Juvenilia: Tricentennial


No fair criticizing the perspective- or lack of it- in this drawing done for The Portland Scribe in the Bicentennial year of 1976 (when I was seventeen); my big breakthrough on that front didn’t happen for another seven years. It illustrates a short story predicting a very grim and dystopian Tricentennial in 2076, written by future novelist, rock musician, Bram Stoker Award winner and comics writer John Shirley. (By the way, Shirley and I had no contact at all on this collaboration; we didn’t actually meet until I went to hear his band years later in New York.)

David Chelsea is listening to:
Thinking, Fast and Slow
by Daniel Kahneman

You can view the illustration big at Comics Lifestyle.

How’s this for futuristic? Below is the original story, scanned from a 36-year-old newspaper and converted to digital text with optical character recognition software (hence the line breaks- OCR preserves the original column widths). Many thanks to John Shirley for allowing me to post this:


© 1976 by John Shirley

“PRECISELY WHAT do you sug-
gest I do about it?” asked Ollie.

“You’re hedging. You know what
has to be done. You got to go get
one,” said his sister Lem coldly.

“Look—we can make one for him
out of cardboard—”

“No. He wouldn’t fall for it, he
has to have the real thing. Cloth.
With the official Tricentennial medal-
lion on the stick. He’s not that far
gone. And if we don’t do it Pops
won’t sign the release and he’ll die
without turning over the cubicle to
us and then we’ll be out in the
street. And you are the oldest,
Ollie-boy. So you are elected.”

“I don’t know if I want to stay
in this grimy cubicle. I could be in
the Angels. I got a Hell’s Angels
Officer’s School commission and I
see no reason why I shouldn’t—”

“Because it would be worse, that’s
why. You don’t believe all that stuff they
tell you at the Angels recruiting office
about the Cycle Corps, do you? They have
it just as bad as the Army, except they’ve
got the Rape Decree to back up anything
they do. But big deal. You get your rocks
off but do you get a decent place to

“Okay. Okay, then. But- I ain’t goin’
alone. No way. If we’re gonna get it for
him, you are goin’ with me, back-up. Be-
cause there’s no way to go two big ones on
53rd alone without getting it in the back…
Look, are you sure we can’t get one in
Building Three?”

“I’m sure. I’ve called around. All the
dispensaries are out of them except

“Maybe we can roll the old man on the
hundredth floor who’s got one—”

“He’s got microwave barriers. We’d fry.”

Ollie sighed. “Then let’s go. And when
we bring it back I hope to God the old
sonuvabitch is happy with it. Because if
he’s not, Father or no Father—”

“Okay, don’t get smogged up. Let’s


At first, the metal streets seemed almost
deserted. The frags and the joy-boy gangs and
the hustlers and sliders were there, just out of
sight, but maybe Security was keeping them off
the street for the Tricentennial Procession. Ollie’d
heard it might traverse the 53rd Level but he’d
assumed it would move through some less dilapi-
dated end of the street. But probably it all
looked this way.

Crusted with grey-white scum from exhala-
tions of methane-engines and human pores, the
kelp-fiber walls of the five storeys visible on the
53rd Level bulged slightly outward with the
weight of excess population—each cubicle held
at least five people more than regulations pre-
scribed as safe. Ollie cradled the Smith & Wesson
.44 magnum he’d received on his Weaponing Day,
at 14 years old. He held it now, five years later,
as a man of an earlier era might have clasped a
crucifix, and he whispered to it piously, while
his eyes swept the rust-pitted streets, sorting
through the heaps of litter waiting for the dumper,
the piles of garbage, the half-dozen corpses that
were as much a part of any street as the fire-
hydrants. The streetlights extending from warped
and peeling faces of the buildings were all func-
tioning and the vents near the ceiling within
the plasteel girder underpinnings of the 54th
Level were all inhaling, judging from the thinness
of the smogs wreathing the dark doorwells. There
were only about 25 pedestrians on the street and
no cars—nearly desolation, compared to any
other time. Apparently the Procession was near.

Ollie and Lem, crouching just inside the door-
way to their home-building rechecked their wea-
pons and scanned the sidewalk for booby-traps.
“I don’t see anything we can’t handle,” Lem said.

“You’re naive. We can’t see into the alleys or
doorways or that subway entrance. And—” Ollie
was interrupted by the blast of a siren. A few
ragged silhouettes shuffling the street scurried
for doorways at the wailing from the cornice-
speakers. Others hardly looked up. “Looks like
all that’s left are dope-heads who don’t know
from shit. Christ, they so far gone they don’t
know the clear-streets-siren when they hear it.”

As the siren wound down Lem asked, “How
long since you been on the street?”

“This first time in three years. Looks pretty
much the same. Only more dope-heads.”

“Always more dope-heads. They don’t get
gutted much because they don’t have any money.”

“Well. Let’s go, maybe we can dash the
whole two blocks. I mean, since the streets are
almost empty—”

“Look who’s being naive. You haven’t been
on the streets in three years. You don’t know—”
Lem began. •

“Don’t sound so smug,” Ollie interrupted.
“You’re an ass for venturing onto the streets
when you don’t need to. We’ve got everything
we need on our floor, all the dispensaries and
spas are there, and it’s the same everywhere any-
way and since you can’t leave the Zone without
a permit or unless you go with the troops, why

“We’ve got a half hour to get to Building
Eleven. Let’s do it.”

Both of them were dressed in scum-grey
clothing, camouflage, their faces ensanguined by
ashes so their pallor would blend, as much as
possible, into the walls.

Lem, tall and thin, the fire in her curly red
hair extinguished with ashes, stood and checked
her brace of throwing knives; inspected the
Thompson sub-machine gun she’d got two years
before on her Weaponing Day, and the cans of
acid-bombs affixed to the two khaki belts criss-
crossing her chest

Ollie examined his own equipment, certified
that the extra pistol he kept in his shoulder-holster
was loaded and ready, the knives on springs lashed
to his forearms primed. His .44 loaded and cocked.

Lem behind, walking backwards to cover the
rear, they set off, looking like some odd two-
headed predatory creature. The lineaments of
the dour metal streets converged in a mesh of
street-lamps, girders, stairways, and furtive
figures, made tenebrously unreal by the smudged
air and dim mucous-yellow lighting. The vista,
shackled by metal ceiling and street merged in
the distance, had all the elegance of a car crum-
pled into a cube by a hydraulic-press compactor.
Ollie adjusted his infrared visors to see into the
darker lairs. A frag, there to the right. The frag
was a woman, left breast burned off to make
room for a rifle-strap, a patch over her right eye.
She waited, leaning back against the wall, her
lower half hidden by a multiplex heap of refuse.
Ollie hadn’t been on the street in years, but the
indications were ever the same: the suspect
looked casual, relaxed—and that was bad. If she
wasn’t planning to attack them, she’d look tensed,
in defense. So she was preparing to jump.

She was 20 feet off, on the low right, standing
in the well of a barred basement doorway.

They carried $40 for their Old Man’s Fourth-
of-July toy. Frags could smell money. Even
penniless, they’d be jumped for their clothes,
guns, and on General Principle.

The frag made as if to tie her boot-lace. A
signal. “Down!” Oilie cried.

Lem and Ollie went to a crouch as the woman
who had seen her accomplice’s signal leapt from
the doorway immediately to her right, and only
her M-16’s jamming saved them. Lem stepped in
and with an underhand cut gutted her and with-
drew the stilletto before the frag could reach for
another weapon. By this time the other frag was
swinging her rifle round to take aim. Oilie had
already leveled the .44.

He squeezed the trigger, the gun barked, the
jolt from the recoil hurt his wrist. The one-eyed
woman caught it in the gut, was thrown back,
rebounded from the wall, and pitched forward
to fall onto her face. Blood marked a Rorschach
visage leering in red on the wall behind her.

He heard Lem firing at the other frags attracted
by the gun-shots. A young man fell, pistol clat-
tering into the gutter. The others found cover.

“C’mon!” They sprinted, running low to the
ground, gaining another forty feet, three-quarters
of the first block behind diem. Another block-
and-a-quarter, Oilie thought. Something lobbed
in wallowing tinny arc struck the sticky plasteel
sidewalk and clattered past Ollie’s right leg, he
turned and grabbed Lem by the forearm, drag-
ging her into the shelter of a doorway. The gre-
nade exploded on the other side of the wall,
fragments of the flimsy wall-fiber flew, laughter
erupted from nearby frag-niches to echo from
the distant ceiling, laughter as uncaring as the
shrapnel that took put two dope-heads across
the street. The blue smoke cleared.

A bullet struck the wall by Ollie’s head, flying
splinters stung his scalp. Swallowing fear—it had
been three years—he crouched, panning his gun-
sight back and forth over the grey-black-engraved
prospect. Sniper? From where? He looked up—
that window, fourth ‘floor. Glint off a barrel. He
snatched free an acid cartridge and clipped it
hastily on the launch-spring welded to the under-
side of his pistol’s barrel. He cocked, squinted,
and fired. The sniper’s rifle went off at the same
moment, another shot too high. Then the acid-
bomb exploded in the sniper’s apartment. A
scream that began as a rumble, went higher and
higher in pitch, finishing as a bubbling whine
that merged perfectly with the returning off-
streets-siren, a growing, piercing ululation. The
sniper, slapping at his boiling skin, threw himself
whimpering out the window and fell, writhing,
three storeys, striking the ground head first. Strip-
ping die corpses of the sniper, joy-boys and the
two dead women, the frags were momentarily
distracted. So Ollie and Lem sprinted, zig-zagging
to make poor targets.

Bolting across the intersection, they drew fire.
Four strident cracks, two pings—two misses.
They achieved the opposite comer. Crouched
behind a conical heap of excrement and plastic
cans, their left side protected by the extruding
metal side-walls of a stairway. “Three-quarters
of a block left,” said Lem.

But frags were closing in from the right, at
least a dozen piebald figures creeping hastily
from shadow to shadow like scuttling cock-

One of the frags caught another unawares and
slipped him a blade. There was a bubbling cough
and that was all.

“One less,” said Lem. “But they’ll cooperate
to kill us before they turn on each other again.”

A scratchy recorded fanfare announced the
Tricentennial Procession.

The street was 20 yards from gutter to gutter.
The Procession filled the street for half a block;
two long, six-wheeled armored red-white-and-blue
sedans surrounded by twelve Security Cycles.
A recorded voice from the fanged chrome grill
of the front sedan announced over and over:


Dimly, through the green-tinted window of
the low, steel-plated limo Ollie could make out
the faces of the High Priest of the International
Church of Sun Moon sitting beside the man he’d
appointed as Mayor, whose name Ollie could not
recall. A few token bullets bounced from the
limo’s windshield. The silhouettes within waved
at the faces crowding the windows. A handful
of excrement splattered the roof, cleaned away
instants later by tiny concealed hoses in the
windshield frame. One of the Security Cycles
shot a microwave-shell into the apartment from
which the excrement had been thrown, there
was a white flash and a scream, a thin wisp of
smoke from the shattered window.

The Security Cycles were three-wheeled motor-
bikes, propelled, like the limousines, by methane-
engines fueled by gases extracted from human
excrement. Issuing blue flatulence, they rolled
slowly abreast Oilie and Lem. The cops inside,
figures of shiny black leather, heads completely
encased in black-opaqued helmets, were protected
by bells of transparent plasteel from which their
various weapons projected cobra-snouts. The cop
nearest Ollie methodically snuffed dope-heads
and careless frags with casual flares of his
handle-bar-mounted microwave rifle. “Hey,”
Ollie breathed, “maybe they’ll help us. If you
call them they don’t come but since they’re right
here, if we ask them for help getting to the cor-
ner they can’t refuse, seeing as we’re right in
front of them and all. Hell, with the High Priest

“Ollie don’t be an ass—”

But Ollie was already out in the street, waving
his arms, shouting, “We need an escort, just a
little farther, we are citizens, we have to go to
Building Eleven to buy a—”

He threw himself flat and rolled, wincing as
the invisible microwave beam singed his back.
The cop fired again but Lem had thrown a
smoke-bomb, and Ollie took advantage of the
thick yellow billowing to return to cover.

“Wish I could afford one of those microwave
rifles,” Lem remarked wistfully.

“Hey, Lem, maybe if we keep just back of
the procession we can use it for cover and get
the rest of the way.”

Lem nodded and they were off.

Most of the frags were flattened to avoid the
microwave beams; the cops ignored their shielded
rear, so Ollie and Lem had little to fear from
them. They sprinted, and Building Eleven loomed
ahead. Ollie grinned. There! The stairs!

They were scrambling the two flights up the
stairs when the doors to building eleven swung
open and a pack of joy-boys, none of them over
twelve years old, stampeded directly into Lem
and Ollie’s reflexive gunfire. But there were too
many of them to spray dead at short range. Five
went down, another ten were upon them—naked
but for belts bristling with makeshift knives.
Their gap-toothed mouths squalling, drooling like
demented elves, they chattered and snarled glee-
fully. Their sallow, grimy faces—seen as blurs
personifying aggression, now—were pock-marked,
the eyes dope-wild. Swinging the gun-butt in his
right hand, knife sanpped on spring to his left,
Oilie slashed and battered at the small faces,
faces like rotted jack-o-lantems, and time slowed:
fragments of skull and teeth flew, black-nailed
hands clawed at his face, his own blood clouded
his visors.

Ollie ploughed forward, kicking, elbowing,
feeling a twisted shard of metal bite deep into
his thigh, another below his left shoulder-blade,
another in his right pectorals. He was two feet
from the door. He left his knife in someone’s ribs.
He glanced at Lem, three of them were on her
back, clinging like chimp-children, clawing re-
lentlessly at her head, gnawing her ears with
ragged yellow teeth. He dragged them off of her
with his left hand, wrenching viciously to keep
them off his own back, and brained another who
flailed wildly at his eyes—and then they were
through the door.

It was cool and quiet inside.
A young man, a custodian chewing synthabetel
and squinting at them, leaning on his mop, said,
“You got some holes in you.”

“Where—” Ollie had to catch his breath. He
felt weak. Blood soaking his right leg—have to
bind that before heading back, he thought, try
again, ask: “Where we buy. . . flags?”

“Fifty-fourth level if he’s got any left.”


Luck was with them. They made it back with
only two more wounds. A .22 slug in Lem’s right
arm, a zip-gun pellet in Ollie’s left calf.

Lem slumped outside the door to bind her
wounds and rest. Ollie took the flag from her
and staggered into their two-room apartment,
stepped carefully over the children sleeping on
the crowded floor, tried not to stagger. He was
dizzy, nauseous. The tiny cubicle seemed to
constrict and whirl, the stained yellow-white
curtains over the alcove where his father lay
dying on an army cot became malignant leprous
arms reaching for him. He cursed, his right hand
gripping the small, rolled-up flag. He felt he could
not walk another step.

Ollie sank to a chink of clear floor-space. He
shoved wearily at one of the sleeping children.
Eight-year-old Sandra. She woke, a pale, hollow-
eyed child, nearly bald, a few strands of wispy
flaxen hair. “You take this to Pops.” He told
her. “The flag. Tell him to sign the goddamn

Seeing the flag, the little girl’s eyes flared.
She snatched the bright banner away and ran out
into the hall, ignoring Ollie’s shouts.

She got three bucks for the flag from a
man on the Hundredth Level.

A penny a year.