Page:Avon Fantasy Reader 10.djvu/76

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and for the most part died in abject misery. Many sought to trap animals and birds, but met with little success; in the face of Nature, raw and pitiless, men and women succumbed and but few were able to adapt themselves to a rough environment and live almost as savages.

"I know—I fled into the country with a million others, and after weeks of wandering, of semi-starvation, of seeing human beings fall upon human beings and feast, I fled back to the city. It was deserted of man. The Mentanical sanitary corps, directing automatic appliances, had cleared the streets. Weird it was, weird and fraught with terror, to hear the whisperings of the Mentanicals, to watch the inhuman things gliding to and fro, intent on business other than that of mankind. If they had looked like animals! If...

"In an almost dying condition I came to this spot where I now live. Others had discovered it before me. It is a huge factory given over to the manufacture of synthetic foods. Though the Mentanical superintendents have deserted their posts, the automatic devices go on with the tireless work of repairing, oiling, manufacturing, and we carry out what tasks are needful to keep them functioning.

"The years have passed; I am an old man now. I have watched the strange buildings of the Mentanicals rise up around us and observed their even stranger social life take shape and form; in my last years I write and print this.

"Print, yes; for the automatic processes for printing and binding and the making of synthetic paper still persist, though the civilization that begot them has passed away. Magazines and books pour from the press. In his latter days man had asked nothing but amusement and leisure—all except a negligible few.

"Art was turned over to the machine. What had been in its inception a device for the coining of myriad plots for popular writers, evolved into a machine-author capable of turning out story after story without repeating itself. Strange, strange, to see those magazines issued by the million copies, to see the books printed, bound, stacked. Useless things! Some day the Mentanicals will turn their attention to them; some day those presses will cease to function. Man's knell has rung; I see that. Why then do I write? Why do I want what I write to be published in some magazine? I hardly know. In all this vast city we few hundred men and women are the only human beings. But in other cities, at other centers of sustenance, men and women exist. Though I believe this to be true, I cannot verify it. Man in his madness destroyed most of the means of communication, and as for the rest, the airships, the public sending stations, from the first they were in the possession of the Mentanicals. Perhaps it is for those isolated units of humanity that I write. The magazine, the printed word is still a means of communication not quite understood by the Mentanicals. Perhaps..."

That is the story that I read in the third magazine. Not all that the unhappy Mayne Jackson wrote—pages were missing and parts of pages illegible—but all that I could decipher. In telling the story I give it a continuity

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