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Authors: Richard Matheson

The Box: Uncanny Stories

BOOK: The Box: Uncanny Stories
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The
Box

UNCANNY
STORIES

 

 

Books by Richard Matheson
from Tom Doherty Associates

 

The Beardless Warriors

Button, Button (The Box)

Duel

Hell House

Hunted Past Reason

I Am Legend

The Incredible Shrinking Man

Journal of the Gun Years

The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickok

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

Noir

Now You See It . . .

The Path: A New Look at Reality

7 Steps to Midnight

A Stir of Echoes

Somewhere in Time

What Dreams May Come

The
Box

UNCANNY
STORIES

RICHARD MATHESON

A TOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES BOOK • NEW YORK

 

 

 

 

NOTE: If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

 

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters and events portrayed in the stories in this collection are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

THE BOX: UNCANNY STORIES

 

Copyright © 2008 by RXR, Inc.

Previously published by Tor Books under the title
Button, Button
:

Uncanny Stories

 

All rights reserved.

 

A Tor Book

Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC

175 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY 10010

 

www.tor-forge.com

 

Tor® is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

 

ISBN 978-0-7653-6143-1

 

First Edition: April 2008

Second Edition: September 2009

First Mass Market Edition: October 2009

 

Printed in the United States of America

0  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

 

 

COPYRIGHT ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

Button, Button
© 1970; renewed 1998 by RXR, Inc.

Girl of My Dreams
© 1963; renewed 1991 by RXR, Inc.

Dying Room Only
© 1953; renewed 1981 by RXR, Inc.

A Flourish of Strumpets
© 1956; renewed 1984 by RXR, Inc.

No Such Thing as a Vampire
© 1959; renewed 1987 by RXR, Inc.

Pattern for Survival
© 1955; renewed 1983 by RXR, Inc.

Mute
© 1962; renewed 1990 by RXR, Inc.

The Creeping Terror
(aka A
Touch of Grapefruit
) © 1959; renewed 1987 by RXR, Inc.

Shock Wave
© 1963; renewed 1991 by RXR, Inc.

Clothes Make the Man
© 1950; renewed 1978 by RXR, Inc.

The Jazz Machine
© 1962; renewed 1990 by RXR, Inc.


Tis the Season to Be Jelly
© 1963; renewed 1991 by RXR, Inc.

With love to my son Richard, for protecting
my life in every way

 

 

CONTENTS

 

 

Introduction

Button, Button

Girl of My Dreams

Dying Room Only

A Flourish of Strumpets

No Such Thing as a Vampire

Pattern for Survival

Mute

The Creeping Terror

Shock Wave

Clothes Make the Man

The Jazz Machine

’Tis the Season to Be Jelly

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

A question often asked of writers is “Where did you get the idea for that story?” It is a question we can usually answer easily. I can answer it with regard to “Button, Button” because the idea came from my wife although, at the time, she had no idea she was doing it. Neither did I. That came later.

I will not tell you the idea prior to your reading of the story except to say that the idea was mentioned in a college psychology class my wife took. One idea in that class that I
can
mention is the following: To contribute importantly to world peace, would you walk down New York’s Broadway—naked?

The idea, which resulted in my writing of “Button, Button” was of a similar nature: a sacrifice of human dignity in exchange for a specific goal—in this case nothing anywhere near as worthy as world peace.

R
ICHARD
M
ATHESON
May 17, 2007

Button, Button

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The package
was lying by the front door—a cube-shaped carton sealed with tape, the name and address printed by hand:
MR. AND MRS. ARTHUR LEWIS, 217 E. 37TH STREET, NEW YORK, NEW YORK
10016. Norma picked it up, unlocked the door, and went into the apartment. It was just getting dark.

After she put the lamb chops in the broiler, she made herself a drink and sat down to open the package.

Inside the carton was a push-button unit fastened to a small wooden box. A glass dome covered the button. Norma tried to lift it off, but it was locked in place. She turned the unit over and saw a folded piece of paper Scotch-taped to the bottom of the box. She pulled it off: “Mr. Steward will call on you at eight p.m.”

Norma put the button unit beside her on the couch.
She sipped the drink and reread the typed note, smiling.

A few moments later, she went back into the kitchen to make the salad.

 

T
he doorbell rang at eight o’clock. “I’ll get it,” Norma called from the kitchen. Arthur was in the living room, reading.

There was a small man in the hallway. He removed his hat as Norma opened the door. “Mrs. Lewis?” he inquired politely.

“Yes?”

“I’m Mr. Steward.”

“Oh, yes.” Norma repressed a smile. She was sure now it was a sales pitch.

“May I come in?” asked Mr. Steward.

“I’m rather busy,” Norma said. “I’ll get you your watchamacallit, though.” She started to turn.

“Don’t you want to know what it is?”

Norma turned back. Mr. Steward’s tone had been offensive. “No, I don’t think so,” she said.

“It could prove very valuable,” he told her.

“Monetarily?” she challenged.

Mr. Steward nodded. “Monetarily,” he said.

Norma frowned. She didn’t like his attitude. “What are you trying to sell?” she asked.

“I’m not selling anything,” he answered.

Arthur came out of the living room. “Something wrong?”

Mr. Steward introduced himself.

“Oh, the . . .” Arthur pointed toward the living room and smiled. “What is that gadget, anyway?”

“It won’t take long to explain,” replied Mr. Steward. “May I come in?”

“If you’re selling something . . .” Arthur said.

Mr. Steward shook his head. “I’m not.”

Arthur looked at Norma. “Up to you,” she said.

He hesitated. “Well, why not?” he said.

They went into the living room and Mr. Steward sat in Norma’s chair. He reached into an inside coat pocket and withdrew a small sealed envelope. “Inside here is a key to the bell-unit dome,” he said. He set the envelope on the chairside table. “The bell is connected to our office.”

“What’s it for?” asked Arthur.

“If you push the button,” Mr. Steward told him, “somewhere in the world, someone you don’t know will die. In return for which you will receive a payment of fifty thousand dollars.”

Norma stared at the small man. He was smiling.

“What are you talking about?” Arthur asked him.

Mr. Steward looked surprised. “But I’ve just explained,” he said.

“Is this a practical joke?” asked Arthur.

“Not at all. The offer is completely genuine.”

“You aren’t making sense,” Arthur said. “You expect us to believe . . .”

“Whom do you represent?” demanded Norma.

Mr. Steward looked embarrassed. “I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to tell you that,” he said. “However, I assure you the organization is of international scope.”

“I think you’d better leave,” Arthur said, standing.

Mr. Steward rose. “Of course.”

“And take your button unit with you.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t care to think about it for a day or so?”

Arthur picked up the button unit and the envelope and thrust them into Mr. Steward’s hands. He walked into the hall and pulled open the door.

“I’ll leave my card,” said Mr. Steward. He placed it on the table by the door.

When he was gone, Arthur tore it in half and tossed the pieces onto the table. “God!” he said.

Norma was still sitting on the sofa. “What do you think it was?” she asked.

“I don’t care to know,” he answered.

She tried to smile but couldn’t. “Aren’t you curious at all?”

“No.” He shook his head.

After Arthur returned to his book, Norma went back to the kitchen and finished washing the dishes.

BOOK: The Box: Uncanny Stories
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