“Sure, they’re cute now, but in a second they’re gonna get mean, and they’re gonna get ugly somehow, and there’s gonna be a million more of them.” — Guy Fleegman, Galaxy Quest
The big problem in the story is caused by an army researcher who is looking into ESP and the effect that specific words have on the environment and on the minds of others… put another way? Magic spells. We don’t see any of the details of this research in the story, just the aftermath of what I’m calling an accident.
In Leman’s story, the result of the accident is the appearance of a window on the past. At least it appears that it is the past. It looks peaceful, pastoral, and it’s alluring. Characters in the story are strongly attracted to both the setting and the family they see through this window. Then Reeves takes an opportunity (dare I say “a five-second ‘window’ of opportunity?”) and leaps to the other side, where he finds things not as they seem. Teeth are bared, Reeves is shredded, and in that terrible instant the truth of the thing is revealed. It’s not the past at all, it’s Somewhere Else. And evil lives there. And that evil now knows we exist and are tasty.
The horror deepened when the father from the other side of the window, after feeding on Reeves, grabbed his thick leather bound book, flipped to a passage, and uttered the words he found there, which shut the window. Chills. Not only do they know we exist, but they also know a heck of a lot more than we do about how the universe actually works. Not, uh… not ideal. Good job army researcher guy. Thanks a million. Can we take this one back?
The theme that rattles around my head after reading the story is a common one in science fiction: Is there knowledge that we’re better off not having? Lovecraft’s characters spend a lot of time wishing they didn’t know what they know. James Blish wrote a few novels around the subject: A Case of Conscience, Doctor Mirabilis, and Black Easter/The Day After Judgment. Also leaping to mind are The Stand by Stephen King and countless other novels of apocalypses caused by mankind’s errors.
At the risk of being labeled “anti-science” (like Spider Robinson labeled The Stand in a review from 1980 that I disagree with), I have to say that opening doors can be dangerous. I don’t even think that’s arguable. The problem is that we have no idea which doors lead to teddy bears and which ones lead to tentacles until we open them.
I like how near the end of “Window”, Leman writes a second story in a paragraph:
Krantz has been thinking along the same track. He said, shakily, “We’re in a spot Gilson, but we’ve got one little thing on our side. We know when the damn thing opens up, we’ve got it timed exactly. Washington will have to go all out, warn the whole world, do it through the U.N. or something. We know right down to the second when the window can be penetrated. We set up a warning system, every community on earth blows a whistle or rings a bell when it’s time. Bell rings, everybody grabs a weapon and stands ready. If the things haven’t come in five seconds, bell rings again, and everybody goes about his business until time for the next opening. It could work, Gilson, but we’ve got to work fast. In fifteen hours and, uh, a couple of minutes it’ll be open again.”
Fifteen hours and a couple of minutes, Gilson thought, then five seconds of awful vulnerability, and then fifteen hours and twenty minutes of safety…
– 101 Weird Writers: #1 Bob Leman by Jim Rockhill
– Night Visions S01E03 – A View Through the Window – adapted from Leman’s “Window”, but they changed a lot of things and the story loses too much.
– The entry for “Window” on ISFDB, which lists some places you can find the story
Next up: “The Autopsy” by Michael Shea