His wife had held him in her arms as if she could keep death away from him.
He had cried out, "My God, I am a dead man!"
The door to the room had opened, and he had seen a giant, black,
one-humped camel outside and had heard the tinkle of the bells on its
harness as the hot desert wind touched them. Then a huge black face topped
by a great black turban had appeared in the doorway. The black eunuch had
come in through the door, moving like a cloud, with a gigantic scimitar in
his hand. Death, the Destroyer of Delights and the Sunderer of Society,
had arrived at last.
Blackness. Nothingness. He did not even know that his heart had given out
Then his eyes opened. His heart was beating strongly. He was strong, very
strong! All the pain of the gout in his feet, the agony in his liver, the
torture in his heart, all were gone.
It was so quiet he could hear the blood moving in his head. He was alone
in a world of soundlessness.
A bright light of equal intensity was everywhere. He could see, yet he did
not understand what he was seeing. What were these things above, beside,
below him? Where was he?
He tried to sit up and felt, numbly, a panic. There was nothing to sit up
upon because he was hanging in nothingness. The attempt sent him forward
and over, very slowly, as if he were in a bath of thin treacle. A foot
from his fingertips was a rod of bright red metal. The rod came from
above, from infinity, and went on down to infinity. He tried to grasp it
because it was the nearest solid object, but something invisible was
resisting him. It was as if lines of some force were pushing against him,
Slowly, he turned over in a somersault. Then the resistance halted him
with his fingertips about six inches from the rod. He straightened his
body out and moved forward a fraction of an inch. At the same time, his
body began to rotate on its longitudinal axis. He sucked in air with a
loud sawing noise. Though he knew no hold existed for him, he could not
help flailing his arms in panic to try to seize onto something.
Now he was face "down," or was it "up"? Whatever the direction, it was
opposite to that toward which he had been looking when he had awakened.
Not that this mattered. "Above" him and "below" him the view was the same.
He was suspended in space, kept from falling by an invisible and unfelt
cocoon. Six feet "below" him was the body of a woman with a very pale
skin. She was naked and completely hairless. She seemed to be asleep. Her
eyes were closed, and her breasts rose and fell gently. Her legs were
together and straight out, and her arms were by her side. She turned
slowly like a chicken on a spit.
The same force that was rotating her was also rotating him. He spun slowly
away from her, saw other naked and hairless bodies, men, women, and
children, opposite him in silent spinning rows. Above him was the rotating
naked and hairless body of a Negro.
He lowered his head so that he could see along his own body. He was naked
and hairless, too. His skin was smooth, and the muscles of his belly were
ridged, and his thighs were packed with strong young muscles. The veins
that had stood out like blue mole-ridges were gone. He no longer had the
body of the enfeebled and sick sixty-nine-year-old man who had been dying
only a moment ago. And the hundred or so scars were gone.
He realized then that there were no old men or women among the bodies
surrounding him. All seemed to be about twenty-five years old, though it
was difficult to determine the exact age, since the hairless heads and
pubes made them seem older and younger at the same time.
He had boasted that he knew no fear. Now fear ripped away the cry forming
in this throat. His fear pressed down on him and squeezed the new life
He had been stunned at first because he was still living. Then his
position in space and the arrangement of his new environment had frozen
his senses. He was seeing and feeling through a thick semiopaque window.
After a few seconds something snapped inside him. He could almost hear it,
as if a window had suddenly been raised.
The world took a shape which he could grasp, though he could not
comprehend it. Above him, on both sides, below him, as far as he could
see, bodies floated. They were arranged in vertical and horizontal rows.
The up-and-down ranks were separated by red rods, slender as broomsticks,
one of which was twelve inches from the feet of the sleepers and the other
twelve inches from their heads. Each body was spaced about six feet from
the body above and below and on each side.
The rods came up from an abyss without bottom and soared into an abyss
without ceiling. That grayness into which the rods and the bodies, up and
down, right and left, disappeared was neither the sky nor the earth. There
was nothing in the distance except the lackluster of infinity.
On one side was a dark man with Tuscan features. On his other side was an
Asiatic Indian and beyond her a large Nordic-looking man. Not until the
third revolution was he able to determine what was so odd about the man.
The right arm, from a point just below the elbow, was red. It seemed to
lack the outer layer of skin.
A few seconds later, several rows away, he saw a male adult body lacking
the skin and all the muscles of the face.
There were other bodies that were not quite complete. Far away, glimpsed
unclearly, was a skeleton and a jumble of organs inside it.
He continued turning and observing while his heart slammed against his
chest with terror. By then he understood that he was in some colossal
chamber and that the metal rods were radiating some force that somehow
supported and revolved millions--maybe billions--of human beings.
Where was this place?
Certainly, it was not the city of Trieste of the Austro-Hungarian Empire
It was like no hell or heaven of which he had ever heard or read, and he
had thought that he was acquainted with every theory of the afterlife.
He had died. Now he was alive. He had scoffed all his life at a
life-after-death. For once, he could not deny that he had been wrong. But
there was no one present to say, "I told you so, you damned infidel!"
Of all the millions, he alone was awake.
As he turned at an estimated rate of one complete revolution per ten
seconds, he saw something else that caused him to gasp with amazement.
Five rows away was a body that seemed, at first glance, to be human. But
no member of Homo sapiens had three fingers and a thumb on each hand and
four toes on each foot. Nor a nose and thin black leathery lips like a
dog's. Nor a scrotum with many small knobs. Nor ears with such strange
Terror faded away. His heart quit beating so swiftly, though it did not
return to normal. His brain unfroze. He must get out of this situation
where he was as helpless as a hog on a turnspit. He would get to somebody
who could tell him what he was doing here, how he had come here, why he
To decide was to act.
He drew up his legs and kicked and found that the action, the reaction,
rather, drove him forward a half-inch. Again, he kicked and moved against
the resistance. But, as he paused, he was slowly moved back toward his
original location. And his legs and arms were gently pushed toward their
original rigid position.
In a frenzy, kicking his legs and moving his arms in a swimmer's
breaststroke, he managed to fight toward the rod. The closer he got to it,
the stronger the web of force became. He did not give up. If he did, he
would be back where he had been and without enough strength to begin
fighting again. It was not his nature to give up until all his strength
had been expended.
He was breathing hoarsely, his body was coated with sweat, his arms and
legs moved as if in a thick jelly, and his progress was imperceptible.
Then, the fingertips of his left hand touched the rod. It felt warm and
Suddenly, he knew which way was "down." He fell.
The touch had broken the spell. The webs of air around him snapped
soundlessly, and he was plunging.
He was close enough to the rod to seize it with one hand. The sudden
checking of his fall brought his hip up against the rod with a painful
impact. The skin of his hand burned as he slid down the rod, and then his
other hand clutched the rod, and he had stopped.
In front of him, on the other side of the rod, the bodies had started to
fall. They descended with the velocity of a falling body on Earth, and
each maintained its stretched-out position and the original distance
between the body above and below. They even continued to revolve.
It was then that the puffs of air on his naked sweating back made him
twist around on the rod. Behind him, in the vertical row of bodies that he
had just occupied, the sleepers were also falling. One after the other, as
if methodically dropped through a trapdoor, spinning slowly, they hurtled
by him. Their heads missed him by a few inches. He was fortunate not to
have been knocked off the rod and sent plunging into the abyss along with
In stately procession, they fell. Body after body shooting down on both
sides of the rod, while the other rows of millions upon millions slept on.
For a while, he stared. Then he began counting bodies; he had always been
a devoted enumerator. But when he had counted 3,001, he quit. After that
he gazed at the cataract of flesh. How far up, how immeasurably far up,
were they stacked? And how far down could they fall? Unwittingly, he had
precipitated them when his touch had disrupted the force emanating from
He could not climb up the rod, but he could climb down it. He began to let
himself down, and then he looked upward and he forgot about the bodies
hurtling by him. Somewhere overhead, a humming was overriding the
whooshing sound of the falling bodies.
A narrow craft, of some bright green substance and shaped like a canoe,
was sinking between the column of the fallers and the neighboring column
of suspended. The aerial canoe had no visible means of support, he
thought, and it was a measure of his terror that he did not even think
about his pun. No visible means of support. Like a magical vessel out of
The Thousand and One Nights.
A face appeared over the edge of the vessel. The craft stopped, and the
humming noise ceased. Another face was by the first. Both had long, dark,
and straight hair. Presently, the faces withdrew, the humming was renewed,
and the canoe again descended toward him. When it was about five feet
above him it halted. There was a single small symbol on the green bow: a
white spiral that exploded to the right. One of the canoe's occupants
spoke in a language with many vowels and a distinct and frequently
recurring glottal stop. It sounded like Polynesian.
Abruptly, the invisible cocoon around him reasserted itself. The falling
bodies began to slow in their rate of descent and then stopped. The man on
the rod felt the retaining force close in on him and lift him up. Though
he clung desperately to the rod, his legs were moved up and then away and
his body followed it. Soon he was looking downward. His hands were torn
loose; he felt as if his grip on life, on sanity, on the world, had also
been torn away. He began to drift upward and to revolve. He went by the
aerial canoe and rose above it. The two men in the canoe were naked,
dark-skinned as Yemenite Arabs, and handsome. Their features were Nordic,
resembling those of some Icelanders he had known.
One of them lifted a hand which held a pencil-sized metal object. The man
sighted along it as if he were going to shoot something from it.
The man floating in the air shouted with rage and hate and frustration and
flailed his arms to swim toward the machine.
"I'll kill!" he screamed. "Kill! Kill!"
Oblivion came again.
Excerpted from To Your Scattered Bodies Go
by Philip Jose Farmer
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are
provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or
distributed without the written permission of the publisher.