It was still
the morning of fires : the whisper of distant fires which would
This is damned
silly, his voice said over the surface of the deep.
mind was speaking again, he could hear the words forming their own
sounds, suspended above the vastness of everything gone, waking
his attention to the pathetic, puzzling projections on the orange
velvet insides of his eyelids. Pictures of past ancient weeks, beneath
his weighted lids, consciously focused.
A cold gray
cloud in the sky above, covering over the thought of a "Cold
War," still hanging icily down from the sky.
in early October, Miss Brantley was giving the history lesson to
her third-grade class: "Christopher Columbus believed that
the world was round, but he could not convince anyone else. He believed
there was a shorter way to get to China than the long trip through
the Indian Ocean. The people of Europe wanted the wonderful spices
and silks from Asia, but it was still being taught in the schools
of Europe that the world was flat. Columbus visited the kings and
queens of Italy and Portugal, but finally in 1492, Queen Isabella
of Spain believed him and persuaded her husband King Ferdinand to
give Columbus three ships to sail straight to China..."
Hauberc, but two desks ahead of him, Bill flashed his drawing pad
with a scribbled robot cat, and Hauberc broke out laughing. Miss
Brantley got frantic, "John Hauberc, you’re going to the Principal’s
office in ten seconds !!" That shut him up. Then they had their
"Air-Raid Drill," all of them dashing out into the hallway
to crouch and cringe against the wall.
But Hauberc kept looking over at the wide window panels at the end
of the corridor. But they knew what it would be like – they knew
there was a huge army helicopter factory, Sikorsky's, only a few
miles away, some of their dads worked there – and they knew the
big bomb would shatter everything in on us in a terrible shower
of glass and fire, or maybe just vaporize them all in a blinding
flash of negative atomic light ! It could do that, like Hiroshima
and Nagasaki – even bigger.
What had happened had been so easy to see coming that no one believed
it would really happen. Yet everyone had lived in its fear, knowing
its irrevocable outcome -- everything sucked into the Final Conflict,
like the rush at the inside of a funnel-cloud running over the long
meadow of past time. The world had often come close to the edge
of disaster, like just a few years before now when Hauberc was fifteen,
and they took their seats on the school bus in the morning looking
at each other in terror that they wouldn’t be here to ride the bus
home tonight. Kennedy was playing a game of nerves and "Brinksmanship"
with Khruschev : would JFK get the Russian missiles out of Cuba
or what would happen ? They had all prepared themselves for Annihilation.
But after this approach to the brink the danger then receded --
like a great wave on a beach rolling back before coming ashore in
his dream. Except "this time" it happened, and the flood
tide did swallow up the shore and the inland with it. --- This was
the lesson and the quiet nightmare they had lived each day -- that
of ten thousand artificial suns suddenly burning up the sky ...
that nothing would survive but radioactive rubble and the few survivors
left in chaos... They tried to understand the reason it had really
happened, but the meaning kept crumbling, even the order of the
gray cloud in the sky above," covering over the thought of
a "Cold War," still hanging icily down from the sky. Now
it really was cold and it stayed cold ! -- And the cold cloud suddenly
seized its moment to fog over the Defense Perimeter on the edge
of his consciousness. -- Corrosive gas wafted over and mingled in
the mists of morning, just as mustard had in the Great War, boiling
away the only remaining links of sensibility holding the images
together. The fearsome question, of what could really happen, had
been answered, once and for all. This time the radio said it was
a "Communications Breakdown," -- yeah, right -- then everything
turned to silence…
The words in
his head, like rhetorical static, finally faded out, just as a forest
fire went raging through the hair roots of his scalp, and a rush
of creaking fear : his legs were gone, exploded away!
-- feeling began to seep into the veins of his extremities... The
skin all over now prickled, dampness pervading everything around
him. Reassured by his discomfort, he could feel how his body was
huddled, stomach down, into the narrow alley between old stucco
garages in an area of pleasant dwellings, the earth beneath him
a frozen crevasse.
In his mind
there was still something ruminating, but what was it? This area
was somewhere in the East, a Central European town, the name of
which he couldn't bring back into memory, looking familiar, though
out of context : Occupying the corner of two streets, the back side
of the nearby house gleamed an image that was strained through a
mesh of rusty, waist-high wire fence, like the last image he had
seen on the Distant Early Warning wall-screen display, the radar
line across arctic Canada which protected the U.S. from Soviet sneak
attack. (The corrosive "DEW," a fetid mustard mist that
stuck to everything and warped his memory...)
But the place
looked like the back yard of his parents’ house in Stratford. From
his earliest memories here, he was aware of the expanding universe:
At first he had been allowed to play in their fenced-in yard, digging
little holes in the ground, making paths across the back lawn to
become imaginary roads. Slightly older, he had been allowed out
of the gate, to play in the driveway and learn to shoot basketballs
through the net on the garage, high above him. Then to walk to the
corner and back under the nice pine trees. Eventually, he had been
allowed only to explore the whole town block on which they lived,
never to cross a road, but to find all the passageways and alleys
between the houses and between the garages back to back, and he
crawled through all the bushes in everyone’s yards. The kindly ancient
retired couples on the block often invited him into their kitchens
and fed him sandwiches and soup, and cookies!
He and his
friend Fred Pageant made the garage into a space-ship and rocketed
through the planets and stars. Since a child, Hauberc wanted to
be a Space-man or go and sail the South Seas. After this war, an
idyllic life lay ahead of him. … But not over seas that now boiled,
in this "best of all possible worlds..." hah! Being recruited
he had thought, “by the time I’m fifty in State Service, thirty
years in the "Future," I could become a diplomat in the
Mercury Space Program... Uh, 'How do you do, your Majesty? I’m Ambassador
Pangloss from Earth… You must have seen all those bright flashes
over there by Proxima Centura last week -- that was us ! We had
replied Xerxes, king of Prolepsis, "we're sorry for your planet...!"
Everything he had learned, everything he had loved, or had hoped
to find in his life, now was boiled.
Now an abandoned white house across its spacious neat lawn, like
the one where he used to live, now contained the same fragmented
boxes of motionless activity.... Silver-anode eyed bodies peered
back at him through their un-blown-out windows -- His mother glared
out impatiently at him from one of them... (Like every other middle-class
suburban community in the world, this town was now merely one plot
of the vast above-ground cemetery.)
Dim, hazy gray pressed in. Something was still sticking into his
side, between himself and the broken-shingled garage wall, and forcing
a deliberate movement, he reached down and pulled it forth:
US ARMY AR-15 CARBINE.
A broken relic, it was his own now, without meaning, except as a
useless toy. There were no enemies, nor any friends, nor any neutral
parties he had seen for some time. Strategic Command had toyed with
the scenario of this disaster for so long, had programmed for every
contingency, that now there was nothing left to do. How could he
get back to America from here? Was he the Last Man, the opposite
of Adam? Was this like the Big Bang itself, detonating a second
time, the blast spawning a Second Universe? He would have to wait
millions of years for another human being to appear --
Perhaps he would be God himself --
if he didn't feel so dizzy, if he didn’t feel as though gravity
was working sideward, pulling him into every object he looked at;
Death tugging at Life...
Strategic Command no longer signaled his covert directives... He
tried again to remember the Contingency Plan, tried to focus, but
amidst the weighted horror of images, the thought passed, and his
mind re-flooded. Separating from shore, the radio drift became uncontrollable
/ “Frequency drift!! I can't lock onto his signal! Oh, God, we're
losing him !”
That was the last : a deafening squawk.
“We're ready tonight.” An unwavering, lost, sober voice, that came
up from the depths.
Small, dark, empty room, five young people, Westin, Ansgar, Opal,
Frederick, and John, as they called him here, sitting on the floor
in a circle, around a blueprint of the Communications Reactor. Opal,
his friend from high-school whose parents were Russian emmigrees,
had left art-school after a year, and taken courses for Electronic
Communications, and had worked at the phone company and now here.
She had “borrowed” the blueprint.
“Are you sure the device can't fail?” his own mouth bubbling, vocal
“By tomorrow evening, every government in the world will be temporarily
paralyzed,” Ansgar replied. “Temporarily--until our ultimatum is
met-- that is, until they stop governing--”
scenes flashing by, dissolving into streaks: red,
yellow, blue, orange, green, black.......
Running with the others. Through pine grove, nocturnal silver-brown
rocks and erect grass-blade shadows..... Opal led them down a security
entrance into the underground complex, the steep metal steps scratch/clanking
beneath his boots
into the brightly lit fluorescent corridor, walls wearily sighing
with the flow of the senseless motley of young freedom-fighters
they called “terrorists.”
In the adjacent computer-filled room, another iron-rung ladder leading
up to the Communications Reactor above was besieged by a forest
of adolescent olive-drab camouflage trees. This Pandora’s Pan-Opticon
system which maintained total surveillance, monitoring every conversation
spoken, every letter written, scrutinizing every word on the planet,
must be sabotaged.
--But guards suddenly appeared, using their rifle butts to hack
their way through the thicket of saplings.
he must be dreaming, recognizing them as two teachers from his high
school, wearing guards' uniforms : short, intense Mr. Read, the
English instructor; and old, energetic Miss Wheeler, the eccentric
science prof -- tall, thin, and wiry.
Read, grammarian and authoritarian more than teacher, advanced through
the swarm, but Miss Wheeler recognized the Natural Biology of the
situation and casually turned to leave the room.
Halfway up the monkey bars, Hauberc watched as Read shoved forward
and thrust himself up the ladder in hot pursuit. Arms and kicking
feet snaked through the tangle of metal.
But the pulling at John’ foot suddenly relaxed as Read’s pallid
body slid inert back into the open-armed motley below.
“Don't hurt him, just get him out of here!” Hauberc shouted down.
What was he doing here, anyway ? I'm agent-provocateur, he said
to himself, though there was something in him being satisfied by
this membership. And this was what Simone wanted him to do.
...But suddenly, almost to the top, the ladder negligently pulled
out of his grasp, allowing him to topple to the floor as well. With
the sirens wailing as if nuclear attack had been triggered, the
floor itself was oscillating somewhere between the ceiling and the
walls. But his magnetic talons managed to clutch hold again, his
arms waving at the maniacal, deafening, ultra-red spotlights...
the rivering glacier of adolescents, he passed the dead Read (mr)
sprawled on the kindergarten floor. No phrases of pity or feeling
came into his head -- the Death Sentence was only an APHASIA of
words in the oblique diagrams of meaningless sentences. Only his
facial muscles grimaced at the sight, acknowledging the immense
scandal of his situation.
Down the corridor in a lobby-like area, the same inert teacher was
also lying on a wheel stretcher which had been bumped out of the
way. Hauberc ambled over and loosened the bonds so that the teacher
could escape before the building blew up. Read's thin lips smiled
up in gratitude but his Empty orbs stared at Hauberc, broiling him
beneath his jacket.
“Look, I said 'Don't hurt him'!” he argued to convince the corpse
to quit bugging him. “Oh--go t’ hell!”
Fed up with everything, he turned and trailed after the ebbing glacier
Now Hauberc wanted to write a letter home, the thoughts ran through
his mind in streams of words to say to everyone at home, and the
feelings and memories ran through his body like something electric
had made a short circuit, from his nerves to his brain-cells. He
wanted to write to each one he had loved before. He hoped they still
lived, he prayed they had survived.
Dreams of each one possessed him, one after the other, as if they
had come into his life. But he wanted them back all at once, especially
if he had died, or was about to. He wished that communication would
be granted again. All these memories came back to him out of order.
There was no really solid ground for Hauberc to walk over these
memories, to review the continuity of his life up till now -- all
like a path of broken ice flows separating from the glacier of time
which were laid out before him to jump across where he could ford,
or wait and dwell where the gap was still too wide. Each ice flow
of memory formed another part of the jigsaw puzzle of the massive
ice-shelf, another fragment of the series of events peopled with
the recurrent faces of childhood and those who had led him -- until
the disaster had left him on the strand, beached in an unknown but
familiar town: Images of walls, doorways, and trails strung together
in an amnesiac cause-and-effect of what was inevitable.
Walnut grain finish on formica, the walls in a small elevator compartment.
Sensation of falling, falling into the Before Time. --- (The time
before the disaster had overtaken the Cold War rivalry now was eclipsed
by the eruption of fireballs, becoming the exclamation-points of
history.) -- Hauberc’s stomach was pitching around in his abdomen,
the elevator enclosing a universe soaring skyward in its shaft,
and he woke with the cold of gunmetal in his hands.
The lift abruptly jolted, his stomach sent careening up into his
rib-cage, thrusting his heart into his throat..... The lift’s gates
suddenly slid open, blasting sunlight into the elevator compartment,
flying splinters of rays, splinters of rage, into the troopers'
young faces, bathing the whole compartment in a blinding light.
Immediately he was repulsing khaki-clad figures with conditioned
Upon an architectural
network of twelve-foot wide open sky-bridges, connecting lofty glass-and-steel
office balconies, a cacophony of sporadic gunfire and popping laser-weapons
striking flashes all around him.--- The concrete railings provided
the only cover : There had come a sudden alert to his unit, sounding
shocking and stupid: Invaders from the “Prolepsis Nebula” were descending
from a floating fortress. The real Top Secret reason for NATO's
elaborate Missile Defense Shield became suddenly obvious. These
were not Earthly soldiers.
of fighting passed without reinforcements, until the defending force
had reached complete physical exhaustion, streams of blood mingling
with the pea-soup atmosphere. And finally, he was rushing to escape
the carnage of strewn bodies, rushing across the latticework of
sky-bridges to find one remaining undamaged elevator...running around
the corner of the building, colliding with
Boxes. Crates of unused laser guns :
like unmanned armies,
sitting next to the elevator door.
The person standing there was a little green invader, blocking his
way. He looked like someone dressed in a snot costume, yet somehow
Scared beyond thought, Hauberc sprinted to an elevator he saw undamaged
by the blast; ran to the shade.....rushing for cover! rushing to
escape bullets as well as insanity, bullets as well as hopelessness,
and then he thought of Pamela.
The pin of the grenade was already pulled, held close within his
hiding place, the catch released and he
Still disgusted with himself, his mind attempted to flush everything
that had already happened. How did they know that these were alien
troopers, as his unit had been briefed?
Was this a loyalty test? The clock was running out for any more
But the red-violent hue of the morning's prologue again enveloped
Anxiety. (The hell with these:
He instead let the grenade slide down the outer surface of the battlement,
where it blasted a chink of concrete that glanced off the side of
photon shells and neutron-radiation had taken a sizable toll on
the area, especially in the part of Stratford that lay south of
US-1. Most buildings still stood, but as little more than hollowed
GRAND-WAY DEPARTMENT STORE
crates in crumpled five foot high piles by the unloading dock were
good cover from stray bullets.
understand why it had happened so fast though. One short-circuit
in the Communications Reactor had blown the whole scene into complete
pandemonium. When they couldn't pick up BBC or Radio Moscow, that
was finally definite -- since then the radio waves were completely
blank. How the hell had he gotten back to his home town? He realized
was walking from the direction of Stratford airport in the south
end of town, but it seemed like he hadn’t been too conscious for
miles or days, if he had been flown across the ocean. The transport
plane had landed on the runway, let him out wordlessly, and taken
off again. The others barely had looked up from their kips laid
out cabin floor.
Even the radio communications shack seemed like the den at home
where he used to listen avidly to the world day and night.
sun was not yet risen above the drab white-cloud ceiling, but shone
yellow on the white-washed side of a building.
He was kicking his way through the rubble, discarded cardboard and
wooden delivery crates. Less than a mile yet to walk, he was still
not yet home, when an older voice turned him around to a man leaning
by the Meat & Produce - Night Delivery Entrance.
“Hey there, son. Where're you going?” The man was holding a rifle
pointed at him.
“Hey,” he flipped back. Who the hell was calling him that..?
“You live around here? Don't I know you?”
Someone was keeping a vigil, an even tone of voice, not much older
“Yeah, up the stream by Brewster's Pond ...I was stationed in Europe
and I haven't been home since Before...John Hauberc.” (He decided
not to mention “military intelligence” or “Co-IntelPro.”)
“Oh, yeah...OK, I remember you -- little Johnny Ho-berk.” The face
was more at ease, though not yet trusting, while more vigilante-militia
types suddenly arrived in two dusty and dirty automobiles, still
with fuel, and crowded around, blindly muttering like good-old-boys,
about what excitement was up for the afternoon. “How did Europe
come through this ?”
“They’re fucked too.”
“Hey, Ho-berk,” another quizzed, “you know anything about these
subversives still hiding out around the college.? ” His blank expression
held their attention a moment a bit too long for him.
“He’s OK. He was military,” the first accoster put in.
Blood-thirsty unrest was growing. “OK you guys, let's go over the
University of Bridgeport and see what we can stir up from the rats’
The group and their rifles had soon jumped into their cars again
and gone racing across the wide asphalt plain.
Coming upstream, Long Brook Park still looked intact, the trees
standing, and the old-fashioned horse-shoe shaped gravel-bottom
pool where he went swimming as a child, still pretty. But walking
north up Charlton Street hill out the other side, where the houses
on the left side overlooked the woods and field on the right all
looked abandoned or evacuated. Only a few hundred feet to go… then
into his driveway and back yard … and up the back walk of his family's
house. Heavy Rain drops were beginning to thump the dry earth.
The back door
ajar, he pushed it in softly and walked into the back hall -- the
notes left on the side stovetop already visible in the kitchen ahead...
.. a heart-in-throat eternity of four or five steps ---
were before his eyes as he stumbled through the dining room and
out onto the screened terrace. The other houses on this shady corner
of Laughlin and Charlton looked the same. “If only I had come back
sooner,” he thought, she wouldn't be gone too. (He had thought of
how he had left her alone to contend with their same non-sense;
but she had always adapted so well).
now, no one,
nothing but despair. If only to see her face.
Under a threatening
blackening sky outside, a mild gust rustled through the trees, bouncing
between upturned silver-green leaves... falling to utter calm in
attendance to the approaching deluge.
Up and over
the step / escaping the thunderhead fallout storm back into the
house, back through the living room, over the stair-case landing,
around into the kitchen again -- but a noise. the sound of muffled
whimpering from upstairs; and he ran up the down-speeding escalator,
up to the summit and left into a pink garden room of light perfume
and peacock feathers) to sister (who turns around from looking out
the window, as the large drops thump the windowsill).
walked up Laughlin Road, shuffling through the upper field of Brewster’s
Pond, up Plymouth Street, and out into the Paradise Green shopping
district on Main Street, all the stores looked like they were only
closed for a holiday…. He hiked slowly north up Main a mile, and
branched west onto Cutspring Road. There was something else he needed
It was the
next afternoon, the sun shining again almost normally, but still
an aloneness of desperation. He wondered whether there were any
others searching the town, faces he could trust from his childhood
besides those armed vigilantes prowling around.
out of his delusion, with some sense of hope. There was a pleasure
walk route he had taken often with Pamela, passing through residential
streets of modern Colonial style homes separated from each other
by wide well-kept lawns with no sidewalks on their edges... The
road skirted the base of a wooded ridge on the left, where streets
with names like Wigwam Lane and Anson Street came down the hill.
To the right, further out past the modern split-levels, the scenic
fairways and greens of a country club golf course sprawled out to
The green stucco house up the hill on the left was Pamela's parent's
house, the Richardsons./ It seemed now that "virtue had been
rewarded," she at least could have gone to heaven in a state
of Catholic grace... Still, he wished he could simply go to her
house and find her there, and take her in his arms, but it was impossible..
The futile surge rising in his chest was sweeping through his entire
consciousness: As much as they both had felt the intensity of love,
she had never let him say it or show it, and they had hovered on
the verge of consummation, before/ Now there was only emptiness
-- now he could never tell her how strongly it had lingered since
their separation -- Now at NYU, her last letter, sent before his
U2 mission, but received days after it, mentioned someone new in
her life, "a really brilliant chemistry student" at Brooklyn
He had dreamed
of her promise to come and meet him in Madrid. -- But a submerged
glowing-cobalt zone of total ocean stillness in the wavy deep blue
Bay of Biscay, visible from his U2 surveillance plane high above
the north coast of Spain -- had engulfed that dream into the depths,
the depths of despair.
All night moths had crisped themselves on the white-hot pencil-thick
spotlight filament outside, sending up milky billows of smoke.
Foggy grayness was once more pressing in :
Everything in the small, first-floor den of the safe-house was yet
intact. Perhaps mummified in the stifling room, unventilated with
its windows shut.
The sun still
made its daily watchman rounds over the dead planet.
on the array of short-wave radio receivers/ static of the outside
world--- Back in this fucking listening post, recovering from his
head wound; a desperate aloneness pausing and waiting for reply
from anywhere beyond this room. They disguised their identity with
the plaintive radio amateur call “CQ? CQ? calling CQ.....”
Seeking anyone …. Seek You… ?
Half-closed venetian-blinds cast diagonal patterns of fuzzy sun
rays across the pink walls
and shelves of the large radio rig. But there wasn’t one radio signal
to be heard over the air.
“Try the twenty-meter band,” the second operator urged. In a dream,
before, it had been his sister sitting next to him when they were
children, now it was the slightly buxom “Opalescent,” now a communications
expert, who always seemed to forget the top three buttons of her
“I don't think it'll do any good, but --” His hand slowly twisted
the dial ...... 12000 khz ...... 15000 khz ...... 11000
No Strategic Air Command Single-Side-Band, nor
Radio Moscow, BBC, nor ---
--- breaking through the silence, suddenly, -“Pine Cone, Pine Cone,
this is Fig Leaf ”-
“That's him!!” Hauberc flicked on the transmitter.
Something was finally coming through.
They began to hum as forcefully as they could, to make an audible
carrier-wave, until the room vibrated with power. “Fig
Leaf, Fig Leaf, this is Pine Cone, go ahead.”
-“...Cone, Pine Cone, this is Fig Leaf, come in please.”- They hummed
again, louder. But their emulation seemed to have no effect on Fig
Leaf, he wasn't even listening.
“Why won't he answer?” the second operator asked.
“I don't know but he's gone.”
His hand rotated the band selector, tuning to lower frequencies
... 2182 khz. (Marine Distress Band.) ...880...540...432...363...
till the wavelengths stretched out to infinity...
A Tremor of
terror and suddenly he awoke in bed in the middle of the night,
his eyes still closed in the dark of his parents’ house. There were
still these slow Seismic Vibrations, a rumble winding down to slower
than one wave per second, the Earth tremor’s rhythm rumbling the
entire house, unsettling the darkness; now indistinguishable from
his heart heavily beating. In the split-instant he had awoken, he
thought he had heard a muffled female voice like a coo, and wondered
if it had woken his parents in the next room too ? -- But nothing
more; and his next thought, while his eyes were still closed in
the inky velvet, was that the vibrations were generated closer,
like in the dark of the next room. Stopped and restarted, like someone
waiting for him to fall off into sleep again ...
Modulation crackle, like a signal transmitted from mind to mind,
“Fig Leaf calling Pine Cone, come-in please,” an authoritarian voice
in his head like his father’s or his commander’s ......”You must
tune your receiver out of the low frequency range, Pine Cone. You're
not supposed to be monitoring this wave-length. Tune to higher frequencies
!! You're not old enough yet ---”
and fizzle and he slipped in again,
Frantic dial 2300 khz ... 2500 ... 2800 ...
3200 ... 3800 ... 7500 desperate
frantic points of infinite wavelengths on a parched yellow radio
dial of dream were sliding away, now totally dead
and then the
soup-thick gray fog swept onto the bare-footed beach.. Nearby friends
became Blurs became Shadows became Fossils on the steep sandy slope.
In staggering blinded steps --
contact was lost,
until, he felt the sudden searing pain through the sole of his foot:
Glinting in a shrouded shaft of sunlight, the strait pin he had
stepped on protruded from the tender bottom. He lifted his foot
and carefully pulled it out, but solenoids flickered within the
And the heart
inside him Pounding Squishing Throbbing,
hammering the beach into wakefulness
The blood between the warm bedclothes,
roaring through firehose veins. “Dead, death.
This is it.”
and the surf crashing, breaking out of his chest
“I'm dead, but I accept it.” And the luminous
night-table clock hands were yet moving,