Who Put the Bomp?

I’m away this weekend (I’ll be here), and in my absence I leave you this special treat: A short story written by Nick Mamatas and Eliani Torres that I bought from them to showcase here. Folks who read the site know the background on this already; if you’ve wandered in from elsewhere, you can read the details of how and why I bought this fine piece of literature here. However, do allow me to repeat one thing I wrote in that previous entry, which is that I once again thank Nick and Eliani for letting me present their work here. It’s an honor, and it’s fun.

I hope you enjoy the story. Please do tell your friends, acquaintances and random strangers that it’s here.

And now without further ado —

Who Put the Bomp?
By Nick Mamatas and Eliani Torres

I first realized something was amiss many years ago when the milky calves of the New York girls coming in on the train to Bennington for college vanished over the course of a single semester; after the winter intercession, the girls came back up here to Vermont encased in slacks, black wool tights, and sometimes they even wore men’s shoes or boots.
The other day, at the Burger King off Route 7, I ate breakfast: coffee, French toast sticks (double order), and their hash browns (which resemble Tater Tots), but I couldn’t get through my meal, because I heard the bah-hum-yeh-ha “Express yourself!” murmurings of one of the workers who made it a point to sweep the area around me of all the discarded drinking straw wrappers and spent salt packets.

I was three years old in 1946, when Paula Welden went missing on the Long Trail, near the Glastenbury Mountain, in what some people—generally very foolish people—call the Bennington Triangle.

When people on television end an utterance with the reflexive saying, “Y’know what I’m sayin’?” I wish that once, just once, someone would show the courage and will to say, “No, I do not know what you are saying.  Please enunciate clearly and avoid slang words and ‘street’ patois; not everyone knows what bing-bong or that other nonsense is!”

I do, however, know exactly what people mean when they say they wish to keep it real.

My father returned from the service … changed.

One time we went to the movies in Bennington proper (we lived in North Bennington at the time) because I had begged and pleaded for weeks beforehand, having been utterly beguiled by the posters for a film called Invaders from Mars, which intrigued me because a man, woman, and child were looking on in awe at the towering, fish-eyed Martian standing before them.

I am an only child. 

I happened to be on the bus, with my mother, when James E. Tetford, who had been mustered along with my father to fight in Europe, vanished while sitting two seats ahead of me.

I was only three years old; I didn’t realize at the time that dematerialization, the dissolution of flesh and bone into a chalky fog, was an impossibility.

I heard of such things all the time, after all, on the radio.

They don’t play radio plays on the radio anymore, unless the theme is a Christian one of alcoholism and loss, followed by a visit to a skid row mission, redemption, and then a course at a southern Bible college.

This is the left end of the dial I’m referring to here, you see.

None of the other passengers reacted to Tetford’s slow communion with the chilly December air of the bus at the time, which further fortified the notion that what I was witnessing was an everyday occurrence.

My breath hung before me like a little cloud on a night illuminated only by a blue gibbous moon—that is how Tetford looked right before he disappeared.

That is my first memory.

I prefer trains to buses, but commuter service to the Bennington area ended before I was born.

I do not have a VCR or DVD player, and indeed, could hardly tell you the difference between the two of them, but I do have a contract for cable television, because I like to watch old movies, and the reception one gains from rabbit ears on the edge of the Bennington Triangle, where I have spent all but three months of my life, is terrible.

In old movies, women still wear dresses; in the real world, a woman who wears a dress two days in a row rather startles the males in her presence.

One would think that such reactions would lead to more women exploiting dresses, but this is not the case.

I was seven years old and Paul Jepson was eight when he, according to his father, developed a “yen” to walk up into the mountains.

My mother didn’t like me to play with Paul, because his parents worked at the town dump, and she was afraid that I’d stumble upon some rusty nail and come down (though Mama always used the phrase end up) with tetanus.

Tetanus causes lockjaw; they’d like that, wouldn’t they, if I were unable to speak out?

You bet they would.

Paul and I often went to the bus depot to watch the Bennington College girls come in to town on the great silvery vehicles; he liked the buses—the hiss of the air brakes, the glazed smiles and sharp uniforms of the drivers, the chirping manners of the passengers—I liked the girls, or rather the controlled swing and steps of the legs as they peeked out under casually swirling hems.

That was always in September; all the Bennington Triangle disappearances always happened in October, November, or December.

December’s an odd time to take a hike in the woods in Vermont, don’t you think?

The leaves have already fallen by then; trees are gray and skeletal except for the evergreens, alive and defiant.

During a shocking moment in Invaders from Mars, when David’s father bellows, “I said it was barbed wire!” and smacks David across the face, my father gained my attention by tapping me on the knee with his forefinger; he then looked me purposefully in the eye and nodded toward the screen.

That was 1953.

In 1950, the disappearances stopped, though the body of Freida Langer, who disappeared on October 28 of that year, wasn’t found until May 12, 1951.

Her remains were in a clearing that had been searched a number of times, and which was near a well-traveled hiking path.

She was not interfered with; the cause of death remains unknown to medical science.

Though I know.

In 1952, the most popular song was Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable.”

In 1952, women still wore dresses.

Today, there isn’t even a commuter train to Bennington or North Bennington, though the tracks and even the station house remain in good repair.

The grassy lot across from the defunct train station in North Bennington, where I used to sit and watch local girls, sometimes with Paul Jepson, is the green after which Shirley Jackson modeled the stoning grounds in her 1948 short story “The Lottery.”

That’s a tale of a mass-mind of sorts arraying small pathetic figures against a strong, forthright individual, simply to bring it down.

That’s how I read the story anyway.

The mass against the one.

Freight trains use the tracks occasionally, bringing chemicals, lumber and … other things, into the area.

The North Bennington station house is still in use as well, as the town hall.

The Bennington train depot is a restaurant.

I used to eat there quite a bit, until a radio was installed, one that was always tuned to a station that played “blazin'” hits in the rhythm and blues idiom.

The year the girls changed, I overheard one, a Semitic-looking brunette with an aquiline nose, turn to a broad-faced blonde with curls and ask a question.

The question was “Who put the bomp in the bomp?”

That was 1961.

I was eighteen years old, a man.

I attempted to join the army, but was rebuffed due to what I was told was a pilonidal cyst near the top of my natal cleft.

In fact, that pilonidal cyst is what is referred to in the patois of the invaders as “a zipper.”

You may remember that in the film Invaders from Mars, the “zippers” were visible to a sharp-eyed observer like young David because they were placed on the back of the neck.

When David noticed his father’s zipper, David’s father claimed it was an injury from barbed wire; when David pushed, insisting that there was no barbed wire for miles around, that is when his father shouted and slapped him across the face.

When I first noticed my father’s zipper, I was standing out in the “Lottery” lot by the train station; it was a dark night, with nothing but a blue sliver of moon for illumination.

My father was nude, covered in near-freezing mud and the dozens of minor scratches suffered from his hurried rush through the woods.

I didn’t realize it was him at first, but then he called my name in a hoarse shout.


It was 1951, right before the spring thaw.

In 1951, Albert “Sunnyland Slim” Luandrew recorded the Negro music hit “Sunnyland Train.”

I do not recall exactly what brought me to the field that night; I suspect I might have been looking for my father, as I do remember the thrill of sneaking into the kitchen and stretching on my toes to the top of the Frigidaire in order to reach the flashlight, which I was not allowed to play with.

I remain unsure about my purpose in the field that night because I remember standing in that field any number of evenings, often without a flashlight, listening.

Music in the woods; music in the mountains.

I am told that people no longer use the term jive.

The carnival would come to Bennington in mid-May, right after the college girls would return to New York for the summer.

The carnies’d pitch their tents and construct their joints on the lot; I’d watch them and listen closely, as much of what the carnies said was in cant, and some of that cant was created via the introduction of the infix iz into otherwise ordinary words.

“The mission envision is going to whistle.”

“The m-iz-shun in-viz-shun is going to w-iz-le.”

“The Martian invasion is going too well.”

If you have a television, I am sure you have heard the iz infix being used as part of popular slang for some time, thanks to its introduction into general society via contemporary Negro music.

You know what I’m saying?

Those who vanished within the Bennington Triangle were a diverse group: an elderly woodsman, a teen girl, my young friend Paul, a trio of hunters with rifles, my father’s old wartime acquaintance, and several other people as well.

But none since 1950.

And then 1951, the modern era truly began in earnest. 

Negro music began to predominate on the hit parades; movies, pulp novels, radio shows, all expressed a zeitgeist that was a shallow reflection of real events: our minds were being manipulated by simplistic, pulsating rhythms and the vibrations of nonsense syllables and pistonized beats, the evidence obscured like a purloined letter by being placed right under our noses—it’s in your head right now, likely, a bop-bop earworm from Olympus Mons, designed to beguile and bamboozle—the smoke screens of the Reds and our snipe hunts under beds, the chasing, recovery, and redundant debunking of strategically misplaced weather balloons, the gases of the swamps and the manipulation of the natal cleft of proper Angloid stocks; oh Vermont, little state that I love, that you carried such a viper in your bosom!

My father left my mother for a showgirl he had previously met at an uptown club near Columbia University during a business trip. 

He hopped a freight train to do so.

You cannot take a commuter train from Bennington to New York City.

Recently, bus service between Bennington and New York City was also suspended.

I am still here, and I am waiting. 

Who put the bomp?

I’ll tell you: invaders did, invaders from Mars, if not other, occulted planets and planes from beyond this dimension; they put the bomp in our brains, enslaved us all without firing a single shot or screaming Z-ray beam, with their black music and fanciful ideas of a debased and sexually charged gender equality—there is nothing, nothing I tell you, sexually attractive about an overstuffed rump, and certainly not one that jiggles like a layer of fat stripped from hanging meat, not at all compared with a tender white calf only partially glimpsed—who deadened our watch with their own mocking portrayals of our very colonization, who bred us like animals and continue to do so to this very day (my own mother died bereft of grandchildren, as I Will! Not! Sully! Myself!, even though this broke her heart and mine as well), who stole my only friend away, they are the same ones who disintegrated a man in a show of audacity matched only by the bovine complicity of the bus passengers who saw, but who did not witness, said execution, and that, my friends, occurred decades ago, before their tentacular grip was so tightened that even our language sounds nothing like the dulcet screams of kindness and truth I grew up with but rather grates on my ears like the death rattle of a man who deserved his shameful death, and this is shameful, I tell you, and this plan, this scheme, this what-is-known-in-their-tongue as bomp, this all-encompassing, totalizing hegemonic xenocracy of thought, breath, and action, which was fait accompli for years before I recognized its existence on the way home from my pathetic failure of an army physical nearly four dozen of our Earth years ago, they are the ones who did this!

They put the bomp!

In my zipper, the bomp is in my zipper!

In me!

In you!

The bomp is in you!

Take it out, take it out, for the love of sweet Jehovah, take it out!


Nick Mamatas and Eliani Torres live in Brattleboro, Vermont, where they write and edit and presumably do other things as well.

29 Comments on “Who Put the Bomp?”

  1. It’s like the fiction of Howard Waldrop meets the memoir of Whitley Strieber!

    I really dug this jive.

  2. Interesting. The “Alien invaders” story is almost always an allegory of the Other infecting us with their values. The Pod People, for instance, is a cautionary anti-communist tale. Here, however, we have a man blaming aliens for the destruction of his values—values that were replaced by much better ones. He is unable to cope with the change or understand that this modern age is, in fact, a distillation of the values his father fought for…

    It is almost as if Cicero were lamenting “O tempora, O mores!” at the end of the dictatorship of Cincinnatus…

  3. “I do not recall exactly what brought me to the field that night; I suspect I might have been looking for my father … I remember standing in that field any number of evenings, often without a flashlight, listening. … Music in the woods; music in the mountains.”

    Maybe the kid is actually psychoticaly delusional. That would be a better explanation for his rejection from the army than a cyst up his ass crack. And maybe his dad is a serial killer.

  4. I see it as what both Martin R and Andrew Cory said: It’s the fantasy of a mind unable to handle his society’s move toward racial and gender equality.

    It’s interesting, though, that so far nobody, myself included, seems willing to take the story on its face – that is, that’s it’s simply the tale of an invasion by way of the music of African-Americans.


  5. I like the rhythmic stream of consciousness; I like the story as well. Part of the story seems to be the language. A new language, invading. There’s some odd William Burroughs type things going on here that are just Great. Nice.

  6. Very Lovecraftian, what with the longings for the Good Old (White) Days, fears of the alien unknown, and ramblings of the mentally disturbed. Lovely!

  7. Yeah, good story, and an interesting new thing in web publishing. If a blog is an amateur magazine, then why not buy content for it if you have a large readership and can afford it? I certainly wouldn’t mind getting paid to have my work published here.

  8. I found the constantly drifting time sense to be difficult to follow at times, but it did contribute to the sense that you were listening to an old duffer at a nursing home, though being born in ’43 doesn’t really make him old enough to be getting senile.
    It’s interesting that some people refer to him as a “kid.” I heard an old man remembering.
    I liked (though was vaguely disturbed by the inherent racism) the linking of extraterrestrial aliens with the “alien” culture of the modern world. I see that fear as a reflection of the character, not the writer, by the way.
    On the other hand, I did feel excluded and ignorant because I was sure there were lots of sci fi references that I wasn’t getting. It was a function of how confidently the writer used the language – as if everyone would get it. That’s not a positive or negative thing, just how I reacted. I guess I’m not as well read as I thought/hoped.
    A very interesting piece. Not to my taste, but well done and provocative.

  9. I had the feeling I was missing references as well. If any better read 50’s pulp readers out here can provide background I would appreciate it.

  10. Who Put The Bomp?

    If you’re looking for a weird story, John Scalzi (author of Old Man’s War) recently purchased one. I’m not entirely sure how this worked, but I know that Scalzi was a guest editor for a cliche issue (literally, the theme…

  11. Who Put The Bomp?

    If you’re looking for a weird story, John Scalzi (author of Old Man’s War) recently purchased one. I’m not entirely sure how this worked, but I know that Scalzi was a guest editor for a cliche issue (literally, the theme…

  12. Great, great story. The story has a peculiar rythm that lulls you into accepting the protagonist’s viewpoint. I loved it.

  13. The jury is still out. In the beginning I thought I liked it, but by the end I was mildly offended and not quite sure why. Possibly because of what one person mentioned above: that you pretty much have to know/understand/lived the 50s and 60s to have a real connection to the piece. Being born in ’77, I have very little frame of reference because I know merely the scant basics of the history/nuances of those eras.

  14. Like others, I didn’t get many of the references. But to my mind that actually enhanced the experiential quality of reading it, like listening to a haunting piece of music sung in a language you don’t understand. I just let go of the expectation of explicit understanding and traded it square up for implicit feeling. Only in this case I was able to catch a word or two, here and there, which only hightened the surreal effect. Works for me.

  15. I don’t think you need to get the references to ‘get’ the story. The references are there because the narrator knows what they mean. They are part of his voice. I’d be reasonably sure (having read Nick in a couple of places) that there are clever references in there, but they don’t actually have to be understood to understand the story.

    I can see why John had to buy this one.

  16. I loved the piece. I’ve enjoyed Mamatas’ work before, what little of it I’ve read anyway, but this is my first exposure to Torres. Funny thing though: when I read “milky calves” in the first paragraph on my second reading, I wondered why there were no cattle mutilations. Weirdo, c’est moi.

  17. I liked the meeting of science fiction and music. I was mentioning to a musicologist friend of mine how in the future I expect we’ll see the meeting of rock ‘n’ roll with the fascinating time signatures of Indian music… Good to look into the past to see when pop met base.

    While the obvious solution is that the guy is crazy, why then the significant look from his dad at the barbed-wire bit of the movie? It is possible to view it as a straight-up truth from a repulsive narrator.

    And I loved the last line. Thought that joy is from mocking the guy’s distress. ;)

  18. I’d say the reason no one took it as a story of alien invasion is because the main character never explained how what he saw led to what he believed.

    He didn’t construct an argument, he was expounding a theory.

    So no, it’s not that surprising.

    This piece actually reminds me of “The curious incident of the dog in the night-time”, which is told in the format of the journal of a British autistic child (this is to be taken as a compliment).

  19. I didn’t like it, but most science fiction isn’t to my taste these days. Actually, now that I’ve gotten off my high horse long enough to read what other people call Literature, I’m a little pissed off at myself for wasting so much time reading as much trashy sci fi as I did. If only I could take Asimov and Heinlein out of my brane and replace them with more Faulkner or Poe or just about anybody listed in the Norton Anthology, I would probably be a better person. It’s really too bad that most of the science fiction people hold up as being stupendously great functions on much the same level as Sweet Valley High. Not that I didn’t also enjoy the odd Harlequin novel at the time (hell, I read just about everything I could lay hands on back then: cereal boxes, UFO phenomena, histories, the Bible), it’s just that I have no delusions about pulp fiction being Great Literature. Though I’d hold on to Herbert and Le Guin and Vinge. Brilliant stuff.

  20. Nick and Eliani,
    Very cool story. Make sure you send it to Gardner when it comes time for his YBSF reading for 2006. And if you don’t mind, send me a printout so that I can reread it for my YBFH #20.

    Great idea.

  21. That’s a remarkable story. I’m glad I had the opportunity to read it; thank you, John, for buying and showcasing it.

  22. Great story. Just found this through John’s Hugo/Nebula suggestions post.

    I as well caught the sort of uncomfortable feelings of discomfort because of the racial issues – but I think that’s a good thing. The authors have done well to evoke that response in their readership.

    Great buy John, and great experiment. I hope it’s a success.

    Also thought I’d note that the spammers have found this older thread and are attempting to make use of it.

  23. I was incredibly pleased to obtain this web-site.I wanted to thanks for your time for this terrific read!! I certainly enjoying just about every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to have a look at new stuff you blog post.

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