The Last Days of L.A.
by George H. Smith
Murder on a small scale may be illegal
and unpleasant, but mass murder can be
the most exhilarating thing in the world!
You are having the same recurring dream, the dream that has haunted the whole world since that day in 1945. The dream of the sudden flash in the night, the rising mushroom cloud and then annihilation. You are living the nightmare again but this time it's true, you know it's true. You can't be dreaming. The bombs are actually falling and huge fireballs are sweeping upward while seas of flame spread at supersonic speeds to engulf the city. You feel the blast, the searing heat, you feel your flesh melting away. You try to scream but the sound dies in your throat as your lungs shrivel. Horror makes you try again and somehow you do scream and wake yourself up.
Once more, this one more time, it is only a dream. You lie there panting, too weak from terror to move out of the puddle of your own sweat. You lie there and think and your thoughts aren't very pretty. It's a week day and you ought to be down at the office turning out advertising copy by the ton but instead you lie there and think even though you don't like what you're thinking. It's got to be soon. It can't be much longer now, not the way things are going.
You finally crawl out of bed around noon and ease your way into the kitchen. You realize that you have a hangover and since you can't remember what you did the night before you suppose you must have been drunk. By the time you finish one of the two quarts of beer you find in the refrigerator you know that isn't what you need, so you put on some clothes and wander out to a bar.
After a few quick drinks you walk somewhat unsteadily out into the street again and head toward the place you always think of as The Bar. A wino edges up to you and asks for money to buy a sandwich and a cup of coffee.
You give him a dollar but make him promise not to spend it on anything so foolish as food. "Liquor, brother, is the salvation of the race," you tell him. "Believe and be saved!"
"Amen!" he says and hurries off.
You make the mistake of stopping to read the headlines on the corner so you know you're not drunk enough yet. U. S. REJECTS NEW RUSS NOTE. MOON GUNS CAN DESTROY CITIES: KAGANOVITCH. BURMA LEADER KILLED IN FRESH UPRISING.
Just before you get to The Bar you pass an alleyway and as you glance into the darkness, you see a huge rat standing there staring at you with arrogant red eyes. After a moment he walks away, unhurried and cocky. An icy chill runs down your spine. The rats will survive. The rats always survive. Maybe they are the Master Race. Something else tugs at your memory, something you read somewhere. Oh yes, it was a statement by an oceanographer. He said that even if the H-bomb should annihilate every living thing on the surface of the earth, the sea creatures would be able to carry on. The rats and the fish will carry on and build a better world.
Your friends are sitting in their usual places when you get to The Bar. John Jones-Very who has the reddest, bushiest and longest beard and also the record for staying drunk the longest, is doing the talking. Listening are Dale Bushman who paints huge canvases which he never finishes, Ian, an out-of-work musician whose last name you don't know, Pat O'Malley the actor and, of course, Anna.
Anna is small and thin with deeply tanned skin drawn tightly over high cheekbones. She wears a plain dress and no makeup and her hair is done up in a bun on the nape of her neck. The poetry she writes is a kind of elegant pornography. She is the only one in the group who makes any money and that is because her book FLAME ROSE has been banned all across the country. You like her very much, probably because she is the most irritatingly ugly woman you have ever met.
A howling bank of jets hurls across the sky screaming for human blood and you shiver as you squeeze in at the table. You are convinced that the elementals of hell are loose above and the world is in its last stages. All the children born this year will probably have twenty-one teeth and Anti-Christ will walk the land.
"Why worry about the next war?" Dale Bushman asks. "It won't last forever."
"No," John says. "No war ever has ... yet."
"Do you think it's coming?" you ask.
"If you read the papers, you'd take to the hills right now," Pat O'Malley says, finishing his bowl of chili and reaching for his drink.
"Ah, the hills," Ian says. "But what good? The H-bomb is bad enough but they'll use the C-bomb, the cobalt bomb, and this is the final weapon."
"Just the same," you say. "I think we ought to take to the hills." Why not hide yourself way back of nowhere? Hide so deep in the woods and mountains that you won't even know when it happens. You could wrap the silence around you and pull the earth over you. You could bury yourself so deep that ... but of course you won't. You have a job and, like everyone else, at least a thousand other reasons for staying on until the end.
"But really," you say, "a man should be able to survive a time of terror by disengaging himself as completely as possible from the rest of the human race. If he were to reduce his needs to a minimum ... a little bread, a few vegetables, a blanket or two, a warm cave and...."
"A blonde or two," Pat says.
Bushman adds, "A cellar of good Scotch."
"And books, lots of books," Jones-Very puts in.
"No blondes, no Scotch, no books," you tell them, banging your mug on the table so hard their glasses jump. "Minimum needs ... minimum needs!"
"How about plumbing?" Anna demands. "I won't go without plumbing."
"We're facing the end of the world," says John, "and you worry about plumbing!"
"I'm sorry, but if plumbing isn't going to survive, I'd just as soon not either," Anna says. "I just can't see myself squatting in the bushes."
"What difference does it make?" Ian asks. "Everybody dies anyway. From the moment you're born, you start dying."
"So why bother? Everybody dies. Why prolong it more than you have to? Everybody dies."
"Worlds may or may not blow up," O'Malley says, "but it seems to me it's the little indignities of modern life that hurt the most. The constant repetition of the advertising slogans that insult your intelligence, and the women with the pearly teeth and perfect permanent waves, without body odor or souls."
"I have body odor," Anna says.
"But no soul," Ian says. "No soul at all."
"You're just mad because I wouldn't sleep with you last night."
"No soul," Ian says.
The jukebox offers Tin Pan Alley's solution to the whole thing:
OH BABY, OH MY BABY O MY BABY IS MY BABY O MY BABY IS MY BABY O MY BABY LOVES ME O SHE DOES, SHE DOES, SHE DOES O
"Our trouble is too much history," John says. "A period without history is a happy one and we've had too much history."
"No soul—too much history," Ian hiccups. "Not enough sex—everybody dies."
"Everybody is going to die damn fast, unless something happens," you say.
"No soul—so sad," Ian mumbles. "No soul and no sex ... everybody dies, nothing happens."
"So what?" Anna demands. "What is life anyway? Why try to be like everyone else in this beautiful but messy Brave New World of 1970? Why run searching for a messiah when all the messiahs died a thousand years ago?"
This starts you thinking about religion. You've never thought much about it before but a man can change, maybe even accept the old myths as real until they actually begin to seem real. Instead of dwelling on your body being burned to a cinder in an atomic holocaust you could think of your slightly singed soul being wafted to paradise on a mushroom cloud while U-235 atoms sing a heavenly chorus to speed you on your way.
The others don't even notice when you get up and walk out to look for a church.
Churches aren't hard to find in Los Angeles on any day of the week or at any hour of the day. They're behind the blank fronts of painted-over store windows. They're located in big old nineteenth-century houses along Adams; they spring up under tents in vacant lots and in large expensive temples and bank-like buildings in the downtown area.
You pass by several likely-looking churches because they are in neighborhoods that have alleyways, and you still remember that rat, that red-eyed rat.
Then as you walk through downtown crowds, you remember something else. Some dentist once said that the teeth of the people in the A-bombed Japanese cities hadn't been affected by radiation. This is very funny, it makes you laugh. You picture a world of blistered corpses, none of whose teeth have been affected. You laugh out loud and people turn to look at you.
A woman points you out to a policeman and he looks your way. You want to keep on laughing but now you don't dare to. So you just keep on walking, trying to keep the laughter from bubbling out of you.
"Hey, bud," the policeman calls to you, "what's the matter with you?"
"Nothing—nothing at all, officer," you tell him, and dive into the next church you pass.
This one is called the Church of the New Cosmology. Inside, a round-faced little man is talking to a few listless people.
"A geologist will never know the rocks until he has seen the Rock of Ages. The botanist will never know plants until he has beheld the Lily of the Valley, the cosmologist will never know the universe until he has listened to the Word of God!
"Let us consider for a moment the sun. What do we know about the sun, my friends? What do the so-called scientists know about it? What do they tell us about our heavenly light? They say it's a giant ball of fire millions of miles across and ninety-one million miles away. Now why, I ask you, would that be so? The Bible says that God made the sun to light the world. Now have you ever known the Lord to do anything silly or foolish? Of course you haven't! Then why do they ask us to believe that He would put the sun, which is supposed to light the world, ninety-one million miles away from it? An engineer who did something like that wouldn't be much of a God. The true answer, my friends, is that Jehovah God did nothing so impractical and no matter who tells you different, don't believe it!"
The little man's voice dropped to a husky whisper. "I have studied my Bible and I've listened to the scientists and I've talked to God Himself about it and I tell you this is the truth. The sun is our heavenly light, the sure sign of God's love, and right this minute it is just two thousand three hundred miles from Los Angeles! It is not a wasteful million miles across, it is just forty-five and five-tenths miles across ... just the right size to give us our beautiful California sunshine.
"How do I know?" The whisper had grown to a hoarse shout. "How do I know? I know because it's the Word of God, my friends! The personal word of God given to me by God Himself.
"What else do I know? What else has God told me, to confound the Godless scientists? Why, my friends, the Bible says that this earth upon which we live is flat—as flat as this book!" He brings his hand down with a sharp slap on the Bible. "You ask then how is it possible to circumnavigate the world when it is a flat plane. The answer is that it isn't possible. A ship that seems to go around the world really makes a circle on the flat surface like this." With a stubby forefinger he draws a circle on the book. "Now I know that those scientists up on the moon say that the world is round, but whoever saw or heard of a scientist that wasn't a liar? Can any of you really bring yourselves to believe that this flat earth of ours is traveling through space at the tremendous speed that they say it is? Tell me, do you feel any wind from this great speed? Do you feel anything at all?"
No, you have to admit, you don't. You don't feel a thing. Even his own congregation doesn't seem to.
This is thirsty work. You have a couple more drinks and then you look for another church. You find one called the Church of Christian Capitalism.
The thin old man with the dusty fringe of gray hair has his audience well in hand as you walk in and take a seat. He makes the sign of the cross and the sign of the dollar over their heads as he harangues them.
"Blessed are the wealthy for they shall please God," he says. "Christ was the first capitalist, dear friends. He took a loaf and seven fishes and blessed them and made them into enough food to feed a multitude. He walked in poverty but he came to own the world!
"God is the Good Capitalist, the Owner and Proprietor of all things on this earth. This country was created by those saints of Capitalism—Morgan, Rockefeller and Gould."
Christian Capitalism sends you home to bed by way of another bar.
You're sitting in a room with people all around you. At first you don't know why you're there and then you remember it's a party. Everyone except you is laughing and drinking and having a good time. You have a strange sense of foreboding, of something about to happen that you can't avoid. You see a girl you know across the room and get up and start to cross the room to her.
There's a sudden blinding flash of light outside the house and the windows come crashing in. You see murderous slivers of glass piercing the flesh of those about you and you hurry over to the girl you know only to find her face and neck slashed by the flying glass and blood streaming down over her bare breasts. You try to stop the flow of blood with a handkerchief but it's coming in such strong spurts that you can't.
A second shock wave follows the first with an even brighter flash. You're knocked to the floor and the building comes crashing down. You struggle against the falling masonry but it does no good. You feel the crushing weight and scream ... and your screams wake you up.
You feel almost as bad awake as you did asleep, only now the crushing weight is on your head instead of your chest and your mouth is filled with the taste of death and decay. You figure you must have been drinking last night but you can't quite remember.
You reach out your hand and it locates a bottle that still guggles a little. Without opening your eyes you lift it hurriedly to your mouth and then almost choke trying to spit it out. Mouthwash!
You manage to get your eyes open, and remember with thankful heart that today is Sunday and you don't have to go to work. It's been five days since the last dream and that's not so bad, but just the same you'd better get up and get a drink because this one really shook you up. Or maybe you ought to go to church. Perhaps you'd better do both.
A tall blond man in a black suit is standing on a platform in the center of a group of forty or fifty intensely quiet people as you enter.
"Is there a wall in front of you?" he asks.
"Yes, there is a wall in front of us," the people answer.
"Can you see the wall in front of you?"
"Yes, we can see the wall."
"Is there a wall behind you?"
"Yes, there is a wall behind us."
"Can you see the wall behind you?"
They all turn around and look. "Yes, we can see the wall behind us."
"Is there a floor beneath your feet?"
"Yes, there is a floor beneath our feet."
"Are you sure? Feel the floor with your feet."
There is a loud shuffling as they do as they are told.
"Are you sure the floor is there?"
"Yes, we're sure the floor is there."
"Now feel your feet with the floor."
There is more shuffling and during this you steal quietly out. This one reminds you of the D.T.'s and you want nothing at all to do with that.
You get tossed out of the next place you try because the preacher says you're drunk. You're not, but you wish you were, so you head toward The Bar. You stop when you see the sign, "FLYING SAUCER CONVENTION." It's over the door of a large building and underneath in smaller letters it says, "Listen to the words of the Space People. Hear the advice they bring us in these troubled times."
Surely, you tell yourself, the Space People will have a solution, surely they can bring peace. You enter and see a young, ordinary-looking fellow addressing a crowd of about three hundred. You take a seat next to a bald man who is writing down what the young man is saying even though it doesn't seem to make much sense.
"... member of a small group that has been in touch with the Space People and feel that this world can be saved only through the aid of superior beings. I will now play this tape which I obtained from the captain of a Flying Saucer."
He places the tape on the spindle and it begins to whirl. A voice begins to speak in slightly stilted English. "I am Lelan. I am what you people of Earth think of as the head of the government of the planet Nobila. I speak to you across the parsecs in order to bring you good and bad news. The good is that a new age is about to begin for the people of Earth through the aid of we Nobilians. We have already contacted the President of the United States, the Pope of the Catholic Church and all other world leaders. A new age is about to begin for you as soon as we have saved you from the evil influence of the vicious Zenonians from the planet Zeno. All Earth knowledge will become obsolete as we supply you with new information and all good things will be free in the days after we drive the Zenonians from among you.
"But first we must warn you that the Zenonians will try to stop us, but you can help avoid this if you are alert. Look around you for persons who seem strange. It is the Zenonians who have made you what you are. It is the Zenonians who cause your wars and your crime with their evil rays. We will use our good Nobil rays to combat their evil Z rays. When we have driven them out, the world will be a better place in which to live. But—beware! They are all about you. Examine the man next to you. Beware! They are all about you. You shall hear from us again."
You turn and look at the man next to you; he's looking at you. He is a rather strange-looking guy and you edge away from him just as he edges away from you. You turn to look at the man on the other side of you. He is moving away from you also.
Then you hear the stories of the people in the audience. Every one of them who stands up to speak has had a mysterious visitor in the night or had a flying saucer land in his backyard. Most of them have had trips to the moon and elsewhere in flying saucers. Space you think must be as crowded as the Hollywood Freeway at rush hour. Almost all of them have been contacted by superior beings from space because they are the only people in the world who are wise enough to interpret the Space People to the Earth people.
You feel pretty good from the drinks you've had, so you stand up and tell them what you think.
"The first flying saucers were sighted after the atomic bombs were first exploded," you begin. "And they became very prevalent after the first Earth satellites were put into space and again after the first moon rockets. I therefore think that the Earth is a cosmic madhouse in which the human race has been incarcerated for its own good and that every time we start rattling the bars, the keepers hurry down to take a look."
No one seems to care much for your theory, and you are escorted to the door none too politely.
No, the Space People don't seem to have the answer. With the headlines you see at every corner chasing you, you head for The Bar and dive gratefully through the door.
"So everybody dies," Ian is saying. "We're all dying, just sitting here."
"Will you stop that? God damn it, will you stop that?" you yell at him.
Ian looks at you owlishly for a few seconds and then back at his drink. Jones-Very and the others go right on with the conversation.
"It's merely what I was saying the other night," Jones-Very says. "It's the contagious spread of the madness that is epidemic in our time. No one wants war. But still we are going to have a war. After all, the very zeitgeist of our times is one of complete callousness toward human life. You have only to think of the Russian slave camps, the German gas chambers and our own highway slaughter."
"Maybe life itself is just some sort of stupid mistake," Anna says. "Maybe we're a cosmic blunder, a few pimples on the tail of the universe."
"That isn't so," you blurt out. "There's purpose—there's got to be purpose. You can't look around you and say there isn't purpose in the universe; that there isn't a reason for our being here."
This time they all turn and look at you strangely. Then they look at each other.
"I wonder," Jones-Very says, "if I wasn't closer to the truth than I thought when I talked about contagion."
"What the hell do you mean by that?" you demand, half rising from your seat.
"Nothing ... nothing at all," Jones-Very says, looking at the others.
"What this world needs is a moral renovation—a new birth of the spirit," you go on.
"Oh, my God," Jones-Very moans, his head in his hands.
"Would you listen to that, in this age of space stations and moon guns," Anna says.
"John, you're right—you're right! It's got him!" Bushman says.
You won't listen to any more of this. You get to your feet and stagger with great dignity to the door.
You're dressed in high altitude equipment and you're sitting in the nose of a jet bomber listening to the vicious growling of the motors. You have a tremendous feeling of power and you think about how many you'll kill this trip. You think about the big black bombs nestled in the bomb bay and remember there is one for each of the three cities on your list.
God, it will be beautiful! You can almost see the glorious colors of the rising mushroom cloud and hear the screaming of the shattered atoms. You can't hear the screaming of the people up here, that's one of the nicest parts of this kind of murder. You can't hear them. This makes you as happy as it must have made Attila and Hitler when they killed their millions. Murder on a small scale may be illegal and unpleasant, but mass murder can be the most exhilarating thing in the world.
Then your bombs are gone and you're passing through the most beautiful clouds you've ever seen but somehow they smell of charred flesh and even up here you hear the screams of the people. The sound rips and tears at your brain, destroying what little sanity you have left. You've got to stop them! You've got to, before they drive you completely mad. You tilt the nose of the bomber and dive toward the screams. You've got to stop them! You scream back at them as you dive and again your own screams wake you up.
This is the worst one you've ever had and your hangover is almost as bad. You dress and hurry out of your apartment to get away from the terror and the guilt but suddenly you remember that you aren't really the guilty one. Or are you?
You look for a bar or a place to buy a bottle and then remember that you haven't any money. You see Pat O'Malley up ahead of you in the crowd and hurry to catch up with him. He hasn't any money either, so you suggest that both of you go to church.
"Why not?" he says. "We have only our souls to lose."
The two of you enter the first one you come to and the woman on the platform is an amazing sight. She's big and full-bodied and has all the grace and arrogance of a lioness. She's got the Word and she's passing it out in large doses.
"That's Dr. Elinda A. Egers, D.C.F.," O'Malley whispers. "Doctor of Complete Faith."
You watch fascinated as that lush body of hers moves restlessly around the platform.
"In these troubled times the tortured mind of man is hanging in the balance, because he has forgotten his great enemy," Elinda shouts. There's a wildness in her eyes and a sensuousness in the way she moves her body that makes you move forward until you're sitting on the edge of your seat. Any stripper, you muse, would give her G-string to be able to imitate this woman's uninhibited way with her hips.
"Why are our asylums filled with millions of the mentally sick? And why are there tens of millions of the physically sick among us? WHY?" she demands at the top of her lungs. "Because the doctors and the psychologists absolutely fail to recognize or blindly refuse to recognize the demoniac origin of these illnesses. They have failed, my dear friends, because they are bound to the unreality of conventional science. They have failed because they did not look into their souls to see what God has written there for all to read.
"If we face the truth, we will learn to recognize the presence of demons and only then can we cure the inflicted!"
Demons, you think. What a lovely idea. Perhaps you have fallen through a rift in time and come out in the Middle Ages with only wonderful things like witches and demons to worry about. You turn to O'Malley to tell him this, only to find him sound asleep. You've often wondered where he did his sleeping, and now you know.
"The battle in the world today is not between nations but between Jesus Christ and the Devil!" She has gone into a kind of bump and grind routine now with her hands on those glorious hips and her body moving back and forth while her legs remain absolutely still. It looks real good from where you sit but you think it might look even better up closer so you leave Pat snoring gently and take a seat further toward the front.
"Come to me and the Lord will put out his hand and save you. He has said unto me: 'You shall have the power to cast out demons,' and I have replied that I will do so. If you feel it, say Amen!"
There is a lusty chorus of amen's from the winos and bums who fill the auditorium. You have an idea they were attracted here by the same thing that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
A man with the jerks of some sort comes down the aisle and the healing starts. Dr. Egers lays one hand on his head and the other at the back of his neck.
"Get out of him, you demons! Out! Out! In the name of the Lord, I charge thee—get out!"
The man jerks even more violently. "Heal him, Lord, heal him! They're coming out ... the demons are coming out. Can't you feel them leaving you, brother?"
The fellow jerks once more and almost falls as an attendant leads him away. "He's cured," Elinda shouts. "Praise God! He'll never have another convulsion."
"Praise God! Praise God!" the congregation shouts. Only the still-jerking man seems to have any doubts as to his cure.
"The Power of God will save you," she says to the little boy now kneeling before her. "From the top of his head to the bottom of his feet, I charge you, Satan, come out!" She hugs the child against those astonishing breasts of hers. "This can be your cure if you believe, Jimmy. All things are possible if you only believe. Little Jimmy, do you have faith?"
The boy nods his head eagerly and his face is so full of faith and belief that you find yourself nodding with him.
"Restore him tonight in the name of Jesus Christ!" she shouts, placing her hands on his thin little legs. "This little leg, Lord ... send the Power to restore this little leg. Drive the demon of evil from it!" Her voice grows even louder. "The Power is coming! The Power is coming! The Power is within me now and it will flow from me to you. Do you feel it, Jimmy? Do you feel it? Do you feel it flowing in your legs?"
She has lifted him from the floor and is cradling him in her arms. "Do you feel it, Jimmy?"
Christ, you can almost feel it yourself.
"Don't your legs feel different, Jimmy?"
"I think they're tingling a little," he says.
"Do you hear that?" she shouts again. "His legs are tingling! The God Power is making them tingle!" She lowers the child to the floor. "You can do it, Lord! Send the Power in the name of Jesus! Send it into this little foot, into this little leg. Try, Jimmy, try it for me, try it now!"
Jimmy tries to stand up but wavers and falls. With renewed effort he manages to pull himself erect and stand swaying.
"YOU'VE SEEN IT! YOU'VE SEEN IT WITH YOUR OWN EYES!" Elinda screams at them joyously.
Sure they've seen it but they don't seem much impressed. In fact, most of them get up and leave after this round. You ease yourself out of your seat and head toward the door, because you need a drink, but you turn before going out to look back at her. She looks tired and disappointment shows in her full sensuous face.
You know that she's the most wonderful thing you have ever seen. You've found your religion. You've found something to worship—Elinda Egers, the only real goddess in the world. You'll come here every night and the bomb won't worry you because you have a religion now. Elinda Egers will save you. You head for the nearest bar, singing "Rock of Ages" at the top of your lungs.
You're running ... running, terror riding you like a jockey using the whip. You're running while a boiling sea of flame rolls over the city. Behind you and close on your heels come breakers of radioactive hell, smashing buildings and lifting cars and people into the air. People are running on all sides of you. A girl in a spangled evening dress, a puffing little man in Bermuda shorts, a woman carrying two children, a man with a golf bag over his shoulder and two men in gray flannel suits followed by a woman in a sack dress that keeps blowing up over her face as she runs.
The harder you run, the closer the fire seems to get. You can feel it singeing your back and the fat little man screams as a lashing tongue catches up with him and turns him into a cinder. The woman in the sack dress tramples across the bodies of the two men in gray flannel but the man with the golf club fights her off with his mashie. Then the four of them are eaten up by the hungry flames. You moan and your legs pump harder. There's an underground shelter ahead and you run toward it only to find the entrance jammed with people. You try to fight your way in. You grab hold of a man but his boiled flesh comes away in your hands. Then you see they are all dead, packed together so tightly they can't fall. You're running again and you see the woman with the two children only there's nothing left of them but a charred arm and a hand which she still clutches. The girl in the evening dress falls in front of you and you stumble over her. You see her dress and then her hair burst into flames. She throws her arms around you and you feel the suffocating flames.
"Oh Lord—Lord," you moan, and wake up. The bottle of wine on the nightstand is only half empty and you drink from it gratefully and think of going out for more. But you remember your goddess and you know that you have to go to see her.
She's in good form tonight as she talks about the Kinsey Report.
"If you're listening, say Amen!" She raises both arms as she yells this and you're amazed at the way her big breasts rise with them.
"In the Old Testament, God demanded death for the adulteress but Dr. Kinsey in his day tried to make her sins sound normal. But I tell you that this sin is the road to Hell, for the person and for the nation. God has destroyed other cities for this sin and His wrath will fall upon yours as well.
"If you're listening, say Amen!"
"Are you really listening? Do you honestly want to hear? Or do you prefer the way Los Angeles and the rest of the nation is going? Do you prefer the way of sex, the way of fornication and adultery? Do you prefer to read about sixteen-year old girls found in love nests with older men? Do you prefer to think of boys and girls in the back seats of cars? Do you prefer to think of some man's hand running over your daughter's body, touching her...." Elinda Egers is swaying back and forth, her body rigid, her breath coming faster and faster.
Someone else is breathing heavily and you're not surprised to find it's you.
"If this is what you want, say Amen!"
"Amen!" you shout before you realize you're not supposed to this time. No one seems to notice. Beads of perspiration are forming on the back of your neck and trickling down your spine. The tabernacle is jammed and there isn't much ventilation. You're dizzy with the wine, lack of food and desire.
"Go ahead! Let your kids go to Hell! Let them read comic books and smoke and drink and fornicate in the back seats of jalopies! Let them go to filthy movies, let them listen to dirty jokes on television, let them look at the brazen women with their breasts hanging half out of their dresses."
"Oooooh ..." a woman in front of you moans, and you feel like moaning with her.
"But if you don't want these things," Elinda shouts, her voice on the verge of breaking, "sing—sing, sing with me!
Come home, come home,
Ye who are weary,
You are sitting in a metal room with telescreens on the wall and a big red button in front of you. Sweat is standing out on your forehead and trickling down the back of your neck because you know the time is coming, the time when you have to decide whether to push that button and send a dozen ICBM's with hydrogen warheads arcing over the Pole. In the telescreens you see cities ... peaceful scenes of people going about their business. Then the people are running, leaping out of their cars and leaving them on the street, vanishing into buildings and underground shelters. Your hand is poised over the big red button and your muscles are tightened as if your whole hand and arm were turned to wood, and you know that even if you have to, you can't push that button and destroy half the world.
Then in one of the telescreens there is a sudden white glare, and the screen goes blank—burned out—and then in another telescreen you see destruction fountaining like dirty white dust boiling out of the streets ... and you see the buildings breaking and falling in rubble, and now you hear the people's screams, a sound that tears through your guts and drives you crazy, and the rubble is falling and sending up more fountains of gray dust—and you know that this is happening to your own country, your own people, and you have to strike back, you have to push the button and avenge them, stop the slaughter by killing the enemy's people and destroying their cities too, but you can't make yourself push the button, your arm won't move and your fingers are paralyzed, and then all the telescreens are glaring white or blowing up in clouds of destruction, and you scream, scream in the metal room until you can't hear anything but your own screaming, and then somehow you force your hand down and push the button. And just as you feel it go down, the walls of the room burst inward in a volcano of noise and terror and the gray dust comes swirling in over you, blotting out your screams....
You wake up and hurry through the streets with this last dream hanging over you more heavily than any of the others. You've got to run—you've got to get out. But look at all the other people. None of them are running. They're going home from work—going into cafes, walking the dog ... oh God, walking the dog at a time like this....
You're scared. The bloody world is coming to a bloody end. You know it just as sure as you're sitting here in the warm sun in MacArthur park with the fifth you've bought and are drinking from in a paper bag.
It's close now. You're not sure how close but it's close. The world is coming to an end and you know you can't convince anyone that it is. You feel the way Henny Penny—or was it Chicken Little?—must have felt. The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Hell—you're just one more caterwauling messiah in a city of messiahs. Los Angeles, where every man is his own messiah.
Then you know what the trouble is. You've been looking for someone to help you, when what you should have been doing was helping them. Now you realize that you are the one, you are the messiah you've been seeking. It's up to you to lead them out to the city into the wilderness. You drink more and you drink it fast and the more you drink the more a feeling of infinite compassion comes over you for your fellow men.
You can save them. You can do it. You drain about two-thirds of the bottle and then get up and walk toward a man in that uniform of success, a gray flannel suit.
"Wait a minute, friend," you say, shifting the bottle to your left hand so you can take his arm with your right.
"What is it? What do you want?" he says, looking at you as though you're drunk.
"Have you seen the papers today, friend?" you ask.
"Let go of me," he says, pulling away.
"If you have seen them, what are you going to do about it?"
"I'm going home and eat my dinner." He hurries off.
You approach a plump, pretty little blonde pushing a baby carriage. "Miss, can I have a few minutes of your time in which to save your life?"
She looks frightened and tries to wheel the buggy around you.
"Have you thought about the future of this dear little child of yours?"
She breaks into a half trot and soon disappears with the baby carriage bouncing along ahead of her.
You sit down for a few minutes and have a few more swallows of the bourbon. When you get up you're surprised to find that you stagger a little. But you've got to tell the people, you've got to make them listen. Your eye lights on a garbage can a short way off and you know you've found the way to do it. You take a stand beside the can and with the bottle tucked safely in your pocket you begin to pound on the can with both hands.
"Hey, listen, everybody! I've got to tell you about the Last Days of Los Angeles. Listen to me! I can save you if you'll just listen! You're doomed. The city is doomed!"
You pound like mad on the can, but this being L.A. where such things happen every day, only a very few passersby stop. "Come over here and let me tell you about it!" you yell. "Do you know what the power of the H-Bomb can do? Have you heard of the C-Bomb? Do you know what nerve gas is? Have you seen the Sputniks overhead? Do you know how far an ICBM will travel and how fast? Do you know that there is no defense?"
You grab a man by the arm, but he shakes you off, so you reach for a gray-haired old lady and get an umbrella in your middle from the dear little thing.
"Boy, is he ever soused." Two teen-aged girls are standing in front of you, giggling. "Did you ever see a guy so drunk?"
You want to save them and you start toward them with outstretched arms, but they move back into the crowd. This makes you furious and you start to yell again.
You grab the nearest person. It's a woman but you shake her anyway. Someone has got to listen.
"Let go of me, you masher," the woman screams. "Help, somebody, help!"
The crowd closes in on you. A sailor grabs you from behind and a man in working clothes hits you with a lunch bucket. You let go of the woman and hit back at him.
"Help! Help!" the woman is still yelping.
"Call the cops—a man's trying to rape a girl!"
Someone hits you with an umbrella, and you know it's the same dear little old lady. A guy grabs you by the neck and tries to throw you to the ground but you kick him in the groin and trade punches with two others. Then they're all over you. The old lady trips you and you go down. She starts beating you with the umbrella as a man's foot smashes against your head. You see a woman's nylon-clad leg as she raises her spiked heel and brings it ripping down across your cheek. Other feet crash into you.
"Let me help you," you're still yelling, but they keep on kicking. Some of the shoes have blood on them, you notice through the haze, but they still keep on kicking.
Then it's getting dark and you lie there and think how Henny Penny—or was it Chicken Little?—must have felt. You want to tell someone about it but you don't. You just lie there and wait for the screaming sirens to come and take you away.
End of The Last Days Of L.A. by George H. Smith