Pillar of Fire
We cannot tell you what kind of a story thisis. We simply cannot present it as we presentother stories. It is too tremendous for that.We are very glad—and proud—to share it with you.
He came out of the earth, hating. Hate was his father; hate was his mother.
It was good to walk again. It was good to leap up out of the earth, off of your back, and stretch your cramped arms violently and try to take a deep breath!
He tried. He cried out.
He couldn't breathe. He flung his arms over his face and tried to breathe. It was impossible. He walked on the earth, he came out of the earth. But he was dead. He couldn't breathe. He could take air into his mouth and force it half down his throat, with withered moves of long-dormant muscles, wildly, wildly! And with this little air he could shout and cry! He wanted to have tears, but he couldn't make them come, either. All he knew was that he was standing upright, he was dead, he shouldn't be walking! He couldn't breathe and yet he stood.
The smells of the world were all about him. Frustratedly, he tried to smell the smells of autumn. Autumn was burning the land down into ruin. All across the country the ruins of summer lay; vast forests bloomed with flame, tumbled down timber on empty, unleafed timber. The smoke of the burning was rich, blue, and invisible.
He stood in the graveyard, hating. He walked through the world and yet could not taste nor smell of it. He heard, yes. The wind roared on his newly opened ears. But he was dead. Even though he walked he knew he was dead and should expect not too much of himself or this hateful living world.
He touched the tombstone over his own empty grave. He knew his own name again. It was a good job of carving.
That's what the grave stone said.
His fingers trembled on the cool stone surface.
BORN 1898—DIED 1933
What year? He glared at the sky and the midnight autumnal stars moving in slow illuminations across the windy black. He read the tiltings of centuries in those stars. Orion thus and so, Aurega here! and where Taurus? There!
His eyes narrowed. His lips spelled out the year:
An odd number. Like a school sum. They used to say a man couldn't encompass any number over a hundred. After that it was all so damned abstract there was no use counting. This was the year 2349! A numeral, a sum. And here he was, a man who had lain in his hateful dark coffin, hating to be buried, hating the living people above who lived and lived and lived, hating them for all the centuries, until today, now, born out of hatred, he stood by his own freshly excavated grave, the smell of raw earth in the air, perhaps, but he could not smell it!
"I," he said, addressing a poplar tree that was shaken by the wind, "am an anachronism." He smiled faintly.
He looked at the graveyard. It was cold and empty. All of the stones had been ripped up and piled like so many flat bricks, one atop another, in the far corner by the wrought iron fence. This had been going on for two endless weeks. In his deep secret coffin he had heard the heartless, wild stirring as the men jabbed the earth with cold spades and tore out the coffins and carried away the withered ancient bodies to be burned. Twisting with fear in his coffin, he had waited for them to come to him.
Today they had arrived at his coffin. But—late. They had dug down to within an inch of the lid. Five o'clock bell, time for quitting. Home to supper. The workers had gone off. Tomorrow they would finish the job, they said, shrugging into their coats.
Silence had come to the emptied tombyard.
Carefully, quietly, with a soft rattling of sod, the coffin lid had lifted.
William Lantry stood trembling now, in the last cemetery on Earth.
"Remember?" he asked himself, looking at the raw earth. "Remember those stories of the last man on earth? Those stories of men wandering in ruins, alone? Well, you, William Lantry, are a switch on the old story. Do you know that? You are the last dead man in the whole damned world!"
There were no more dead people. Nowhere in any land was there a dead person. Impossible? Lantry did not smile at this. No, not impossible at all in this foolish sterile, unimaginative, antiseptic age of cleansings and scientific methods! People died, oh my god, yes. But—dead people? Corpses? They didn't exist!
What happened to dead people?
The graveyard was on a hill. William Lantry walked through the dark burning night until he reached the edge of the graveyard and looked down upon the new town of Salem. It was all illumination, all color. Rocket ships cut fire above it, crossing the sky to all the far ports of earth.
In his grave the new violence of this future world had driven down and seeped into William Lantry. He had been bathed in it for years. He knew all about it, with a hating dead man's knowledge of such things.
Most important of all, he knew what these fools did with dead men.
He lifted his eyes. In the center of the town a massive stone finger pointed at the stars. It was three hundred feet high and fifty feet across. There was a wide entrance and a drive in front of it.
In the town, theoretically, thought William Lantry, say you have a dying man. In a moment he will be dead. What happens? No sooner is his pulse cold when a certificate is flourished, made out, his relatives pack him into a car-beetle and drive him swiftly to—
That functional finger, that Pillar of Fire pointing at the stars. Incinerator. A functional, terrible name. But truth is truth in this future world.
Like a stick of kindling your Mr. Dead Man is shot into the furnace.
William Lantry looked at the top of the gigantic pistol shoving at the stars. A small pennant of smoke issued from the top.
There's where your dead people go.
"Take care of yourself, William Lantry," he murmured. "You're the last one, the rare item, the last dead man. All the other graveyards of earth have been blasted up. This is the last graveyard and you're the last dead man from the centuries. These people don't believe in having dead people about, much less walking dead people. Everything that can't be used goes up like a matchstick. Superstitions right along with it!"
He looked at the town. All right, he thought, quietly. I hate you. You hate me, or you would if you knew I existed. You don't believe in such things as vampires or ghosts. Labels without referents, you cry! You snort. All right, snort! Frankly, I don't believe in you, either! I don't like you! You and your Incinerators.
He trembled. How very close it had been. Day after day they had hauled out the other dead ones, burned them like so much kindling. An edict had been broadcast around the world. He had heard the digging men talk as they worked!
"I guess it's a good idea, this cleaning up the graveyards," said one of the men.
"Guess so," said another. "Grisly custom. Can you imagine? Being buried, I mean! Unhealthy! All them germs!"
"Sort of a shame. Romantic, kind of. I mean, leaving just this one graveyard untouched all these centuries. The other graveyards were cleaned out, what year was it, Jim?"
"About 2260, I think. Yeah, that was it, 2260, almost a hundred years ago. But some Salem Committee they got on their high horse and they said, 'Look here, let's have just ONE graveyard left, to remind us of the customs of the barbarians.' And the gover'ment scratched its head, thunk it over, and said, 'Okay. Salem it is. But all other graveyards go, you understand, all!'"
"And away they went," said Jim.
"Sure, they sucked out 'em with fire and steam shovels and rocket-cleaners. If they knew a man was buried in a cow-pasture, they fixed him! Evacuated them, they did. Sort of cruel, I say."
"I hate to sound old-fashioned, but still there were a lot of tourists came here every year, just to see what a real graveyard was like."
"Right. We had nearly a million people in the last three years visiting. A good revenue. But—a government order is an order. The government says no more morbidity, so flush her out we do! Here we go. Hand me that spade, Bill."
William Lantry stood in the autumn wind, on the hill. It was good to walk again, to feel the wind and to hear the leaves scuttling like mice on the road ahead of him. It was good to see the bitter cold stars almost blown away by the wind.
It was even good to know fear again.
For fear rose in him now, and he could not put it away. The very fact that he was walking made him an enemy. And there was not another friend, another dead man, in all of the world, to whom one could turn for help or consolation. It was the whole melodramatic living world against one William Lantry. It was the whole vampire-disbelieving, body-burning, graveyard-annihilating world against a man in a dark suit on a dark autumn hill. He put out his pale cold hands into the city illumination. You have pulled the tombstones, like teeth, from the yard, he thought. Now I will find some way to push your damnable Incinerators down into rubble. I will make dead people again, and I will make friends in so doing. I cannot be alone and lonely. I must start manufacturing friends very soon. Tonight.
"War is declared," he said, and laughed. It was pretty silly, one man declaring war on an entire world.
The world did not answer back. A rocket crossed the sky on a rush of flame, like an Incinerator taking wing.
Footsteps. Lantry hastened to the edge of the cemetery. The diggers, coming back to finish up their work? No. Just someone, a man, walking by.
As the man came abreast the cemetery gate, Lantry stepped swiftly out. "Good evening," said the man, smiling.
Lantry struck the man in the face. The man fell. Lantry bent quietly down and hit the man a killing blow across the neck with the side of his hand.
Dragging the body back into shadow, he stripped it, changed clothes with it. It wouldn't do for a fellow to go wandering about this future world with ancient clothing on. He found a small pocket knife in the man's coat; not much of a knife, but enough if you knew how to handle it properly. He knew how.
He rolled the body down into one of the already opened and exhumed graves. In a minute he had shoveled dirt down upon it, just enough to hide it. There was little chance of it being found. They wouldn't dig the same grave twice.
He adjusted himself in his new loose-fitting metallic suit. Fine, fine.
Hating, William Lantry walked down into town, to do battle with the Earth.
The incinerator was open. It never closed. There was a wide entrance, all lighted up with hidden illumination, there was a helicopter landing table and a beetle drive. The town itself was dying down after another day of the dynamo. The lights were going dim, and the only quiet, lighted spot in the town now was the Incinerator. God, what a practical name, what an unromantic name.
William Lantry entered the wide, well-lighted door. It was an entrance, really; there were no doors to open or shut. People could go in and out, summer or winter, the inside was always warm. Warm from the fire that rushed whispering up the high round flue to where the whirlers, the propellors, the air-jets pushed the leafy grey ashes on away for a ten mile ride down the sky.
There was the warmth of the bakery here. The halls were floored with rubber parquet. You couldn't make a noise if you wanted to. Music played in hidden throats somewhere. Not music of death at all, but music of life and the way the sun lived inside the Incinerator; or the sun's brother, anyway. You could hear the flame floating inside the heavy brick wall.
William Lantry descended a ramp. Behind him he heard a whisper and turned in time to see a beetle stop before the entrance way. A bell rang. The music, as if at a signal, rose to ecstatic heights. There was joy in it.
From the beetle, which opened from the rear, some attendants stepped carrying a golden box. It was six feet long and there were sun symbols on it. From another beetle the relatives of the man in the box stepped and followed as the attendants took the golden box down a ramp to a kind of altar. On the side of the altar were the words, "WE THAT WERE BORN OF THE SUN RETURN TO THE SUN". The golden box was deposited upon the altar, the music leaped upward, the Guardian of this place spoke only a few words, then the attendants picked up the golden box, walked to a transparent wall, a safety lock, also transparent, and opened it. The box was shoved into the glass slot. A moment later an inner lock opened, the box was injected into the interior of the Flue and vanished instantly in quick flame.
The attendants walked away. The relatives without a word turned and walked out. The music played.
William Lantry approached the glass fire lock. He peered through the wall at the vast, glowing, never-ceasing heart of the Incinerator. It burned steadily, without a flicker, singing to itself peacefully. It was so solid it was like a golden river flowing up out of the earth toward the sky. Anything you put into the river was borne upward, vanished.
Lantry felt again his unreasoning hatred of this thing, this monster, cleansing fire.
A man stood at his elbow. "May I help you, sir?"
"What?" Lantry turned abruptly. "What did you say?"
"May I be of service?"
"I—that is—" Lantry looked quickly at the ramp and the door. His hands trembled at his sides. "I've never been in here before."
"Never?" The Attendant was surprised.
That had been the wrong thing to say, Lantry realized. But it was said, nevertheless. "I mean," he said. "Not really. I mean, when you're a child, somehow, you don't pay attention. I suddenly realized tonight that I didn't really know the Incinerator."
The Attendant smiled. "We never know anything, do we, really? I'll be glad to show you around."
"Oh, no. Never mind. It—it's a wonderful place."
"Yes, it is." The Attendant took pride in it. "One of the finest in the world, I think."
"I—" Lantry felt he must explain further. "I haven't had many relatives die on me since I was a child. In fact, none. So, you see I haven't been here for many years."
"I see." The Attendant's face seemed to darken somewhat.
What've I said now, thought Lantry. What in God's name is wrong? What've I done? If I'm not careful I'll get myself shoved right into that damnable fire-trap. What's wrong with this fellow's face? He seems to be giving me more than the usual going over.
"You wouldn't be one of the men who've just returned from Mars, would you?" asked the Attendant.
"No. Why do you ask?"
"No matter." The Attendant began to walk off. "If you want to know anything, just ask me."
"Just one thing," said Lantry.
Lantry dealt him a stunning blow across the neck.
He had watched the fire-trap operator with expert eyes. Now, with the sagging body in his arms, he touched the button that opened the warm outer lock, placed the body in, heard the music rise, and saw the inner lock open. The body shot out into the river of fire. The music softened.
"Well done, Lantry, well done."
Barely an instant later another Attendant entered the room. Lantry was caught with an expression of pleased excitement on his face. The Attendant looked around as if expecting to find someone, then he walked toward Lantry. "May I help you?"
"Just looking," said Lantry.
"Rather late at night," said the Attendant.
"I couldn't sleep."
That was the wrong answer, too. Everybody slept in this world. Nobody had insomnia. If you did you simply turned on a hypno-ray, and, sixty seconds later, you were snoring. Oh, he was just full of wrong answers. First he had made the fatal error of saying he had never been in the Incinerator before, when he knew damned well that all children were brought here on tours, every year, from the time they were four, to instill the idea of the clean fire death and the Incinerator in their minds. Death was a bright fire, death was warmth and the sun. It was not a dark, shadowed thing. That was important in their education. And he, pale thoughtless fool, had immediately gabbled out his ignorance.
And another thing, this paleness of his. He looked at his hands and realized with growing terror that a pale man also was non-existent in this world. They would suspect his paleness. That was why the first attendant had asked, "Are you one of those men newly returned from Mars?" Here, now, this new Attendant was clean and bright as a copper penny, his cheeks red with health and energy. Lantry hid his pale hands in his pockets. But he was fully aware of the searching the Attendant did on his face.
"I mean to say," said Lantry. "I didn't want to sleep. I wanted to think."
"Was there a service held here a moment ago?" asked the Attendant, looking about.
"I don't know, I just came in."
"I thought I heard the fire lock open and shut."
"I don't know," said Lantry.
The man pressed a wall button. "Anderson?"
A voice replied. "Yes."
"Locate Saul for me, will you?"
"I'll ring the corridors." A pause. "Can't find him."
"Thanks." The Attendant was puzzled. He was beginning to make little sniffing motions with his nose. "Do you—smell anything?"
Lantry sniffed. "No. Why?"
"I smell something."
Lantry took hold of the knife in his pocket. He waited.
"I remember once when I was a kid," said the man. "And we found a cow lying dead in the field. It had been there two days in the hot sun. That's what this smell is. I wonder what it's from?"
"Oh, I know what it is," said Lantry quietly. He held out his hand. "Here."
"Me, of course."
"Dead several hundred years."
"You're an odd joker." The Attendant was puzzled.
"Very." Lantry took out the knife. "Do you know what this is?"
"Do you ever use knives on people any more?"
"How do you mean?"
"I mean—killing them, with knives or guns or poison?"
"You are an odd joker!" The man giggled awkwardly.
"I'm going to kill you," said Lantry.
"Nobody kills anybody," said the man.
"Not any more they don't. But they used to, in the old days."
"I know they did."
"This will be the first murder in three hundred years. I just killed your friend. I just shoved him into the fire lock."
That remark had the desired effect. It numbed the man so completely, it shocked him so thoroughly with its illogical aspects that Lantry had time to walk forward. He put the knife against the man's chest. "I'm going to kill you."
"That's silly," said the man, numbly. "People don't do that."
"Like this," said Lantry. "You see?"
The knife slid into the chest. The man stared at it for a moment. Lantry caught the falling body.
The Salem flue exploded at six that morning. The great fire chimney shattered into ten thousand parts and flung itself into the earth and into the sky and into the houses of the sleeping people. There was fire and sound, more fire than autumn made burning in the hills.
William Lantry was five miles away at the time of the explosion. He saw the town ignited by the great spreading cremation of it. And he shook his head and laughed a little bit and clapped his hands smartly together.
Relatively simple. You walked around killing people who didn't believe in murder, had only heard of it indirectly as some dim gone custom of the old barbarian races. You walked into the control room of the Incinerator and said, "How do you work this Incinerator?" and the control man told you, because everybody told the truth in this world of the future, nobody lied, there was no reason to lie, there was no danger to lie against. There was only one criminal in the world, and nobody knew HE existed yet.
Oh, it was an incredibly beautiful set-up. The Control Man had told him just how the Incinerator worked, what pressure gauges controlled the flood of fire gasses going up the flue, what levers were adjusted or readjusted. He and Lantry had had quite a talk. It was an easy free world. People trusted people. A moment later Lantry had shoved a knife in the Control Man also and set the pressure gauges for an overload to occur half an hour later, and walked out of the Incinerator halls, whistling.
Now even the sky was palled with the vast black cloud of the explosion.
"This is only the first," said Lantry, looking at the sky. "I'll tear all the others down before they even suspect there's an unethical man loose in their society. They can't account for a variable like me. I'm beyond their understanding. I'm incomprehensible, impossible, therefore I do not exist. My God, I can kill hundreds of thousands of them before they even realize murder is out in the world again. I can make it look like an accident each time. Why, the idea is so huge, it's unbelievable!"
The fire burned the town. He sat under a tree for a long time, until morning. Then, he found a cave in the hills, and went in, to sleep.
He awoke at sunset with a sudden dream of fire. He saw himself pushed into the flue, cut into sections by flame, burned away to nothing. He sat up on the cave floor, laughing at himself. He had an idea.
He walked down into the town and stepped into an audio booth. He dialed OPERATOR. "Give me the Police Department," he said.
"I beg your pardon?" said the operator.
He tried again. "The Law Force," he said.
"I will connect you with the Peace Control," she said, at last.
A little fear began ticking inside him like a tiny watch. Suppose the operator recognized the term Police Department as an anachronism, took his audio number, and sent someone out to investigate? No, she wouldn't do that. Why should she suspect? Paranoids were non-existent in this civilization.
"Yes, the Peace Control," he said.
A buzz. A man's voice answered. "Peace Control. Stephens speaking."
"Give me the Homicide Detail," said Lantry, smiling.
"Who investigates murders?"
"I beg your pardon, what are you talking about?"
"Wrong number." Lantry hung up, chuckling. Ye gods, there was no such a thing as a Homicide Detail. There were no murders, therefore they needed no detectives. Perfect, perfect!
The audio rang back. Lantry hesitated, then answered.
"Say," said the voice on the phone. "Who are you?"
"The man just left who called," said Lantry, and hung up again.
He ran. They would recognize his voice and perhaps send someone out to check. People didn't lie. He had just lied. They knew his voice. He had lied. Anybody who lied needed a psychiatrist. They would come to pick him up to see why he was lying. For no other reason. They suspected him of nothing else. Therefore—he must run.
Oh, how very carefully he must act from now on. He knew nothing of this world, this odd straight truthful ethical world. Simply by looking pale you were suspect. Simply by not sleeping nights you were suspect. Simply by not bathing, by smelling like a—dead cow?—you were suspect. Anything.
He must go to a library. But that was dangerous, too. What were libraries like today? Did they have books or did they have film spools which projected books on a screen? Or did people have libraries at home, thus eliminating the necessity of keeping large main libraries?
He decided to chance it. His use of archaic terms might well make him suspect again, but now it was very important he learn all that could be learned of this foul world into which he had come again. He stopped a man on the street. "Which way to the library?"
The man was not surprised. "Two blocks east, one block north."
Simple as that.
He walked into the library a few minutes later.
"May I help you?"
He looked at the librarian. May I help you, may I help you. What a world of helpful people! "I'd like to 'have' Edgar Allan Poe." His verb was carefully chosen. He didn't say 'read'. He was too afraid that books were passé, that printing itself was a lost art. Maybe all 'books' today were in the form of fully delineated three-dimensional motion pictures. How in hell could you make a motion picture out of Socrates, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Freud?
"What was that name again?"
"Edgar Allan Poe."
"There is no such author listed in our files."
"Will you please check?"
She checked. "Oh, yes. There's a red mark on the file card. He was one of the authors in the Great Burning of 2265."
"How ignorant of me."
"That's all right," she said. "Have you heard much of him?"
"He had some interesting barbarian ideas on death," said Lantry.
"Horrible ones," she said, wrinkling her nose. "Ghastly."
"Yes. Ghastly. Abominable, in fact. Good thing he was burned. Unclean. By the way, do you have any of Lovecraft?"
"Is that a sex book?"
Lantry exploded with laughter. "No, no. It's a man."
She riffled the file. "He was burned, too. Along with Poe."
"I suppose that applies to Machen and a man named Derleth and one named Ambrose Bierce, also?"
"Yes." She shut the file cabinet. "All burned. And good riddance." She gave him an odd warm look of interest. "I bet you've just come back from Mars."
"Why do you say that?"
"There was another explorer in here yesterday. He'd just made the Mars hop and return. He was interested in supernatural literature, also. It seems there are actually 'tombs' on Mars."
"What are 'tombs'?" Lantry was learning to keep his mouth closed.
"You know, those things they once buried people in."
"Barbarian custom. Ghastly!"
"Isn't it? Well, seeing the Martian tombs made this young explorer curious. He came and asked if we had any of those authors you mentioned. Of course we haven't even a smitch of their stuff." She looked at his pale face. "You are one of the Martian rocket men, aren't you?"
"Yes," he said. "Got back on the ship the other day."
"The other young man's name was Burke."
"Of course. Burke! Good friend of mine!"
"Sorry I can't help you. You'd best get yourself some vitamin shots and some sun-lamp. You look terrible, Mr. ——?"
"Lantry. I'll be good. Thanks ever so much. See you next Hallows' Eve!"
"Aren't you the clever one." She laughed. "If there were a Hallows' Eve, I'd make it a date."
"But they burned that, too," he said.
"Oh, they burned everything," she said. "Good night."
"Good night." And he went on out.
Oh, how carefully he was balanced in this world! Like some kind of dark gyroscope, whirling with never a murmur, a very silent man. As he walked along the eight o'clock evening street he noticed with particular interest that there was not an unusual amount of lights about. There were the usual street lights at each corner, but the blocks themselves were only faintly illuminated. Could it be that these remarkable people were not afraid of the dark? Incredible nonsense! Every one was afraid of the dark. Even he himself had been afraid, as a child. It was as natural as eating.
A little boy ran by on pelting feet, followed by six others. They yelled and shouted and rolled on the dark cool October lawn, in the leaves. Lantry looked on for several minutes before addressing himself to one of the small boys who was for a moment taking a respite, gathering his breath into his small lungs, as a boy might blow to refill a punctured paper bag.
"Here, now," said Lantry. "You'll wear yourself out."
"Sure," said the boy.
"Could you tell me," said the man, "why there are no street lights in the middle of the blocks?"
"Why?" asked the boy.
"I'm a teacher, I thought I'd test your knowledge," said Lantry.
"Well," said the boy, "you don't need lights in the middle of the block, that's why."
"But it gets rather dark," said Lantry.
"So?" said the boy.
"Aren't you afraid?" asked Lantry.
"Of what?" asked the boy.
"The dark," said Lantry.
"Ho ho," said the boy. "Why should I be?"
"Well," said Lantry. "It's black, it's dark. And after all, street lights were invented to take away the dark and take away fear."
"That's silly. Street lights were made so you could see where you were walking. Outside of that there's nothing."
"You miss the whole point—" said Lantry. "Do you mean to say you would sit in the middle of an empty lot all night and not be afraid?"
"Of what, of what, of what, you little ninny! Of the dark!"
"Would you go out in the hills and stay all night in the dark?"
"Would you stay in a deserted house alone?"
"And not be afraid?"
"You're a liar!"
"Don't you call me nasty names!" shouted the boy. Liar was the improper noun, indeed. It seemed to be the worst thing you could call a person.
Lantry was completely furious with the little monster. "Look," he insisted. "Look into my eyes...."
The boy looked.
Lantry bared his teeth slightly. He put out his hands, making a clawlike gesture. He leered and gesticulated and wrinkled his face into a terrible mask of horror.
"Ho ho," said the boy. "You're funny."
"What did you say?"
"You're funny. Do it again. Hey, gang, c'mere! This man does funny things!"
"Do it again, sir."
"Never mind, never mind. Good night!" Lantry ran off.
"Good night, sir. And mind the dark, sir!" called the little boy.
Of all the stupidity, of all the rank, gross, crawling, jelly-mouthed stupidity! He had never seen the like of it in his life! Bringing the children up without so much as an ounce of imagination! Where was the fun in being children if you didn't imagine things?
He stopped running. He slowed and for the first time began to appraise himself. He ran his hand over his face and bit his finger and found that he himself was standing midway in the block and he felt uncomfortable. He moved up to the street corner where there was a glowing lantern. "That's better," he said, holding his hands out like a man to an open warm fire.
He listened. There was not a sound except the night breathing of the crickets. Faintly there was a fire-hush as a rocket swept the sky. It was the sound a torch might make brandished gently on the dark air.
He listened to himself and for the first time he realized what there was so peculiar to himself. There was not a sound in him. The little nostril and lung noises were absent. His lungs did not take nor give oxygen or carbon-dioxide; they did not move. The hairs in his nostrils did not quiver with warm combing air. That faint purring whisper of breathing did not sound in his nose. Strange. Funny. A noise you never heard when you were alive, the breath that fed your body, and yet, once dead, oh how you missed it!
The only other time you ever heard it was on deep dreamless awake nights when you wakened and listened and heard first your nose taking and gently poking out the air, and then the dull deep dim red thunder of the blood in your temples, in your eardrums, in your throat, in your aching wrists, in your warm loins, in your chest. All of those little rhythms, gone. The wrist beat gone, the throat pulse gone, the chest vibration gone. The sound of the blood coming up down around and through, up down around and through. Now it was like listening to a statue.
And yet he lived. Or, rather, moved about. And how was this done, over and above scientific explanations, theories, doubts?
By one thing, and one thing alone.
Hatred was a blood in him, it went up down around and through, up down around and through. It was a heart in him, not beating, true, but warm. He was—what? Resentment. Envy. They said he could not lie any longer in his coffin in the cemetery. He had wanted to. He had never had any particular desire to get up and walk around. It had been enough, all these centuries, to lie in the deep box and feel but not feel the ticking of the million insect watches in the earth around, the moves of worms like so many deep thoughts in the soil.
But then they had come and said, "Out you go and into the furnace!" And that is the worst thing you can say to any man. You cannot tell him what to do. If you say you are dead, he will want not to be dead. If you say there are no such things as vampires, by God, that man will try to be one just for spite. If you say a dead man cannot walk, he will test his limbs. If you say murder is no longer occurring, he will make it occur. He was, in toto, all the impossible things. They had given birth to him with their damnable practices and ignorances. Oh, how wrong they were. They needed to be shown. He would show them! Sun is good, so is night, there is nothing wrong with dark, they said.
Dark is horror, he shouted, silently, facing the little houses. It is meant for contrast. You must fear, you hear! That has always been the way of this world. You destroyers of Edgar Allan Poe and fine big-worded Lovecraft, you burner of Hallowe'en masks and destroyer of pumpkin jack-o-lanterns! I will make night what it once was, the thing against which man built all his lanterned cities and his many children!
As if in answer to this, a rocket, flying low, trailing a long rakish feather of flame. It made Lantry flinch and draw back.
It was but ten miles to the little town of Science Port. He made it by dawn, walking. But even this was not good. At four in the morning a silver beetle pulled up on the road beside him.
"Hello," called the man inside.
"Hello," said Lantry, wearily.
"Why are you walking?" asked the man.
"I'm going to Science Port."
"Why don't you ride?"
"I like to walk."
"Nobody likes to walk. Are you sick? May I give you a ride?"
"Thanks, but I like to walk."
The man hesitated, then closed the beetle door. "Good night."
When the beetle was gone over the hill, Lantry retreated into a nearby forest. A world full of bungling helping people. By God, you couldn't even walk without being accused of sickness. That meant only one thing. He must not walk any longer, he had to ride. He should have accepted that fellow's offer.
The rest of the night he walked far enough off the highway so that if a beetle rushed by he had time to vanish in the underbrush. At dawn he crept into an empty dry water-drain and closed his eyes.
The dream was as perfect as a rimed snowflake.
He saw the graveyard where he had lain deep and ripe over the centuries. He heard the early morning footsteps of the laborers returning to finish their work.
"Would you mind passing me the shovel, Jim?"
"Here you go."
"Wait a minute, wait a minute!"
"Look here. We didn't finish last night, did we?"
"There was one more coffin, wasn't there?"
"Well, here it is, and open!"
"You've got the wrong hole."
"What's the name say on the gravestone?"
"Lantry. William Lantry."
"That's him, that's the one! Gone!"
"What could have happened to it?"
"How do I know. The body was here last night."
"We can't be sure, we didn't look."
"God, man, people don't bury empty coffins. He was in his box. Now he isn't."
"Maybe this box was empty."
"Nonsense. Smell that smell? He was here all right."
"Nobody would have taken the body, would they?"
"A curiosity, perhaps."
"Don't be ridiculous. People just don't steal. Nobody steals."
"Well, then, there's only one solution."
"He got up and walked away."
A pause. In the dark dream, Lantry expected to hear laughter. There was none. Instead, the voice of the gravedigger, after a thoughtful pause, said, "Yes. That's it, indeed. He got up and walked away."
"That's interesting to think about," said the other.
"Isn't it, though?"
Lantry awoke. It had all been a dream, but God, how realistic. How strangely the two men had carried on. But not unnaturally, oh, no. That was exactly how you expected men of the future to talk. Men of the future. Lantry grinned wryly. That was an anachronism for you. This was the future. This was happening now. It wasn't 300 years from now, it was now, not then, or any other time. This wasn't the Twentieth Century. Oh, how calmly those two men in the dream had said, "He got up and walked away." "—interesting to think about." "Isn't it, though?" With never a quaver in their voices. With not so much as a glance over their shoulders or a tremble of spade in hand. But, of course, with their perfectly honest, logical minds, there was but one explanation; certainly nobody had stolen the corpse. "Nobody steals." The corpse had simply got up and walked off. The corpse was the only one who could have possibly moved the corpse. By the few casual slow words of the gravediggers Lantry knew what they were thinking. Here was a man that had lain in suspended animation, not really dead, for hundreds of years. The jarring about, the activity, had brought him back.
Everyone had heard of those little green toads that are sealed for centuries inside mud rocks or in ice patties, alive, alive oh! And how when scientists chipped them out and warmed them like marbles in their hands the little toads leapt about and frisked and blinked. Then it was only logical that the gravediggers think of William Lantry in like fashion.
But what if the various parts were fitted together in the next day or so? If the vanished body and the shattered, exploded incinerator were connected? What if this fellow named Burke, who had returned pale from Mars, went to the library again and said to the young woman he wanted some books and she said, "Oh, your friend Lantry was in the other day." And he'd say, "Lantry who? Don't know anyone by that name." And she'd say, "Oh, he lied." And people in this time didn't lie. So it would all form and coalesce, item by item, bit by bit. A pale man who was pale and shouldn't be pale had lied and people don't lie, and a walking man on a lonely country road had walked and people don't walk anymore, and a body was missing from a cemetery, and the Incinerator had blown up and and and—
They would come after him. They would find him. He would be easy to find. He walked. He lied. He was pale. They would find him and take him and stick him through the open fire lock of the nearest Burner and that would be your Mr. William Lantry, like a fourth of July set-piece!
There was only one thing to be done efficiently and completely. He arose in violent moves. His lips were wide and his dark eyes were flared and there was a trembling and burning all through him. He must kill and kill and kill and kill and kill. He must make his enemies into friends, into people like himself who walked but shouldn't walk, who were pale in a land of pinks. He must kill and then kill and then kill again. He must make bodies and dead people and corpses. He must destroy Incinerator after Flue after Burner after Incinerator. Explosion on explosion. Death on death. Then, when the Incinerators were all in thrown ruin, and the hastily established morgues were jammed with the bodies of people shattered by the explosion, then he would begin his making of friends, his enrollment of the dead in his own cause.
Before they traced and found and killed him, they must be killed themselves. So far he was safe. He could kill and they would not kill back. People simply do not go around killing. That was his safety margin. He climbed out of the abandoned drain, stood in the road.
He took the knife from his pocket and hailed the next beetle.
It was like the Fourth of July! The biggest damned firecracker of them all. The Science Port Incinerator split down the middle and flew apart. It made a thousand small explosions that ended with a greater one. It fell upon the town and crushed houses and burned trees. It woke people from sleep and then put them to sleep again, forever, an instant later.
William Lantry, sitting in a beetle that was not his own, tuned idly to a station on the audio dial. The collapse of the Incinerator had killed some four hundred people. Many had been caught in flattened houses, others struck by flying metal. A temporary morgue was being set up at—
An address was given.
Lantry noted it with a pad and pencil.
He could go on this way, he thought, from town to town, from country to country, destroying the Burners, the Pillars of Fire, until the whole clean magnificent framework of flame and cauterization was tumbled. He made a fair estimate—each explosion averaged five hundred dead. You could work that up to a hundred thousand in no time.
He pressed the floor stud of the beetle. Smiling, he drove off through the dark streets of the city.
The city coroner had requisitioned an old warehouse. From midnight until four in the morning the grey beetles hissed down the rain-shiny streets, turned in, and the bodies were laid out on the cold concrete floors, with white sheets over them. It was a continuous flow until about four-thirty, then it stopped. There were about two hundred bodies there, white and cold.
The bodies were left alone; nobody stayed behind to tend them. There was no use tending the dead; it was a useless procedure; the dead could take care of themselves.
About five o'clock, with a touch of dawn in the east, the first trickle of relatives arrived to identify their sons or their fathers or their mothers or their uncles. The people moved quickly into the warehouse, made the identification, moved quickly out again. By six o'clock, with the sky still lighter in the east, this trickle had passed on, also.
William Lantry walked across the wide wet street and entered the warehouse.
He held a piece of blue chalk in one hand.
He walked by the coroner who stood in the entranceway talking to two others. "... drive the bodies to the Incinerator in Mellin Town, tomorrow...." The voices faded.
Lantry moved, his feet echoing faintly on the cool concrete. A wave of sourceless relief came to him as he walked among the shrouded figures. He was among his own. And—better than that, by God! he had created these! He had made them dead! He had procured for himself a vast number of recumbent friends!
Was the coroner watching? Lantry turned his head. No. The warehouse was calm and quiet and shadowed in the dark morning. The coroner was walking away now, across the street, with his two attendants; a beetle had drawn up on the other side of the street, and the coroner was going over to talk with whoever was in the beetle.
William Lantry stood and made a blue chalk pentagram on the floor by each of the bodies. He moved swiftly, swiftly, without a sound, without blinking. In a few minutes, glancing up now and then to see if the coroner was still busy, he had chalked the floor by a hundred bodies. He straightened up and put the chalk in his pocket.
Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party, now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party, now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party, now is the time....
Lying in the earth, over the centuries, the processes and thoughts of passing peoples and passing times had seeped down to him, slowly, as into a deep-buried sponge. From some death-memory in him now, ironically, repeatedly, a black typewriter clacked out black even lines of pertinent words:
Now is the time for all good men, for all good men, to come to the aid of—
Arise my love, and come away—
The quick brown fox jumped over.... Paraphrase it. The quick risen body jumped over the tumbled Incinerator....
Lazarus, come forth from the tomb....
He knew the right words. He need only speak them as they had been spoken over the centuries. He need only gesture with his hands and speak the words, the dark words that would cause these bodies to quiver, rise and walk!
And when they had risen he would take them through the town, they would kill others and the others would rise and walk. By the end of the day there would be thousands of good friends walking with him. And what of the naive, living people of this year, this day, this hour? They would be completely unprepared for it. They would go down to defeat because they would not be expecting war of any sort. They wouldn't believe it possible, it would all be over before they could convince themselves that such an illogical thing could happen.
He lifted his hands. His lips moved. He said the words. He began in a chanting whisper and then raised his voice, louder. He said the words again and again. His eyes were closed tightly. His body swayed. He spoke faster and faster. He began to move forward among the bodies. The dark words flowed from his mouth. He was enchanted with his own formulae. He stooped and made further blue symbols on the concrete, in the fashion of long-dead sorcerers, smiling, confident. Any moment now the first tremor of the still bodies, any moment now the rising, the leaping up of the cold ones!
His hands lifted in the air. His head nodded. He spoke, he spoke, he spoke. He gestured. He talked loudly over the bodies, his eyes flaring, his body tensed. "Now!" he cried, violently. "Rise, all of you!"
"Rise!" he screamed, with a terrible torment in his voice.
The sheets lay in white blue-shadow folds over the silent bodies.
"Hear me, and act!" he shouted.
Far away, on the street, a beetle hissed along.
Again, again, again he shouted, pleaded. He got down by each body and asked of it his particular violent favor. No reply. He strode wildly between the even white rows, flinging his arms up, stooping again and again to make blue symbols!
Lantry was very pale. He licked his lips. "Come on, get up," he said. "They have, they always have, for a thousand years. When you make a mark—so! and speak a word—so! they always rise! Why not you now, why not you! Come on, come on, before they come back!"
The warehouse went up into shadow. There were steel beams across and down. In it, under the roof, there was not a sound, except the raving of a lonely man.
Through the wide doors of the warehouse he caught a glimpse of the last cold stars of morning.
This was the year 2349.
His eyes grew cold and his hands fell to his sides. He did not move.
Once upon a time people shuddered when they heard the wind about the house, once people raised crucifixes and wolfbane, and believed in walking dead and bats and loping white wolves. And as long as they believed, then so long did the dead, the bats, the loping wolves exist. The mind gave birth and reality to them.
He looked at the white sheeted bodies.
These people did not believe.
They had never believed. They would never believe. They had never imagined that the dead might walk. The dead went up flues in flame. They had never heard superstition, never trembled or shuddered or doubted in the dark. Walking dead people could not exist, they were illogical. This was the year 2349, man, after all!
Therefore, these people could not rise, could not walk again. They were dead and flat and cold. Nothing, chalk, imprecation, superstition, could wind them up and set them walking. They were dead and knew they were dead!
He was alone.
There were live people in the world who moved and drove beetles and drank quiet drinks in little dimly illumined bars by country roads, and kissed women and talked much good talk all day and every day.
But he was not alive.
Friction gave him what little warmth he possessed.
There were two hundred dead people here in this warehouse now, cold upon the floor. The first dead people in a hundred years who were allowed to be corpses for an extra hour or more. The first not to be immediately trundled to the Incinerator and lit like so much phosphorous.
He should be happy with them, among them.
He was not.
They were completely dead. They did not know nor believe in walking once the heart had paused and stilled itself. They were deader than dead ever was.
He was indeed alone, more alone than any man had ever been. He felt the chill of his aloneness moving up into his chest, strangling him quietly.
William Lantry turned suddenly and gasped.
While he had stood there, someone had entered the warehouse. A tall man with white hair, wearing a light-weight tan overcoat and no hat. How long the man had been nearby there was no telling.
There was no reason to stay here. Lantry turned and started to walk slowly out. He looked hastily at the man as he passed and the man with the white hair looked back at him, curiously. Had he heard? The imprecations, the pleadings, the shoutings? Did he suspect? Lantry slowed his walk. Had this man seen him make the blue chalk marks? But then, would he interpret them as symbols of an ancient superstition? Probably not.
Reaching the door, Lantry paused. For a moment he did not want to do anything but lie down and be coldly, really dead again and be carried silently down the street to some distant burning flue and there dispatched in ash and whispering fire. If he was indeed alone and there was no chance to collect an army to his cause, what, then, existed as a reason for going on? Killing? Yes, he'd kill a few thousand more. But that wasn't enough. You can only do so much of that before they drag you down.
He looked at the cold sky.
A rocket went across the black heaven, trailing fire.
Mars burned red among a million stars.
Mars. The library. The librarian. Talk. Returning rocket men. Tombs.
Lantry almost gave a shout. He restrained his hand, which wanted so much to reach up into the sky and touch Mars. Lovely red star on the sky. Good star that gave him sudden new hope. If he had a living heart now it would be thrashing wildly, and sweat would be breaking out of him and his pulses would be stammering, and tears would be in his eyes!
He would go down to where ever the rockets sprang up into space. He would go to Mars, one way or another. He would go to the Martian tombs. There, there, by God, were bodies, he would bet his last hatred on it, that would rise and walk and work with him! Theirs was an ancient culture, much different from that of Earth, patterned on the Egyptian, if what the librarian had said was true. And the Egyptian—what a crucible of dark superstition and midnight terror that culture had been! Mars it was, then. Beautiful Mars!
But he must not attract attention to himself. He must move carefully. He wanted to run, yes, to get away, but that would be the worst possible move he could make. The man with the white hair was glancing at Lantry from time to time, in the entranceway. There were too many people about. If anything happened he would be outnumbered. So far he had taken on only one man at a time.
Lantry forced himself to stop and stand on the steps before the warehouse. The man with the white hair came on onto the steps also and stood, looking at the sky. He looked as if he was going to speak at any moment. He fumbled in his pockets, took out a packet of cigarettes.
They stood outside the morgue together, the tall pink, white-haired man, and Lantry, hands in their pockets. It was a cool night with a white shell of a moon that washed a house here, a road there, and further on, parts of a river.
"Cigarette?" The man offered Lantry one.
They lit up together. The man glanced at Lantry's mouth. "Cool night."
They shifted their feet. "Terrible accident."
"So many dead."
Lantry felt himself some sort of delicate weight upon a scale. The other man did not seem to be looking at him, but rather listening and feeling toward him. There was a feathery balance here that made for vast discomfort. He wanted to move away and get out from under this balancing, weighing. The tall white-haired man said, "My name's McClure."
"Did you have any friends inside?" asked Lantry.
"No. A casual acquaintance. Awful accident."
They balanced each other. A beetle hissed by on the road with its seventeen tires whirling quietly. The moon showed a little town further over in the black hills.
"I say," said the man McClure.
"Could you answer me a question?"
"Be glad to." He loosened the knife in his coat pocket, ready.
"Is your name Lantry?" asked the man at last.
"Then you're the man who came out of the Salem graveyard day before yesterday, aren't you?"
"Good Lord, I'm glad to meet you, Lantry! We've been trying to find you for the past twenty-four hours!"
The man seized his hand, pumped it, slapped him on the back.
"What, what?" said Lantry.
"Good Lord, man, why did you run off? Do you realize what an instance this is? We want to talk to you!"
McClure was smiling, glowing. Another handshake, another slap. "I thought it was you!"
The man is mad, thought Lantry. Absolutely mad. Here I've toppled his incinerators, killed people, and he's shaking my hand. Mad, mad!
"Will you come along to the Hall?" said the man, taking his elbow.
"Wh-what hall?" Lantry stepped back.
"The Science Hall, of course. It isn't every year we get a real case of suspended animation. In small animals, yes, but in a man, hardly! Will you come?"
"What's the act!" demanded Lantry, glaring. "What's all this talk."
"My dear fellow, what do you mean?" the man was stunned.
"Never mind. Is that the only reason you want to see me?"
"What other reason would there be, Mr. Lantry? You don't know how glad I am to see you!" He almost did a little dance. "I suspected. When we were in there together. You being so pale and all. And then the way you smoked your cigarette, something about it, and a lot of other things, all subliminal. But it is you, isn't it, it is you!"
"It is I. William Lantry." Dryly.
"Good fellow! Come along!"
The beetle moved swiftly through the dawn streets. McClure talked rapidly.
Lantry sat, listening, astounded. Here was this fool, McClure, playing his cards for him! Here was this stupid scientist, or whatever, accepting him not as a suspicious baggage, a murderous item. Oh no! Quite the contrary! Only as a suspended animation case was he considered! Not as a dangerous man at all. Far from it!
"Of course," cried McClure, grinning. "You didn't know where to go, whom to turn to. It was all quite incredible to you."
"I had a feeling you'd be there at the morgue tonight," said McClure, happily.
"Oh?" Lantry stiffened.
"Yes. Can't explain it. But you, how shall I put it? Ancient Americans? You had funny ideas on death. And you were among the dead so long, I felt you'd be drawn back by the accident, by the morgue and all. It's not very logical. Silly, in fact. It's just a feeling. I hate feelings but there it was. I came on a, I guess you'd call it a hunch, wouldn't you?"
"You might call it that."
"And there you were!"
"There I was," said Lantry.
"Are you hungry?"
"How did you get around?"
"People gave me rides on the road."
"I imagine it sounds that way." He looked at the passing houses. "So this is the era of space travel, is it?"
"Oh, we've been traveling to Mars for some forty years now."
"Amazing. And those big funnels, those towers in the middle of every town?"
"Those. Haven't you heard? The Incinerators. Oh, of course, they hadn't anything of that sort in your time. Had some bad luck with them. An explosion in Salem and one here, all in a forty-eight hour period. You looked as if you were going to speak; what is it?"
"I was thinking," said Lantry. "How fortunate I got out of my coffin when I did. I might well have been thrown into one of your Incinerators and burned up."
"That would have been terrible, wouldn't it have?"
Lantry toyed with the dials on the beetle dash. He wouldn't go to Mars. His plans were changed. If this fool simply refused to recognize an act of violence when he stumbled upon it, then let him be a fool. If they didn't connect the two explosions with a man from the tomb, all well and good. Let them go on deluding themselves. If they couldn't imagine someone being mean and nasty and murderous, heaven help them. He rubbed his hands with satisfaction. No, no Martian trip for you, as yet, Lantry lad. First we'll see what can be done boring from the inside. Plenty of time. The Incinerators can wait an extra week or so. One has to be subtle, you know. Any more immediate explosions might cause quite a ripple of thought.
McClure was gabbling wildly on.
"Of course, you don't have to be examined immediately. You'll want a rest. I'll put you up at my place."
"Thanks. I don't feel up to being probed and pulled. Plenty of time in a week or so."
They drew up before a house and climbed out.
"You'll want to sleep, naturally."
"I've been asleep for centuries. Be glad to stay awake. I'm not a bit tired."
"Good." McClure let them into the house. He headed for the drink bar. "A drink will fix us up."
"You have one," said Lantry. "Later for me. I just want to sit down."
"By all means sit." McClure mixed himself a drink. He looked around the room, looked at Lantry, paused for a moment with the drink in his hand, tilted his head to one side, and put his tongue in his cheek. Then he shrugged and stirred the drink. He walked slowly to a chair and sat, sipping the drink quietly. He seemed to be listening for something. "There are cigarettes on the table," he said.
"Thanks." Lantry took one and lit it and smoked it. He did not speak for some time.
Lantry thought, I'm taking this all too easily. Maybe I should kill and run. He's the only one that has found me, yet. Perhaps this is all a trap. Perhaps we're simply sitting here waiting for the police. Or whatever in hell they use for police these days. He looked at McClure. No. They weren't waiting for police. They were waiting for something else.
McClure didn't speak. He looked at Lantry's face and he looked at Lantry's hands. He looked at Lantry's chest a long time, with easy quietness. He sipped his drink. He looked at Lantry's feet.
Finally he said, "Where'd you get the clothing?"
"I asked someone for clothes and they gave these things to me. Darned nice of them."
"You'll find that's how we are in this world. All you have to do is ask."
McClure shut up again. His eyes moved. Only his eyes and nothing else. Once or twice he lifted his drink.
A little clock ticked somewhere in the distance.
"Tell me about yourself, Mr. Lantry."
"Nothing much to tell."
"Hardly. You know about the past. I know nothing of the future, or I should say 'today' and day before yesterday. You don't learn much in a coffin."
McClure did not speak. He suddenly sat forward in his chair and then leaned back and shook his head.
They'll never suspect me, thought Lantry. They aren't superstitious, they simply can't believe in a dead man walking. Therefore, I'll be safe. I'll keep putting off the physical checkup. They're polite. They won't force me. Then, I'll work it so I can get to Mars. After that, the tombs, in my own good time, and the plan. God, how simple. How naive these people are.
McClure sat across the room for five minutes. A coldness had come over him. The color was very slowly going from his face, as one sees the color of medicine vanishing as one presses the bulb at the top of a dropper. He leaned forward, saying nothing, and offered another cigarette to Lantry.
"Thanks." Lantry took it. McClure sat deeply back into his easy chair, his knees folded one over the other. He did not look at Lantry, and yet somehow did. The feeling of weighing and balancing returned. McClure was like a tall thin master of hounds listening for something that nobody else could hear. There are little silver whistles you can blow that only dogs can hear. McClure seemed to be listening acutely, sensitively for such an invisible whistle, listening with his eyes and with his half-opened, dry mouth, and with his aching, breathing nostrils.
Lantry sucked the cigarette, sucked the cigarette, sucked the cigarette, and, as many times, blew out, blew out, blew out. McClure was like some lean red-shagged hound listening and listening with a slick slide of eyes to one side, with an apprehension in that hand that was so precisely microscopic that one only sensed it, as one sensed the invisible whistle, with some part of the brain deeper than eyes or nostril or ear. McClure was all chemist's scale, all antennae.
The room was so quiet the cigarette smoke made some kind of invisible noise rising to the ceiling. McClure was a thermometer, a chemist's scales, a listening hound, a litmus paper, an antennae; all these. Lantry did not move. Perhaps the feeling would pass. It had passed before. McClure did not move for a long while and then, without a word, he nodded at the sherry decanter, and Lantry refused as silently. They sat looking but not looking at each other, again and away, again and away.
McClure stiffened slowly. Lantry saw the color getting paler in those lean cheeks, and the hand tightening on the sherry glass, and a knowledge come at last to stay, never to go away, into the eyes.
Lantry did not move. He could not. All of this was of such a fascination that he wanted only to see, to hear what would happen next. It was McClure's show from here on in.
McClure said, "At first I thought it was the finest psychosis I have ever seen. You, I mean. I thought, he's convinced himself, Lantry's convinced himself, he's quite insane, he's told himself to do all these little things." McClure talked as if in a dream, and continued talking and didn't stop.
"I said to myself, he purposely doesn't breathe through his nose. I watched your nostrils, Lantry. The little nostril hairs never once quivered in the last hour. That wasn't enough. It was a fact I filed. It wasn't enough. He breathes through his mouth, I said, on purpose. And then I gave you a cigarette and you sucked and blew, sucked and blew. None of it ever came out your nose. I told myself, well, that's all right. He doesn't inhale. Is that terrible, is that suspect? All in the mouth, all in the mouth. And then, I looked at your chest. I watched. It never moved up or down, it did nothing. He's convinced himself, I said to myself. He's convinced himself about all this. He doesn't move his chest, except slowly, when he thinks you're not looking. That's what I told myself."
The words went on in the silent room, not pausing, still in a dream. "And then I offered you a drink but you don't drink and I thought, he doesn't drink, I thought. Is that terrible? And I watched and watched you all this time. Lantry holds his breath, he's fooling himself. But now, yes, now, I understand it quite well. Now I know everything the way it is. Do you know how I know? I do not hear breathing in the room. I wait and I hear nothing. There is no beat of heart or intake of lung. The room is so silent. Nonsense, one might say, but I know. At the Incinerator I know. There is a difference. You enter a room where a man is on a bed and you know immediately whether he will look up and speak to you or whether he will not speak to you ever again. Laugh if you will, but one can tell. It is a subliminal thing. It is the whistle the dog hears when no human hears. It is the tick of a clock that has ticked so long one no longer notices. Something is in a room when a man lives in it. Something is not in the room when a man is dead in it."
McClure shut his eyes a moment. He put down his sherry glass. He waited a moment. He took up his cigarette and puffed it and then put it down in a black tray.
"I am alone in this room," he said.
Lantry did not move.
"You are dead," said McClure. "My mind does not know this. It is not a thinking thing. It is a thing of the senses and the subconscious. At first I thought, this man thinks he is dead, risen from the dead, a vampire. Is that not logical? Would not any man, buried as many centuries, raised in a superstitious, ignorant culture, think likewise of himself once risen from the tomb? Yes, that is logical. This man has hypnotized himself and fitted his bodily functions so that they would in no way interfere with his self-delusion, his great paranoia. He governs his breathing. He tells himself, I cannot hear my breathing, therefore I am dead. His inner mind censors the sound of breathing. He does not allow himself to eat or drink. These things he probably does in his sleep, with part of his mind, hiding the evidences of this humanity from his deluded mind at other times."
McClure finished it. "I was wrong. You are not insane. You are not deluding yourself. Nor me. This is all very illogical and—I must admit—almost frightening. Does that make you feel good, to think you frighten me? I have no label for you. You're a very odd man, Lantry. I'm glad to have met you. This will make an interesting report indeed."
"Is there anything wrong with me being dead?" said Lantry. "Is it a crime?"
"You must admit it's highly unusual."
"But, still now, is it a crime?" asked Lantry.
"We have no crime, no criminal court. We want to examine you, naturally, to find out how you have happened. It is like that chemical which, one minute is inert, the next is living cell. Who can say where what happened to what. You are that impossibility. It is enough to drive a man quite insane."
"Will I be released when you are done fingering me?"
"You will not be held. If you don't wish to be examined, you will not be. But I am hoping you will help by offering us your services."
"I might," said Lantry.
"But tell me," said McClure. "What were you doing at the morgue?"
"I heard you talking when I came in."
"I was merely curious."
"You're lying. That is very bad, Mr. Lantry. The truth is far better. The truth is, is it not, that you are dead and, being the only one of your sort, were lonely. Therefore you killed people to have company."
"How does that follow?"
McClure laughed. "Logic, my dear fellow. Once I knew you were really dead, a moment ago, really a—what do you call it—a vampire (silly word!) I tied you immediately to the Incinerator blasts. Before that there was no reason to connect you. But once the one piece fell into place, the fact that you were dead, then it was simple to guess your loneliness, your hate, your envy, all of the tawdry motivations of a walking corpse. It took only an instant then to see the Incinerators blown to blazes, and then to think of you, among the bodies at the morgue, seeking help, seeking friends and people like yourself to work with—"
"You're too damned smart!" Lantry was out of the chair. He was half way to the other man when McClure rolled over and scuttled away, flinging the sherry decanter. With a great despair Lantry realized that, like a damned idiot, he had thrown away his one chance to kill McClure. He should have done it earlier. It had been Lantry's one weapon, his safety margin. If people in a society never killed each other, they never suspected one another. You could walk up to any one of them and kill him.
"Come back here!" Lantry threw the knife.
McClure got behind a chair. The idea of flight, of protection, of fighting, was still new to him. He had part of the idea, but there was still a bit of luck on Lantry's side if Lantry wanted to use it.
"Oh, no," said McClure, holding the chair between himself and the advancing man. "You want to kill me. It's odd, but true. I can't understand it. You want to cut me with that knife or something like that, and it's up to me to prevent you from doing such an odd thing."
"I will kill you!" Lantry let it slip out. He cursed himself. That was the worst possible thing to say.
Lantry lunged across the chair, clutching at McClure.
McClure was very logical. "It won't do you any good to kill me. You know that." They wrestled and held each other in a wild, toppling shuffle. Tables fell over, scattering articles. "You remember what happened in the morgue?"
"I don't care!" screamed Lantry.
"You didn't raise those dead, did you?"
"I don't care!" cried Lantry.
"Look here," said McClure, reasonably. "There will never be any more like you, ever, there's no use."
"Then I'll destroy all of you, all of you!" screamed Lantry.
"And then what? You'll still be alone, with no more like you about."
"I'll go to Mars. They have tombs there. I'll find more like myself!"
"No," said McClure. "The executive order went through yesterday. All of the tombs are being deprived of their bodies. They'll be burned in the next week."
They fell together to the floor. Lantry got his hands on McClure's throat.
"Please," said McClure. "Do you see, you'll die."
"What do you mean?" cried Lantry.
"Once you kill all of us, and you're alone, you'll die! The hate will die. That hate is what moves you, nothing else! That envy moves you. Nothing else! You'll die, inevitably. You're not immortal. You're not even alive, you're nothing but a moving hate."
"I don't care!" screamed Lantry, and began choking the man, beating his head with his fists, crouched on the defenseless body. McClure looked up at him with dying eyes.
The front door opened. Two men came in.
"I say," said one of them. "What's going on? A new game?"
Lantry jumped back and began to run.
"Yes, a new game!" said McClure, struggling up. "Catch him and you win!"
The two men caught Lantry. "We win," they said.
"Let me go!" Lantry thrashed, hitting them across their faces, bringing blood.
"Hold him tight!" cried McClure.
They held him.
"A rough game, what?" one of them said. "What do we do now?"
The beetle hissed along the shining road. Rain fell out of the sky and a wind ripped at the dark green wet trees. In the beetle, his hands on the half-wheel, McClure was talking. His voice was a susurrant, a whispering, a hypnotic thing. The two other men sat in the back seat. Lantry sat, or rather lay, in the front seat, his head back, his eyes faintly open, the glowing green light of the dash dials showing on his cheeks. His mouth was relaxed. He did not speak.
McClure talked quietly and logically, about life and moving, about death and not moving, about the sun and the great sun Incinerator, about the emptied tombyard, about hatred and how hate lived and made a clay man live and move, and how illogical it all was, it all was, it all was. One was dead, was dead, was dead, that was all, all, all. One did not try to be otherwise. The car whispered on the moving road. The rain spatted gently on the windshield. The men in the back seat conversed quietly. Where were they going, going? To the Incinerator, of course. Cigarette smoke moved slowly up on the air, curling and tying into itself in grey loops and spirals. One was dead and must accept it.
Lantry did not move. He was a marionette, the strings cut. There was only a tiny hatred in his heart, in his eyes, like twin coals, feeble, glowing, fading.
I am Poe, he thought. I am all that is left of Edgar Allan Poe, and I am all that is left of Ambrose Bierce and all that is left of a man named Lovecraft. I am a grey night bat with sharp teeth, and I am a square black monolith monster. I am Osiris and Baal and Set. I am the Necronomicon, the Book of the Dead. I am the house of Usher, falling into flame. I am the Red Death. I am the man mortared into the catacomb with a cask of Amontillado.... I am a dancing skeleton. I am a coffin, a shroud, a lightning bolt reflected in an old house window. I am an autumn-empty tree, I am a rapping, flinging shutter. I am a yellowed volume turned by a claw hand. I am an organ played in an attic at midnight. I am a mask, a skull mask behind an oak tree on the last day of October. I am a poison apple bobbling in a water tub for child noses to bump at, for child teeth to snap.... I am a black candle lighted before an inverted cross. I am a coffin lid, a sheet with eyes, a footstep on a black stairwell. I am Dunsany and Machen and I am the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I am The Monkey's Paw and I am The Phantom Rickshaw. I am the Cat and the Canary, The Gorilla, the Bat. I am the ghost of Hamlet's father on the castle wall.
All of these things am I. And now these last things will be burned. While I lived they still lived. While I moved and hated and existed, they still existed. I am all that remembers them. I am all of them that still goes on, and will not go on after tonight. Tonight, all of us, Poe and Bierce and Hamlet's father, we burn together. They will make a big heap of us and burn us like a bonfire, like things of Guy Fawkes' day, gasoline, torch-light, cries and all!
And what a wailing will we put up. The world will be clean of us, but in our going we shall say, oh what is the world like, clean of fear, where is the dark imagination from the dark time, the thrill and the anticipation, the suspense of old October, gone, never more to come again, flattened and smashed and burned by the rocket people, by the Incinerator people, destroyed and obliterated, to be replaced by doors that open and close and lights that go on or off without fear. If only you could remember how once we lived, what Hallowe'en was to us, and what Poe was, and how we gloried in the dark morbidities. One more drink, dear friends, of Amontillado, before the burning. All of this, all, exists but in one last brain on earth. A whole world dying tonight. One more drink, pray.
"Here we are," said McClure.
The Incinerator was brightly lighted. There was quiet music nearby. McClure got out of the beetle, came around to the other side. He opened the door. Lantry simply lay there. The talking and the logical talking had slowly drained him of life. He was no more than wax now, with a small glow in his eyes. This future world, how the men talked to you, how logically they reasoned away your life. They wouldn't believe in him. The force of their disbelief froze him. He could not move his arms or his legs. He could only mumble senselessly, coldly, eyes flickering.
McClure and the two others helped him out of the car, put him in a golden box and rolled him on a roller table into the warm glowing interior of the building.
I am Edgar Allan Poe, I am Ambrose Bierce, I am Hallowe'en, I am a coffin, a shroud, a Monkey's Paw, a Phantom, a Vampire....
"Yes, yes," said McClure, quietly, over him. "I know. I know."
The table glided. The walls swung over him and by him, the music played. You are dead, you are logically dead.
I am Usher, I am the Maelstrom, I am the MS Found In A Bottle, I am the Pit and I am the Pendulum, I am the Telltale Heart, I am the Raven nevermore, nevermore.
"Yes," said McClure, as they walked softly. "I know."
"I am in the catacomb," cried Lantry.
"Yes, the catacomb," said the walking man over him.
"I am being chained to a wall, and there is no bottle of Amontillado here!" cried Lantry weakly, eyes closed.
"Yes," someone said.
There was movement. The flame door opened.
"Now someone is mortaring up the cell, closing me in!"
"Yes, I know." A whisper.
The golden box slid into the flame lock.
"I'm being walled in! A very good joke indeed! Let us be gone!" A wild scream and much laughter.
"We know, we understand...."
The inner flame lock opened. The golden coffin shot forth into flame.
"For the love of God, Montresor! For the love of God!"