25

Looking for the title and author of this short story: A man is walking down the street when he comes to a young woman in a sort of fugue state taking off her clothes; a crowd is beginning to surround her. She sort of wakes up and is confused and dazed -- doesn't know how she came to be there or why she's undressing, etc. The man puts his coat around her, helps her, talks to her.

He is some sort of scientist - he's been tracking cultural trends and has observed patterns where odd or strange societal change comes right before major cataclysms. Silly, weird trends, fads, people doing unexplained things, etc, and then something awful. He's tracking something similar now, and links her behavior to his studies. They keep in touch, and one day he calls her and says NOW. The go together into the mountains (I think they start in CA and head east) and live for a while in a cabin, until one day he calls her out onto the porch and they watch the mushroom cloud in the distance.

I thought for a long time the story was called "The Silly Season," but that seems to be a different story entirely.

  • it's not a mushroom cloud at the end. It's a solar flare, or nova, or something not quite explained but having to do with the sun. – Ross Presser Aug 22 at 18:19
  • @RossPresser they do see a mushroom cloud during their escape from the city. – Organic Marble Aug 22 at 20:47
34

The Year of the Jackpot” by Robert A Heinlein.

Potiphar Breen is a middle-aged bachelor with a settled, orderly life, and a rather unusual hobby. We meet him first at breakfast in a Los Angeles diner, where he orders his usual meal, takes notes of various apparently unrelated items in several newspapers, and carefully counts out his payment, adding an exactly calculated tip. He then walks out to a bus stop, where a young lady is removing all her clothes.

A pair of passing transvestites try to provoke a beat cop into arresting her, but the cop refrains for fear that the publicity will simply inspire more kooks to disrobe. Breen is unmoved. He waits for her to finish undressing, then wraps his coat around her just as the bus arrives. She promptly faints. He drives her to his house, lets her dress, and after explaining that he is not trying to take advantage of her, interviews her. She explains that she has no idea why she had the sudden urge to take her clothes off. He tells her why he was not surprised at what she did. Apparently women have been doing the same thing, all over the city, for some time. The news has been carefully hushed up, just as Breen himself called a friend at the newspaper and fed him a phony account of this incident.

| improve this answer | |
  • 5
    And timely it is this year. – Organic Marble Aug 22 at 3:20
  • C.M. Kornbluth's "The Silly Season" is indeed a different story. No need to ask me how I know this: I read it several times years ago in the same search before finding what I sought, which is "The Year of the Jackpot". – Occam Shave Aug 22 at 14:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.