Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

120. To Whom It May Concern

I recalled an advertisement for a set of children’s books called The Book of Knowledge. In that ad, a trusting boy and girl looked up at their father. “Daddy,” one asked, “what makes the sky blue?” The answer, presumably, could be found in The Book of Knowledge.

If I had had my daddy beside me as Mona and I walked down the road from the palace, I would have had plenty of questions to ask as I clung to his hand. “Daddy, why are all the trees broken? Daddy, why are all the birds dead? Daddy, what makes the sky so sick and wormy? Daddy, what makes the sea so hard and still?”

It occurred to me that I was better qualified to answer those tough questions than any other human being, provided there were any other human beings alive. In case anyone was interested, I knew what had gone wrong— where and how.

So what?

I wondered where the dead could be. Mona and I ventured more than a mile from our oubliette without seeing one dead human being.

I wasn’t half so curious about the living, probably because I sensed accurately that I would first have to contemplate a lot of dead. I saw no columns of smoke from possible campfires; but they would have been hard to see against an horizon of worms.

One thing did catch my eye: a lavender corona about the queer plug that was the peak on the hump of Mount McCabe. It seemed to be calling me, and I had a silly, cinematic notion of climbing that peak with Mona. But what would it mean?

We were walking into the wrinkles now at the foot of Mount McCabe. And Mona, as though aimlessly, left my side, left the road, and climbed one of the wrinkles. I followed.

I joined her at the top of the ridge. She was looking down raptly into a broad, natural bowl. She was not crying.

She might well have cried.

In that bowl were thousands upon thousands of dead. On the lips of each decedent was the blue-white frost of ice-nine.

Since the corpses were not scattered or tumbled about, it was clear that they had been assembled since the withdrawal of the frightful winds. And, since each corpse had its finger in or near its mouth, I understood that each person had delivered himself to this melancholy place and then poisoned himself with ice-nine.

There were men, women,, and children, too, many in the attitudes of boko-maru. All faced the center of the bowl, as though they were spectators in an amphitheater.

Mona and I looked at the focus of all those frosted eyes, looked at the center of the bowl. There was a round clearing there, a place in which one orator might have stood.

Mona and I approached the clearing gingerly, avoiding the morbid statuary. We found a boulder in it. And under the boulder was a penciled note which said:

To whom it may concern: These people around you are almost all of the survivors on San Lorenzo of the winds that followed the freezing of the sea. These people made a captive of the spurious holy man named Bokonon. They brought him here, placed him at their center, and commanded him to tell them exactly what God Almighty was up to and what they should now do. The mountebank told them that God was surely trying to kill them, possible because He was through with them, and that they should have the good manners to die. This, as you can see, they did.

The note was signed by Bokonon.

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