Resigned as disciple of the blind, Thomas tottered out into the streets. He felt that he might never be able to deliver a lecture on American civilization again, for he was soused with alcohol and there seemed to be no place to rest his head to clear it. The headlights hurt his eyes. Teeming convoys glared at him. "Cut your lights," he yelled at them, "Don't you know this is a black-out!"
His stomach churned with booze. He had not eaten since the morning. The thought of smoky, dining rooms and food cooked in the darkness of basement kitchens sickened him. The crowd was too thick to vomit among and he weaved his way toward Union Square. He clutched his gut at the middle of the block on Fourteenth Street ever so long before the traffic halted from its own denseness to let him through.
Then the first whiff of the subway, the urinary vapors wafting from the stone latrine, and over the bench he sprawled and heaved, splitting three sleeping citizens with a great belch. They revenged themselves by robbing his wallet and his wrist-watch. To red-eye went the watch. (His own had been restolen.) Cocker took the wallet, and Simpy the $14.00. And what happened to the photos? Thomas' poor wife went down the drain, followed by a boy, a dog, and a family gathering, barbecuing and beering. Worse, there wafted along the street a license to drive, a card for credit and one for social security, a receipt for a book purchase, a calling card from Professor Hogswiller of Freiburg and a library card - totaling three man-days of replacement time.
Thomas pushed himself up, vastly relieved and reeling from the bright lights within his head. He was in the primeval home of public opinion. He had arrived just in time to hear the Message.
"I am here to tell you dingbats I was sent. I am no ordinary human but a creature from Baca. You want to know about the Massive Power failure? I'll tell you about the Massive Power Failure."
Not since 1936 had there been such a crowd in Union Square to receive the Message. People paused. They turned. They stopped dead, moved in, nudged one another, turned off their transistors, cleared their ears. They formed in a drove. Harlequins ushered them. A Consolidated Edison Company truck wheeled up, its crew leaped off, meters, sensors, radar, walky-talkies at the ready; a supervisor led his secretary in with notebook in hand. She was scribbling as she came, and not a moment to spare. For the Truth was out. It penetrated Thomas' ringing ears and stopped the rotation of his giddy head.
"For months I have slept in basements and eaten in soup kitchens. So have my eleven mates from outer space. We waited for the signal from Baca. Today it came. And now we are taking over. And now you know. And here is how it happened :
"There are twelve centers of power that tie up this country and then the whole U.S.A. and finally the whole world. They are at Buffalo and Ottawa, Albany change for Boston, Schenectady and Syracuse, Rochester, Toronto, Montreal, and points North, Hartford, Springfield and New York, New York. I can name them and all the centers elsewhere, all the world is tied together.
By each of them rested our man from Baca living on soup. We suffered, you can see in me how we suffered."
And it was true that he liked like a bum. His face was puffy and bruised. He spoke harsh, thick, loud. He appeared to have been rolled from one end of the filthy square to the other; his jacket was torn, his pants smeared, his hair wild, his shoes rent. His heavy head pressed into his neck and pushed out a gross belly. His hands flapped back and forth as he stood there, just as if he were walking; each bounced off his paunch in turn, as he spoke. From the stubbly paste of his face snorted mouth and nose, blowing wisps of white hair across bleary blue eyes. All of him was plain to see in the beams of flashlights and the headlights of the Con Ed car.
His voice was magnificently loud and he burst into glorious song:
O world of wonders! (I can say no less)
That I should be preserv'd in that distress
That I have met with here! O blessed be
That hand that from it hath delivered me!
Dangers in darkness, devils, hell, and sin,
Did compass me, while I this vale was in:
Yes, snares, and pits, and traps, and nets did lie
My path about, that worthless silly I
Might have been catch'd entangled, and cast down...
He continued with enormous passion, his hands drumming resoundingly against his abdominal tympanum. His formal speech was leaving him, as if he had put his Timetable and Book aside. He was furious. "You should better hear me out, home guards. It isn't easy to throw my guts at you. We stiffs from Baca have scored big. The whole town is carrying the banner.
The electric rods brought us, but it was us what gave the highball. You can be dead ones now for good. So catch us on the fly and you'll flop in the sky jungle with a bindle without bugs."
The crowd murmured in perplexity, which he mistook for concurrence, so he relaxed his peremptory tone and went back to Classic Baca.
"Doubt me at your peril, for you will fall into despair.
We fell to demolishing Doubting Castle,
and that, you know, might with ease be done
since Giant Despair was dead."
Thomas had in fact been doubting. With his extensive knowledge of speech habits, and slightly prejudiced, to be sure, by the man's appearance, he had put him down for a Bowery tramp. But now it was quite clear: the Bacalites had learned their oratory and their mode of dress from some wandering hoboes of outer space. Who knows, perhaps even their fleshly form had been assumed from the same source. They hid their lights under a Baca bush.
His mind relieved to a degree, he listened with much interest to the continuation of the speech:
"There was no bomb. No explosion. No airplane. No army. No negligence. (The secretary was stroking as fast as she could. Two detectives, late arrived, were setting up a tape recorder and other machinery of confession in a desperate hurry. Thomas was not alone in resenting the noise of their siren as they had come rushing up.) there was no nothing that you believe in.
"There was only the will, the will to rock the boat, and against the will was nothing, for people have no will, you have no will, the supervisors of all the power stations have no will. ("That's not true," shouted the man from Con Ed, mindful of his corporate obligations.)
"Will power has to be imported from Baca. And our will rocked the boat. Bill from Baca gave a push to the power at Toronto. Hank's will pushed it back when the wave hit Boston. Angelo pushed from Buffalo, Mike shoved from Montreal. Pretty soon the wave was as big as a mountain and getting bigger all the time, until Crash!--and over it went, sweeping all before it. It burned through everything, the whole dammed country and New York went black.
"You got it? It was Will. That's all it took. And Poof!--you all went blind."
The speech had a marvelous effect. Led by the claque of harlequins, the crowd cheered. (Only a slight jeering limned the applause.) one man dashed his transistor radio to the ground. Others imitated him. The Geiger counters of Con Ed were clicking like castanets.
But this was New York City, not Moscow, or Tokyo, or Podunk, where people believed unquestioningly. No speech, no matter plausible, was swallowed whole.
"Wal whut did you do it for?"
"What did we do it for? Why, we did it to teach the world a lesson. Where you have twelve wills, ("Thirteen!" yelled somebody.) in a nation without will-power, these twelve can do anything.
("Thirteen," he yelled again. There was a commotion and an ugly clean-shaven and well-groomed man could be discerned briefly, his fists flailing at two beatniks wearing armbands.)
"We did it to cleanse the world, beginning with the world center. 'The world is passing away, and still it lusts.'" So said John.
"There are two things that can cleanse the world, water and light. There is a shortage of water, as you very well know, and only light reaches everywhere and is felt by everybody in a single shocking instant."
"Wal whut's this Baca got to do with it?"
"What's this Baca got to do with it? Why you've heard of the Land of Oz and Shangrila, of the Land of Nod and the Land of Milk and Honey. Baca is the Land of Wills - good, strong, brawny wills that register electrically on you. It's the source of all the stars. It's told about in astrology, and you've heard about that for centuries and centuries. You've all heard about extra-sensory perception. This darkness is the emanation of the wills of Baca."
"Agh-hh," cried the same voice, "that's the gimmick. You're one of those crazy psychos!"
Murmurs and cries of support and irritation went up from the crowd, especially from the center, which, like Dante's Inferno, numbered the most intense disputants of the Truth, and which circumvoluted out to where thousands of people passed by scarcely noticing the turbulence of the middle.
You're just a quack mind-reader!"
"Who believes in mind-reading?"
"There's a lot to extra-sensory perception."
"Hey, look, read my mind."
"I can, but I refuse…"
"There is nothing there anyway."
"You mean I have no will?"
"He didn't say that."
"Well, what did he say?"
Despite the ministrations of harlequins and Bacalites, the fragile weak-willed crowd broke. The core of the crowd began to divide again and again like an amoeba, each new cell with its own genes of argument.
For Christ's sake, worried Thomas, don't let the discussion descend into irrelevancies. This is worse than the radio. What was the cause of the Massive Power Failure? Could a space ship have landed these men? Scarcely likely, but have it out anyway. There was certainly truth in the great failure of will among us; could electric power be the outward from of invisible will power? In history there was precedent for everything, including kings who were beggars and gods who came out of tree trunks. His very wife had once seen a flying saucer and reported it to police headquarters. They had been polite about it and said that they would pass it along to the central authorities.
"Get back to the question," he shouted. He hated to shout and yet this was the second time that evening he had done so. It showed how affected he was by the evening's events. "Get back to the issue at hand!" That sounded a little pedantic.
Somebody else thought so too. "What kind of a kook are you?" he demanded of Thomas angrily.
Thomas thought it best to pocket his new idea and leave while he was ahead of the game. He looped around the fringe of the mass to avoid the rebels and Bacalites. Then he crossed Fourteenth Street with the help of three youngsters, who frisked him while crossing and dropped him disdainfully on the other side. Befuddled as he was and disgusted too, he recognized his assailants immediately as the candle-sellers. They called him "Mister", in a patronizing and even contemptuous tone. "Mister, you're real square."
He tried to halt them. He cried, "Stop, I know you."
They jeered and skidded off.
"You Pinhead, and you Backseat, and you Hooker, you stop. I know you." He was trying to push after them through the crowd, to no avail.
"Stop, you devils!"
Backseat looked back and called impatiently, "Well come on then! What you waiting for?" He held up his wrist and around it, sure enough, was the watch of Thomas, glittering.
"Hold it, hold it, I'm coming," cried Thomas, but just them Harry Swazey, that old faggot, grabbed him by the arm and greeted him effusively.
"Let me go," said Thomas, in some anguish. "I have to catch up with some acquaintances."
"Oh, all right," replied Swazey, "if that's it."
"Well, no, that isn't exactly it." (Thomas was coming to his senses.) "There were three young fellows. I've seen them before. And they just robbed me."
Swazey seemed dismayed. "Did they get much from you?"
"No, nothing at all just now. I had nothing. I was robbed earlier."
Swazey was now somewhat bewildered. He said a few consoling words however, brushed Thomas off, and straightened his tie.
"Come on, Thomas," he said, "Let me buy you a cup of coffee and we can find a room together for the night afterwards. It seemed that he too had to "Stay in".
A charming coincidence! Harry would stay in Manhattan every time he could find company. Speaking of power surges, what a marvel of AC and DC he was, with his wife and four kids on Staten Island.