Flesh, p.1Philip José Farmer
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Print edition ISBN: 9781781163016
E-book edition ISBN: 9781781163030
Published by Titan Books
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First edition: August 2013
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 1974, 2013 by the Philip J. Farmer Family Trust. All rights reserved.
Afterword copyright © 2013 by Dennis E. Power.
Afterword copyright © 2013 by Michael A. Baron.
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For Bette, Courageous and Loving Wife
The crowd in front of the White House talked, shouted, and laughed. Women shrilled; men boomed. The high-pitched cut of children’s voices was missing. They were home and being cared for by their older but prepubescent brothers and sisters or cousins. It was not fitting that children should see what would happen tonight. They would not understand the rites, one of the most holy in honor of the Great White Mother.
It also would not be safe for the children to be present. Centuries before the present date (2860 Old Style), when the rites were first held, children had been allowed to attend. Many had been killed, literally ripped apart, during the frenzies.
Tonight was dangerous enough for the adults. Always, a number of women were badly mauled or killed. Always, a number of men were overpowered by long-nailed, sharp-toothed women who ripped off by the roots that which made men men and who ran screaming down the streets with the trophies held high in the air or clenched between their teeth before placing them on the altar of the Great White Mother in the Temple of Dark Earth.
The following week, on Friday Sabbath, the white-robed Speakers for the Mother, priests and priestesses, would reprimand the survivors for carrying their zeal just a little too far. However, harsh words were the worst that those preached to could expect, and not always these were hurled at them. A man or woman truly possessed by the Goddess, and who was not then, could not be blamed. Besides, what else did the Speakers expect? Did not this happen every night a Sunhero or Stag-king was born? Oh, well, the Speakers felt that it was necessary to quiet the worshipers down so that they could resume a normal life. Listen, pray, and forget. And look forward to the next ceremony.
Besides, the victims had nothing to complain about. They would be buried in a shrine, prayers said over them, and deer sacrificed over them. The ghosts of the slain would drink the blood and be thrice-glorified and sustained.
The bloody sun slid down past the horizon; night rushed in with cool dark whispering wings. The crowd became quieter while the representatives of the great frats lined up on Pennsylvania Avenue. There was a violent argument between the chief of the Moose frat and the chief of the Elks. Each claimed that his frat should lead the parade. Were they not both antlered men? Was not the Sunhero antler-bearing this year?
John Barleycorn, green from head to foot in his ritual costume, scarlet in face, staggering, tried to settle the dispute. As usual, he was too far gone by nightfall to speak clearly or to care much whether or not he spoke at all. His few discernible words only succeeded in making both chiefs angry. They were likely to be easily angered since both were more than a little drunk. They even went so far as to grip their knife handles, though it would have taken far greater provocation for them to unsheathe the knives at this time.
A detachment of the White House Honor Guard left their posts to straighten matters out. The tall girls marched from the porch, their high conical helmets shining in the torchlight, long hair hanging down their backs, their white robes gleaming. They carried their bows in one hand and an arrow in the other. Unlike the rest of the virgins in the city of Washington, they exposed only one breast, the left. The robe concealed the other—or, rather, the lack of the other. Traditionally, a White House archer gladly allowed her breast to be removed so it would not interfere with her handling of the bow. The lack was no disadvantage in getting a husband when she retired. Tonight, after the Sunhero planted the seed of divinity in them, they could have their choice of men to marry. A man whose wife had been a one-breasted Honor Guard was a proud man.
The captain of the Honor Guard sternly asked about the disturbance. After hearing both chiefs out, she said, “This is the first time matters have ever been so badly arranged. Perhaps we need a new John Barleycorn!”
She pointed the arrow in her hand at the chief of the Elk frat.
“You will take the lead in the parade. And you and your brothers will have the honor of bringing out the Sunhero.”
The chief of the Moose frat was either a brave man or a foolish man. He protested. “I was out drinking with the Barleycorn last night, and he told me the Moose would have the honor! I demand to know why the Elks have been chosen instead of us!”
The captain stared coldly at him, and then fitted the nock of her arrow to the string of her bow. But she was too well trained in politics to shoot one of the powerful Moose frat.
“The Barleycorn must have been possessed with spirits other than those the Goddess gives him,” she said. “It has been planned for some time that the Elks would escort the Sunhero to the Capitol. Is not the Sunhero a stag? Isn’t he Stagg? You know that a male Elk is a stag, but a male Moose is a bull!”
“That is true,” said the chief Moose, pale from the moment the arrow had been fitted. “I should not have listened to John Barleycorn. But it normally would have been the turn of the Moose. Last year it was the Lions, and the year before it was the Lambs. We shou
“And so you would have been—except for that.”
She pointed behind him down Pennsylvania Avenue.
He turned to look. The street ran straight for six blocks from the White House and then ended suddenly in a towering baseball stadium. Rising even over it was the shining needle shape of a craft that had not been seen for seven hundred and sixty years. Not until a month ago, when it had come thundering and flaming out of the late November skies and settled in the center of the ball park.
“You are right,” said the chief Moose. “Never before has the Sunhero descended to us from the skies, sent by the Great White Mother Herself. And, certainly, She made it clear what frat he honors by being its brother when She named him Stagg.”
He marched away at the head of his men and just in time.
There was a scream from the Capitol, now only six blocks away from the White House. The scream silenced the crowd; it paralyzed them and made the men turn pale. The women in the crowd became wide-eyed, eager, and expectant. Several fell on the ground, writhing and moaning. There came another scream, and now it could be seen that the terrible sound was from the throats of many young girls running down the steps of Congress.
They were priestesses, newly graduated from the divinity college of Vassar. They wore tall conical narrow-brimmed black hats, their hair was unbound and hung to their hips, their breasts were as bare as those of any other virgins; but those would have to serve for five years more before they put on the matronly bras. Not for them tonight the seed of the Sunhero; their participation was confined to initiating the ceremonies. They wore flaring bell-shaped white skirts with many petticoats beneath; some of these were belted with live and hissing rattlesnakes, the rest carried the deadly snakes around their shoulders. In their hands they held ten-foot whips made of snake hide.
Drums began beating; a bugle blared out above the drums; cymbals clanged; syrinxes shrilled.
Screaming, wild-eyed, the young priestesses ran down Pennsylvania Avenue, clearing a way before them with their whips. Suddenly they were at the gate surrounding the yard of the White House. There was a brief mock struggle as the Honor Guard pretended to resist the invasion. Some of it was not so harmless, since the archers and the priestesses had well-deserved reputations as vicious little bitches. There was a hair-pulling and scratching and breast-twisting, but the older priestesses applied their whips to the bare backs of the overenthusiastic. Howling, the girls sprang apart and quickly came to a sense of the business at hand.
These pulled out little golden sickles from their belts and brandished them in the air in a threatening but at the same time obviously ritualistic air. Suddenly, as if he had dramatically staged his entrance—and he had—John Barleycorn appeared in the main doorway of the White House. In one hand he carried a half-empty bottle of whiskey. There was no doubt where its contents had gone. He swayed back and forth and fumbled the cord at his neck before he managed to find the whistle at its end. Then he stuck the whistle in his mouth and blew shrilly.
Immediately, a howl rose from the street where the Elks were assembled.
A number of them burst past the Guard and onto the porch. These men wore little deerskin caps with toy antlers protruding from the sides, deerskin capes, and belts from which hung the tails of deer. Their breechclouts were balloons in phallic shapes. They did not run or walk but pranced on the ends of their toes, like ballet dancers, simulating the gait of a deer. They threatened the priestesses; the priestesses shrieked as if frightened and scattered to one side so the Elks could pass into the White House.
Here, inside the great reception room, John Barleycorn blew his whistle once again and lined them up according to their rank in the frat. Then he began walking unsteadily up the broad curving staircase that led to the second floor.
He disgraced himself by losing his balance and falling backwards into the arms of the chief Elk.
The chief caught the Barleycorn and shoved him to one side. In ordinary circumstances he would not have dared to deal so strongly with the Speaker of the House, but knowing that the fellow was in disgrace made him bold. The Barleycorn staggered to one side of the staircase. He fell backwards over the railing and fell on his head on the marble floor of the reception room. There he lay, his neck at an odd angle. A young priestess rushed forward, felt his pulse, looked at the glazing eyes, then drew out her golden sickle.
At that moment, a whip cracked across her bare shoulders and breasts and left a line from which blood oozed.
“What do you think you are doing?” screamed an older priestess.
The young priestess crouched low, head averted, but she did not dare to hold out her hands to protect herself from the whip.
“I was exercising my right,” she whimpered. “Great John Barleycorn is dead. I am an incarnation of the Great White Mother; I was going to reap the crop.”
“And I would not stop you,” said the older priestess. “It would be your right to castrate him—except for one thing. He died by accident, not during the Planting Rites. You know that.”
“Columbia forgive me,” whimpered the priestess. “I could not help myself. It is tonight’s doing; the coming to manhood of the son, the crowning of the Horned King, the defloration of the mascots.”
The stern face of the older priestess splintered into a smile. “I am sure that Columbia will forgive you. There is something in the air that takes us all out of our senses. It is the divine presence of the Great White Mother in Her aspect as Virginia, Bride of the Sunhero and the Great Stag. I feel it too, and—”
At that moment there was a bellow from the second story. Both women looked up. Down the steps poured the mob of Elks, and on their shoulders and hands they bore the Sunhero.
The Sunhero was a naked man magnificently built in every respect. Though he was sitting on the shoulders of two Elks, he obviously was very tall. His face, with its prominent supraorbital ridges, long hooked nose, and massive chin, could have been that of a good-looking heavyweight champion. But at this moment anything that might have evoked such terms as “handsome” or “ugly” was gone from his face. It bore a look that could only be described as “possessed.” That was exactly the term anybody in the city of Washington of the nation of Deecee would have used. His long red-gold hair hung to his shoulders. Out of the curly masses, just above the forehead and the hairline, sprouted a pair of antlers.
These were not the artificial antlers that the Elk frat wore. They were living organs.
They stood twelve inches above his head and measured sixteen inches from the outer tip of one to the outer tip of the other. They were covered with a pale shiny skin, shot through with blue blood vessels. At the base of each a great artery pulsed with the throb of the Sunhero’s heart. It was obvious that they had been grafted onto the man’s head very recently. There was dried blood at the base of the antlers.
The face of the man with the antlers would have been distinguished instantly in a crowd of citizens. The faces of the Elks and of the priestesses were individual, but all had a look that belonged to their era and could be called cervine. Triangular, with large dark eyes and long eyelashes, high cheekbones, small but full-fleshed mouths and tapering chins, they were cast in the mold of their times. But a sensitive onlooker would have known that this man on the shoulders of the cervines, this man with the face emptied of intellect, belonged to an earlier era. Just as a student of the portraits of humanity can say by looking at this face, “He belongs to the Ancient world,” or “This man was born during the Renaissance,” or “This man lived when the Industrial Age was just getting its stride,” so the student could have said, “This man was born when the Earth swarmed with humanity. He looks vaguely insectal. Yet there is a difference. He also bears the look of the original of those times—the man who managed to be an individual among the insects.”
Now the crowd carried him down the broad steps and out onto the great porch of the White House.
At his appearance a tremendous shout rose
The antlered man was rushed down the sidewalk, out through the iron gates and onto the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. Here he was seated on the back of a wild-eyed black stag. The stag tried to buck and rear; but the men held on to his antlers and the long hair of his flanks and prevented him from racing headlong down the street. The man on the beast’s back grabbed its antlers to keep from being thrown. His own back arched. The muscles on his arms knotted as he forced the mighty neck back. The stag bellowed, and the whites of his eyes shone in the torchlight. Suddenly, just as it seemed his neck must break under the force of the man’s arms, he relaxed and stood trembling. Saliva drooled from his mouth, and his eyes were still wide, but they were frightened. His rider was master.
The Elks formed in ranks of twelve behind the stag and rider. Behind them was a band of musicians, also of the Elk frat. Behind them were the Moose and their musicians. Next was a group of Lions wearing panther skulls as helmets and panther skins as cloaks, the long tails dragging on the cement. They held on to the ropes of a balloon that rose twelve feet over them. This had a long sausage-shape and a swelling round nose. Beneath it hung two round gondolas in each of which sat pregnant women, throwing flowers and rice on the crowd lining the street. Behind them were the representatives of the Rooster frat carrying their totem, a tall pole surmounted by the carved head of an enormous rooster with a tall red comb and a long straight beak knobbed at the end.
Behind them, the leader of the other frats of the nation: the Elephants, the Mules, the Jackrabbits, the Trouts, the Billy Goats, and many others. Behind them, the representatives of the great sisterhoods: the Wild Does, the Queen Bees, the Wood Cats, the Lionesses, the Shrikes.
Flesh by Philip José Farmer / Science Fiction / Fantasy have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes