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Jesse Pringle 2039

From: The Crowded Earth

They were after him. The whole world was in flames, and the buildings
were falling, the mighty were fallen, the Day of Judgment was at hand.

He ran through the flames, blindly. Blind Samson. Eyeless in Gaza,
treading at the mill. The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they
grind exceedingly small.

Small. They were all small, but that didn't matter. They had the guns
and they were hunting him down to his doom. Day of doom. Doomsday. The
great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns was abroad in the

They had unleashed the dragon and his breath was a fire that seared,
and his tail was a thunder that toppled towers. The dragon was
searching him out for his sins; he would be captured and set to labor
in the mill.

But he would escape, he must escape! He was afraid of them, small as
they were, and great oaks from little acorns grow, it's the little
things that count, and he dare not go a-hunting for fear of little

Jesse crouched against the dock, watching the grain-elevators burn.
The whole city was burning, Babylon the mighty, the whole world was
burning in God's final wrath of judgment.

Nobody believed in God any more, nobody read the Bible, and that's why
they didn't know these things. Jesse knew, because he was an old man
and he remembered how it had been when he was a little boy. A little
boy who learned of the Word of God and the Wrath of God.

He could see the reflection of the flames in the water, now, and the
reflection was shimmery and broken because of the black clusters
floating past. Large clusters and small clusters. There were bodies in
the water, the bodies of the slain.

Thunder boomed from the city behind him. Explosions. That's how it had
started, when the Naturalists began blowing up the buildings. And then
the Yardsticks had come with their weapons, hunting down the
Naturalists. Or had it been that way, really? It didn't matter, now.
That was in another country and besides, the wench was dead.

The wench is dead. His wench, Jesse's wench. She wasn't so old. Only
seventy-two. But they killed her, they blew off the top of her head
and he could feel it when they did. It was as if something had
happened in his head, and then he ran at them and screamed, and
there was great slaughter amongst the heathen, the forces of

And Jesse had fled, and smote evil in the name of the Lord, for he
perceived now that the time was at hand.

How the mighty are fallen.

Jesse blinked at the water, wishing it would clear, wishing his
thoughts would clear. Sometimes for a moment he could remember back to
the way things really were. When it was still a real world, with
real people in it. When he was just a little boy and everybody else
was big.

Strange. Now he was an old man, a big old man, and almost everybody
else was little.

He tried to think what it had been like, so long ago. It was too long.
All he could remember about being small was that he had been afraid.
Afraid of the bigger people.

And now he was big, and afraid of the smaller people.

Of course they weren't real. It was just part of the prophecy, they
were the locusts sent to consume and destroy. He kept telling himself
there was nothing to fear; the righteous need not fear when the day of
judgment is at hand.

Only somewhere inside of him was this little boy, crying, "Mama, Mama,
Mama!" And somewhere else was this old man, just staring down into the
water and waiting for them to find him.

Another explosion sounded.

This one was closer. They must be bombing the entire city. Or else it
was the dragon, lashing his tail.

Somebody ran past Jesse, carrying a torch. No, it wasn't a torch--his
hair was on fire. He jumped into the water, screaming, "They're
coming! They're coming!"

Jesse turned and blinked. They were coming, all right. He could see
them pouring out of the alleyway like rats. Rats with gleaming eyes,
gleaming claws.

Suddenly, his head cleared. He realized that he was going to die. He
had, perhaps, one minute of life left. One minute out of eighty years.
And he couldn't fool himself any longer. He was not delirious. Day of
judgment--that was nonsense. And there was no dragon, and these were
not rats. They were merely men. Puny little men who killed because
they were afraid.

Jesse was a big man, but he was afraid, too. Six feet three inches
tall he was, when he stood up straight as he did now, watching them
come--but he knew fear.

And he resolved that he must not take that fear with him into death.
He wanted to die with something better than that. Wasn't there
something he could find and cling to, perhaps some memory--?

A minute is so short, and eighty years is so long. Jesse stood there,
swaying, watching them draw nearer, watching them as they caught sight
of him and raised their weapons.

He scanned rapidly into the past. Into the past, before the time the
wench was dead, back to when you and I were young, Maggie, back still
earlier, and earlier, seeking the high point, the high school, that
was it, the high school, the highlight, the moment of triumph, the
game with Lincoln. Yes, that was it. He hadn't been ashamed of being
six feet three inches then, he'd been proud of it, proud as he raised
his arms and--

Splashed down into the water as the bullets struck.

And that was the end of Jesse Pringle. Jesse Pringle, champion
basketball center of the Class of '79....

Next: Littlejohn 2065

Previous: Harry Collins 2032

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