“Mariana,” Fritz Leiber, 1960 — Mariana lives in a beautiful villa surrounded by tall pine trees, but she’s troubled by something, perhaps a sense of monotony. Her husband assures her that her life is perfect, and he urges her to find satisfaction in their cozy situation. Yet when he leaves for work, she is curious. She finds a secret control panel in the wall with buttons labeled “trees” and “house.” She turns them off. When her husband returns, she flips a switch and her husband blinks out of existence. Then she turns off the stars. Mariana wakes up to discover herself being offered therapy by a mysterious doctor. She turns off the doctor and returns to the dark to carry out her therapy, as the doctor says, to its inevitable conclusion. The next switch is labeled “Mariana.”
Comments: Read in Best of the Best.
Excerpt: Mariana had been living in the big villa and hating the tall pine trees around it for what seemed like an eternity when she found the secret panel in the master control panel of the house.
The secret panel was simply a narrow blank of aluminum—she’d thought of it as room for more switches if they ever needed any, perish the thought! — between the air-conditioning controls and the gravity controls. Above the switches for the three dimensional TV but below those for the robot butler and maids.
Jonathan had told her not to fool with the master control panel while he was in the city, because she would wreck anything electrical, so when the secret panel came loose under her aimlessly questing fingers and fell to the solid rock floor of the patio with a musical twing her first reaction was fear.
Then she saw it was only a small blank oblong of sheet aluminum that had fallen and that in the space it had covered was a column of six little switches. Only the top one was identified. Tiny glowing letters beside it spelled trees and it was on.
When Jonathan got home from the city that evening she gathered her courage and told him about it. He was neither particularly angry nor impressed.
“Of course there’s a switch for the trees,” he informed her deflatingly, motioning the robot butler to cut his steak...
Author: Wikipedia: “Fritz Reuter Leiber, Jr. (December 24, 1910 – September 5, 1992) was an American writer (of German extraction) of fantasy, horror and science fiction. He was also a poet, actor in theatre and films, playwright, expert chess player and a champion fencer…With writers such as Robert E. Howard and Michael Moorcock, Leiber can be regarded as one of the fathers of Sword and Sorcery fantasy. But he excelled in all fields of speculative fiction, writing award-winning work in horror, fantasy and science fiction…Leiber…was born December 24, 1910, in Chicago, Illinois, to the actors Fritz Leiber, Sr. and Virginia Leiber, and, for a time, he seemed inclined to follow in his parents’ footsteps (Theater and actors were prominently featured in his fiction). He spent 1928 touring with his parents’ Shakespeare company before studying philosophy at the University of Chicago, where he graduated with honors (1928–32).”