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´╗┐Title: Coming Attraction
Author: Leiber, Fritz
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Coming Attraction" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

                           Coming Attraction

                            BY FRITZ LEIBER

                       Illustrated by Paul Calle

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                 Galaxy Science Fiction November 1950.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

           Women will always go on trying to attract men ...
             even when the future seems to have no future!

The coupe with the fishhooks welded to the fender shouldered up over
the curb like the nose of a nightmare. The girl in its path stood
frozen, her face probably stiff with fright under her mask. For once my
reflexes weren't shy. I took a fast step toward her, grabbed her elbow,
yanked her back. Her black skirt swirled out.

The big coupe shot by, its turbine humming. I glimpsed three faces.
Something ripped. I felt the hot exhaust on my ankles as the big
coupe swerved back into the street. A thick cloud like a black flower
blossomed from its jouncing rear end, while from the fishhooks flew a
black shimmering rag.

"Did they get you?" I asked the girl.

She had twisted around to look where the side of her skirt was torn
away. She was wearing nylon tights.

"The hooks didn't touch me," she said shakily. "I guess I'm lucky."

I heard voices around us:

"Those kids! What'll they think up next?"

"They're a menace. They ought to be arrested."

Sirens screamed at a rising pitch as two motor-police, their
rocket-assist jets full on, came whizzing toward us after the coupe.
But the black flower had become a thick fog obscuring the whole street.
The motor-police switched from rocket assists to rocket brakes and
swerved to a stop near the smoke cloud.

"Are you English?" the girl asked me. "You have an English accent."

Her voice came shudderingly from behind the sleek black satin mask.
I fancied her teeth must be chattering. Eyes that were perhaps blue
searched my face from behind the black gauze covering the eyeholes of
the mask. I told her she'd guessed right. She stood close to me. "Will
you come to my place tonight?" she asked rapidly. "I can't thank you
now. And there's something you can help me about."

My arm, still lightly circling her waist, felt her body trembling. I
was answering the plea in that as much as in her voice when I said,
"Certainly." She gave me an address south of Inferno, an apartment
number and a time. She asked me my name and I told her.

"Hey, you!"

I turned obediently to the policeman's shout. He shooed away the small
clucking crowd of masked women and barefaced men. Coughing from the
smoke that the black coupe had thrown out, he asked for my papers. I
handed him the essential ones.

       *       *       *       *       *

He looked at them and then at me. "British Barter? How long will you be
in New York?"

Suppressing the urge to say, "For as short a time as possible," I told
him I'd be here for a week or so.

"May need you as a witness," he explained. "Those kids can't use smoke
on us. When they do that, we pull them in."

He seemed to think the smoke was the bad thing. "They tried to kill the
lady," I pointed out.

He shook his head wisely. "They always pretend they're going to, but
actually they just want to snag skirts. I've picked up rippers with
as many as fifty skirt-snags tacked up in their rooms. Of course,
sometimes they come a little too close."

I explained that if I hadn't yanked her out of the way, she'd have been
hit by more than hooks. But he interrupted, "If she'd thought it was a
real murder attempt, she'd have stayed here."

I looked around. It was true. She was gone.

"She was fearfully frightened," I told him.

"Who wouldn't be? Those kids would have scared old Stalin himself."

"I mean frightened of more than 'kids.' They didn't look like 'kids.'"

"What did they look like?"

I tried without much success to describe the three faces. A vague
impression of viciousness and effeminacy doesn't mean much.

"Well, I could be wrong," he said finally. "Do you know the girl? Where
she lives?"

"No," I half lied.

The other policeman hung up his radiophone and ambled toward us,
kicking at the tendrils of dissipating smoke. The black cloud no longer
hid the dingy facades with their five-year-old radiation flash-burns,
and I could begin to make out the distant stump of the Empire State
Building, thrusting up out of Inferno like a mangled finger.

"They haven't been picked up so far," the approaching policeman
grumbled. "Left smoke for five blocks, from what Ryan says."

The first policeman shook his head. "That's bad," he observed solemnly.

I was feeling a bit uneasy and ashamed. An Englishman shouldn't lie, at
least not on impulse.

"They sound like nasty customers," the first policeman continued in the
same grim tone. "We'll need witnesses. Looks as if you may have to stay
in New York longer than you expect."

I got the point. I said, "I forgot to show you all my papers," and
handed him a few others, making sure there was a five dollar bill in
among them.

       *       *       *       *       *

When he handed them back a bit later, his voice was no longer ominous.
My feelings of guilt vanished. To cement our relationship, I chatted
with the two of them about their job.

"I suppose the masks give you some trouble," I observed. "Over in
England we've been reading about your new crop of masked female

"Those things get exaggerated," the first policeman assured me. "It's
the men masking as women that really mix us up. But, brother, when we
nab them, we jump on them with both feet."

"And you get so you can spot women almost as well as if they had naked
faces," the second policeman volunteered. "You know, hands and all

"Especially all that," the first agreed with a chuckle. "Say, is it
true that some girls don't mask over in England?"

"A number of them have picked up the fashion," I told him. "Only a few,
though--the ones who always adopt the latest style, however extreme."

"They're usually masked in the British newscasts."

"I imagine it's arranged that way out of deference to American taste,"
I confessed. "Actually, not very many do mask."

The second policeman considered that. "Girls going down the street bare
from the neck up." It was not clear whether he viewed the prospect with
relish or moral distaste. Likely both.

"A few members keep trying to persuade Parliament to enact a law
forbidding all masking," I continued, talking perhaps a bit too much.

The second policeman shook his head. "What an idea. You know, masks are
a pretty good thing, brother. Couple of years more and I'm going to
make my wife wear hers around the house."

The first policeman shrugged. "If women were to stop wearing masks, in
six weeks you wouldn't know the difference. You get used to anything,
if enough people do or don't do it."

I agreed, rather regretfully, and left them. I turned north on Broadway
(old Tenth Avenue, I believe) and walked rapidly until I was beyond
Inferno. Passing such an area of undecontaminated radioactivity always
makes a person queasy. I thanked God there weren't any such in England,
as yet.

The street was almost empty, though I was accosted by a couple of
beggars with faces tunneled by H-bomb scars, whether real or of makeup
putty, I couldn't tell. A fat woman held out a baby with webbed fingers
and toes. I told myself it would have been deformed anyway and that she
was only capitalizing on our fear of bomb-induced mutations. Still,
I gave her a seven-and-a-half-cent piece. Her mask made me feel I was
paying tribute to an African fetish.

"May all your children be blessed with one head and two eyes, sir."

"Thanks," I said, shuddering, and hurried past her.

"... There's only trash behind the mask, so turn your head, stick to
your task: Stay away, stay away--from--the--girls!"

       *       *       *       *       *

This last was the end of an anti-sex song being sung by some
religionists half a block from the circle-and-cross insignia of a
femalist temple. They reminded me only faintly of our small tribe
of British monastics. Above their heads was a jumble of billboards
advertising predigested foods, wrestling instruction, radio handies and
the like.

I stared at the hysterical slogans with disagreeable fascination. Since
the female face and form have been banned on American signs, the very
letters of the advertiser's alphabet have begun to crawl with sex--the
fat-bellied, big-breasted capital B, the lascivious double O. However,
I reminded myself, it is chiefly the mask that so strangely accents sex
in America.

A British anthropologist has pointed out, that, while it took more
than 5,000 years to shift the chief point of sexual interest from the
hips to the breasts, the next transition to the face has taken less
than 50 years. Comparing the American style with Moslem tradition is
not valid; Moslem women are compelled to wear veils, the purpose of
which is concealment, while American women have only the compulsion of
fashion and use masks to create mystery.

Theory aside, the actual origins of the trend are to be found in
the anti-radiation clothing of World War III, which led to masked
wrestling, now a fantastically popular sport, and that in turn led to
the current female fashion. Only a wild style at first, masks quickly
became as necessary as brassieres and lipsticks had been earlier in the

I finally realized that I was not speculating about masks in general,
but about what lay behind one in particular. That's the devil of the
things; you're never sure whether a girl is heightening loveliness
or hiding ugliness. I pictured a cool, pretty face in which fear
showed only in widened eyes. Then I remembered her blonde hair, rich
against the blackness of the satin mask. She'd told me to come at the
twenty-second hour--ten p.m.

I climbed to my apartment near the British Consulate; the elevator
shaft had been shoved out of plumb by an old blast, a nuisance in these
tall New York buildings. Before it occurred to me that I would be
going out again, I automatically tore a tab from the film strip under
my shirt. I developed it just to be sure. It showed that the total
radiation I'd taken that day was still within the safety limit. I'm
not phobic about it, as so many people are these days, but there's no
point in taking chances.

I flopped down on the day bed and stared at the silent speaker and the
dark screen of the video set. As always, they made me think, somewhat
bitterly, of the two great nations of the world. Mutilated by each
other, yet still strong, they were crippled giants poisoning the planet
with their dreams of an impossible equality and an impossible success.

I fretfully switched on the speaker. By luck, the newscaster was
talking excitedly of the prospects of a bumper wheat crop, sown by
planes across a dust bowl moistened by seeded rains. I listened
carefully to the rest of the program (it was remarkably clear of
Russian telejamming) but there was no further news of interest to
me. And, of course, no mention of the Moon, though everyone knows
that America and Russia are racing to develop their primary bases
into fortresses capable of mutual assault and the launching of
alphabet-bombs toward Earth. I myself knew perfectly well that the
British electronic equipment I was helping trade for American wheat was
destined for use in spaceships.

       *       *       *       *       *

I switched off the newscast. It was growing dark and once again I
pictured a tender, frightened face behind a mask. I hadn't had a date
since England. It's exceedingly difficult to become acquainted with a
girl in America, where as little as a smile, often, can set one of them
yelping for the police--to say nothing of the increasing puritanical
morality and the roving gangs that keep most women indoors after dark.
And naturally, the masks which are definitely not, as the Soviets
claim, a last invention of capitalist degeneracy, but a sign of great
psychological insecurity. The Russians have no masks, but they have
their own signs of stress.

I went to the window and impatiently watched the darkness gather. I was
getting very restless. After a while a ghostly violet cloud appeared to
the south. My hair rose. Then I laughed. I had momentarily fancied it a
radiation from the crater of the Hell-bomb, though I should instantly
have known it was only the radio-induced glow in the sky over the
amusement and residential area south of Inferno.

Promptly at twenty-two hours I stood before the door of my unknown girl
friend's apartment. The electronic say-who-please said just that. I
answered clearly, "Wysten Turner," wondering if she'd given my name to
the mechanism. She evidently had, for the door opened. I walked into a
small empty living room, my heart pounding a bit.

The room was expensively furnished with the latest pneumatic hassocks
and sprawlers. There were some midgie books on the table. The one I
picked up was the standard hard-boiled detective story in which two
female murderers go gunning for each other.

The television was on. A masked girl in green was crooning a love song.
Her right hand held something that blurred off into the foreground.
I saw the set had a handie, which we haven't in England as yet, and
curiously thrust my hand into the handie orifice beside the screen.
Contrary to my expectations, it was not like slipping into a pulsing
rubber glove, but rather as if the girl on the screen actually held my

A door opened behind me. I jerked out my hand with as guilty a reaction
as if I'd been caught peering through a keyhole.

She stood in the bedroom doorway. I think she was trembling. She was
wearing a gray fur coat, white-speckled, and a gray velvet evening
mask with shirred gray lace around the eyes and mouth. Her fingernails
twinkled like silver.

It hadn't occurred to me that she'd expect us to go out.

"I should have told you," she said softly. Her mask veered nervously
toward the books and the screen and the room's dark corners. "But I
can't possibly talk to you here."

I said doubtfully, "There's a place near the Consulate...."

"I know where we can be together and talk," she said rapidly. "If you
don't mind."

As we entered the elevator I said, "I'm afraid I dismissed the cab."

       *       *       *       *       *

But the cab driver hadn't gone for some reason of his own. He jumped
out and smirkingly held the front door open for us. I told him we
preferred to sit in back. He sulkily opened the rear door, slammed it
after us, jumped in front and slammed the door behind him.

My companion leaned forward. "Heaven," she said.

The driver switched on the turbine and televisor.

"Why did you ask if I were a British subject?" I said, to start the

She leaned away from me, tilting her mask close to the window. "See the
Moon," she said in a quick, dreamy voice.

"But why, really?" I pressed, conscious of an irritation that had
nothing to do with her.

"It's edging up into the purple of the sky."

"And what's your name?"

"The purple makes it look yellower."

       *       *       *       *       *

Just then I became aware of the source of my irritation. It lay in the
square of writhing light in the front of the cab beside the driver.

I don't object to ordinary wrestling matches, though they bore me, but
I simply detest watching a man wrestle a woman. The fact that the bouts
are generally "on the level," with the man greatly outclassed in weight
and reach and the masked females young and personable, only makes them
seem worse to me.

"Please turn off the screen," I requested the driver.

He shook his head without looking around. "Uh-uh, man," he said.
"They've been grooming that babe for weeks for this bout with Little

Infuriated, I reached forward, but my companion caught my arm.
"Please," she whispered frightenedly, shaking her head.

I settled back, frustrated. She was closer to me now, but silent and
for a few moments I watched the heaves and contortions of the powerful
masked girl and her wiry masked opponent on the screen. His frantic
scrambling at her reminded me of a male spider.

I jerked around, facing my companion. "Why did those three men want to
kill you?" I asked sharply.

The eyeholes of her mask faced the screen. "Because they're jealous of
me," she whispered.

"Why are they jealous?"

She still didn't look at me. "Because of him."


She didn't answer.

I put my arm around her shoulders. "Are you afraid to tell me?" I
asked. "What _is_ the matter?"

She still didn't look my way. She smelled nice.

"See here," I said laughingly, changing my tactics, "you really should
tell me something about yourself. I don't even know what you look like."

I half playfully lifted my hand to the band of her neck. She gave it an
astonishingly swift slap. I pulled it away in sudden pain. There were
four tiny indentations on the back. From one of them a tiny bead of
blood welled out as I watched. I looked at her silver fingernails and
saw they were actually delicate and pointed metal caps.

"I'm dreadfully sorry," I heard her say, "but you frightened me. I
thought for a moment you were going to...."

At last she turned to me. Her coat had fallen open. Her evening dress
was Cretan Revival, a bodice of lace beneath and supporting the breasts
without covering them.

"Don't be angry," she said, putting her arms around my neck. "You were
wonderful this afternoon."

The soft gray velvet of her mask, molding itself to her cheek, pressed
mine. Through the mask's lace the wet warm tip of her tongue touched my

"I'm not angry," I said. "Just puzzled and anxious to help."

The cab stopped. To either side were black windows bordered by spears
of broken glass. The sickly purple light showed a few ragged figures
slowly moving toward us.

The driver muttered, "It's the turbine, man. We're grounded." He sat
there hunched and motionless. "Wish it had happened somewhere else."

My companion whispered, "Five dollars is the usual amount."

She looked out so shudderingly at the congregating figures that I
suppressed my indignation and did as she suggested. The driver took the
bill without a word. As he started up, he put his hand out the window
and I heard a few coins clink on the pavement.

My companion came back into my arms, but her mask faced the television
screen, where the tall girl had just pinned the convulsively kicking
Little Zirk.

"I'm so frightened," she breathed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Heaven turned out to be an equally ruinous neighborhood, but it had a
club with an awning and a huge doorman uniformed like a spaceman, but
in gaudy colors. In my sensuous daze I rather liked it all. We stepped
out of the cab just as a drunken old woman came down the sidewalk,
her mask awry. A couple ahead of us turned their heads from the half
revealed face, as if from an ugly body at the beach. As we followed
them in I heard the doorman say, "Get along, grandma, and watch

Inside, everything was dimness and blue glows. She had said we could
talk here, but I didn't see how. Besides the inevitable chorus of
sneezes and coughs (they say America is fifty per cent allergic
these days), there was a band going full blast in the latest robop
style, in which an electronic composing machine selects an arbitrary
sequence of tones into which the musicians weave their raucous little

Most of the people were in booths. The band was behind the bar. On a
small platform beside them, a girl was dancing, stripped to her mask.
The little cluster of men at the shadowy far end of the bar weren't
looking at her.

We inspected the menu in gold script on the wall and pushed the buttons
for breast of chicken, fried shrimps and two scotches. Moments later,
the serving bell tinkled. I opened the gleaming panel and took out our

       *       *       *       *       *

The cluster of men at the bar filed off toward the door, but first they
stared around the room. My companion had just thrown back her coat.
Their look lingered on our booth. I noticed that there were three of

The band chased off the dancing girl with growls. I handed my companion
a straw and we sipped our drinks.

"You wanted me to help you about something," I said. "Incidentally, I
think you're lovely."

She nodded quick thanks, looked around, leaned forward. "Would it be
hard for me to get to England?"

"No," I replied, a bit taken aback. "Provided you have an American

"Are they difficult to get?"

"Rather," I said, surprised at her lack of information. "Your country
doesn't like its nationals to travel, though it isn't quite as
stringent as Russia."

"Could the British Consulate help me get a passport?"

"It's hardly their...."

"Could you?"

I realized we were being inspected. A man and two girls had paused
opposite our table. The girls were tall and wolfish-looking, with
spangled masks. The man stood jauntily between them like a fox on its
hind legs.

My companion didn't glance at them, but she sat back. I noticed that
one of the girls had a big yellow bruise on her forearm. After a moment
they walked to a booth in the deep shadows.

"Know them?" I asked. She didn't reply. I finished my drink. "I'm not
sure you'd like England," I said. "The austerity's altogether different
from your American brand of misery."

She leaned forward again. "But I must get away," she whispered.

"Why?" I was getting impatient.

"Because I'm so frightened."

There were chimes. I opened the panel and handed her the fried shrimps.
The sauce on my breast of chicken was a delicious steaming compound of
almonds, soy and ginger. But something must have been wrong with the
radionic oven that had thawed and heated it, for at the first bite I
crunched a kernel of ice in the meat. These delicate mechanisms need
constant repair and there aren't enough mechanics.

I put down my fork. "What are you really scared of?" I asked her.

For once her mask didn't waver away from my face. As I waited I
could feel the fears gathering without her naming them, tiny dark
shapes swarming through the curved night outside, converging on the
radioactive pest spot of New York, dipping into the margins of the
purple. I felt a sudden rush of sympathy, a desire to protect the
girl opposite me. The warm feeling added itself to the infatuation
engendered in the cab.

"Everything," she said finally.

I nodded and touched her hand.

"I'm afraid of the Moon," she began, her voice going dreamy and brittle
as it had in the cab. "You can't look at it and not think of guided

"It's the same Moon over England," I reminded her.

"But it's not England's Moon any more. It's ours and Russia's. You're
not responsible."

I pressed her hand.

"Oh, and then," she said with a tilt of her mask, "I'm afraid of the
cars and the gangs and the loneliness and Inferno. I'm afraid of the
lust that undresses your face. And--" her voice hushed--"I'm afraid of
the wrestlers."

"Yes?" I prompted softly after a moment.

       *       *       *       *       *

Her mask came forward. "Do you know something about the wrestlers?" she
asked rapidly. "The ones that wrestle women, I mean. They often lose,
you know. And then they have to have a girl to take their frustration
out on. A girl who's soft and weak and terribly frightened. They need
that, to keep them men. Other men don't want them to have a girl.
Other men want them just to fight women and be heroes. But they must
have a girl. It's horrible for her."

I squeezed her fingers tighter, as if courage could be
transmitted--granting I had any. "I think I can get you to England," I

Shadows crawled onto the table and stayed there. I looked up at the
three men who had been at the end of the bar. They were the men I had
seen in the big coupe. They wore black sweaters and close-fitting black
trousers. Their faces were as expressionless as dopers. Two of them
stood above me. The other loomed over the girl.

"Drift off, man," I was told. I heard the other inform the girl:
"We'll wrestle a fall, sister. What shall it be? Judo, slapsie or

I stood up. There are times when an Englishman simply must be
mal-treated. But just then the foxlike man came gliding in like the
star of a ballet. The reaction of the other three startled me. They
were acutely embarrassed.

He smiled at them thinly. "You won't win my favor by tricks like this,"
he said.

"Don't get the wrong idea, Zirk," one of them pleaded.

"I will if it's right," he said. "She told me what you tried to do this
afternoon. That won't endear you to me, either. Drift."

They backed off awkwardly. "Let's get out of here," one of them said
loudly, as they turned. "I know a place where they fight naked with

       *       *       *       *       *

Little Zirk laughed musically and slipped into the seat beside my
companion. She shrank from him, just a little. I pushed my feet back,
leaned forward.

"Who's your friend, baby?" he asked, not looking at her.

She passed the question to me with a little gesture. I told him.

"British," he observed. "She's been asking you about getting out of the
country? About passports?" He smiled pleasantly. "She likes to start
running away. Don't you, baby?" His small hand began to stroke her
wrist, the fingers bent a little, the tendons ridged, as if he were
about to grab and twist.

"Look here," I said sharply. "I have to be grateful to you for ordering
off those bullies, but--"

"Think nothing of it," he told me. "They're no harm except when they're
behind steering wheels. A well-trained fourteen-year-old girl could
cripple any one of them. Why, even Theda here, if she went in for that
sort of thing...." He turned to her, shifting his hand from her wrist
to her hair. He stroked it, letting the strands slip slowly through his
fingers. "You know I lost tonight, baby, don't you?" he said softly.

I stood up. "Come along," I said to her. "Let's leave."

       *       *       *       *       *

She just sat there. I couldn't even tell if she was trembling. I tried
to read a message in her eyes through the mask.

"I'll take you away," I said to her. "I can do it. I really will."

He smiled at me. "She'd like to go with you," he said. "Wouldn't you,

"Will you or won't you?" I said to her. She still just sat there.

He slowly knotted his fingers in her hair.

"Listen, you little vermin," I snapped at him, "Take your hands off

He came up from the seat like a snake. I'm no fighter. I just know that
the more scared I am, the harder and straighter I hit. This time I was
lucky. But as he crumpled back, I felt a slap and four stabs of pain in
my cheek. I clapped my hand to it. I could feel the four gashes made by
her dagger finger caps, and the warm blood oozing out from them.

She didn't look at me. She was bending over little Zirk and cuddling
her mask to his cheek and crooning: "There, there, don't feel bad,
you'll be able to hurt me afterward."

There were sounds around us, but they didn't come close. I leaned
forward and ripped the mask from her face.

I really don't know why I should have expected her face to be anything
else. It was very pale, of course, and there weren't any cosmetics. I
suppose there's no point in wearing any under a mask. The eye-brows
were untidy and the lips chapped. But as for the general expression, as
for the feelings crawling and wriggling across it--

Have you ever lifted a rock from damp soil? Have you ever watched the
slimy white grubs?

I looked down at her, she up at me. "Yes, you're so frightened, aren't
you?" I said sarcastically. "You dread this little nightly drama, don't
you? You're scared to death."

And I walked right out into the purple night, still holding my hand
to my bleeding cheek. No one stopped me, not even the girl wrestlers.
I wished I could tear a tab from under my shirt, and test it then and
there, and find I'd taken too much radiation, and so be able to ask to
cross the Hudson and go down New Jersey, past the lingering radiance of
the Narrows Bomb, and so on to Sandy Hook to wait for the rusty ship
that would take me back over the seas to England.

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ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.