Slaughterhouse Five


The flatcar sometimes crept, sometimes went extremely fast, often stopped-went
uphill, downhill, around curves, along straightaways. Whatever poor Billy saw through
the pipe, he had no choice but to say to himself, 'That�s life.�

Billy expected the Tralfamadorians to be baffled and alarmed by all the wars and other
forms of murder on Earth. He expected them to fear that the Earthling combination of
ferocity and spectacular weaponry might eventually destroy part or maybe all of the
innocent Universe. Science fiction had led him to expect that.

But the subject of war never came up until Billy brought it up himself. Somebody in
the zoo crowd asked him through the lecturer what the most valuable thing he had
learned on Tralfamadore was so far, and Billy replied, 'How the inhabitants of a whole
planet can live in peace I As you know, I am from a planet that has been engaged in
senseless slaughter since the beginning of time. I myself have seen the bodies of
schoolgirls who were boiled alive in a water tower by my own countrymen, who were
proud of fighting pure evil at the time. � This was true. Billy saw the boiled bodies in
Dresden. 'And I have lit my way in a prison at night with candles from the fat of human
beings who were butchered by the brothers and fathers of those school girls who were
boiled. Earthlings must be the terrors of the Universe! If other planets aren't now in
danger from Earth, they soon will be. So tell me the secret so I can take it back to Earth
and save us all: How can a planet live at peace?�

Billy felt that he had spoken soaringly. He was baffled when he saw the
Tralfamadorians close their little hands on their eyes. He knew from past experience
what this meant: He was being stupid.

'Would-would you mind telling me,� he said to the guide, much deflated, 'what was so
stupid about that?'

'We know how the Universe ends,' said the guide, 'and Earth has nothing to do with it,
except that it gets wiped out, too.�

'How-how does the Universe end?' said Billy.

'We blow it up, experimenting with new fuels for our flying saucers. A
Tralfamadorian test pilot presses a starter button, and the whole Universe disappears.' So
it goes.

"If You know this," said Billy, 'isn't there some way you can prevent it? Can't you
keep the pilot from pressing the button?'

'He has always pressed it, and he always will. We always let him and we always will
let him. The moment is structured that way.'

'So,' said Billy gropingly, I suppose that the idea of, preventing war on Earth is stupid,
too. �

'Of course.'

'But you do have a peaceful planet here.�

'Today we do. On other days we have wars as horrible as any you've ever seen or read
about. There isn�t anything we can do about them, so we simply don�t look at them. We
ignore them. We spend eternity looking at pleasant moments-like today at the zoo. Isn't
this a nice moment?'


'That's one thing Earthlings might leam to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the
awful times, and concentrate on the good ones.'

'Urn,' said Billy Pilgrim.

Shortly after he went to sleep that night, Billy traveled in time to another moment
which was quite nice, his wedding night with the fonner Valencia Merble. He had been

out of the veterans� hospital for six months. He was all well. He had graduated from the
Ilium School of Optometry-third in his class of forty-seven.

Now he was in bed with Valencia in a delightful studio apartment which was built on
the end of a wharf on Cape Ann, Massachusetts. Across the water were the lights of
Gloucester. Billy was on top of Valencia, making love to her. One result of this act
would be the birth of Robert Pilgrim, who would become a problem in high school, but
who would then straighten out as a member of the famous Green Berets.

Valencia wasn't a time-traveler, but she did have a lively imagination. While Billy was
making love to her, she imagined that she was a famous woman in history. She was being
Queen Elizabeth the First of England, and Billy was supposedly Christopher Columbus.

Billy made a noise like a small, rusty hinge. He had just emptied his seminal vesicles
into Valencia, had contributed his share of the Green Beret. According to the
Tralfamadorians, of course, the Green Beret would have seven parents in all.

Now he rolled off his huge wife, whose rapt expression did not change when he
departed. He lay with the buttons of his spine along the edge of the mattress, folded his
hands behind his head. He was rich now. He had been rewarded for marrying a girl
nobody in his right mind would have married. His father-in-law had given him a new
Buick Roadmaster, an all-electric home, and had made him manager of his most
prosperous office, his Ilium office, where Billy could expect to make at least thirty
thousand dollars a year. That was good. His father had been only a barber.

As his mother said, "The Pilgrims are coming up in the world,�

The honeymoon was taking place in the bittersweet mysteries of Indian summer in
New England. The lovers' apartment had one romantic wall which was all French doors.
They opened onto a balcony and the oily harbor beyond.

A green and orange dragger, black in the night, grumbled and drummed past their
balcony, not thirty feet from their wedding bed. It was going to sea with only its running
lights on. Its empty holds were resonant, made the song of the engines rich and loud.

The wharf began to sing the same song, and then the honeymooners' headboard sang, too.
And it continued to sing long after the dragger was gone.

'Thank you,' said Valencia at last. The headboard was singing a mosquito song.

'You're welcome.�

'It was nice.�

'I'm glad.�

Then she began to cry.

'What�s the matter?'

'I'm so happy.'


'I never thought anybody would marry me.'

'Urn,' said Billy Pilgrim.

'I'm going to lose weight for you,' she said.


'I'm going to go on a diet. I'm going to become beautiful for you.'

'I like you just the way you are.�

'Do you really ?'

'Really,' said Billy Pilgrim. He had already seen a lot of their marriage, thanks to time-
travel, knew that it was going to be at least bearable all the way.

A great motor yacht named the Scheherezade now slid past the marriage bed. The
song its engines sang was a very low organ note. All her lights were on.

Two beautiful people, a young man and a young woman in evening clothes, were at the
rail at the stem, loving each other and their dreams and the wake. They were
honeymooning, too. They were Lance Rumfoord, of Newport, Rhode Island, and his
bride, the fonner Cynthia Landry., who had been a childhood sweetheart of John F.
Kennedy in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.

There was a slight coincidence here. Billy Pilgrim would later share a hospital room
with Rumfoord�s uncle, Professor Bertram Copeland Rumfoord of Harvard, official
Historian of the United States Air Force.

When the beautiful people were past, Valencia questioned her funny-looking husband
about war. It was a simple-minded thing for a female Earthling to do, to associate sex
and glamor with war.

'Do you ever think about the war?' she said, laying a hand on his thigh.

'Sometimes,' said Billy Pilgrim.

'I look at you sometimes,' said Valencia, 'and I get a funny feeling that you're full of

'I'm not,' said Billy. This was a lie, of course. He hadn't told anybody about all the
time traveling he�d done, about Tralfamadore and so on.

'You must have secrets about the war. Or, not secrets, I guess, but things you don�t
want to talk about.'


'I'm proud you were a soldier. Do you know that?'


'Was it awful?'

'Sometimes.' A crazy thought now occurred to Billy. The truth of it startled him. It
would make a good epitaph for Billy Pilgrim-and for me, too.

'Would you talk about the war now, if I wanted you to?' said Valencia. In a tiny cavity
in her great body she was assembling the materials for a Green Beret.

'It would sound like a dream,' said Billy. 'Other people's dreams aren�t very interesting

'I heard you tell Father one time about a German firing squad.� She was referring to the
execution of poor old Edgar Derby.


'You had to bury him? �


Did he see you with your shovels before he was shot?'


'Did he say anything?'


'Was he scared?'

�They had him doped up. He was sort of glassy-eyed.�

And they pinned a target to him?'

A piece of paper,' said Billy. He got out of bed, said, 'Excuse me,' went to the darkness
of the bathroom to take a leak. He groped for the light, realized as he felt the rough wall
that he had traveled back to 1944, to the prison hospital again.

The candle in the hospital had gone out. Poor old Edgar Derby had fallen asleep on the
cot next to Billy's. Billy was out of bed, groping along a wall, trying to find a way out
because he had to take a leak so badly.

He suddenly found a door, which opened, let him reel out into the prison night. Billy
was loony with time-travel and morphine. He delivered himself to a barbed- wire fence
which snagged him in a dozen places. Billy tried to back away from it but the barbs
wouldn't let go. So Billy did a silly little dance with the fence, taking a step this way,
then that way, then returning to the beginning again.

A Russian, himself out in the night to take a leak, saw Billy dancing-from the other
side of the fence. He came over to the curious scarecrow, tried to talk with it gently,
asked it what country it was from. The scarecrow paid no attention, went on dancing. So
the Russian undid the snags one by one, and the scarecrow danced off into the night again
without a word of thanks.

The Russian waved to him, and called after him in Russian, 'Good-bye.'

Billy took his pecker out, there in the prison night, and peed and peed on the ground.
Then he put it away again, more or less, and contemplated a new problem: Where had he
come from, and where should he go now?

Somewhere in the night there were cries of grief. With nothing better to do, Billy
shuffled in their direction. He wondered what tragedy so many had found to lament out
of doors.

Billy was approaching, without knowing it, the back of the latrine. It consisted of a
one-rail fence with twelve buckets underneath it. The fence was sheltered on three sides
by a screen of scrap lumber and flattened tin cans. The open side faced the black tarpaper
wall of the shed where the feast had, taken place.

Billy moved along the screen and reached a point where he could see a message
freshly painted on the tarpaper wall. The words were written with the same pink paint
which had brightened the set for Cinderella. Billy's perceptions were so unreliable that
he saw the words as hanging in air, painted on a transparent curtain, perhaps. And there
were lovely silver dots on the curtain, too. These were really nailheads holding the
tarpaper to the shed. Billy could not imagine how the curtain was supported in
nothingness, and he supposed that the magic curtain and the theatrical grief were part of
some religious ceremony he knew nothing about.

Here is what the message said:


Billy looked inside the latrine. The wailing was coming from in there. The place was
crammed with Americans who had taken their pants down. The welcome feast had made
them as sick as volcanoes. The buckets were full or had been kicked over.

An American near Billy wailed that he had excreted everything but his brains.

Moments later he said, 'There they go, there they go.' He meant his brains.

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