nodrog: (Great World War)
nodrog ([personal profile] nodrog) wrote in [community profile] althistory2014-09-28 09:17 am

The World Next Door - “Let It Be”

“Tales From a Parallel Universe”

Brad Ferguson's brilliant 1987 short story, “The World Next Door,” is set in a small rural community in Upstate New York that has managed to hang on by its fingernails through the twenty-five years since the Cuban Missile Crisis escalated into a full-scale strategic nuclear exchange that effectively broke 20th century Western civilization like a plate dropped on the floor.  Now, though, people are starting to have dreams.  Nightmares are common enough for obvious reasons, but these are different… 

People are dreaming that they, themselves, are living clean comfortable lives in a weird wonderful world, flying on jetliners (there is no aviation nowadays) and driving sleek futuristic cars (no cars either).  The narrator is the editor of the local newspaper, grimly stitching together his one (1) typewriter ribbon as it frays apart…  but he dreams that he's at the city desk of a real newspaper, where everyone's sitting at little green-glowing TV screens typing away and there's no cigarette smoke…  Their Halloween tradition is a bit threadbare, but this kid shows up wearing his Dad's souvenir Wehrmacht helmet and gas mask and wearing a dark blanket as a cape, breathing heavily and calling himself “Darth Fader”…  People dream of a spidery craft landing on the Moon, and a rocket called “Challenger” exploding in the sky…

Meanwhile, Elvis Presley shows up, with his sideboys.  Yup - he makes his living touring the country as a traveling musician (and Federal agent, basically a census taker, taking in the State of the Union as he goes along).  He puts on a show, performing some of his gospel tunes - and he was good at that - and a bit of rockabilly for old times' sake, and one new song that'd come to him just recently…

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

And when all the brokenhearted people
Living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be

For though they may be parted
There is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be…

And the audience is absolutely in tears, and singing along. Which freaks everybody out when they realize it.

How it all turns out (remember, this is the 1980s) is that in “our” world, where the Cuban crisis went away, the superpowers have had thirty years to stockpile nightmare levels of nuclear arsenal, and they're right on the brink.  Like Jack Finney's earlier story, “I'm Scared,” the mass psychic pressure to get away is pushing through the boundaries of time -

And then the dreams stop, for everyone.  And everyone knows why.

I see skies of blue,
And clouds of white. 
The bright blessed day,
The dark sacred night. 
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world. 

The colors of the rainbow,
So pretty in the sky. 
Are also on the faces,
Of people going by,
I see friends shaking hands. 
Saying, "How do you do?"

And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world. 

Yes, I think to myself,
What a wonderful world…