A Chapter from J.D. Salinger’s The Butcher in the Rye



If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and when I got my face all hammer smashed, and how my parents were overcome by the evisceration plague before they had me, and all that George Romero crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that shit’s lame, and in the second place, my parents would probably mummify me in barbed wire if I told you anything personal about them. I’ll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Halloween before I got brutally mutilated and had to come out here.

There I was walking downtown, just surrounded by posers. I’m not kidding. To my right, in front of this record store, there were these two kids, around my age or maybe a little younger, talking about old-school records and being real careful not to bring up anything that might give away how little they knew to the other one. I listened to their conversation because I didn’t have anything else to do, but it was the most boring goddamn thing I ever heard. All he talked about was Reign in Blood. Every single bit of information about that album—I’m not kidding. You could tell his date wasn’t interested, but she was an even bigger poser than he was, so I guess she felt she had to listen. I thought about stabbing them repeatedly, because what the Hell. But I didn’t. I’d had done too much stabbing anyway. It was a waste on these posers.

Anyway, I went to a pay phone, because I felt like giving someone a buzz. But when I got there, I didn’t know who to call. Normally, I would call my sister Phoebe, but she was at school. I was on my way to see her, with the pieces of her broken Pleasure To Kill record in my pocket. I thought of calling Sally Hayes, even though she was a poser pain in my ass, but then I remembered she was decomposing in the bathtub back at the hotel with her head cut off, along with that hooker I called, and her pimp. I wondered if their corpses would unite into some kind of multi-limbed zombie rape beast, which made me laugh. Then I thought of Jane Gallagher, but I was worried her mother would pick up, and I’d threaten to sodomize the old lady with a meathook.

Jane Gallagher, boy, I’d been thinking a lot about her lately. I remember this one afternoon, the only time I ever got close to eating her face. It was a Saturday, and it was raining like a bastard. We were on the porch—her family had this big screened-in porch—playing checkers. And all of a sudden, this sex maniac her mother was married to came out on the porch and asked if he’d left his bonesaw out there. And Jane didn’t answer. So he asked again. And she didn’t answer. So finally, he just went back inside. And we’re sitting there, and then this big red drop of blood hits the checkerboard, just plop! Boy, I can still hear it. And I looked up, and Jane’s oozing blood out of her eyes, blood just running down her face. And before I could ask if she was okay or if her stepdad had ever gotten wise with her, she let out this growl and all these carnivorous worms split through her abdomen and went slithering after him. Boy, did I get out of there quick.

Anyway, by the time I stopped thinking about Jane, I had reached Phoebe’s school, and there was old Phoebe waiting outside for me. Phoebe, she’s the best. She signs her name ‘Phoebe “Corpsegrinder” Caulfield’ in her school books. And when I got to her, I saw was wearing her Mental Funeral shirt, and she had this big grin on her face, and she said, “Holden!” just as I got up to her. But right after she hugged me, she backed up and looked real angry all of a sudden.

“Why aren’t you back Wednesday?” she asked. Boy, you have to watch her every minute. If you don’t think she’s smart, you’re a schizophrenic. “You didn’t kill everyone in your dorm or anything, did you?”

“They let us out early. They let the whole—”

“You did! You did spree-kill everyone!” She punched me in the kidneys. She gets very fisty when she’s upset. “Oh, Holden! Daddy’s gonna make you suffer! Daddy’s gonna make you suffer forever!”

C’mon, Phoebe, calm down, will you?” I asked her. We started walking towards the park, her stomping ahead of me, real angry. “C’mon, Pheeb. C’mon, Corpsegrinder. They had to die. They were all posers there. Even some of the nice teachers were posers.”

“You think everyone’s a poser,” she said. “Oh, Holden, what are you going to do? Do you even know? What do you want to be? Do you want to be a government torturer, like Daddy?”

“Torturers are all right, I guess,” I said, “but it doesn’t appeal to me. You know what I’d like to be? If I had any goddamn choice? You know that song, ‘If a body slay a body, coming through the rye?’ I’d like—”

“It’s ‘If a body meet a body,’” she said. “It’s from a poem. By Robert Burns.”

“I know where it’s from,” I said. She was right, though, it was ‘If a body meet a body.’ “I thought it was ‘slay a body.’ Anyway, I keep picturing thousands of kids playing some game this big field of rye on the edge of this cliff, and there’s no one around—no one big—except me. And what I have to do is, I have to track these kids down, hunt ‘em through the rye, and put a hatchet through their heads, and then butcher them like livestock so I can feed their flesh to the pit of zombies over the edge of the cliff. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the butcher in the rye and all. I know that sound crazy.”

By then, we’d gotten close to the carousel in the middle of the park, and we could hear the music. It was playing “Zombie Ritual”. It played that same song back when I was a little kid. All the horses were old and chipped, and they had this wild look in their eyes like they were rabid and would have to be shot in the face one by one to prevent them from causing some kind horrible outbreak.

“Do you want to go for a ride?” I asked old Phoebe.

“Carousels are for pussies and posers,” she said.

“Not when they’re as scary as that one is,” I told her, and gave her some dough to buy a ticket. “Go on, go get a horse. I think I’ll just watch ya this time. Hurry up, now, the thing’s starting.”

She went and got a ticket, and she got on her own horse just as “Lunatic of God’s Creation” came on. And she waved at me, and I waved back.

And boy, it began to rain dead babies then. Entire nurseries worth, I swear to God. Just fetuses and stillborns and amniotic fluid pouring down. All the other mothers and nannies ran screaming, talking about the end of the world and how there couldn’t be a God if something like this was happening, but I stayed put and just let myself get pelted with blood and umbilical chunks and uterine lining. I didn’t care. I just felt so damn brutal, you know? Getting soaked with gore and placenta, and watching Phoebe going around on the carousel cackling like the horseman Pestilence or something. It’s just that she looked so damn evil, going around and around in her Mental Funeral shirt and all. It was brutal as all Hell. Fuck, I wish you could’ve been there.

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