Raymond Bradbury: Unterderseaboat Doktor

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Unterderseaboat Doktor

Ray Bradbury

The incredible event occurred during my third visit to Gustav Von Seyfertitz, my foreign psychoanalyst.

I should have guessed at the strange explosion before it came.

After all, my alienist, truly alien, had the coincidental name, Von Seyfertitz, of the tall, lean, aquiline, menacing, and therefore beautiful actor who played the high priest in the 1935 film She.

In She, the wondrous villain waved his skeleton fingers, hurled insults, summoned sulfured flames, destroyed slaves, and knocked the world into earthquakes.

After that, “At Liberty,” he could be seen riding the Hollywood Boulevard trolley cars as calm as a mummy, as quiet as an unwired telephone pole.

Where was I? Ah, yes!

It was my third visit to my psychiatrist. He called that day and cried, “Douglas, you stupid goddamn son of a bitch, it's time for beddy-bye!”

Beddy-bye was, of course, his couch of pain and humiliation where I lay writhing in agonies of assumed Jewish guilt and Northern Baptist stress as he from time to time muttered, “A fruitcake remark!” or “Dumb!” or “If you ever do that again, I'll kill you!”

As you can see, Gustav Von Seyfertitz was a most unusual mine specialist. Mine? Yes. Our problems are land mines in our heads. Step on them! Shock-troop therapy, he once called it, searching for words. “Blitzkrieg?” I offered.

“Ja!” He grinned his shark grin. “That's it!”

Again, this was my third visit to his strange, metallic-looking room with a most odd series of locks on a roundish door. Suddenly, as I was maundering and treading dark waters, I heard his spine stiffen behind me. He gasped a great death rattle, sucked air, and blew it out in a yell that curled and bleached my hair:

“Dive! Dive!”

I dove.

Thinking that the room might be struck by a titanic iceberg, I fell, to scuttle beneath the lion-claw-footed couch.

“Dive!” cried the old man.

“Dive?” I whispered, and looked up.

To see a submarine periscope, all polished brass, slide up to vanish in the ceiling.

Gustav Von Seyfertitz stood pretending not to notice me, the sweat-oiled leather couch, or the vanished brass machine. Very calmly, in the fashion of Conrad Veidt in Casablanca, or Erich Von like Jack Nicklaus hits a ball? Bamm. A hand grenade!

That was the sound my Germanic friend's boots made as he knocked them together in a salute Crrrack!

“Gustav Mannerheim Auschlitz Von Seyfertitz Baron Woldstein, at your service!” He lowered his voice. “Unterderseaboat-“

I thought he might say “Doktor.” But: “Unterderseaboat Captain!”

I scrambled off the floor. Another crrrack and-The periscope slid calmly down out of the ceiling, the most beautiful Freudian cigar I had ever seen.

“No!” I gasped.

“Have I ever lied to you?”

“Many times!”

“But”-he shrugged-“little white ones.” He stepped to the periscope, slapped two handles in place, slammed one eye shut, and crammed the other angrily against the view piece, turning the periscope in a slow roundabout of the room, the couch, and me.

“Fire one,” he ordered.

I almost heard the torpedo leave its tube. “Fire two!” he said.

And a second soundless and invisible bomb motored on its way to infinity. Struck midships, I sank to the couch.

“You, you!” I said mindlessly. “It!” I pointed at the brass machine. “This!” I touched couch. “Why?”

“Sit down,” said Von Seyfertitz.

“I am.”

“Lie down.”

“I'd rather not,” I said uneasily.

Von Seyfertitz turned the periscope so its topmost eye, raked at an angle, glared at me. It had an uncanny resemblance, in its glassy coldness, his own fierce hawk's gaze.

His voice, from behind the periscope, echoed. “So you want to know, eh, how Gustav Von Seyfertitz, Baron Woldstein, suffered to leave the cold ocean depths, depart his dear North Sea ship, flee his destroyed and beaten fatherland, to become the Unterderseaboat Doktor…

“Now that you mention…

“I never mention! I declare. And my declarations are sea-battle commands.”

“So I noticed…

“Shut up. Sit back…

“Not just now…” I said uneasily.

His heels knocked as he let his right hand spider to his top coat pocket and slip forth yet a forth eye with which to fasten me: a bright, thin monocle which he screwed into his stare as if decupping a boiled egg. I winced. For now the monocle was part of his glare and regarded me with cold fire.

“Why the monocle?” I said.

“Idiot! It is to cover my good eye so that neither ther eye can see and my intuition is free to work!”

“Oh,” I said.

And he began his monologue. And as he talked I realized his need had been pent up, capped, years, so he talked on and on, forgetting me.

And it was during this monologue that a strange thing occurred. I rose slowly to my feet as Herr Doktor Von Seyfertitz circled, his long, slim cigar printing smoke cumuli on the air, which read like white Rorschach blots.

With each implantation of his foot, a word ca out, and then another, in a sort of plodding grammar. Sometimes he stopped and stood poised with one leg raised and one word stopped in his mouth to be turned on his tongue and examined. Then the shoe went down, the noun slid forth and the verb and object in good time.

Until at last, circling, I found myself in a chair stunned, for I saw:

Herr Doktor Von Seyfertitz stretched on his couch, his long spider fingers laced on his chest.

“It has been no easy thing to come forth on land,” he sibilated. “Some days I was the jellyfish, frozen. Others, the shore-strewn octopi, at least with tentacles, or the crayfish sucked back into my skull. But I have built my spine, year on year, and now I walk among the land men and survive.”

He paused to take a trembling breath, then continued:

“I moved in stages from the depths to a houseboat, to a wharf bungalow, to a shore-tent and then back to a canal in a city and at last to New York an island surrounded by water, eh? But where, where, in all this, I wondered, would a submarine commander find his place, his work, his mad love and activity?

“It was one afternoon in a building with the world's longest elevator that it struck me like a hand grenade in the ganglion. Going down, down, down, other people crushed around me, and the numbers descending and the floors whizzing by the glass windows, rushing by flicker-flash, flicker-flash, conscious, subconscious, id, ego-id, life, death, lust, kill, lust, dark, light, plummeting, falling, ninety, eighty, fifty, lower depths, high exhilaration, id, ego, id, until this shout blazed from my raw throat in a great all-accepting, panic-manic shriek:

“Dive! Dive”

“I remember,” I said.

“Dive!” I screamed so loudly that my fellow passengers, in shock, peed merrily. Among stunned faces, I stepped out of the lift to find one-sixteenth of an inch of pee on the floor. “Have a nice day!” I said, jubilant with self-discovery, then ran to self-employment, to hang a shingle and next my periscope, carried from the mutilated, divested, castrated unterderseaboat all these years. Too stupid to see in it my psychological future and my final downfall, my beautiful artifact, the brass genitalia of psychotic research, the Von Seyfertitz Mark Nine Periscope!”

“That's quite a story,” I said.

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