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The journalist likes this patient, a friendly little man who seems perfectly normal except for using invisible tools to build a complex invisible machine.

The journalist spends some time with him and can identify the different invisible tools. See when he is carefully measuring with an invisible micrometer, when he is neatly filing something down, etc. He notes that the tools are always returned to their correct place in the 'tool box'. He has no idea what he is supposed to be building.

What he watched was so convincing that he asked a member of staff if anyone had ever felt around where the invisible construction was supposed to be.

He is told no. The patient gets distressed if anyone tries to go over there. We are in the business of trying to make our patients well, not needlessly distressing them. We don't even clean over in that corner.

The journalist leaves. A few days later he is called up by someone who works at the hospital. They have had their first ever escape. The man building the invisible machine just disappeared, in the middle of the night. There is no sign of how he got out of the building.

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    I don't know this story, but I'm reminded of Douglas Adams' The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul where patients in a mental hospital were doing impossible things like reciting current stock market values or creating advanced physics (ostensibly dictated by Einstein etc); the staff declined to intervene. Apr 16 at 12:55

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This is probably "Escape" (1938) by Paul Ernst, first published in Weird Tales, July 1938. It was collected a couple of times in the 1940s and then again in 100 Wild Little Weird Tales (1994).

An inmate is building something invisible with invisible tools:

He was building something. He would pick up a tool, adjust it carefully, work with all the delicacy of a watchmaker for a moment. Then he would lay the tool down and pick up a gage and check his work. All very accurate and careful.

The only thing was that you couldn't see what he was building. And you couldn't see any tools, nor gages nor work-bench. There was nothing in the cell but the man, and a bolted-down cot and chair.

I don't want to quote too much, since the story is only 4 pages long, but the rest fits too; the narrator is a journalist and he is called back by an attendant when the inmate, Gannet, simply disappears from his cell.

You can read the story in its original publication at the Internet Archive.

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