The Complete Stories (Page 47)

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The bare one said, "I had scarlet fever."

A spark of envy at the other’s claim to notoriety seemed to enter the clothed one’s voice. "Gee."

"That’s why I died."

"Gee. Did they use pensillun or auromysim?"

"What?"

"They’re medicines."

"I never heard of them."

"Boy, you never heard of much."

"I know as much as you."

"Yeah? Who’s President of the United States?"

"Warren Harding, that’s who."

"You’re crazy. It’s Eisenhower."

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"Who’s he?"

"Ever see television?"

"What’s that?"

The clothed boy hooted earsplittingly. "It’s something you turn on and see comedians, movies, cowboys, rocket rangers, anything you want."

"Let’s see it."

There was a pause and the boy from the present said, "It ain’t working."

The other boy shrieked his scorn. "You mean it ain’t never worked. You made it all up."

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R.E. shrugged and passed on.

The crowds thinned as he left town and neared the cemetery. Those who were left were all walking into town, all were nude.

A man stopped him; a cheerful man with pinkish skin and white hair who had the marks of pince-nez on either side of the bridge of his nose, but no glasses to go with them.

"Greetings, friend."

"Hello," said R.E.

"You’re the first man with clothing that I’ve seen. You were alive when the trumpet blew, I suppose."

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"Yes, I was."

"Well, isn’t this great? Isn’t this joyous and delightful? Come rejoice with me."

"You like this, do you?" said R.E.

"Like it? A pure and radiant joy fills me. We are surrounded by the light of the first day; the light that glowed softly and serenely before sun, moon and stars were made. (You know your Genesis, of course.) There is the comfortable warmth that must have been one of the highest blisses of Eden; not enervating heat or assaulting cold. Men and women walk the streets unclothed and are not ashamed. All is well, my friend, all is well."

R.E. said, "Well, it’s a fact that I haven’t seemed to mind the feminine display all about."

"Naturally not," said the other. "Lust and sin as we remember it in our earthly existence no longer exists. Let me introduce myself, friend, as I was in earthly times. My name on Earth was Winthrop Hester. I was bom in 1812 and died in 1884 as we counted time then. Through the last forty years of my life I labored to bring my little flock to the Kingdom and I go now to count the ones I have won."

R.E. regarded the ex-minister solemnly, "Surely there has been no Judgment yet."

"Why not? The Lord sees within a man and in the same instant that all things of the world ceased, all men were judged and we are the saved."

"There must be a great many saved."

"On the contrary, my son, those saved are but as a remnant."

"A pretty large remnant. As near as 1 can make out, everyone’s coming back to life. I’ve seen some pretty unsavory characters back in town as alive as you are."

"Last-minute repentance-"

"/ never repented."

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"Of what, my son?"

"Of the fact that I never attended church."

Winthrop Hester stepped back hastily. "Were you ever baptized?"

"Not to my knowledge."

Winthrop Hester trembled. "Surely you believe in God?"

"Well," said R.E., "I believed a lot of things about Him that would probably startle you."

Winthrop Hester turned and hurried off in great agitation.

In what remained of his walk to the cemetery (R.E. had no way of estimating time, nor did it occur to him to try) no one else stopped him. He found the cemetery itself all but empty, its trees and grass gone (it occurred to him that there was nothing green in the world; the ground everywhere was a hard, featureless, grainless gray; the sky a luminous white), but its headstones still standing.

On one of these sat a lean and furrowed man with long, black hair on his

head and a mat of it, shorter, though more impressive, on his chest and upper arms.

He called out in a deep voice, "Hey, there, you!"

R.E. sat down on a neighboring headstone. "Hello."

Black-hair said, "Your clothes don’t look right. What year was it when it happened?"

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"1957."

"1 died in 1807. Funnyl I expected to be one pretty hot boy right about now, with the ‘tamal flames shooting up my innards."

"Aren’t you coming along to town?" asked R.E.

"My name’s Zeb," said the ancient. "That’s short for Zebulon, but Zeb’s good enough. What’s the town like? Changed some, I reckon?"

"It’s got nearly a hundred thousand people in it."

Zeb’s mouth yawned somewhat. "Go on. Might nigh bigger’n Philadelphia. . . . You’re making fun."

"Philadelphia’s got-" R.E. paused. Stating the figure would do him no good. Instead, he said, "The town’s grown in a hundred fifty years, you know."

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"Country, too?"

"Forty-eight states," said R.E. "All the way to the Pacific."

"No!" Zeb slapped his thigh in delight and then winced at the unexpected absence of rough homespun to take up the worst of the blow. "I’d head out west if I wasn’t needed here. Yes, sir." His face grew lowering and his thin lips took on a definite grimness. "I’ll stay right here, where I’m needed."

"Why are you needed?"

The explanation came out briefly, bitten off hard. "Injuns!"

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