Monday, June 29, 2015

it isn't only crocodiles that cry, part 9: dystopia 101

original story by horace p sternwall

originally appeared in the may-june 1945 through the jan-feb 1946 issues of throat grabbing tales

adapted for the 21st-century by chuck leary and roger "peg leg" wilson

illustrated by roy dismas

part nine of thirteen

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous episode, click here


the past is fragmented and contradictory

the present is chaotic and incomprehensible

but the future is always perfectly clear

something has happened

something final

there are two versions

in version 1, somebody - a bad somebody - has won the war

totally won

and has established a dictatorship

in which they have total control over everything

there are a few desperate remnants of the desperate opposition

- these are the hero(ine)(s) of the story

the hero(ines) take on the establishment

sometimes they win,

more often they lose ( this sends an "urgent message" to the present to fight whatever forces caused the final victory of the evil ones)

the hero(ines) and the villains they encounter have decided opinions on the situation they find themselves in, and are intimately acquainted with all the events which led to the situation. both are able to clearly articulate their views and quickly summarize the recent history of the world.

in an alternate version which could be called 1-a, the triumph of the villains is absolute, and the mass of humanity can only mutely suffer in quiet desperation.


in version 2, all civilization has been wiped out, except for a handful of survivors who are the characters of the story.

the survivors have strong opinions on what caused the catastrophe and spend much of the story expressing these opinions, and speculating on what went wrong.

the survivors introduced in the beginning of the story may encounter other survivors, who may be counted on to have strong opinions as well, and to express them.

they are never shown just trying to survive on a day to day or hour to hour basis.


the sun was setting in the radioactive sky.

another day had gone by.

another day of searching for water and digging for grubs and termites in the red sand of the north texas desert.

adam smith and friedrich engels, the last two humans on earth, began slowly making their way back to the base camp they had set up in one of the caves uncovered by the bomb that had obliterated dallas.

adam carried the gallon canteen, half filled with some of the water they had found in their fourteen hours of patient searching.

friedrich carried the sack, which contained two dozen locusts they had captured, as well as the best find of the day -

a dead possum with some real meat - gray, to be sure, but meat - sticking to its exposed rib cage.

all in all, a good day’s haul. or at least, better than average.

they reached the hill just as the sun finally set and made their way up to the cave. with practice, they had learned to time their day’s expeditions to get in maximum search time and return to base just as darkness set in.

adam entered the cave first, to check if anyone or anything had entered while they were gone.

adam always did this - friedrich was convinced that there was no need, that nothing had survived that could hurt them (except the radiation that was everywhere) and that checking was a waste of time/

therefore it was always adam who entered the cave or other base camp first.

as it had always been before, there was nothing there, and at adam’s signal, friedrich entered.

this had now happened so often that friedrich no longer bothered to say “i told you so”.

adam had a battered tin cup, friedrich a cracked enamel mug with the faded logo of the pga golf tournament. these were their most prized possessions. they divided the day’s water evenly between them.

each had scooped a little hollow out of the walls of the cave, to sit in, and they took their places in them and began their evening meal.

as adam was true to his vegetarian upbringing, friedrich had the whole of the possum, along with two of the locusts, and adam dined on the remaining locusts.

after they finished eating - during which time they engaged in no conversation - adam meditated for half an hour, while friedrich stared into empty space.

friedrich had formerly used this time to masturbate, but he could no longer summon the energy to do this .

when adam finished his meditations they were ready for the serious business of existence - arguing about how they had come to this pass.

friedrich considered himself a rationalist, and the events which had destroyed civilization had confirmed him in his beliefs.

adam was a how-do-you-knowist, and felt that the catastrophic and unpredictable events of the recent past justified his stance.

in recent nights, adam had claimed to hear large beating wings outside. this had strengthened one of his core beliefs - that radiation had produced a new race of giant insects which posed yet another threat - on top of hunger, thirst, heat. and radiation - to their precarious existences.

friedrich had ridiculed his fears, pointing out that - in addition to the fact that they had never seen any of these creatures - the bodily structures of insects could not support more than a few ounces of weight and therefore such mega-insects were impossible, a ridiculous pop culture fantasy.

to which the imperturbable adam had responded, yes, but how do you know? how do you know now? how can you be sure, after all that has happened?

tonight, friedrich wished to move on from the discussion of monstrous creatures to a sublect more to his fascination.


adam’s response was, “there is only one thing we need to know about money now and that is that it no longer exists.”

“ah, but why does it no longer exist?” friedrich responded. “and more to the point, why did it ever exist?”

in a good mood after absorbing the protein from the locusts, adam agreed to continue this discussion, fruitless as it seemed to him.

tomorrow, or some other night, they could discuss the spiritual dimension and the role of religion in the rise and fall of human civilization.

suddenly they both sat up. they had heard a noise outside the cave unlike any they had heard before -

not the rustling of wings, but a whistling, a long, low whistling …

“it is just the wind,” said friedrich after a while.

“but what is it blowing through?” asked adam.

friedrich just shrugged.

“no,” said adam, “it sounds like a freight train. like old number 9 coming around the bend…”

10. mister big