Slaughterhouse Five


His mother touched
him, and he wet his pants.

There were other tourists looking down into the canyon, too, and a ranger was there to
answer questions. A Frenchman who had come all the way from France asked the ranger
in broken English if many people committed suicide by jumping in.

'Yes, sir,' said the ranger. 'About three folks a year.� So it goes.

And Billy took a very short trip through time, made a peewee jump of only ten days, so
he was still twelve, still touring the West with his family. Now they were down in
Carlsbad Caverns, and Billy was praying to God to get him out of there before the ceiling
fell in.

A ranger was explaining that the Caverns had been discovered by a cowboy who saw a
huge cloud of bats come out of a hole in the ground. And then he said that he was going
to turn out all the lights., and that it would probably be the first time in the lives of most
people there that they had ever been in darkness that was total.

Out went the lights. Billy didn�t even know whether he was still alive or not. And then
something ghostly floated in air to his left. It had numbers on it. His father had taken out
his Pocket watch. The watch had a radium dial.

Billy went from total dark to total light, found himself back in the war, back in the
delousing station again. The shower was over. An unseen hand had turned the water off.

When Billy got his clothes back, they weren�t any cleaner, but all the little animals that
had been living in them were dead. So it goes. And his new overcoat was thawed out and
limp now. It was much too small for Billy. It had a fur collar and a g of crimson silk, and
had apparently been made for an impresario about as big as an organ-grinder's monkey. It
was full of bullet holes.

Billy Pilgrim dressed himself. He put on the little overcoat, too. It split up the back,
and, at the shoulders, the sleeves came entirely free. So the coat became a fur-collared
vest. It was meant to flare at its owners waist, but the flaring took place at Billy's annpits.
'The Germans found him to be one of the most screamingly funny things they had seen in
all of the Second World War. They laughed and laughed.

And the Germans told everybody else to form in ranks of five, with Billy as their pivot.
Then out of doors went the parade, and through gate after gate again. 'There were more
starving Russians with faces like radium dials. The Americans were livelier than before.
The jazzing with hot water had cheered them up. And they came to a shed where a
corporal with only one arm and one eye wrote the name and serial number of each
prisoner in a big, red ledger. Everybody was legally alive now. Before they got their
names and numbers in that book, they were missing in action and probably dead.

So it goes.

As the Americans were waiting to move on, an altercation broke out in their rear-most
rank. An American had muttered something which a guard did not like. The guard knew
English, and he hauled the American out of ranks knocked him down.

The American was astonished. He stood up shakily, spitting blood. He�d had two teeth
knocked out. He had meant no harm by what he�d said, evidently, had no idea that the
guard would hear and understand.

'Why me?� he asked the guard.

The guard shoved him back into ranks. 'Vy you? Vy anybody?� he said.

When Billy Pilgrim�s name was inscribed in the ledger of the prison camp, he was
given a number, too, and an iron dogtag in which that number was stamped. A slave
laborer from Poland had done the stamping. He was dead now. So it goes.

Billy was told to hang the tag around his neck along with his American dogtags, which
he did. The tag was like a salt cracker, perforated down its middle so that a strong man
could snap it in two with his bare hands. In case Billy died, which he didn�t, half the tag
would mark his body and half would mark his grave.

After poor Edgar Derby, the high school teacher, was shot in Dresden later on, a doctor
pronounced him dead and snapped his dogtag in two. So it goes.

Properly enrolled and tagged, the Americans were led through gate after gate again. In
two days' time now their families would learn from the International Red Cross that they
were alive.

Next to Billy was little Paul Lazzaro, who had promised to avenge Roland Weary.
Lazzaro wasn't thinking about vengeance. He was thinking about his terrible bellyache.
His stomach had shrunk to the size of a walnut. That dry, shriveled pouch was as sore as
a boil.

Next to Lazzaro was poor, doomed old Edgar Derby, with his American and German
dogs displayed like a necklace, on the outside of his clothes. He had expected to become
a captain, a company commander, because of his wisdom and age. Now here he was on
the Czechoslovakian border at midnight.

'Halt,' said a guard.

The Americans halted. They stood there quietly in the cold. The sheds they were
among were outwardly like thousands of other sheds they had passed. There was this
difference, though: the sheds had tin chimneys, and out of the chimneys whirled
constellations of sparks.

A guard knocked on a door.

The door was flung open from inside. Light leaped out through the door, escaped from
prison at 186,000 miles per second. Out marched fifty middle-aged Englishmen. They
were singing "Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here� from the Pirates of Penzance'.

These lusty, ruddy vocalists were among the first English-speaking prisoners to be
taken in the Second World War. Now they were singing to nearly the last. They had not
seen a woman or a child for four years or more. They hadn�t seen any birds, either. Not
even sparrows would come into the camp.

The Englishmen were officers. Each of them had attempted to escape from another
prison at least once. Now they were here, dead-center in a sea of dying Russians.

They could tunnel all they pleased. They would inevitably surface within a rectangle of
barbed wire, would find themselves greeted listlessly by dying Russians who spoke no
English, who had no food or useful information or escape plans of their own. They could
scheme all they pleased to hide aboard a vehicle or steal one, but no vehicle ever came
into their compound. They could feign illness, if they liked, but that wouldn't earn them a
trip anywhere, either. The only hospital in the camp was a six-bed affair in the British
compound itself.

The Englishmen were clean and enthusiastic and decent and strong. They sang
boomingly well. They had been singing together every night for years.

The Englishmen had also been lifting weights and chinning themselves for years. Their
bellies were like washboards. The muscles of their calves and upper arms were like
cannonballs. They were all masters of checkers and chess and bridge and cribbage and
dominoes and anagrams and charades and Ping-Pong and billiards, as well.

They were among the wealthiest people in Europe, in terms of food. A clerical error
early in the war, when food was still getting through to prisoners, had caused the Red
Cross to ship them five hundred parcels every month instead of fifty. The Englishmen
had hoarded these so cunningly that now, as the war was ending, they had three tons of
sugar, one ton of coffee, eleven hundred pounds of chocolate, seven hundred pounds of
tobacco, seventeen hundred pounds of tea, two tons of flour, one ton of canned beef,
twelve hundred pounds of canned butter, sixteen hundred pounds of canned cheese, eight
hundred pounds of powdered milk., and two tons of orange marmalade.

They kept all this in a room without windows. They had ratproofed it by lining it with
flattened tin cans.

They were adored by the Germans, who thought they were exactly what the
Englishmen ought to be. They made war look stylish and reasonable, and fun. So the
Germans let them have four sheds, though one shed would have held them all. And, in
exchange for coffee or chocolate or tobacco, the Gennans gave them paint and lumber
and nails and cloth for fixing things up.

The Englishmen had known for twelve hours that American guests were on their way.
They had never had guests before, and they went to work like darling elves, sweeping,
mopping, cooking, baking-making mattresses of straw and burlap bags, setting tables,
putting party favors at each place.

Now they were singing their welcome to their guests in the winter night. Their clothes
were aromatic with the feast they had been preparing. They were dressed half for battle,
half for tennis or croquet. They were so elated by their own hospitality, and by all the
goodies waiting inside, that they did not take a good look at their guests while they sang.
And they imagined that they were singing to fellow officers fresh from the fray.

They wrestled the Americans toward the shed door affectionately, filling the night with
manly blather and brotherly rodomontades. They called them 'Yank,' told them 'Good
show,� promised them that 'Jerry was on the run,� and so on.

Billy Pilgrim wondered dimly who Jerry was.

Now he was indoors., next to an iron cookstove that was glowing cherry red. Dozens
of teapots were boiling there. Some of them had whistles. And there was a witches'
cauldron full of golden soup. The soup was thick. Primeval bubbles surfaced it with
lethargical majesty as Billy Pilgrim stared.

There were long tables set for a banquet. At each place was a bowl made from a can
that had once contained powdered milk. A smaller can was a cup. A taller, more slender
can was a tumbler. Each tumbler was filled with warm milk.

At each place was a safety razor, a washcloth, a package of razor blades, a chocolate
bar, two cigars, a bar of soap,, ten cigarettes, a book of matches, a pencil and a candle.

Only the candles and the soap were of Gennan origin. They had a ghostly, opalescent
similarity. The British had no way of knowing it, but the candles and the soap were made
from the fat of rendered Jews and Gypsies and fairies and communists, and other enemies
of the State.

So it goes.

The banquet hall was illuminated by candlelight. There were heaps of fresh baked
white bread on the tables, gobs of butter, pots of marmalade. There were platters of sliced
beef from cans. Soup and scrambled eggs and hot marmalade pie were yet to come.

And, at the far end of the shed, Billy saw pink arches with azure draperies hanging
between them, and an enormous clock, and two golden thrones, and a bucket and a mop.
It was in this setting that the evening's entertainment would take place, a musical version
of Cinderella, the most popular story ever told.

Billy Pilgrim was on fire, having stood too close to the glowing stove. The hem of his
little coat was burning. It was a quiet, patient sort of fire-like the burning of punk.

Billy wondered ff there was a telephone somewhere. He wanted to call his mother, to
tell her he was alive and well.

There was silence now, as the Englishmen looked in astonishment at the frowsy
creatures they had so lustily waltzed inside. One of the Englishmen saw that Billy was on
fire. 'You're on fire lad!' he said, and he got Billy away from the stove and beat out the
sparks with his hands.

When Billy made no comment on this, the Englishman asked him, 'Can you talk? Can
you hear?'

Billy nodded.

The Englishman touched him exploratorily here and there, filled with pity. 'My God-
what have they done to you, lad? This isn�t a man. It's a broken kite.'

'Are you really an American?' said the Englishman.

'Yes,' said Billy.

'And your rank?'


'What became of your boots, lad?'

'I don't remember.�

'Is that coat a joke? '


'Where did you get such a thing?'

Billy had to think hard about that.

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