By Jeb Burt
“I will bring one more . . .”
—God, Exodus 11:1
The plague descended suddenly. It caused no surprise.
The towers downtown became polymer and styrene spires. Cars plasticized to opal propylene as their tires fused into the cement of coast routes.
The women dancing in the Jelly Julie on Sunset monstrously thermoset before the horny men, as the petrochemical bane reached the Central Valley. It hesitated at the edge of the migrant towns and great vale of farmland as if to weigh how the urban populace met this change. When the people continued the old lifestyle, merely titillated by this novelty world of vinyl and epoxy, the polymerization surged on through cropland. The film moguls and actors and club musicians, porn titans and courtesans, drank piña coladas under acrylic palms along Malibu sands and Mulholland lawns of emerald isobutyl. The plague hardened the San Joaquin Valley to an inedible breadbasket of decorative fruit.
Famine set in. Others followed the fused strippers: Melrose sidewalks crammed with mannequins in aspect of shoppers, peering into jewelry store windows. The skin carameled in the California sun into dulce de leche, the eyes shining.
Those who could afford horses fled northeast into the Rockies, but seemed to bring the plague. At the ends of shotguns they were turned from mountain towns, the road an eel of crisp resin at their heels. At the east base of the American Cordillera, the Armed Forces erected a battery to halt the movie moguls and stars, haggard advertisement tycoons and champion surfers, whose wealth and love of good living kept them before the blight. The Rocky Mountains vulcanized under their tired feet. Their horses hardened. Ice slopes glacéd. Tors—Bakelite—reflected the sun like knives of obsidian as their clothing fused into their necks. The cursed Californians stared from ledges amid rubber pine, a long show-window of alp trekkers between seasonal shipments; they stared, doleful, across the rolling living grass of the Great Plains, from which their forbearers brought crop to the Central Valley and to which they ushered death. Slowly, bodies catalyzed and howitzers fired upon screaming mannequins wobbling down interstates.
The plastic blight ended at the Great Divide. As the nation mourned the West, agleam every sunset like a derelict candy land, the Midwest and East Coast conceded the logic of such a plague coming from California.
A gold blight hit New York. The silver hypodermic of the Empire State pushed gold into the sun. The Chrysler Tower and architecturally vervy investment banks in lower Manhattan rippled and shone. The auric creep pursued investment bankers and commodity men through Ohio. Heavy artillery eliminated them in the rolling corn.
Southerners and plainsmen thanked Heaven for its benevolence. Two years later the black flesh was there. Remaining Americans waited. Shined eyes stared from softening skin and dimmed.