
"Can you see the crowd all
right, Mr. Symmes? This is a
good place to watch from, isn't
Her words fell upon his ears,
setting up vibrations and oscillations
in the basilar membranes.
Nerve cells triggered impulses
that sped along neural pathways
to the withered cortex, where
they lost themselves in the welter
of atrophy and disintegration.
They emerged into his consciousness
as part of a gestaltic confusion.
"Isn't it exciting, watching
from here?" she asked, showing
enthusiasm at the sight of the
crowd below. "You should be enjoying
this immensely, you know.
Not all the people here have
windows to look out of like this."
There, now, that should make
him feel a little better.
His eyes, in their wandering,
came to rest upon her uniform,
so cool and comforting in its
greenness. A flicker of light
gleamed from the metallic insignia
on her sleeve: "To Care
for the Aged." Somewhere inside
him an association clicked, a
brief fire of response to a past
event kindled into a short-lived
flame, lighting the way through
cobwebs for another shadow....
How many years he had been
waiting for the opportunity,
he did not know. It seemed like
decades, although it might have
been only a handful of months.
And all the time he had waited,
he could feel himself growing older,
could sense the syneresis, the
slow solidifying of the life elements
within him. He sat quietly
and grew old, thinking the chance
would never come.
But it did come, when he had
least expected it.
It was a treat—his birthday.
Because of it, they had given him
actual food for the first time in
years: a cake, conspicuous in its
barrenness of candles; a glass of
real vegetable juices; a dab of
potato; an indescribable green
that might have been anything at
all; and a little steak. A succulent,
savory-looking piece of genuine
The richness of the food would
probably make him sick, so unaccustomed
to solid food was his
digestive tract by now, but it
would be worth the pain.
And it was then that he saw
It lay there on the tray, its
honed edge glittering in the light
of the sun. A sharp knife, capable
of cutting steak—or flesh of any
"Well, how do you like your
birthday present, Mr. Symmes?"
He looked up quickly at the
woman standing beside the tray.
The yellow pallor of her middle-aged
skin matched the color of
her uniform. She wore the insignia
of a geriatrics supervisor.
He let a little smile flicker
across his face. "Why, it's ...
it's wonderful. I never expected
it at all. It's been so long, you
know. So very long."
How could he get rid of her?
If he tried anything with her
watching, she would stop him.
And then he'd never get another
"I'm glad you like it, Mr.
Symmes. Synthetic foods do get
tiresome after a while, don't
The idea came with suddenness
and he responded to it
"But where are my pink pills?
I always take them at lunch."
"You won't need them if
you're eating real food."
He whipped his voice into petulance.
"Yes, I will! I don't care
if it is real food—I want my
"I'll get them for you later. Go
ahead and eat first."
"I can't eat until I take my
pink pills! You ought to know
that! I won't touch a thing until
I get them! You've ruined my
The whims of the aging are
without logic, so she went to get
the pills, leaving Oliver Symmes
and the gleaming, sharp knife
Where should he start? The
heart? No, that would be
too quick, too easy to repair.
He remembered his studies of
the middle Japanese culture and
the methods of suicide practiced
at that time. The intestines! So
many of them to cut and slash
at, so much damage that might
be done before death set in! Maybe
even the lungs! But he must
Picking up the knife, he pointed
it at his appendix. For a moment
he hesitated, and his eyes
observed again the little feast
laid out before him. He thought
briefly about pausing for just a
while to taste the little steak, to
nibble briefly at the delectable-looking
cake. He hated to leave
it untouched. It had been such a
The sudden memory of time,
and how much of it he had spent
hoping for this moment, snapped
his attention back to the knife.
Steeling his grip on it, he pressed
it in hard.
His eyes bulged with the excruciating
pain as he wrenched
the knife from right to left, twisting
it wildly as he went, blindly
slashing at his vital organs with
the hope that once and for all he
could stop the long and eternal
His mouth filled with the taste
of blood. He spat it out through
clenched teeth. It gushed down
his chin, staining the cleanness
of his robe. His lips parted to
And then his eyes closed.
And opened again! He was
staring at the ceiling, but the
men and women standing around
him got in his way.
Their lips were moving, their
"That was a nasty thing for
him to do."
"They all do it, once or twice,
until they learn."
"Third time for him, isn't it?"
"Yes, I believe so. First time
he tried hanging himself. Second
time he was beating his head
against the wall when we came
and stopped him. Bloody mess
that one was."
"Nothing to compare with this,
Oliver Symmes felt sick with
fear of frustration.
"Nice technique you showed,
Doctor. He'd been dead at least
an hour when we started, hadn't
"Almost two," someone else
said. "An amazing job."
"Thank you. But it wasn't too
difficult. Just a little patching
here and there."
He felt his legs being shifted
"Be careful there, Nurse. Handle
him gently. Fragilitas Ossium,
you know. Old bones break very
"Not that we couldn't fix them
up immediately if they did."
"I wish they'd try something
different for a change."
"The woman in the next room
lost an eye last year, trying to
reach the prefrontals. Good as
new now, of course."
He wanted to vomit at the uselessness
of it all.
"By the way, what's he in for?
Do you know?"
"No, I'd have to look it up."
"Or maybe even slander."
"Is that on the prescribed antisocial
"Oh, yes. It was passed just
before the destructive criticism
"Think he'll try this messy
"They all do."
"They do, don't they? Don't
they ever learn it's no use?"
"Eventually. Some are just
harder to convince than others."
The pain was gone. He closed
his eyes and slipped off into
darkness again and into ...
Shadows. In slow and ponderous
fashion they float
across the sea of his mind, like
wandering bits of sargasso weed
on the brackish water of a dying
ocean. Each one dreamed a thousand
times too many, each separate
strand of memory-weed
now nothing but a stereotyped
shred of what might have once
been a part of life and of living.
With the quietness of deserted
ships they drift in procession
past his sphere of consciousness.
Wait! There's one that seems familiar.
He stops the mental parade
for a moment, not hearing
the voice of his companion, the
woman in the green uniform.
"It's getting late, Mr. Symmes."
She turned from the window
and glanced at the wizenedness,
the fragile remainder of the
man, the almost empty shell. It
was a pity he wasn't able to play
games with her like some of the
others. That made it so much
easier. "Don't you think it's
about time you went to bed?
Early to bed and early to rise,
That memory of a needle,
pointed and gleaming. What was
Oh, yes. Stick it in his arm,
push the plunger, pull it out;
and wait for him to die. First
one disease and then another,
to each he happily succumbed,
in the interests of science, only
to be resuscitated. Each time a
willing volunteer, an eager guinea
pig, he had hoped for the ease
of death, praying that for once
they'd wait too long, the germs
would prove too virulent, that
something would go wrong.
"There, now, you just lie back
and get comfortable," she said,
walking over to the table. "But
it has been fun, hasn't it? Watching
the crowds, I mean." She
felt he must be much happier
now, and the knowledge of it
gave her a sense of success. She
was living up to her pledge, "To
Care for the Aged."
Diabetes, tuberculosis, cancer
of the stomach, tumor of the
brain. He'd had them all, and
many others. They had swarmed
to him through the gouged skin-openings
made by the gleaming
needle. And each had brought
the freedom of blackness, of
death, sometimes for an hour,
sometimes for a whole week. But
always life returned again, and
the waiting, waiting, waiting.
"I enjoy New Year's myself,"
the woman said, her hands caressing
a dial. Slowly, with gentle
undulation, his chair rose
from the floor and cradled the
aged tiredness that was Oliver
Symmes to his bed. With almost
tender devotion, his body was
mechanically shifted from the
portable chair to the freshly made
One of his arms was caught
for just a moment under the
slight weight of his body. There
was a short, snapping sound, but
Oliver Symmes took no notice.
His face remained impassive.
Even pain had lost its meaning.
"It's a pity we couldn't have
been outside with the rest of
them, celebrating," she said, as
she arranged the covers around
him, not noticing the arm herself.
This was the part of her job
she enjoyed most—tucking the
nice little man into bed. He did
look sweet there, under the covers,
"Just imagine, Mr. Symmes,
another year's gone by, and what
have we accomplished?"
Her prattle seeped in and he
became aware of it and what she
was saying. New Year?
"What—what year—is this?"
He spoke with great difficulty,
from the long disuse of vocal
cords. It was hardly more than
a whisper, but she heard and
"Why, Mr. Symmes, it's been
so long since you've talked." She
paused, but realized that she had
not answered his question.
"It's '73, of course. Last year
was '72, so tonight's the start of
'73? Had it been fifty years
since he came here? Had it been
just that long?
"What—" She leaned closer to
him as he struggled for the word.
Her astonishment was gone.
He was teasing her, like the
woman on the next level. These
old ones were great for that!
"Now, Mr. Symmes, everybody
knows what century it is." She
smiled at him glowingly, thinking
she had caught him at a
prank. It was nice, she thought,
to have gotten through to him
tonight, on the eve of the new
year. That meant that she was
living up to her motto the way
she ought to be.
She'd have to tell the supervisor
Oliver Symmes turned to face
the ceiling, his mind full of dusty
whispers. What century was it?
She hadn't answered. It might
have been a hundred and fifty
years ago he came here, instead
of just fifty. Or possibly two hundred
and fifty, or ...
"Now, you be good, and sleep
tight, and I'll see you in the
morning." Her hand passed over
a glowing stud and the room
light dimmed to a quiet glow.
Lying there in the bed, he did
look like a teddy bear, a dear
little teddy bear. She was so
"Good night, Mr. Symmes."
She closed the door.
Outside, bells were ringing.
"Happy New Year."
The ceiling stared back at him.
The mad sound of people
crazed for the moment, shouting,
echoed the bells.
"Happy New Year!"
He turned his head to one side.
"Happy New Year!"
And again ... and again ...
This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction January 1953.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the
U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.