Juliette is a seventeen year old girl in the far future. Her bedroom walls are covered with many panes of mirrored glass. Each one slides back to reveal a cubbyhole storing a different set of her interests:
Juliette advanced to one of the mirror panels, and passed her hand before it. The glass slid to one side, revealing the niche behind it; the coffin-shaped opening in the solid rock, with the boot and thumb-screws set at the proper heights.
For a moment she hesitated; she hadn’t played that game in years. Another time, perhaps. Juliette waved her hand and the mirror moved to cover the opening again. She wandered along the rows of panels, gesturing as she walked, pausing to inspect what was behind each mirror in turn. Here was the rack, there the stocks with the barbed whips resting against the dark-stained wood. And here was the dissecting table, hundreds of years old, with its quaint instruments; behind the next panel, the electrical prods and wires that produced such weird grimaces and contortions of agony, to say nothing of screams. Of course the screams didn’t matter in a soundproofed room.
Yes, Juliette is not named after the Marquis de Sade’s character for nothing. And in this matter-of-fact, unadorned prose, Juliette describes – without any real detail – the games she plays. Her grandfather has a time machine, the only one in the world, and he retrieves people from history for Juliette to play with. As Juliette’s ministrations inevitably kill them, these people are then recorded in the history books as having mysteriously disappeared: Benjamin Bathurst, that American aviatrix from slightly later on in the Past, and once, as a very special treat, the entire crew of a sailing vessel called the Marie Celeste. They had lasted for weeks!
There’s something wonderfully disturbing about the way this story is told, helped by the hints at the future setting where this sort of thing doesn’t merely take place, it’s unremarkable. And the ending is one of those completely logical payoffs that certainly surprised me. Unless you read it in Dangerous Visions, in which the introduction heavily points towards the ending. (So I recommend reading the intro last.)
And if this piques your interest, I talk about this story’s sequel here. This doesn’t spoil the ending either.
A Toy for Juliette by Robert Bloch
Availability: print only
Word count: 2,300
First published: Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison, 1967, Doubleday
Where to find it: Dangerous Visions has been reprinted many times, most recently in 2012 by Gollancz
The Complete Stories of Robert Bloch, Volume 3: Last Rites, collection, 1997, Citadel Twilight
Scary! Stories That Will Make You Scream!, edited by Peter Haining, 1998, Souvenir Press
Partners in Wonder, collection of Ellison’s collaboration stories, 2009, e-reads