The Santaroga Barrier by Frank Herbert
Table of Contents
Tor Books by Frank Herbert
The sun went down as the five-year-old Ford camper-pickup truck ground over the pass and started down the long grade into Santaroga Valley. A crescent-shaped turn-off had been leveled beside the first highway curve. Gilbert Dasein pulled his truck onto the gravel, stopped at a white barrier fence and looked down into the valley whose secrets he had come to expose.
Two men already had died on this project, Dasein reminded himself. Accidents. Natural accidents. What was down there in that bowl of shadows inhabited by random lights? Was there an accident waiting for him?
Dasein’s back ached after the long drive up from Berkeley. He shut off the motor, stretched. A burning odor of hot oil permeated the cab. The union of truckbed and camper emitted creakings and poppings.
The valley stretching out below him looked somehow different from what Dasein had expected. The sky around it was a ring of luminous blue full of sunset glow that spilled over into an upper belt of trees and rocks.
There was a sense of quiet about the place, of an island sheltered from storms.
What did I expect the place to be? Dasein wondered.
He decided all the maps he’d studied, all the reports on Santaroga he’d read, had led him to believe he knew the valley. But maps were not the land. Reports weren’t people.
Dasein glanced at his wristwatch: almost seven. He felt reluctant to continue.
Far off to the left across the valley, strips of green light glowed among trees. That was the area labeled “green-houses” on the map. A castellated block of milky white on an outcropping down to his right he identified as the Jaspers Cheese Cooperative. The yellow gleam of windows and moving lights around it spoke of busy activity.
Dasein grew aware of insect sounds in the darkness around him, the swoop-humming of air through night-hawks’ wings and, away in the distance, the mournful baying of hounds. The voice of the pack appeared to come from beyond the Co-op.
He swallowed, thinking that the yellow windows suddenly were like baleful eyes peering into the valley’s darker depths.
Dasein shook his head, smiled. That was no way to think. Unprofessional. All the ominous nonsense muttered about Santaroga had to be put aside. A scientific investigation could not operate in that atmosphere. He turned on the cab’s dome light, took his briefcase from the seat beside him. Gold lettering on the brown leather identified it: “Gilbert Dasein—Department of Psychology—University of California—Berkeley.”
In a battered folder from the case he began writing: “Arrived Santaroga Valley approximately 6:45 p.m. Setting is that of a prosperous farm community …”
Presently, he put case and folder aside.
Prosperous farm community, he thought. How could he know it was prosperous? No—prosperity wasn’t what he saw. That was something he knew from the reports.
The real valley in front of him now conveyed a sense of waiting, of quietness punctuated by occasional tinklings of cowbells. He imagined husbands and wives down there after a day of work. What did they discuss now in their waiting darkness?
What did Jenny Sorge discuss with her husband—provided she had a husband? It seemed impossible she’d still be single—lovely, nubile Jenny. It was more than a year since they’d last seen each other at the University.
Dasein sighed. No escaping thoughts of Jenny—not here in Santaroga. Jenny contained part of Santaroga’s mystery. She was an element of the Santaroga Barrier and a prime subject for his present investigation.
Again, Dasein sighed. He wasn’t fooling himself. He knew why he’d accepted this project. It wasn’t the munificent sum those chain stores were paying the university for this study, nor the generous salary provided for himself.
He had come because this was where Jenny lived.
Dasein told himself he’d smile and act normal, perfectly normal, when he met her. He was here on business, a psychologist detached from his usual teaching duties to make a market study in Santaroga Valley.
What was a perfectly normal way to act with Jenny, though? How did one achieve normalcy when encountering the paranormal?
Jenny was a Santarogan—and the normalcy of this valley defied normal explanations.
His mind went to the reports, “the known facts.” All the folders of data, the collections of official pryings, the secondhand secrets which were the stock in a trade of the bureaucracy—all this really added up to a single “known fact” about Santaroga: There was something extraordinary at work here, something far more disturbing than any so-called market study had ever tackled before.
Meyer Davidson, the soft looking, pink fleshed little man who’d presented himself as the agent of the investment corporation, the holding company behind the chain stores paying for this project, had put it in an angry nutshell at the first orientation meeting: “The whole thing about Santaroga boils down to this—Why were we forced to close our branches there? Why won’t even one Santarogan trade with an outsider? That’s what we want to know. What’s this Santaroga Barrier which keeps us from doing business there?”
Davidson wasn’t as soft as he looked.
Dasein started the truck, turned on his headlights, resumed his course down the winding grade.
All the data was a single datum.
Outsiders found no houses for rent or sale in this valley.
Santaroga officials said they had no juvenile delinquency figures for the state’s statistics.
Servicemen from Santaroga always returned when they were discharged. In fact, no Santarogan had ever been known to move out of the valley.
Why? Was it a two-way barrier?
And the curious anomalies: The data had included a medical journal article by Jenny’s uncle, Dr. Lawrence Piaget, reputedly the valley’s leading physician. The article: “The Poison Oak Syndrome in Santaroga.” Its substance: Santarogans had a remarkable susceptibility to allergens when forced to live away from their valley for extended periods. This was the chief reason for service rejection of Santaroga’s youths.
Data equaled datum.
Santaroga reported no cases of mental illness or mental deficiency to the State Department of Mental Hygiene. No Santarogan could be found in a state mental hospital. (The psychiatrist who headed Dasein’s university department, Dr. Chami Selador, found this fact “alarming.”)
Cigarette sales in Santaroga could be accounted for by transient purchasers.
Santarogans manifested an iron resistance to national advertising. (An un-American symptom, according to Meyer Davidson.)
No cheese, wines or beers made outside the valley could be marketed to Santarogans.
All the valley’s businesses, including the bank, were locally owned. They flatly rejected outside investment money.
Santaroga had successfully resisted every “pork barrel” government project the politicians had offered. Their State Senator was from Porterville, ten miles behind Dasein and well outside the valley. Among the political figures Dasein had interviewed to lay the groundwork for his study, the State Senator was one of the few who didn’t think Santarogans were “a pack of kooks, maybe religious nuts of some kind.”
“Look, Dr. Dasein,” he’d said, “all this mystery crap about Santaroga is just that—crap.”
The Senator was a skinny, intense man with a shock of gray hair and red-veined eyes. Barstow was his name; one o
Barstow’s opinion: “Santaroga’s a last outpost of American individualism. They’re Yankees, Down Easters living in California. Nothing mysterious about ’em at all. They don’t ask special favors and they don’t fan my ears with stupid questions. I wish all my constituents were as straightforward and honest.”
One man’s opinion, Dasein thought.
An isolated opinion.
Dasein was down into the valley proper now. The two-lane road leveled into a passage through gigantic trees. This was the Avenue of the Giants winding between rows of sequoia gigantea.
There were homes set back in the trees. The datum-data said some of these homes had been here since the gold rush. The scroll work of carpenter gothic lined their eaves. Many were three stories high, yellow lights in their windows.
Dasein grew aware of an absence, a negative fact about the houses he saw: No television flicker, no cathode living rooms, no walls washed to skimmed-milk gray by the omnipresent tube.
The road forked ahead of him. An arrow pointed left to “City Center” and two arrows directed him to the right to “The Santaroga House” and “Jaspers Cheese Co-op.”
Dasein turned right.
His road wound upward beneath an arch: “Santaroga, The Town That Cheese Built.” Presently, it emerged from the redwoods into an oak flat. The Co-op loomed gray white, bustling with lights and activity behind a chain fence on his right. Across the road to his left stood Dasein’s first goal here, a long three-storey inn built in the rambling 1900 style with a porch its full length. Lines of multipaned windows (most dark) looked down onto a gravel parking area. The sign at the entrance read: “Santaroga House—Gold Rush Museum—Hours 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.”
Most of the cars nosed to a stone border parallel to the porch were well-kept older models. A few shiny new machines were parked in a second row as though standing aloof.
Dasein parked beside a 1939 Chevrolet whose paint gleamed with a rich waxy gloss. Red-brown upholstery visible through the windows appeared to be hand-tailored leather.
Rich man’s toy, Dasein thought.
He took his suitcase from the camper, turned to the inn. There was a smell of new mown lawn in the air and the sound of running water. It reminded Dasein of his childhood, his aunt’s garden with the brook along the back. A strong sense of nostalgia gripped him.
Abruptly, a discordant note intruded. From the upper floors of the inn came the raucous sound of a man and woman arguing, the man’s voice brusk, the woman’s with a strident fishwife qualify.
“I’m not staying in this godforsaken hole one more night,” the woman screamed. “They don’t want our money! They don’t want us! You do what you want; I’m leaving!”
“Belle, stop it! You’ve …”
A window slammed. The argument dimmed to a muted screeching-mumbling.
Dasein took a deep breath. The argument restored his perspective. Here were two more people with their noses against the Santaroga Barrier.
Dasein strode along the gravel, up four steps to the porch and through swinging doors with windows frosted by scroll etching. He found himself in a high-ceilinged lobby, crystal chandeliers overhead. Dark wood paneling, heavily grained like ancient charts enclosed the space. A curved counter stretched across the corner to his right, an open door behind it from which came the sound of a switch-board. To the right of this counter was a wide opening through which he glimpsed a dining room—white tablecloths, crystal, silver. A western stagecoach was parked at his left behind brass posts supporting a maroon velvet rope with a “Do Not Touch” sign.
Dasein stopped to study the coach. It smelled of dust and mildew. A framed card on the boot gave its history: “Used on the San Francisco-Santaroga route from 1868 to 1871.” Below this card was a slightly larger frame enclosing a yellowed sheet of paper with a brass legend beside it: “A note from Black Bart, the Po-8 Highwayman.” In sprawling script on the yellow paper it read:
“So here I’ve stood while wind and rain
Have set the trees a-sobbin’
And risked my life for that damned stage
That wasn’t worth the robbin’.”
Dasein chuckled, shifted his briefcase to his left arm, crossed to the counter and rang the call bell.
A bald, wrinkled stick of a man in a black suit appeared in the open doorway, stared at Dasein like a hawk ready to pounce. “Yes?”
“I’d like a room,” Dasein said.
“What’s your business?”
Dasein stiffened at the abrupt challenge. “I’m tired,” he said. “I want a night’s sleep.”
“Passing through, I hope,” the man grumbled. He shuffled to the counter, pushed a black registry ledger toward Dasein.
Dasein took a pen from its holder beside the ledger, signed.
The clerk produced a brass key on a brass tag, said: “You get two fifty-one next to that dang’ couple from L.A. Don’t blame me if they keep y’ awake arguing.” He slapped the key onto the counter. “That’ll be ten dollars … in advance.”
“I’m hungry,” Dasein said, producing his wallet and paying. “Is the dining room open?” He accepted a receipt.
“Closes at nine,” the clerk said.
“Is there a bellboy?”
“You look strong enough to carry your own bag.” He pointed beyond Dasein. “Room’s up them stairs, second floor.”
Dasein turned. There was an open area behind the stagecoach. Scattered through it were leather chairs, high wings and heavy arms, a few occupied by elderly men sitting, reading. Light came from heavy brass floor lamps with fringed shades. A carpeted stairway led upward beyond the chairs.
It was a scene Dasein was to think of many times later as his first clue to the real nature of Santaroga. The effect was that of holding time securely in a bygone age.
Vaguely troubled, Dasein said: “I’ll check my room later. May I leave my bag here while I eat?”
“Leave it on the counter. No one’ll bother it.”
Dasein put the case on the counter, caught the clerk studying him with a fixed stare.
“Something wrong?” Dasein asked.
The clerk reached for the briefcase under Dasein’s arm, but Dasein stepped back, removed it from the questing fingers, met an angry stare.
“Hmmmph!” the clerk snorted. There was no mistaking his frustration. He’d wanted a look inside the briefcase.
Inanely, Dasein said: “I … uh, want to look over some papers while I’m eating.” And he thought: Why do I need to explain?
Feeling angry with himself, he turned, strode through the passage into the dining room. He found himself in a large square room, a single massive chandelier in the center, brass carriage lamps spaced around walls of dark wood paneling. The chairs at the round tables were heavy with substantial arms. A long teak bar stretched along the wall at his left, a wood-framed mirror behind it. Light glittered hypnotically from the central chandelier and glasses stacked beneath the mirror.
The room swallowed sounds. Dasein felt he had walked into a sudden hush with people turning to look at him. Actually, his entrance went almost unnoticed.
A white-coated bartender on duty for a scattering of customers at the bar glanced at him, went back to talking to a swarthy man hunched over a mug of beer.
Family groups occupied about a dozen of the tables. There was a card game at a table near the bar. Two tables held lone women busy with their forks.
There was a division of people in this room, Dasein felt. It was a matter of nervous tension contrasted with a calmness as substantial as the room itself. He decided he could pick out the transients—they appeared tired, more rumpled; their children were closer to rebellion.
As he moved farther into the room, Dasein glimpsed himself in the bar mirror—fatigue lines on his slender face, the curly black hair mussed by the wind, brown eyes glazed with attention, still driving the car. A smudge of road dirt drew a dark line beside the cleft in his
“You wish a table, sir?”
A Negro waiter had appeared at his elbow—white jacket, hawk nose, sharp Moorish features, a touch of gray at the temples. There was a look of command about him all out of agreement with the menial costume. Dasein thought immediately of Othello. The eyes were brown and wise.
“Yes, please: for one,” Dasein said.
“This way, sir.”
Dasein was guided to a table against the near wall. One of the carriage lamps bathed it in a warm yellow glow. As the heavy chair enveloped him, Dasein’s attention went to the table near the bar—the card game … four men. He recognized one of the men from a picture Jenny had carried: Piaget, the doctor uncle, author of the medical journal article on allergens. Piaget was a large, gray-haired man, bland round face, a curious suggestion of the Oriental about him that was heightened by the fan of cards held close to his chest.
“You wish a menu, sir?”
“Yes. Just a moment … the men playing cards with Dr. Piaget over there.”
“Who are they?”
“You know Dr. Larry, sir?”
“I know his niece, Jenny Sorge. She carried a photo of Dr. Piaget.”
The waiter glanced at the briefcase Dasein had placed in the center of the table. “Dasein,” he said. A wide smile put a flash of white in the dark face. “You’re Jenny’s friend from the school.”
The waiter’s words carried so many implications that Dasein found himself staring, open-mouthed.
“Jenny’s spoken of you, sir,” the waiter said.
“The men playing cards with Dr. Larry—you want to know who they are.” He turned toward the players. “Well, sir, that’s Captain Al Marden of the Highway Patrol across from Dr. Larry. On the right there, that’s George Nis. He manages the Jaspers Cheese Co-op. The fellow on the left is Mr. Sam Scheler. Mr. Sam runs our independent service station. I’ll get you that menu, sir.”
The waiter headed toward the bar.
Dasein’s attention remained on the card players, wondering why they held his interest so firmly. Marden, sitting with his back partly turned toward Dasein, was in mufti, a dark blue suit. His hair was a startling mop of red. He turned his head to the right and Dasein glimpsed a narrow face, tight-lipped mouth with a cynical downtwist.