Unfortunately for the poor man awaiting the Last Days and raving away at God and man in the bowels of Sourwood Mountain directly below thousands of normal folk playing golf and antiquing and barbecuing and simply enjoying the fall colors—for on the following day at the height of his lunacy the cloud blew away and the beautiful days of Indian summer began, the mountains glowed like rubies and amethysts, and leafers were out in force—unfortunately things can go wrong with an experiment most carefully designed by a sane scientist. A clear yes or no answer may not be forthcoming, after all. The answer may be a muddy maybe. In the case of Will Barrett, what went wrong could hardly be traced to God or man, Jews or whomever, but rather to a cause at once humiliating and comical: a toothache. So in the end not only did he not get a clear answer to his peculiar question, not a yes or a no or even a maybe—he could not even ask the question. How does one ask a question, either a profound question or a lunatic question, with such a pain in an upper canine that every heartbeat feels like a hot ice pick shoved straight up into the brain? The toothache was so bad it made him sick. He vomited.
There is one sure cure for cosmic explorations, grandiose ideas about God, man, death, suicide, and such—and that is nausea. I defy a man afflicted with nausea to give a single thought to these vast subjects. A nauseated man is a sober man. A nauseated man is a disinterested man.
What does a nauseated person care about the Last Days?
Whether it was God’s doing or ordinary mortal frailty, one cannot be sure. What happened in any event, happened after seven or eight days.
So this is how it is, the boy thought, grim and exultant. This is one of the secrets nobody tells you. There are two secrets to life nobody tells you: screwing and dying. What they tell you about is love and the hereafter. Maybe they are right. But it is screwing and dying you have to deal with. What they don’t tell you is how good screwing is and how bad it is to grow old, get sick, and die. Very well.
Ha, there is a secret after all, he said. But to know the secret answer, you must first know the secret question. The question is, who is the enemy?
Not to know the name of the enemy is already to have been killed by him.
Ha, he said, dancing, snapping his fingers and laughing and hooting ha hoo hee, jumping up and down and socking himself, but I do know. I know. I know the name of the enemy.
The name of the enemy is death, he said, grinning and shoving his hands in his pockets. Not the death of dying but the living death.
The name of this century is the Century of the Love of Death. Death in this century is not the death people die but the death people live. Men love death because real death is better than the living death. That’s why men like wars, of course. Bad as wars are and maybe because they are so bad, thinking of peace during war is better than peace. War is what makes peace desirable. But peace without war is intolerable. Why do men settle so easily for lives which are living deaths? Men either kill each other in war, or in peace walk as docilely into living death as sheep into a slaughterhouse.
Why do men walk like sheep straight into the slaughterhouse? Why are people content to stand helpless while their lifeblood is drained away?