Pilgrims-4-Līf


An hour after the announcement on the radio, Dad came out of the bathroom with his body completely shaven. I knew this because he was naked, toweling himself off, his trousers bundled under this arm.

That’s what you’ve been doing this whole time? I said.

You heard the news, he said. What’d you think I was doing?

Showering. Crapping. Making a run for it.

They breed on the follicles, Dad said. Can’t breed on what I don’t got.

Dad shook out his underwear and stepped inside them. He followed with the rest of his clothes. He dragged a wooden chair from the dining room, said he wouldn’t sit on anything upholstered ever again.

Another bulletin broke into the program we’d been following. There’d be a lottery in each district, one family chosen to go up into space. Everyone could apply online. They repeated the follicle warning, recommended full-body shaves.

You were right, I said.

You’d better get to it.

Give me a hand?

Dad followed me into the bathroom and shaved me from head to toe. There was a surprising amount of hair.

I did this all by myself, you know, Dad said.

Serves you right for sneaking off without me.

Don’t worry, Dad said. I’ll get you back.


Smooth as grapes, Dad and I hiked to the library to register for the lottery—our computer had been stolen the week before, during the first blackouts and subsequent riots. The devastation along the way wasn’t as bad we’d expected, not as many overturned cars or windows shattered. The library itself was hell. A line stretched down the street. More people were like us, shaved, than weren’t. Quite a few others were shaving in line. Fights broke out over razors and balms.

Uncle Mort’s? I said. Uncle Mort owned guns, meaning Uncle Mort still had his computer.

To Mort’s, Dad said.


Aunt Maureen answered the door. She was as shaved as Dad and me, training a hunting rifle between my eyes. She didn’t put it down until Dad rebolted the door. She gave me a kiss on the cheek and rubbed my smoothness. I could hear clippers buzzing in their bathroom: Uncle Mort was shaving either himself or my cousin, Eddie.

Laptop’s on the kitchen counter, Maureen said. The three of us already registered.

By the time Dad and I got our names in, Mort and Eddie were done. Eddie’d had a beard down to his belly. I hardly recognized him hairless. Mort was like my dad, naked and toweling when he emerged.

Goddamn, Mort said. I didn’t know we had company.

You look good, Mort, Dad said.

Thanks, Chet. You look like baby you, minus the eyebrows.

One more family member could fit in our party—in the lottery, families maxed out at six. Our sixth was my sister, Beverly. Bev would throw things off, we all knew, because she’d want us to include Allistar, her dipwad boyfriend.

Allistar has his own family, Dad said.

Bev will want to go with him and his mom and sisters, I said.

I wonder if they shaved yet, Maureen said. Nobody’s getting on that shuttle with hair, lottery or no lottery.

They can shave here, Mort said. After that, we kick Boyfriend out, I lock the doors, we wait for the drawing. Boyfriend will get hungry and wander home. Beverly will get over him.

Ed said, We’ll all probably be dead by the weekend, anyway.

Just then Puddles entered the room. He was the family black lab. He was shaved, too, his skin a patchy mix of pink and indigo.

Just in case they let us bring him into space, Mort said.

Everyone knew he was being optimistic.


Beverly came to Uncle Mort’s house like we texted her to do. She brought Allistar with her, like we texted her not to. They needed shaving. Maureen helped Bev. Mort and Dad looked to me to aid Allistar.

Minutes later, I was trimming Allistar behind his balls.

I appreciate this, Glen, Allistar said. I’ve always liked you.

You know my uncle is going to kick you out as soon as I’m done, I told him.

I’m not leaving without Bev.

Uncle Mort has guns, I said. And he doesn’t like you.

Not leaving without Bev, he repeated.

Uncle Mort grabbed the freshly shaven Allistar when we came out of the bathroom. His other hand gripped one of his .44s.

Good luck, son, Uncle Mort said, dragging Allistar toward the door.

Bev wailed, pulling on Mort’s arm. Ed, Maureen, and I worked together to detach her. My hands cradled her head, which felt like a warm volleyball. Puddles barked like he was mad, running in circles.

The air raid siren sounded: One minute to the lottery announcement on TV. Few families, since the riots, had a TV anymore—everyone would be out looking for one. Uncle Mort couldn’t open his door to throw out Allistar, lest we’d invite a stampede.

The kid stays until after the announcement, Dad said. He can sweep hair while he waits.

A half-minute later, we watched as we won the drawing. We were going to space! Microorganisms wouldn’t devour our flesh! We all jumped and cheered.

Everyone except Bev.

I’m staying, Bev proclaimed. Allistar and I will die in each other’s arms.

Allistar told Bev she had to go with us. He commanded half-heartedly.

Six phones dinged with a text, instructions on how the excavation would go down, what to bring, mostly what not to bring; the not list was exponentially longer. In bold—I hadn’t known you could bold in texts—they ordered us not to ask to bring anyone else, person or animal. Six people exactly. If we even mentioned a seventh, they’d select a different family.

Bev began bawling. She collapsed into Allistar, who told her again she had to go without him. This time, he employed more conviction.


Forty-five minutes after the lottery, an Army transport pulled in front of the house. I peeked through the curtain. Quite a few people had gathered outside. Some were there to wish us well, to say goodbye, friends and neighbors. Others clearly came just to kill us. Soldiers shot most of the killers right away. After that, the crowd only wished us well.

Bev had attached herself to Allistar, insisting she was staying. Allistar helped us peel her off. He kissed her on her bald head as she whimpered.

It’s all going to be okay, Allistar reassured her. Once they find the cure, you’ll come back. Then we can get married, just like we planned.

Allistar hadn’t read the text: Under no circumstance were we ever coming back to Earth. Pilgrims-4-Līf was the mission code name.

Just as Mort was ready to undo his locks, Dad asked everyone to listen up. He lifted his right arm. Where his armpit hair used to be grew a huge lump, the size of a tennis ball: a wicked tumor. He said he’d known about it for a couple of months.

I’d be dead by Christmas, he said. If there is such a thing anymore.

Bev was the first to figure out what he was saying, her howls turning to glee: Dad was giving Allistar his place.

Soldiers knocked and told us we had thirty seconds to get outside.

Everyone hugged Dad and departed. Mort sobbed especially hard. I was last in line.

I’m glad we spent today together, he said. I’m even glad I got to shave you.

Me, too, I said. But then you made me shave Allistar.

Told you I’d get you back, Dad said.

Puddles sat down next to him. Dad petted him behind his ear, then reached up and did the same to me.

A soldier pulled me outside and through the crowd. The hatch to the transport closed just as Dad shut Mort’s door. Him scratching his arm was the last image of him I’d ever see.  

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