Gluck led the way to a building that he thought might contain the kitchen, and he
opened the sliding doors in its side. There wasn't a kitchen in there, though. There was a
dressing room adjacent to a communal shower, and there was a lot of steam. In the steam
were about thirty teen-age girls with no clothes on. They were German refugees from
Breslau, which had been tremendously bombed. They had just arrived in Dresden, too.
Dresden was jammed with refugees.
There those girls were with all their private parts bare, for anybody to see. And there in
the doorway were Gluck and Derby and Pilgrim-the childish soldier and the poor old high
school teacher and the clown in his toga and silver shoes-staring. The girls screamed.
They covered themselves with their hands and turned their backs and so on, and made
themselves utterly beautiful.
Werner Gluck, who had never seen a naked woman before, closed the door. Bill had
never seen one, either. It was nothing new to Derby.
When the three fools found the communal kitchen, whose main job was to make lunch
for workers in the slaughterhouse, everybody had gone home but one woman who had
been waiting for them impatiently. She was a war widow. So it goes. She had her hat and
coat on. She wanted to go home, too, even though there wasn't anybody there. Her white
gloves were laid out side by side on the zinc counter top.
She had two big cans of soup for the Americans. It was simmering over low fires on
the gas range. She had stacks of loaves of black bread, too.
She asked Gluck if he wasn't awfully young to be in the army. He admitted that he
She asked Edgar Derby if he wasn't awfully old to be in the army. He said he was.
She asked Billy Pilgrim what he was supposed to be. Billy said he didn't know. He was
just trying to keep warm.
'All the real soldiers are dead,' she said. It was true. So it goes.
Another true thing that Billy saw while he was unconscious in Vermont was the work
that he and the others had to do in Dresden during the month before the city was
destroyed. They washed windows and swept floors and cleaned lavatories and put jars
into boxes and sealed cardboard boxes in a factory that made malt syrup. The syrup was
enriched with vitamins and minerals. The syrup was for pregnant women.
The syrup tasted like thin honey laced with hickory smoke, and everybody who
worked in the factory secretly spooned it all day long. They weren't pregnant, but they
needed vitamins and minerals, too. Billy didn't spoon syrup on his first day at work, but
lots of other Americans did.
Billy spooned it on his second day. There were spoons hidden all over the factory, on
rafters, in drawers, behind radiators, and so on. They had been hidden in haste by persons
who had been spooning syrup, who had heard somebody else coming. Spooning was a
On his second day, Billy was cleaning behind a radiator and he found a spoon. To his
back was a vat of syrup that was cooling. The only other person who could see Billy and
his spoon was poor old Edgar Derby, who was washing a window outside. The spoon
was a tablespoon. Billy thrust it into the vat, turned it around and around, making a gooey
lollipop. He thrust it into his mouth.
A moment went by, and then every cell in Billy's body shook him with ravenous
gratitude and applause.
There were diffident raps at the factory window. Derby was out there, having seen all.
He wanted some syrup, too.
So Billy made a lollipop for him. He opened the window. He stuck the lollipop into
poor old Derby's gaping mouth. A moment passed, and then Derby burst into tears. Billy
closed the window and hid the sticky spoon. Somebody was coming.
The Americans in the slaughterhouse had a very interesting visitor two days before
Dresden was destroyed. He was Howard W. Campbell, Jr., an American who had become
a Nazi. Campbell was the one who had written the monograph about the shabby behavior
of American prisoners of war. He wasn't doing more research about prisoners now. He
had come to the slaughterhouse to recruit men for a German military unit called 'The Free
American Corps.' Campbell was the inventor and commander of the unit, which was
supposed to fight only on the Russian front.
Campbell was an ordinary looking man, but he was extravagantly costumed in a
uniform of his own design. He wore a white ten-gallon hat and black cowboy boots
decorated with swastikas and stars. He was sheathed in a blue body stocking which had
yellow stripes running from his armpits to his ankles. His shoulder patch was a silhouette
of Abraham Lincoln's profile on a field of pale green. He had a broad armband which was
red, with a blue swastika in a circle of white.
He was explaining this armband now in the cement-block hog barn.
Billy Pilgrim had a boiling case of heartburn, since he had been spooning malt syrup
all day long at work. The heartburn brought tears to his eves, so that his image of
Campbell was distorted by jiggling lenses of salt water.
'Blue is for the American sky,' Campbell was saying. 'White is for the race that
pioneered the continent, drained the swamps and cleared the forests and built the roads
and bridges. Red is for the blood of American patriots which was shed so gladly in years
Campbell's audience was sleepy. It had worked hard at the syrup factory, and then it
had marched a long way home in the cold. It was skinny and hollow-eyed. Its skins were
beginning to blossom with small sores. So were its mouths and throats and intestines. The
malt syrup it spooned at the factory contained only a few of the vitamins and minerals
every Earthling needs.
Campbell offered the Americans food now, steaks and mashed potatoes and gravy and
mince pie, if they would join the Free Corps. 'Once the Russians are defeated,' he went
on, you will be repatriated through Switzerland.'
There was no response.
'You're going to have to fight the Communists sooner or later,' said Campbell. "Why
not get it over with now?'
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And then it developed that Campbell was not going to go unanswered after all. Poor
old Derby, the doomed high school teacher, lumbered to his feet for what was probably
the finest moment in his life. 'Mere are almost no characters in this story, and almost no
dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick and so much the
listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after an, is that
people are discouraged from being characters. But old Derby was a character now.
His stance was that of a punch-drunk fighter. His head was down, his fists were out
front, waiting for information and battle plan. Derby raised his head, called Campbell a
snake. He corrected that. He said that snakes couldn't help being snakes, and that
Campbell, who could help being what he was, was something much lower than a snake or
a rat-or even a blood-filled tick.
Derby spoke movingly of the American form of government, with freedom and justice
and opportunities and fair play for all. He said there wasn't a man there who wouldn't
gladly die for those ideals.
He spoke of the brotherhood between the American and the Russian people, and how
those two nations were going to crush the disease of Nazism, which wanted to infect the
The air-raid sirens of Dresden howled mournfully.
The Americans and their guards and Campbell took shelter in an echoing meat locker
which was hollowed in living rock under the slaughterhouse. There was an iron staircase
with iron doors at the top and bottom.
Down in the locker were a few cattle and sheep and pigs, and horses hanging from iron
hooks. So it goes. The locker had empty hooks for thousands more. It was naturally cool.
There was no refrigeration. There was candlelight. The locker was whitewashed and
smelled of carbolic acid. There were benches along a wall. The Americans went to these,
brushing away flakes of whitewash before they sat down.
Howard W. Campbell. Jr., remained standing, like the guards. He talked to the guards
in excellent German. He had written many popular German plays and poems in his time,
and had married a famous German actress named Resi North. She was dead now, had
been killed while entertaining troops in the Crimea. So it goes.
Nothing happened that night. It was the next night that about one hundred and thirty
thousand people in Dresden would die. So it goes. Billy dozed in the meat locker. He
found himself engaged again, word for word, gesture for gesture, in the argument with
his daughter with which this tale begun.
'Father,' she said, 'What are we going to do with you?'
And so on. 'You know who I could just kill?' she asked.
'Who could you kill?' said Billy.
'That Kilgore Trout.'
Kilgore Trout was and is a science-fiction writer, of course. Billy has not only read
dozens of books by Trout-he has also become a friend of Trout, who is a bitter man.
Trout lives in a rented basement in Ilium, about two miles from Billy's nice white
home. He himself has no idea how many novels he has written-possibly seventy-five of
the things. Not one of them has made money. So Trout keeps body and soul together as a
circulation man for the Ilium Gazette, manages newspaper delivery boys, bullies and
flatters and cheats little kids.
Billy met him for the first time in 1964. Billy drove his Cadillac down a back alley in
Ilium and he found his way blocked by dozens of boys and their bicycles. A meeting was
in progress. The boys were harangued by a man in a full beard. He was cowardly and
dangerous, and obviously very good at his job. Trout was sixty-two years old back then.
He was telling the kids to get off their dead butts and get their daily customers to
subscribe to the fucking Sunday edition, too. He said that whoever sold the most Sunday
subscriptions during the next two months would get a free trip for himself and his parents
to Martha's fucking Vineyard for a week, all expenses paid.
And so on.
One of the newspaper boys was actually a newspaper girl. She was electrified.
Trout's paranoid face was terribly familiar to Billy, who had seen it on the jackets of so
many books. But, coming upon that face suddenly in a home-town alley, Billy could not
guess why the face was familiar. Billy thought maybe he had known this cracked messiah
in Dresden somewhere. Trout certainly looked like a prisoner of war.
And then the newspaper girl held up her hand. 'Mr. Trout,' she said, 'if I win, can I take
my sister, too?'
'Hell no,' said Kilgore Trout. 'You think money grows on trees?'
Trout, incidentally, had written a book about a money tree. It had twenty-dollar bills
for leaves. Its flowers were government bonds. Its fruit was diamonds. It attracted human
beings who killed each other around the roots and made very good fertilizer.
So it goes.
Billy Pilgrim parked his Cadillac in the alley, and waited for the meeting to end. When
the meeting broke up, there was still one boy Trout had to deal with. The boy wanted to
quit because the work was so hard and the hours were so long and the pay was so small.
Trout was concerned, because, if the boy really quit, Trout would have to deliver the
boy's route himself, until he could find another sucker.
'What are you?' Trout asked the boy scornfully. 'Some kind of gutless wonder?'
This, too, was the title of a book by Trout, The Gutless Wonder. It was about a robot
who had bad breath, who became popular after his halitosis was cured. But what made
the story remarkable, since it was written in 1932, was that it predicted the widespread
use of burning jellied gasoline on human beings.
It was dropped on them from airplanes. Robots did the dropping. They had no
conscience, and no circuits which would allow them to imagine what was happening to
the people on the ground.
Trout's leading robot looked like a human being, and could talk and dance and so on,
and go out with girls. And nobody held it against him that he dropped jellied gasoline on
people. But they found his halitosis unforgivable. But then he cleared that up, and he was
welcomed to the human race.
Trout lost his argument with the boy who wanted to quit. He told the boy about all the
millionaires who had carried newspapers as boys, and the boy replied: 'Yeah-but I bet
they quit after a week, it's such a royal screwing.'
And the boy left his full newspaper bag at Trout's feet, with the customer book on top.
It was up to Trout to deliver these papers. He didn't have a car. He didn't even have a
bicycle, and he was scared to death of dogs.
Somewhere a big dog barked.
As Trout lugubriously slung the bag from his shoulder, Billy Pilgrim approached him.
"Are-are you Kilgore Trout?
'Yes.' Trout supposed that Billy had some complaint about the way his newspapers
were being delivered. He did not think of himself as a writer for the simple reason that
the world had never allowed him to think of himself in this way.
'The-the writer?' said Billy.
Billy was certain that he had made a mistake. 'There's a writer named Kilgore Trout.'
'There is?' Trout looked foolish and dazed.
'You never heard of him?'
Trout shook his head. 'Nobody-nobody ever did.'
Billy helped Trout deliver his papers, driving him from house to house in the Cadillac.
Billy was the responsible one, finding the houses, checking them off. Trout's mind was
blown. He had never met a fan before, and Billy was such an avid fan.
Trout told him that he had never seen a book of his advertised, reviewed, or on sale.
'All these years' he said, 'I've been opening the window and making love to the world.'
'You must surely have gotten letters,' said Billy. 'I've felt like writing you letters many
Trout held up a single finger. 'One.'
'Was it enthusiastic?'
'It was insane. The writer said I should be President of the World.'
It turned out that the person who had written this letter was Elliot Rosewater, Billy's
friend in the veterans' hospital near Lake Placid. Billy told Trout about Rosewater.
'My God-I thought he was about fourteen years old,' said Trout.
"A full grown man-a captain in the war.'
'He writes like a fourteen-year-old,' said Kilgore Trout.
Billy invited Trout to his eighteenth wedding anniversary which was only two days
hence. Now the party was in progress.
Trout was in Billy's dining room, gobbling canapés. He was talking with a mouthful of
Philadelphia cream cheese and salmon roe to an optometrist's wife. Everybody at the
party was associated with optometry in some way, except Trout. And he alone was
without glasses. He was making a great hit. Everybody was glad to have a real author at
the party, even though they had never read his books.
Trout was talking to a Maggie White, who had given up being a dental assistant to
become a homemaker for an optometrist. She was very pretty. The last book she had read
Billy Pilgrim stood nearby, listening. He was palpating something in his pocket. It was
a present he was about to give his Wife, a white satin box containing a star sapphire
cocktail ring. The ring was worth eight hundred dollars.
The adulation that Trout was receiving, mindless and illiterate as it was, affected Trout
like marijuana. He was happy and loud and impudent.
'I'm afraid I don't read as much as I ought to,' said Maggie.
'We're all afraid of something,' Trout replied. 'I'm afraid of cancer and rats and
'I should know, but I don't, so I have to ask,' said Maggie, 'what's the most famous
thing you ever wrote?'
'It was about a funeral for a great French chef.'
'That sounds interesting.'
'All the great chefs in the world are there. It's a beautiful ceremony.' Trout was making
this up as he went along. 'Just before the casket is closed, the mourners sprinkle parsley
and paprika on the deceased.' So it goes.
'Did that really happen?' said Maggie White. She was a dull person, but a sensational
invitation to make babies. Men looked at her and wanted to fill her up with babies right
away. She hadn't had even one baby yet. She used birth control.
'Of course it happened,' Trout told her. 'If I wrote something that hadn't really
happened, and I tried to sell it, I could go to jail. That's fraud!'
Maggie believed him. 'I'd never thought about that before.'
'Think about it now.'
'It's like advertising. You have to tell the truth in advertising, or you get in trouble.'
'Exactly. The same body of laws applies.'
'Do you think you might put us in a book sometime?'
'I put everything that happens to me in books.'
'I guess I better be careful what I say.'
'That's right. And I'm not the only one who's listening. God is listening, too. And on
Judgment Day he's going to tell you all the things you said and did. If it turns out they're
bad things instead of good things, that's too bad for you, because you'll burn forever and
ever. The burning never stops hurting.'
Poor Maggie turned gray. She believed that too, and was petrified.
Kilgore Trout laughed uproariously. A salmon egg flew out of his mouth and landed in
Now an optometrist called for attention. He proposed a toast to Billy and Valencia,
whose anniversary it was. According to plan, the barbershop quartet of optometrists, 'The
Febs,' sang while people drank and Billy and Valencia put their arms around each other,
just glowed. Everybody's eyes were shining. The song was 'That Old Gang of Mine.'
Gee, that song went, but I'd give the world to see that old gang of mine. And so on. A
little later it said. So long forever, old fellows and gals, so long forever old sweethearts
and pals-God bless 'em-And so on.
Unexpectedly, Billy Pilgrim found himself upset by the song and the occasion. He had
never had an old gang, old sweethearts and pals, but he missed one anyway, as the quartet
made slow, agonized experiments with chords-chords intentionally sour, sourer still,
unbearably sour, and then a chord that was suffocatingly sweet, and then some sour ones
again. Billy had powerful psychosomatic responses to the changing chords. His mouth
filled with the taste of lemonade, and his face became grotesque, as though he really were
being stretched on the torture engine called the rack.
He looked so peculiar that several people commented on it solicitously when the song
was done. They thought he might have been having a heart attack, and Billy seemed to
confirm this by going to a chair and sitting down haggardly.
There was silence.
'Oh my God,' said Valencia, leaning over him, 'Billy-are you all right?'
'You look so awful.'
'Really-I'm O.K.' And he was, too, except that he could find no explanation for why the
song had affected him so grotesquely. He had supposed for years that he had no secrets
from himself. Here was proof that he had a great big secret somewhere inside, and he
could not imagine what it was.
People drifted away now, seeing the color return to Billy's cheeks, seeing him smile.
Valencia stayed with him, and Kilgore Trout, who had been on the fringe of the crowd,
came closer, interested, shrewd.
'You looked as though you'd seen a ghost,' said Valencia.
'No,' said Billy. He hadn't seen anything but what was really before him-the faces of
the four singers, those four ordinary men, cow-eyed and mindless and anguished as they
went from sweetness to sourness to sweetness again.
'Can I make a guess?' said Kilgore Trout 'You saw through a time window.'
'A what?' said Valencia.
'He suddenly saw the past or the future. Am I right?'
'No,' said Billy Pilgrim. He got up, put a hand into his pocket, found the box containing
the ring in there. He took out the box, gave it absently to Valencia. He had meant to give
it to her at the end of the song, while everybody was watching. Only Kilgore Trout was
there to see.
'For me?' said Valencia.
'Oh my God', she said. Then she said it louder, so other people heard. They gathered
around, and she opened it, and she almost screamed when she saw the sapphire with a
star in it. 'Oh my God,' she said. She gave Billy a big kiss. She said, 'Thank you, thank
you, thank you.'
There was a lot of talk about what wonderful jewelry Billy had given to Valencia over
the years. 'My God,' said Maggie White, 'she's already got the biggest diamond I ever saw
outside of a movie.' She was talking about the diamond Billy had brought back from the
The partial denture he had found inside his little impresario's coat, incidentally, was in
his cufflinks box in his dresser drawer. Billy had a wonderful collection of cufflinks. It
was the custom of the family to give him cufflinks on every Father's Day. He was
wearing Father's Day cufflinks now. They had cost over one hundred dollars. They were
made out of ancient Roman coins. He had one pair of cufflinks upstairs which were little
roulette wheels that really worked. He had another pair which had a real thermometer in
one and a real compass in the other.
Billy now moved about the party-outwardly normal. Kilgore Trout was shadowing
him, keen to know what Billy had suspected or seen. Most of Trout's novels, after all,
dealt with time warps and extrasensory perception and other unexpected things. Trout
believed in things like that, was greedy to have their existence proved.
'You ever put a full-length mirror on the floor, and then have a dog stand on it?' Trout
'The dog will look down, and all of a sudden he'll realize there's nothing under him. He
thinks he's standing on thin air. He'll jump a mile.'
That's how you looked-as though you all of a sudden realized you were standing on
The barbershop quartet sang again. Billy was emotionally racked again. The
experience was definitely associated with those four men and not what they sang.
Here is what they sang, while Billy was pulled apart inside:
'Leven cent cotton, forty cent meat,
How in the world can a poor man eat?
Pray for the sunshine, 'cause it will rain.
Things gettin' worse, drivin' all insane;
Built a nice bar, painted it brown
Lightnin' came along and burnt it down:
No use talkin' any man's beat,
With 'leven cent cotton and forty cent meat.
'Leven cent cotton, a car-load of tax,
The load's too heavy for our poor backs…
And so on.
Billy fled upstairs in his nice white home.
Trout would have come upstairs with him if Billy hadn't told him not to. Then Billy
went into the upstairs bathroom, which was dark. He closed and locked the door. He left
it dark, and gradually became aware that he was not alone. His son was in there.
'Dad?' his son said in the dark. Robert, the future Green Beret, was seventeen then.
Billy liked him, but didn't know him very well. Billy couldn't help suspecting that there
wasn't much to know about Robert.
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