HARLAN ELLISON “Cold Friend.” First published in Galaxy SF, October 1973. Reprinted in The Best from Galaxy, Volume II, edited anonymously by Ejler Jakobsson. Collected in Approaching Oblivion: Road Signs on the Treadmill Toward Tomorrow (Walker, hardcover, 1974).

   A man who has died on cancer wakes up and finds that except for a chunk of land surrounding the hospital in Hanover, New Hampshire, perhaps only three blocks in radius, the rest of the world has disappeared. Electricity is still on, and food is always stocked in the stores. At the edge of his world, things dangle from underneath, cables, water linesand the like.

   He is the only one there, except at first strange barbarians from all eras from Earth’s past, who ride through then vanish over the edge. Until, finally, a young girl from Boston shows up. She is very pale and is wearing only a translucent dress. She is also very cold to the touch. She claims to have been responsible for the situation they are in, but Eugene Harrison (that’s his name), is not so sure.

   There is a little more to the story, but not a lot. (I have glossed over the finer details.) Readers who want solid endings to their reading matter may not like this one, but it’s told in such a way, — as if Eugene Harrison is telling us his story in words an ordinary person would use (or if Harlan Ellison, in proxy, was leaving an audio recording for us to listen to) — you may not mind at all either.

PostScript: You may be able to discern from the cover of Galaxy SF above that this was a special issue, the 23rd Anniversary issue, with quite a few name authors in it. If I’d bought this issue from the newsstand, and I probably did, I might have been disappointed. One chunk of 50 pages is the first part of a serial by James White (“The Dream Millennium”), and another chunk of almost 70 pages is the end of a serial by Arthur C. Clarke (“Rendezvous with Rama”).

   That’s 120 pages of a 180 page magazine. This leaves space for only a one page poem by Ray Bradbury, and three short stories. The other two are by Theodore Sturgeon and Ursula K. LeGuin. If you skip the serial installments, that’s not a lot of reading for 75 cents.