The following is Raccoona Sheldon’s 1977 short story “The Screwfly Solution”. The formatting might be slightly off (such as italics) but this is the story in its entirety. I wrote none of it, so don’t send comments to me about the story.
The young man sitting at 2° N, 75° W sent a casually venomous glance up at the nonfunctional shoofly ventilador and went on reading his letter. He was sweating heavily, stripped to his shorts in the hotbox of what passed for a hotel room in Cuyapán.
How do other wives do it? I stay busy-busy with the Ann Arbor grant review programs and the seminar, saying brightly, “Oh yes, Alan is in Colombia setting up a biological pest control program, isn’t it wonderful?” But inside I imagine you being surrounded by nineteen-year-old raven-haired cooing beauties, every one panting with social dedication and filthy rich. And forty inches of bosom busting out of her delicate lingerie. I even figured it in centimeters, that’s 101.6 centimeters of busting. Oh, darling, darling, do what you want only come home safe.
Alan grinned fondly, briefly imagining the only body he longed for. His girl, his magic Anne. Then he got up to open the window another cautious notch. A long pale mournful face looked in—a goat. The room opened on the goatpen, the stench was vile. Air, anyway. He picked up the letter.
Everything is just about as you left it, except that the Peedsville horror seems to be getting worse. They’re calling it the Sons of Adam cult now. Why can’t they do something, even if it is a religion? The Red Cross has set up a refugee camp in Ashton, Georgia. Imagine, refugees in the U.S.A. I heard two little girls were carried out all slashed up. Oh, Alan.
Which reminds me, Barney came over with a wad of clippings he wants me to send you. I’m putting them in a separate envelope; I know what happens to very fat letters in foreign POs. He says, in case you don’t get them, what do the following have in common? Peedsville, Sao Paulo, Phoenix, San Diego, Shanghai, New Delhi, Tripoli, Brisbane, Johannesburg, and Lubbock, Texas. He says the hint is, remember where the Intertropical Convergence Zone is now. That makes no sense to me, maybe it will to your superior ecological brain. All I could see about the clippings was that they were fairly horrible accounts of murders or massacres of women. The worst was the New Delhi one, about “rafts of female corpses” in the river. The funniest (!) was the Texas Army officer who shot his wife, three daughters and his aunt, because God told him to clean the place up.
Barney’s such an old dear, he’s coming over Sunday to help me take off the downspout and see what’s blocking it. He’s dancing on air right now, since you left his spruce budworm-moth antipheromone program finally paid off. You know he tested over 2,000 compounds? Well, it seems that good old 2,097 really works. When I asked him what it does he just giggles, you know how shy he is with women. Anyway, it seems that a one-shot spray program will save the forests, without harming a single other thing. Birds and people can eat it all day, he says.
Well sweetheart, that’s all the news except Amy goes back to Chicago to school Sunday. The place will be a tomb, I’ll miss her frightfully in spite of her being at the stage where I’m her worst enemy. The sullen sexy subteens, Angie says. Amy sends love to her Daddy. I send you my whole heart, all that words can’t say.
Alan put the letter safely in his notefile and glanced over the rest of the thin packet of mail, refusing to let himself dream of home and Anne. Barney’s “fat envelope” wasn’t there. He threw himself on the rumpled bed, yanking off the lightcord a minute before the town generator went off for the night. In the darkness the last of places Barney had mentioned spread themselves around a misty globe that turned, troublingly, briefly in his mind. Something …
But then the memory of the hideously parasitized children he had worked with at the clinic that day took possession of his thoughts. He set himself to considering the data he must collect. Look for the vulnerable link in the behavioral chain—how often Barney—Dr. Barnhard Braithwaite—had pounded it into his skull. Where was it, where? In the morning he would start work on bigger canefly cages …
At that moment, five thousand miles North, Anne was writing:
Oh, darling, darling, your first three letters are here, they all came together. I knew you were writing. Forget what I said about swarthy heiresses, that was all a joke. My darling I know, I know … us. Those dreadful canefly larvae, those poor little kids. If you weren’t my husband I’d think you were a saint or something. (I do anyway.)
I have your letters pinned up all over the house, makes it a lot less lonely. No real news here except things feel kind of quiet and spooky. Barney and I got the downspout out, it was full of a big rotted hoard of squirrel-nuts. They must have been dropping them down the top, I’ll put a wire over it. (Don’t worry, I’ll use a ladder this time.)
Barney’s in an odd, grim mood. He’s taking this Sons of Adam thing very seriously, it seems he’s going to be on the investigation committee if that ever gets off the ground. The weird part is that nobody seems to be doing anything, as if it’s just too big. Selina Peters has been printing some acid comments, like When one man kills his wife you call it murder, but when enough do it we call it a lifestyle. I think it’s spreading, but nobody knows because the media have been asked to down-play it. Barney says it’s being viewed as a form of contagious hysteria. He insisted I send you this ghastly interview, printed on thin paper. It’s not going to be published, of course. The Quietness is worse, though, it’s like something terrible was going on just out of sight. After reading Barney’s thing I called up Pauline in San Diego to make sure she was all right. She sounded funny, as if she wasn’t saying everything … my own sister. Just after she said things were great she suddenly asked if she could come and stay here awhile next month, I said come right away, but she wants to sell her house first. I wish she’d hurry.
Oh, the diesel car is okay now, it just needed its filter changed. I had to go out to Springfield to get one but Eddie installed it for only $2.50. He’s going to bankrupt his garage.
In case you didn’t guess, those places of Barney’s are all about latitude 30° N or S—the horse latitudes. When I said not exactly, he said remember the equatorial convergence zone shifts in winter, and to add in Libya, Osaka, and a place I forget—wait, Alice Springs, Australia. What has this to do with anything, I asked. He said, “Nothing—I hope.” I leave it to you, great brains like Barney can be weird.
Oh my dearest, here’s all of me to all of you. Your letters make life possible. But don’t feel you have to, I can tell how tired you must be. Just know we’re together, always everywhere.
Oh PS I had to open this to put Barney’s thing in, it wasn’t the secret police. Here it is. All love again. A.
· · · · ·
In the goat-infested room where Alan read this, rain was drumming on the roof. He put the letter to his nose to catch the faint perfume once more, and folded it away. Then he pulled out the yellow flimsy Barney had sent and began to read, frowning.
· · · · ·
PEEDSVILLE CULT/SONS OF ADAM SPECIAL. Statement by driver Sgt. Willard Mews, Globe Fork, Ark. We hit the roadblock about 80 miles west of Jacksonville. Major John Heinz of Ashton was expecting us, he gave us an escort of two riot vehicles headed by Capt. T. Parr. Major Heinz appeared shocked to see that the NIH medical team included two women doctors. He warned us in the strongest terms of the danger. So Dr. Patsy Putnam (Urbana, Ill.), the psychologist, decided to stay behind at the Army cordon. But Dr. Elaine Fay (Clinton, N.J.) insisted on going with us, saying she was the epi-something (epidemiologist).
We drove behind one of the riot cars at 30 mph for about an hour without seeing anything unusual. There were two big signs saying “SONS OF ADAM—LIBERATED ZONE.” We passed some small pecan packing plants and a citrus processing plant. The men there looked at us but did not do anything unusual. I didn’t see any children or women of course. Just outside Peedsville we stopped at a big barrier made of oil drums in front of a large citrus warehouse. This area is old, sort of a shantytown and trailer park. The new part of town with the shopping center and developments is about a mile further on. A warehouse worker with a shotgun came out and told us to wait for the Mayor. I don’t think he saw Dr. Elaine Fay then, she was sitting sort of bent down in back.
Mayor Blount drove up in a police cruiser and our chief, Dr. Premack, explained our mission from the Surgeon General. Dr. Premack was very careful not to make any remarks insulting to the Mayor’s religion. Mayor Blount agreed to let the party go on into Peedsville to take samples of the soil and water and so on and talk to the doctor who lives there. The mayor was about 6’2″, weight maybe 230 or 240, tanned, with grayish hair. He was smiling and chuckling in a friendly manner.
Then he looked inside the car and saw Dr. Elaine Fay and he blew up. He started yelling we had to all get the hell back. But Dr. Premack managed to talk to him and cool him down and finally the Mayor said Dr. Fay should go into the warehouse office and stay there with the door closed. I had to stay there too and see she didn’t come out, and one of the Mayor’s men would drive the party.
So the medical people and the Mayor and one of the riot vehicles went on into Peedsville and I took Dr. Fay back into the warehouse office and sat down. It was real hot and stuffy. Dr. Fay opened a window, but when I heard her trying to talk to an old man outside I told her she couldn’t do that and closed the window. The old man went away. Then she wanted to talk to me but I told her I did not feel like conversing. I felt it was real wrong, her being there.
So then she started looking through the office files and reading papers there. I told her that was a bad idea, she shouldn’t do that. She said the government expected her to investigate. She showed me a booklet or magazine they had there, it was called Man Listens to God by Reverend McIllhenny. They had a carton full in the office. I started reading it and Dr. Fay said she wanted to wash her hands. So I took her back along a kind of enclosed hallway beside the conveyor to where the toilet was. There were no doors or windows so I went back. After awhile she called out that there was a cot back there, she was going to lie down. I figured that was all right because of the no windows, also I was glad to be rid of her company.
When I got to reading the book it was very intriguing. It was very deep thinking about how man is now on trial with God and if we fulfill our duty God will bless us with a real new life on Earth. The signs and portents show it. It wasn’t like, you know, Sunday school stuff. It was deep.
After awhile I heard some music and saw the soldiers from the other riot car were across the street by the gas tanks, sitting in the shade of some trees and kidding with the workers from the plant. One of them was playing a guitar, not electric, just plain. It looked so peaceful.
Then Mayor Blount drove up alone in the cruiser and came in. When he saw I was reading the book he smiled at me sort of fatherly, but he looked tense. He asked me where Dr. Fay was and I told him she was lying down in back. He said that was okay. Then he kind of sighed and went back down the hall, closing the door behind him. I sat and listened to the guitar man, trying to hear what he was singing. I felt really hungry, my lunch was in Dr. Premack’s car.
After awhile the door opened and Mayor Blount came back in. He looked terrible, his clothes were messed up and he had bloody scrape marks on his face. He didn’t say anything, he just looked at me hard and fierce, like he might have been disoriented. I saw his zipper was open and there was blood on his clothing and also on his (private parts).
I didn’t feel frightened, I felt something important had happened. I tried to get him to sit down. But he motioned me to follow him back down the hall, to where Dr. Fay was. “You must see,” he said. He went into the toilet and I went into a kind of little room there, where the cot was. The light was fairly good, reflected off the tin roof from where the walls stopped. I saw Dr. Fay lying on the cot in a peaceful appearance. She was lying straight, her clothing was to some extent different but her legs were together. I was glad to see that. Her blouse was pulled up and I saw there was a cut or incision on her abdomen. The blood was coming out there, or it had been coming out there, like a mouth. It wasn’t moving at this time. Also her throat was cut open.
I returned to the office. Mayor Blount was sitting down, looking very tired. He had cleaned himself off. He said, “I did it for you. Do you understand?”
He seemed like my father, I can’t say it better than that. I realized he was under a terrible strain, he had taken a lot on himself for me. He went on to explain how Dr. Fay was very dangerous, she was what they call a cripto-female (crypto?), the most dangerous kind. He had exposed her and purified the situation. He was very straightforward, I didn’t feel confused at all, I knew he had done what was right.
We discussed the book, how man must purify himself and show God a clean world. He said some people raise the question of how can man reproduce without women but such people miss the point. The point is that as long as man depends on the old filthy animal way God won’t help him. When man gets rid of his animal part which is woman, this is the signal God is awaiting. Then God will reveal the new true clean way, maybe angels will come bringing new souls, or maybe we will live forever, but it is not our place to speculate, only to obey. He said some men here had seen an Angel of the Lord. This was very deep, it seemed like it echoed inside me, I felt it was inspiration.
Then the medical party drove up and I told Dr. Premack that Dr. Fay had been taken care of and sent away, and I got in the car to drive them out of the Liberated Zone. However four of the six soldiers from the roadblock refused to leave. Capt. Parr tried to argue them out of it but finally agreed they could stay to guard the oil-drum barrier.
I would have liked to stay too the place was so peaceful but they needed me to drive the car. If I had known there would be all this hassle I never would have done them the favor. I am not crazy and I have not done anything wrong and my lawyer will get me out. That is all I have to say.
· · · · ·
In Cuyapán the hot afternoon rain had temporarily ceased. As Alan’s fingers let go of Sgt. Willard Mews’s wretched document he caught sight of pencil-scrawled words in the margin. Barney’s spider hand. He squinted.
Man’s religion and metaphysics are the voices of his glands. Schö:nweiser, 1878.
Who the devil Schö:nweiser was Alan didn’t know, but he knew what Barney was conveying. This murderous crackpot religion of McWhosis was a symptom, not a cause. Barney believed something was physically affecting the Peedsville men, generating psychosis, and a local religious demagog had sprung up to “explain” it.
Well, maybe. But cause or effect, Alan thought only of one thing: eight hundred miles from Peedsville to Ann Arbor. Anne should be safe. She had to be.
He threw himself on the lumpy cot, his mind going back exultantly to his work. At the cost of a million bites and cane-cuts he was pretty sure he’d found the weak link in the canefly cycle. The male mass-mating behavior, the comparative scarcity of ovulant females. It would be the screwfly solution all over again with the sexes reversed. Concentrate the pheromone, release sterilized females. Luckily the breeding populations were comparatively isolated. In a couple of seasons they ought to have it. Have to let them go on spraying poison meanwhile, of course; damn pity, it was slaughtering everything and getting in the water, and the caneflies had evolved to immunity anyway. But in a couple of seasons, maybe three, they could drop the canefly populations below reproductive viability. No more tormented human bodies with those stinking larvae in the nasal passages and brain.… He drifted off for a nap, grinning.
· · · · ·
Up north, Anne was biting her lip in shame and pain.
Sweetheart, I shouldn’t admit it but your wife is a bit jittery. Just female nerves or something, nothing to worry about. Everything is normal up here. It’s so eerily normal, nothing in the papers, nothing anywhere except what I hear through Barney and Lillian. But Pauline’s phone won’t answer out in San Diego; the fifth day some strange man yelled at me and banged the phone down. Maybe she’s sold her house—but why wouldn’t she call?
Lillian’s on some kind of Save-the-Women committee, like we were an endangered species, ha-ha—you know Lillian. It seems the Red Cross has started setting up camps. But she says, after the first rush, only a trickle are coming out of what they call “the affected areas.” Not many children, either, even little boys. And they have some air-photos around Lubbock showing what look like mass graves. Oh, Alan … so far it seems to be mostly spreading west, but something’s happening to St. Louis, they’re cut off. So many places seem to have just vanished from the news, I had a nightmare that there isn’t a woman left alive down there. And nobody’s doing anything. They talked about spraying with tranquilizers for awhile and then that died out. What could it do? Somebody at the U.N. had proposed a convention on—you won’t believe this—femicide. It sounds like a deodorant spray.
Excuse me honey, I seem to be a little hysterical. George Searles came back from Georgia talking about God’s Will—Searles the life-long atheist. Alan, something crazy is happening.
But there are no facts. Nothing. The Surgeon General issued a report on the bodies of the Rahway Rip-Breast Team—I guess I didn’t tell you about that. Anyway, they could find no pathology. Milton Baines wrote a letter saying in the present state of the art we can’t distinguish the brain of a saint from the psychopathic killer, so how could they expect to find what they don’t know how to look for?
Well, enough of these jitters. It’ll all be over by the time you get back, just history. Everything’s fine here, I fixed the car’s muffler again. And Amy’s coming home for the vacations, that’ll get my mind off faraway problems.
Oh, something amusing to end with—Angie told me what Barney’s enzyme does to the spruce budworm. It seems it blocks the male from turning around after he connects with the female, so he mates with her head instead. Like clockwork with a cog missing. There’re going to be some pretty puzzled female spruceworms. Now why couldn’t Barney tell me that? He really is such a sweet shy old dear. He’s given me some stuff to put in, as usual. I didn’t read it.
Now don’t worry my darling everything’s fine.
I love you, I love you so.
Always, all ways your Anne.
· · · · ·
Two weeks later in Cuyapán when Barney’s enclosures slid out of the envelope, Alan didn’t read them either. He stuffed them into the pocket of his bush-jacket with a shaking hand and started bundling his notes together on the rickety table, with a scrawled note to Sister Dominique on top. Anne, Anne my darling. The hell with the canefly, the hell with everything except that tremor in his fearless girl’s handwriting. The hell with being five thousand miles away from his woman, his child, while some deadly madness raged. He crammed his meager belongings into his duffel. If he hurried he could catch the bus through to Bogotá and maybe make the Miami flight.
In Miami he found the planes north jammed. He failed a quick standby; six hours to wait. Time to call Anne. When the call got through some difficulty he was unprepared for the rush of joy and relief that burst along the wires.
“Thank God—I can’t believe it—Oh, Alan, my darling, are you really—I can’t believe—”
He found he was repeating too, and all mixed up with the canefly data. They were both laughing hysterically when he finally hung up.
Six hours. He settled in a frayed plastic chair opposite Aerolineas Argentinas, his mind half back at the clinic, half on the throngs moving by him. Something was oddly different here, he perceived presently. Where was the decorative fauna he usually enjoyed in Miami, the parade of young girls in crotch-tight pastel jeans? The flounces, boots, wild hats and hairdos and startling expanses of newly-tanned skin, the brilliant fabrics barely confining the bob of breasts and buttocks? Not here—but wait; looking closely, he glimpsed two young faces hidden under unbecoming parkas, their bodies draped in bulky nondescript skirts. In fact, all down the long vista he could see the same thing: hooded ponchos, heaped on clothes and baggy pants, dull colors. A new style? No, he thought not. It seemed to him their movements suggested furtiveness, timidity. And they moved in groups. He watched a lone girl struggle to catch up with others ahead of her, apparently strangers. They accepted her wordlessly.
They’re frightened, he thought. Afraid of attracting notice. Even that gray-haired matron in a pantsuit resolutely leading a flock of kids was glancing around nervously.
And at the Argentine desk opposite he saw another odd thing: two lines had a big sign over them, Mujeres. Women. They were crowded with the shapeless forms and very quiet.
The men seemed to be behaving normally; hurrying, lounging, griping and joking in the lines as they kicked their luggage along. But Alan felt an undercurrent of tension, like an irritant in the air. Outside the line of storefronts behind him a few isolated men seemed to be handing out tracts. An airport attendant spoke to the nearest man; he merely shrugged and moved a few doors down.
To distract himself Alan picked up a Miami Herald from the next seat. It was surprisingly thin. The international news occupied him for awhile; he had seen none for weeks. It too had a strange empty quality, even the bad news seemed to have dried up. The African war which had been going on seemed to be over, or went unreported. A trade summit-meeting was haggling over grain and steel prices. He found himself at the obituary pages, columns of close-set type dominated by the photo of an unknown defunct ex-senator. Then his eye fell on two announcements at the bottom of the page. One was too flowery for quick comprehension, but the other stated in bold plain type:
THE FORSETTE FUNERAL HOME
IT WILL NO LONGER ACCEPT
Slowly he folded the paper, staring at it numbly. On the back was an item headed Navigational Hazard Warning, in the shipping news. Without really taking it in, he read:
AP/Nassau: The excursion liner Carib Swallow reached port under tow today after striking an obstruction in the Gulf Stream off Cape Hatteras. The obstruction was identified as part of a commercial trawler’s seine floated by female corpses. This confirms reports from Florida and the Gulf of the use of such seines, some of them over a mile in length. Similar reports coming from the Pacific coast and as far away as Japan indicate a growing hazard to coastwide shipping.
Alan flung the thing into a trash receptacle and sat rubbing his forehead and eyes. Thank God he had followed his impulse to come home. He felt totally disoriented, as though he had landed by error on another planet. Four and a half hours more to wait.… At length he recalled the stuff from Barney he had thrust in his pocket, and pulled it out and smoothed it.
The top item, however, seemed to be from Anne, or at least the Ann Arbor News. Dr. Lillian Dash, together with several hundred other members of her organization, had been arrested for demonstrating without a permit in front of the White House. They seemed to have started a fire in an oil drum, which was considered particularly heinous. A number of women’s groups had participated, the total struck Alan as more like thousands than hundreds. Extraordinary security precautions were being taken, despite the fact that the President was out of town at the time.
The next item had to be Barney’s, if Alan could recognize the old man’s acerbic humor.
UP/Vatican City 19 June. Pope John IV today intimated that he does not plan to comment officially on the so-called Pauline Purification cults advocating the elimination of women as a means of justifying man to God. A spokesman emphasized that the Church takes no position on these cults but repudiates any doctrine involving a “challenge” to or from God to reveal His further plans for man.
Cardinal Fazzoli, spokesman for the European Pauline movement, reaffirmed his view that the Scriptures define woman as merely a temporary companion and instrument of Man. Women, he states, are nowhere defined as human, but merely as a transitional expedient or state. “The time of transition to full humanity is at hand,” he concluded.
The next item appeared to be a thin-paper Xerox from a recent issue of Science:
SUMMARY REPORT OF THE AD HOC
EMERGENCY COMMITTEE OF FEMICIDE
The recent world-wide though localized outbreaks of femicide appear to represent a recurrence of similar outbreaks by some group or sect which are not uncommon in world history in times of psychic stress. In this case the root cause is undoubtedly the speed of social and technological change, augmented by population pressure, and the spread and scope are aggravated by instantaneous world communications, thus exposing more susceptible persons. It is not viewed as a medical or epidemiological problem; no physical pathology has been found. Rather it is more akin to the various manias which swept Europe in the seventeenth century, e.g., the Dancing Manias, and like them, should run its course and disappear. The chiliastic cults which have sprung up around the affected areas appear to be unrelated, having in common only the idea that a new means of human reproduction will be revealed as a result of the “purifying” elimination of women.
We recommend that (1) inflammatory and sensational reporting be suspended; (2) refugee centers be set up and maintained for women escapees from the focal areas; (3) containment of affected areas by military cordon be continued and enforced; and (4) after a cooling-down period and the subsidence of the mania, qualified mental health teams and appropriate professional personnel go in to undertake rehabilitation.
SUMMARY OF THE MINORITY
REPORT OF THE AD HOC COMMITTEE
The nine members signing this report agree that there is no evidence for epidemiological contagion of femicide in the strict sense. However, the geographical relation of the focal areas of outbreak strongly suggest that they cannot be dismissed as purely psychosocial phenomena. The initial outbreaks have occurred around the globe near the 30th parallel, the area of principal atmospheric downflow of upper winds coming from the Intertropical Convergence Zone. An agent or condition in the upper equatorial atmosphere would thus be expected to reach ground level along the 30th parallel, with certain seasonal variations. One principal variation is that the downflow moves north over the East Asian continent during the late winter months, and these areas south of it (Arabia, Western India, parts of North Africa) have in fact been free of outbreaks until recently, when the downflow zone has moved south. A similar downflow occurs in the Southern Hemisphere, and outbreaks have been reported along the 30th parallel running through Pretoria and Alice Springs, Australia. (Information from Argentina is currently unavailable.)
This geographical correlation cannot be dismissed, and it is therefore urged that an intensified search for a physical cause be instituted. It is also urgently recommended that the rate of spread from known focal points be correlated with wind condition. A watch for similar outbreaks along the secondary down-welling zones at 60° north and south should be kept.
(signed for the minority)
· · · · ·
Alan grinned reminiscently at his old friend’s name, which seemed to restore normalcy and stability to the world. It looked as if Barney was onto something, too, despite the prevalence of horses’ asses. He frowned, puzzling it out.
Then his face slowly changed as he thought how it would be, going home to Anne. In a few short hours his arms would be around her, the tall, secretly beautiful body that had come to obsess him. Theirs had been a late-blooming love. They’d married, he supposed now, out of friendship, even out of friends’ pressure. Everyone said they were made for each other, he big and chunky and blond, she willowy brunette; both shy, highly controlled, cerebral types. For the first few years the friendship had held, but sex hadn’t been all that much. Conventional necessity. Politely reassuring each other, privately—he could say it now—disappointing.
But then, when Amy was a toddler, something had happened. A miraculous inner portal of sensuality had slowly opened to them, a liberation into their own secret unsuspected heaven of fully physical bliss … Jesus, but it had been a wrench when the Colombia thing had come up. Only their absolute sureness of each other had made him take it. And now, to be about to have her again, trebly desirable from the spice of separation—feeling-seeing-hearing-smelling-grasping. He shifted in his seat to conceal his body’s excitement, half mesmerized by fantasy.
And Amy would be there, too; he grinned at the memory of that prepubescent little body plastered against him. She was going to be a handful, all right. His manhood understood Amy a lot better than her mother did; no cerebral phase for Amy … But Anne, his exquisite shy one, with whom he’d found the way into the almost unendurable transports of the flesh … First the conventional greeting, he thought; the news, the unspoken, savored, mounting excitement behind their eyes; the light touches; then the seeking of their own room, the falling clothes, the caresses, gentle at first—the flesh, the nakedness—the delicate teasing, the grasp, the first thrust—
—A terrible alarm-bell went off in his head. Exploded from his dream, he stared around, then finally down at his hands. What was he doing with his open clasp-knife in his fist?
Stunned, he felt for the last shreds of his fantasy, and realized that the tactile images had not been of caresses, but of a frail neck strangling in his fist, the thrust had been the Plunge of a blade seeking vitals. In his arms, legs, phantasms of striking and trampling bones cracking. And Amy—
Oh God, Oh God—
Not sex, bloodlust.
That was what he had been dreaming. The sex was there, but it was driving some engine of death.
Numbly he put the knife away, thinking only over and over, it’s got me. It’s got me. Whatever it is, it’s got me. I can’t go home.
After an unknown time he got up and made his way to the United counter to turn in his ticket. The line was long. As he waited, his mind cleared a little. What could he do, here in Miami? Wouldn’t it be better to get back to Ann Arbor and turn himself in to Barney? Barney could help him, if anyone could. Yes, that was best. But first he had to warn Anne.
The connection took even longer this time. When Anne finally answered he found himself blurting unintelligibly, it took awhile to make her understand he wasn’t talking about a plane delay.
“I tell you, I’ve caught it. Listen, Anne, for God’s sake. If I should come to the house don’t let me come near you. I mean it. I’m going to the lab, but I might lose control and try to get to you. Is Barney there?”
“Yes, but darling—”
“Listen. Maybe he can fix me, maybe this’ll wear off. But I’m not safe, Anne, Anne, I’d kill you, can you understand? Get a—get a weapon. I’ll try not to come to the house. But if I do, don’t let me get near you. Or Amy. It’s a sickness, it’s real. Treat me—treat me like a fucking wild animal. Anne, say you understand, say you’ll do it.”
They were both crying when he hung up.
He went shaking back to sit and wait. After a time his head seemed to clear a little more. Doctor, try to think. The first thing he thought of was to take the loathsome knife and throw it down a trash-slot. As he did so he realized there was one more piece of Barney’s material in his pocket. He uncrumpled it; it seemed to be a clipping from Nature.
At the top was Barney’s scrawl: “Only guy making sense. U.K. infected now, Oslo, Copenhagen out of communication. Damfools still won’t listen. Stay put.”
· · · · ·
Communication from Professor Ian
MacIntyre, Glasgow Univ.
A potential difficulty for our species has always been implicit in the close linkage between the behavioural expression of aggression/predation and sexual reproduction in the male. This close linkage involves (a) many of the same neuromuscular pathways which are utilized both in predatory and sexual pursuit, grasping, mounting, etc., and (b) similar states of adrenergic arousal which are activated in both. The same linkage is seen in the males of many other species; in some, the expression of aggression and copulation alternate or even coexist, an all-too-familiar example being the common house cat. Males of many species bite, claw, bruise, tread or otherwise assault receptive females during the act of intercourse; indeed, in some species the male attack is necessary for female ovulation to occur.
In many if not all species it is the aggressive behaviour which appears first, and then changes to copulatory behaviour when the appropriate signal is presented (e.g., the three-tined sickleback and the European robin). Lacking the inhibiting signal, the male’s fighting response continues and the female is attacked or driven off.
It seems therefore appropriate to speculate that the present crisis might be caused by some substance, perhaps at the viral or enzymatic level, which effects a failure of the switching or triggering function in the higher primates. (Note: Zoo gorillas and chimpanzees have recently been observed to attack or destroy their mates; rhesus not.) Such a dysfunction could be expressed by the failure of mating behaviour to modify or supervene over the aggressive/predatory response; i.e., sexual stimulation would produce attack only, the stimulation discharging itself through the destruction of the stimulating object.
In this connection it might be noted that exactly this condition is a commonplace of male functional pathology, in those cases where murder occurs as a response to and apparent completion of, sexual desire.
It should be emphasized that the aggression/copulation linkage discussed here is specific to the male; the female response (e.g., lordotic reflex) being of a different nature.
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Alan sat holding the crumpled sheet a long time; the dry, stilted Scottish phrases seemed to help clear his head, despite the sense of brooding tension all around him. Well, if pollution or whatever had produced some substance, it could presumably be countered, filtered, neutralized. Very very carefully, he let himself consider his life with Anne, his sexuality. Yes; much of their loveplay could be viewed as genitalized, sexually-gentled savagery. Play-predation … He turned his mind quickly away. Some writer’s phrase occurred to him: “The panic element is all sex.” Who? Fritz Leiber? The violation of social distance, maybe; another threatening element. Whatever, it’s our weak link, he thought. Our vulnerability … The dreadful feeling of rightness he had experienced when he found himself knife in hand, fantasizing violence, came back to him. As though it was the right, the only way. Was that what Barney’s budworms felt when they mated with their females wrong-end-to?
At length, he became aware of body need and sought a toilet. The place was empty, except for what he took to be a heap of clothes blocking the door of the far stall. Then he saw the red-brown pool in which it lay, and the bluish mounds of bare, thin buttocks. He backed out, not breathing, and fled into the nearest crowd, knowing he was not the first to have done so.
Of course. Any sexual drive. Boys, men, too.
At the next washroom he watched to see men enter and leave normally before he ventured in.
Afterward he returned to sit, waiting, repeating over and over to himself: Go to the lab. Don’t go home. Go straight to the lab. Three more hours; he sat numbly at 26° N, 81° W, breathing, breathing …
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Dear Diary. Big scene tonite, Daddy came home!!! Only he acted so funny, he had the taxi wait and just held onto the doorway, he wouldn’t touch me or let us come near him. (I mean funny weird, not funny Ha-ha.) He said, I have something to tell you, this is getting worse not better. I’m going to sleep in the lab but I want you to get out, Anne, Anne, I can’t trust myself any more. First thing in the morning you both get on the plane for Martha’s and stay there. So I thought he had to be joking. I mean with the dance next week and Aunt Martha lives in Whitehorse where there’s nothing nothing nothing. So I was yelling and Mother was yelling and Daddy was groaning. Go now! And then he started crying. Crying!!! So I realized, wow, this is serious, and I started to go over to him but Mother yanked me back and then I saw she had this big KNIFE!!! And she shoved me in back of her and started crying too Oh Alan, Oh Alan, like she was insane. So I said, Daddy, I’ll never leave you, it felt like the perfect thing to say. And it was thrilling, he looked at me real sad and deep like I was a grown-up while Mother was treating me like I was a mere infant as usual. But Mother ruined it raving Alan the child is mad, darling go. So he ran out the door yelling Be gone, Take the car, Get out before I come back.
Oh I forgot to say I was wearing what but my gooby green with my curltites still on, wouldn’t you know of all the shitty luck, how could I have known such a beautiful scene was ahead we never know life’s cruel whimsy. And mother is dragging out suitcases yelling Pack your things hurry! So she’s going I guess but I am not repeat not going to spend the fall sitting in Aunt Martha’s grain silo and lose the dance and all my summer credits. And Daddy was trying to communicate with us, right? I think their relationship is obsolete. So when she goes upstairs I am splitting, I am going to go over to the lab and see Daddy.
Oh PS Diane tore my yellow jeans she promised me I could use her pink ones Ha-ha that’ll be the day.
I ripped that page out of Amy’s diary when I heard the squad car coming. I never opened her diary before but when I found she’d gone I looked … Oh, my darling little girl. She went to him, my little girl, my poor little fool child. Maybe if I’d taken time to explain, maybe—
Excuse me, Barney. The stuff is wearing off, the shots they gave me. I didn’t feel anything. I mean, I knew somebody’s daughter went to see her father and he killed her. And cut his throat. But it didn’t mean anything.
Alan’s note, they gave me that but then they took it away. Why did they have to do that? His last handwriting, the last words he wrote before his hand picked up the, before he—
I remember it. “Sudden and light as that, the bonds gave And we learned of finalities besides the grave. The bonds of our humanity have given, we are finished. I love—”
I’m all right, Barney, really. Who wrote that, Robert Frost? The bonds gave.… Oh, he said, tell Barney: The terrible rightness. What does that mean?
You can’t answer that, Barney dear. I’m just writing this to stay sane, I’ll put it in your hidey-hole. Thank you, thank you Barney dear. Even as blurry as I was, I knew it was you. All the time you were cutting off my hair and rubbing dirt on my face, I knew it was right because it was you. Barney I never thought of you as those horrible words you said. You were always Dear Barney.
By the time the stuff wore off I had done everything you said, the gas, the groceries. Now I’m here in your cabin. With those clothes you made me put on I guess I do look like a boy, the gas man called me “Mister.”
I still can’t really realize, I have to stop myself from rushing back. But you saved my life, I know that. The first trip in I got a paper, I saw where they bombed the Apostle Islands refuge. And it had about those three women stealing the Air Force plane and bombing Dallas, too. Of course they shot them down, over the Gulf. Isn’t it strange how we do nothing? Just get killed by ones and twos. Or more, now they’ve started on the refuges.… Like hypnotized rabbits. We’re a toothless race.
Do you know I never said “we” meaning women before? “We” was always me and Alan, and Amy of course. Being killed selectively encourages group identification.… You see how sane-headed I am.
But I still can’t really realize.
My first trip in was for salt and kerosene. I went to that little Red Deer store and got my stuff from the old man in the back, as you told me—you see, I remembered! He called me “Boy,” but I think maybe he suspects. He knows I’m staying in your cabin.
Anyway, some men and boys came in the front. They were all so normal, laughing and kidding, I just couldn’t believe, Barney. In fact I started to go out past them when I heard one of them say “Heinz saw an angel.” An angel. So I stopped and listened. They said it was big and sparkly. Coming to see if man is carrying out God’s will, one of them said. And he said, Moosenee is now a liberated zone, and all up by Hudson Bay. I turned and got out the back, fast. The old man had heard them too. He said to me quietly, I’ll miss the kids.
Hudson Bay, Barney, that means it’s coming from the north too, doesn’t it? That must be about 60°.
But I have to go back once again, to get some fishhooks. I can’t live on bread. Last week I found a deer some poacher had killed, just the head and legs. I made a stew. It was a doe. Her eyes; I wonder if mine look like that now.
I went to get the fishhooks today. It was bad, I can’t ever go back. There were some men in front again, but they were different. Mean and tense. No boys. And there was a new sign out in front, I couldn’t see it; maybe it says Liberated Zone too.
The old man gave me the hooks quick and whispered to me, “Boy, them woods’ll be full of hunters next week.” I almost ran out.
About a mile down the road a blue pickup started to chase me. I guess he wasn’t from around there, I ran the VW into a logging draw and he roared on by. After a long while I drove out and came on back, but I left the car about a mile from here and hiked in. It’s surprising how hard it is to pile enough brush to hide a yellow VW.
Barney, I can’t stay here. I’m eating perch raw so nobody will see my smoke, but those hunters will be coming through. I’m going to move my sleeping bag out to the swamp by that big rock, I don’t think many people go there.
Since the last lines I moved out. It feels safer. Oh, Barney, how did this happen?
Fast, that’s how. Six months ago I was Dr. Anne Alstein. Now I’m a widow and bereaved mother, dirty and hungry, squatting in a swamp in mortal fear. Funny if I’m the last woman left alive on Earth. I guess the last one around here, anyway. Maybe some holed out in the Himalayas, or sneaking through the wreck of New York City. How can we last?
And I can’t survive the winter here, Barney. It gets to 40° below. I’d have to have a fire, they’d see the smoke. Even if I worked my way south, the woods end in a couple hundred miles. I’d be potted like a duck. No. No use. Maybe somebody is trying something somewhere, but it won’t reach here in time … and what do I have to live for?
No. I’ll just make a good end, say up on that rock where I can see the stars. After I go back and leave this for you. I’ll wait to see the beautiful color in the trees one last time.
I know what I’ll scratch for an epitaph.
HERE LIES THE SECOND MEANEST
PRIMATE ON EARTH.
Good-bye, dearest dearest Barney.
I guess nobody will ever read this, unless I get the nerve and energy to take it to Barney’s. Probably I won’t. Leave it in a Baggie, I have one here; maybe Barney will come and look. I’m up on the big rock now. The moon is going to rise soon, I’ll do it then. Mosquitoes, be patient. You’ll have all you want.
The thing I have to write down is that I saw an angel too. This morning. It was big and sparkly, like the man said; like a Christmas tree without the tree. But I knew it was real because the frogs stopped croaking and two bluejays gave alarm calls. That’s important; it was really there.
I watched it, sitting under my rock. It didn’t move much. It sort of bent over and picked up something, leaves or twigs, I couldn’t see. Then it did something with them around its middle, like putting them into an invisible sample-pocket.
Let me repeat—it was there. Barney, if you’re reading this, THERE ARE THINGS HERE. And I think they’ve done whatever it is to us. Made us kill ourselves off.
Why? Well, it’s a nice place, if it wasn’t for people. How do you get rid of people? Bombs, death-rays—all very primitive. Leave a big mess. Destroy everything, craters, radioactivity, ruin the place.
This way there’s no muss, no fuss. Just like what we did to the screwfly. Pinpoint the weak link, wait a bit while we do it for them. Only a few bones around; make good fertilizer.
Barney dear, good-bye. I saw it. It was there.
But it wasn’t an angel.
I think I saw a real-estate agent.