THE NOTHING SPOT
Ping! Cheryl Harbottle sat up, startled. She looked
around the room for the source of that odd little noise.
Nothing seemed to be wrong. The lighting panels were
still glowing at the Midday-Summer setting and the
Woodland Sounds background tape was still giving out
with soft coos, twitters, and the sound of rustling leaves.
Her eyes finally came to rest on the new decorator
lamp. Humph. That must be the problem. The darned
thing was burned out or something. It looked funny.
Cheryl got up and walked over to peer at it. There was
nothing in the middle where something should have been,
she thought, wrinkling her slim brows. There really was
nothing. All of the wires were in place, but the bright
glowing ball in the middle was gone. What was worse, she
couldn't see through where it was supposed to be. The air
looked sort of fuzzy, or distorted. It was almost like look-
ing into rippling water.
Cheryl bent closer to peer at it, and something grabbed
her nose. She yelped and jumped back. Then she rubbed
the end of her offended member and stared at her lamp.
Well! She had the distinct feeling that it shouldn't do that.
She walked around to look at the other side. There was
barely enough room for her to edge around into the cor-
ner behind it.
The lamp was a sort of pole-like arrangement. One end
was moored in the ceiling and the other was stuck to the
floor. The middle blossomed out into an elaborate mesh
of gleaming wires in a big cage arrangement.
Cheryl poked an experimental finger at the nothing in
the middle. About two inches from the center something
took hold of it. She pulled her hand back rapidly and
pursed her lips. What she needed was the instruction
book. Of course, there wasn't one. She hadn't seen an in-
struction manual for anything in years. Well, the com-
puter ought to know something.
She sat down in front of her Insta-Think home termi-
nal, flicked it on, and asked for a catalog. The alphabetic
listing on the screen rolled by slowly and she stopped it at
"lamps, decorator." That was how she'd bought the fool
thing in the first place. The computer obligingly switched
to its collection of 60-second advertisements. Eventually,
after watching what seemed like an endless array of light-
ing fixtures in all sizes, shapes, styles, and colors she saw
her lamp. "New Lighting Concept," the ad proclaimed in
fiery letters. "Capture the Sun in Your Living Room!"
Cheryl pressed the MORE button on the terminal and
the system cycled into the full three minute sales pitch.
Not that it told her much. Some vibrant baritone informed
her that she'd be the envy of the neighborhood and
pointed out the benefits of "metal-sheen polybutyrate,"
whatever that was. She pressed the MORE button again
when the ad was over and got an expressionless voice that
talked about hydrogen, ignition and containment systems,
energy pulses, and electromagnetic balance. The picture
on the screen was a maze of interconnecting lines with
squiggles, boxes, and numbers. Out of sheer spite she
pushed the advance button once more, but all she got was
a picture of long strings of mathematics and a theory lec-
ture that made no sense to her at all. Cheryl switched off
the terminal irritably and swiveled around to look at the
Well, it probably would be best to turn it off. Then she
might as well call Repair. Let them handle it. Damm,
she's only had the fool thing for a week. That was the
trouble with the modern worldnothing was made right
any more. At least there was the thirty day warranty, she
thought tiredly. She should have bought one of those cute
little antique lamps with the glass bulb.
She got up and walked over to switch the lamp off.
Nothing. As a matter of fact, the nothing was still there.
She flicked the switch on and off again, but the funny
little distortion in the middle stayed right where it was. A
little experimentation with a writing stylus proved that the
pull was still there too.
Cheryl frowned. Odd, very odd. Something was work-
ing, but how was it working with the power off? She
pushed the stylus at it again and this time let the lamp
grab it. The stylus moved smoothly forward and to her
horror it disappeared into the lamp. Gone, finis, kaput.
Cheryl circled the lamp warily, her eyes wide. She
picked up a china figurine she'd always hated and offered
it as a sacrifice. There seemed to be a little difficulty drag-
ging it through the wire maze, but eventually the figure
was gobbled up. That was sort of gratifying, actually.
Keeping an eye on the nothing spot Cheryl began to
carefully bend some of the matrix wires out of the way.
Eventually she had a clear opening to the center, which
didn't see to effect the spot at all. She had a feeling
she'd just voided her thirty-day warranty, but she'd gone
too far to stop now. She offered the lamp her morning pa-
per, and watched with a sort of clinical detachment as the
pages curled inward, compressed together, and turned
into a funnel which slowly disappeared into the noth-
ingness. Where the devil was it going? Big things just
couldn't be put inside of little things. On the other hand,
maybe the spot was bigger on the inside than it was on
the outside. There had to be a limit though. With a
slightly fiendish smile she picked up a large plastic fern,
pot and all.
Now that really was too much! When the potted fern
was gone she offered up last season's overcoat, an old pair
of shoes, her husband's tacky old fishing hat, that awful
painting Louise gave them at Christmas, and an extra pair
of salt shakers. At differing rates of speed they all van-
ished down the insatiable maw of the lamp.
She'd fix the dammed thing. Cheryl pried the matrix
wires further apart and began to bend them back and
forth. Eventually they snapped off and she shoved each
one ruthlessly into the spot. In less then twenty minutes
she managed to feed most of the lamp to itself. Not even
a burp. All she had left were the two bare poles, top and
bottom, which she couldn't pull loose. And the spot, of
course. Cheryl thought wistfully of the old saying, "crawl
into a hole and pull the hole in after you." This hole obvi-
ously wasn't going anywhere. It completely ignored the
fact that most of its parent structure was gone and hung
there about five feet from the floor. She could see a good
two inches, top and bottom, between it and the poles. It
was balanced somehow.
"With no visible means of support," Cheryl said out
loud, with just a touch of panic. She could see it a lot bet-
ter now. Well, she could see what she couldn't see a lot
better. It seemed to her, when she bent carefully to look,
that there was a tiny black speck in the middle of he dis-
tortion, but she couldn't be sure. She got a ball of cord
from the twins' room and dangled the end enticingly over
the spot. The cord straightened and moved gently for-
ward. She experimented a little bit, pulling the cord out
and letting it be caught again. Eventually, however, it was
grabbed for good. It moved inexorably forward. She
braced her feet, leaned back, and pulled. No good. The
cord kept moving and the spot stayed put. She unrolled
some more cord and tied it firmly around the big arm-
chair. The spot ate up the slack and the armchair began
to inch its way across the room. When the cord shortened
enough that the chair began to lift into the air she decided
that the experiment had gone far enough.
Unfortunately Cheryl was better at tying knots than un-
doing them. She ran around the apartment frantically, but
by the time she'd turned up a pair of Saf-T-Shears in the
den the spot was administering the coup de grâce. Cheryl
watched helplessly as her Komfy Kushion chair, with
Genuine Imitation Tufted Vinyl upholstery, slowly de-
formed and funneled its way into the spot.
Migod, there was no stopping it! It seemed to be im-
movable, and it had the appetite of a growing teenager.
Cheryl had a sudden cold shiver. What if one of the kids
bumped into it? She gulped and wished she hadn't
destroyed the cage that had fenced it in. Cheryl dashed
into the bedroom and stripped one of those awful orange
polkadot blankets off of the bed. She could at least wrap
it up so no one would blunder into it. There wasn't any
cord left, but a little rummaging turned up two ugly ties
belonging to her husband. Back in the living room Cheryl
carefully gathered one end of the blanket around the
lower pole and tied it firmly with a green plaid tie. Then
she folded the blanket up over the tie, around the spot,
and gathered it to the top pole, leaving plenty of slack in
the middle. She secured it with the other tie and adjusted
a frivolous bow as a sort of farewell to the spot. There it
was, helplessly swathed like a pot-bellied mummy. Cheryl
drew a deep sigh of relief.
Her relief was short lived. The blanket folds began to
arch inward until she was staring at an acrylic hourglass.
The waist narrowed, disappeared, and the top and bottom
of the blanket started to strain toward the center. Eventu-
ally the fibers gave with a sickening "rrrrripp!" Cheryl
found herself looking at two strips of orange polkadot
garnish, one on each pole. And a slightly askew purple
and red striped bow. The spot shimmered contentedly.
Cheryl ran to the computer to call Repair and
then stopped suddenly. Repair what? Not the lamp, it was
virtually gone. The spot didn't need repair, it was working
just fine. Residence Maintenance? Was it a Maintenance
problem if you had a bottomless pit in your living room?
They might even accuse her of putting it there, and sue
her for lowering the property value.
She stared glassy-eyed at the little monster. Maybe she
should rope off the corner, put up caution signs and warn-
ing blinkers. Cheryl giggled with just a touch of hysteria.
How about charging admission? "See the eighth wonder
of the world! Watch the Harbottle spot devour Cin-
On the other hand . . . Cheryl calmed herself and
frowned at the spot. It ate things up, did it? Finally she
marched over to the computer terminal and keyed in a
number. When she got her connection she said, "Hello,
this is Mrs Harbottle in 1743, B Level. I want to discon-
tinue my rubbish disposal service. I've made other ar-
Now all she had to do was find some tasteful drapes
that would go with the rug . . . and those orange polka-
dots, of course.
This is from Black Holes, a book edited by Jerry Pournelle. It
was published in 1978. I like the ending.