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The Servant Problem   By: (1915-1986)

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The Servant Problem

Selling a whole town, and doing it inconspicuously, can be a little difficult ... either giving it away freely, or in a more normal sense of "selling". People don't quite believe it....

by Robert J. Young

Illustrated by Schoenherr


If you have ever lived in a small town, you have seen Francis Pfleuger, and probably you have sent him after sky hooks, left handed monkey wrenches and pails of steam, and laughed uproariously behind his back when he set forth to do your bidding. The Francis Pfleugers of the world have inspired both fun and laughter for generations out of mind.

The Francis Pfleuger we are concerned with here lived in a small town named Valleyview, and in addition to suffering the distinction of being the village idiot, he also suffered the distinction of being the village inventor. These two distinctions frequently go hand in hand, and afford, in their incongruous togetherness, an even greater inspiration for fun and laughter. For in this advanced age of streamlined electric can openers and sleek pop up toasters, who but the most naïve among us can fail to be titillated by the thought of a buck toothed, wall eyed moron building Rube Goldberg contrivances in his basement?

The Francis Pfleuger we are concerned with did his inventing in his kitchen rather than in his basement; nevertheless, his machines were in the Rube Goldberg tradition. Take the one he was assembling now, for example. It stood on the kitchen table, and its various attachments jutted this way and that with no apparent rhyme or reason. In its center there was a transparent globe that looked like an upside down goldfish bowl, and in the center of the bowl there was an object that startlingly resembled a goldfish, but which, of course, was nothing of the sort. Whatever it was, though, it kept growing brighter and brighter each time Francis added another attachment, and had already attained a degree of incandescence so intense that he had been forced to don cobalt blue goggles in order to look at it. The date was the First of April, 1962 April Fool's Day.

Actually, the idea for this particular machine had not originated in Francis' brain, nor had the parts for it originated in his kitchen workshop. When he had gone out to get the milk that morning he had found a box on his doorstep, and in the box he had found the goldfish bowl and the attachments, plus a sheet of instructions entitled, DIRECTIONS FOR ASSEMBLING A MULTIPLE MÖBIUS KNOT DYNAMO. Francis thought that a machine capable of tying knots would be pretty keen, and he had carried the box into the kitchen and set to work forthwith.

He now had but one more part to go, and he proceeded to screw it into place. Then he stepped back to admire his handiwork. Simultaneously his handiwork went into action. The attachments began to quiver and to emit sparks; the globe glowed, and the goldfishlike object in its center began to dart this way and that as though striking at flies. A blue halo formed above the machine and began to rotate. Faster and faster it rotated, till finally its gaseous components separated and flew off in a hundred different directions. Three things happened then in swift succession: Francis' back doorway took on a bluish cast, the sheet of instructions vanished, and the machine began to melt.

A moment later he heard a whining sound on his back doorstep.

Simultaneously all of the residents of Valleyview heard whining sounds on their back doorsteps.

Naturally everybody went to find out about the whining.

The sign was a new one. At the most it was no more than six months old. YOU ARE ENTERING THE VILLAGE OF VALLEYVIEW, it said. PLEASE DRIVE CAREFULLY WE ARE FOND OF OUR DOGS.

Philip Myles drove carefully. He was fond of dogs, too.

Night had tiptoed in over the October countryside quite some time ago, but the village of Valleyview had not turned on so much as a single streetlight nor, apparently, any other kind of light... Continue reading book >>

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