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jordan179 - "A Question of Etiquette" (1942) by Robert Bloch, up on Fantastic Worlds
November 13th, 2013
09:03 pm


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"A Question of Etiquette" (1942) by Robert Bloch, up on Fantastic Worlds
"A Question of Etiquette"

© 1942


Robert Bloch

The house was old, like all the rest of them on the block. The gate squeaked as I pushed it open. That was the only, sound I heard. My shoes had stopped squeaking, hours ago. Taking the census takes the squeak out of shoes very quickly.

I walked up the steps of the porch. I was tired of walking up steps. I rang the bell. I was tired of ringing the bell.Feet sounded, inside., I was tired of feet sounding inside.

Just the same; I braced myself, ."Here it comes," I thought. "Another nose!"

And I was particularly tired of counting noses.

You understand how it is. Walk all day. Ring doorbells. Lug a heavy portfolio under your arm. Ask the same stupid questions over and over again. And when you finish, you haven't sold anybody a vacuum cleaner. You haven't sold a Fuller brush, or even a package of shoe laces. All you get out of it is four cents a nose taking the census. There's no chance for advancement. Uncle Sam isn't going to call you~into^ffirprivatT office, hand you a cigar, and say, "Well, now! I hear you've been doing a mighty fine.job of this house-to-house work. From now on you're going to sit at this desk.. No more nose-counting for .you."

No, all you get out of this census business is a new list of noses-to count tomorrow. Four-cent noses. Big ones and little ones, pug noses and hooked noses, and red, white and blue schnozzles—until you develop a case of nasal allergy. You feel that if the door opens on just one more nose you'll slam it back and go away after tweaking or punching that nose.

So here I was, waiting for this particular nose to stick out. I braced myself, and the door opened.

A sharp pinched beak appeared, the advance guard for a nondescript face and an ordinary housewife's body. The nose sniffed the air and hovered there somewhat uncertainly in the protecting shadow of the door.


"I'm from the U. S. Government, madame. • I'm taking the census."

"Oh. Census-taker?"

"Yes. May I come in and ask you a few questions?"

This kind of sparkling' dialogue went on all day. Just one great big exchange of personalities after another.

."Come on."

Down a dark hall, into a dark parlor.

A lamp flared up as I set the bulky portfolio down on the table, opened it up, and drew out the form.

The woman watched me. Her solid face was expressionless. Housewife's face. Used to watching encyclopedia salesmen and bill collectors, with one eye kept on the kitchen stove.

Well, thirty-five questions to wade through. Routine. I filled in the MALE or FEMALE. bracket, and the RACE bracket, set down the address. Then,


"Lisa Lorini." , .

"Married or single?"



"Four hundred and seven."


 "Four hundred and seven."


"Four hundred and seven."

All right, so I work all day, so I run into a half-wit. I looked into the blank face. Well, hurry on, get it over with.

"Your occupation?"

"I am a witch."


"I said that I am a witch."

For four cents it wasn't worth it. I pretended to write it down and skipped to the next question.

"Who do you work for?"

"I work for myself. And, of course, for my Master."


"Satan Merkatrig. The Devil."


Wow, taking the census sure is interesting work!  Find out how the rest of the interview goes on Fantastic Worlds!

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(7 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:November 15th, 2013 12:33 am (UTC)
I think I read this long ago in "Bloch and Bradbury." An excellent collection if your run across it. Thanks for the lead.
[User Picture]
Date:November 15th, 2013 01:58 am (UTC)
I think I read this one myself years ago. It ends with him in the witch's body, right? (Er, not like that.)
[User Picture]
Date:November 15th, 2013 11:06 am (UTC)
I think he would have greatly preferred "like that" to what actually happened to him, but yes. :)
[User Picture]
Date:November 15th, 2013 02:02 am (UTC)
Also, while discussing the horror fiction of Mister Bloch, did you ever read either of his classics, 'Notebook Found In A Deserted House' or 'Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper'? I always wondered if the latter with its immortal Jack was an inspiration for the first episode of the 70's 'Night Stalker' TV show.
[User Picture]
Date:November 15th, 2013 11:05 am (UTC)
I've read the first but I don't remember the second. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Bloch's horror inspired the Night Stalker, it was intensely psychological and that was what made that series work.
[User Picture]
Date:November 15th, 2013 06:10 pm (UTC)
The second story is the one about Jack as an immortal black magician. It was turned into an epsiode of (I think) 'Thriller' back in the 60's.
[User Picture]
Date:January 6th, 2014 09:31 pm (UTC)


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