THE PADDY AND MICK CHRONICLES

Self-service Checkouts (a one-act play)

by Karen Mary McEntegart

checkout

PADDY: “Jaysus, Mick would you look at this. Well, if that doesn’t just take the biscuit altogether.”

MICK: “What’s that, Paddy? Why are standing in the checkout when there’s nobody there to serve you?”

PADDY: “That’s what I’m telling ye, Mick. Take a look at this.”

MICK: “What is it now, Paddy? Jaysus, we’ll never get out of this place?”

MICK: “What is it now, Paddy? Jaysus, we’ll never get out of this place?”

PADDY: “Well, Mick, it’s the latest Irish invention. Honestly, Mick, I’ve seen it all now. Would ya look at what we have here! A self-service checkout! Now I have seen it all. I can die happy now, my old chum! Sure what else could they come up with that beats this?

MICK: “A fecking self-servicing checkout! Jesus who art in heaven, bless us and save us. What’s humanity coming to.”

PADDY: “Right step up there beside me, Mick. This’ll take the two of us. You know what they say about two heads bein’ better than one … well, in this case, Mick, I’ll freely admit it’s one and a bit, but sure we’ll make do—hahaha.”

MICK: “Ah! You’re a funny one all right, Paddy. Now, let’s brave it. What are we up against with this here self-checking thing-a-ma-jiggy? Umm … first things first, Paddy.
Number one, says it right here … place items on checkout. Well, we’ll pass that one with flying colours, anyway. Number two, scan items under barcode reading device. Ah now, come on off of that. Sure if I wanted a job in this supermarket, I’d have applied with all the other foreigners in here. Look around you, Paddy. You could easy mistake this place for a super marcado in the East. There’s all colours of the rainbow in here, I’m telling ye! Gone are the days when the only sighting of a foreigner you caught was a glimpse of the one staring back at you from the Trócaire box! Oh, we’re moving with the times all right. In all the wrong directions if you ask me, Paddy.”
irish_pe

PADDY: “Ah now, be fair, Mick. Sure they have the right to stack shelves like the rest of us and I for one won’t be looking to deny them of that, so stop with that racist shit and start scanning … right, the bainne, pass us up the bainne there … and the barcode is … is … is? Jaysus, it must be me, Mick, but I’d have thought any sensible fecker would place the barcode in an obvious position, seeing that it’s a barcode world that we now belong to … but, oh no … sure that would make it too easy on us altogether! Can’t have that, Mick, me old boy … barcode located at the rear of product … prepare for the big scan down. Wait now I heard it … a beep, did you hear it, Mick?”

MICK: “Yeah, Paddy, I did. It was a beep all right.”

PADDY: “Aye. Hey, we sure have the measure of this thing technology business, Mick. We will not be left behind, I tell ya! Right … get to passing the rest of our selected items, Mick, and be quick about it. We’ve been here over an hour already. I’m bored with this recent temporary employment as a cashier. Bread— yep, beep. I heard it, razors—yep, that went beep too, my ears are a witness to that one as well.”

MICK: “But, Paddy, sure how in god’s name does that thing-a-ma-jiggy know what we have? Sure, couldn’t we just scan half of our selected produce and let’s say consider the rest as payment for our services to the running of this foodery?”

PADDY: “Indeed, Mick. Just pondering on that one myself, I was. Interesting. I wonder? Naa … we couldn’t … surely they know!”

MICK: “Who’d know, Paddy?”

PADDY: “They’d have to. Too easy, Mick.”

MICK: “Sure, there’s no one around, Paddy. How would they know? Say I just maybe forget to scan this here bottle of can’t-wait-to-be-drunk Jameson here … finest label! Oops, how silly of me, must be my old age afflictions, Paddy … eh?”

PADDY: “Ah, this isn’t going to go down well, Mick. I’m telling you, buddy. I feel it in my waters.”

MICK: “Ah, Paddy, calm down there. You and your waters. It’s fool proof.”

PADDY: “Well that’s us—fecked from the get go then, ain’t it, Mick?”

MICK: “So far … so good … all items scanned, Paddy. Let’s tally up there with this machine. Right? How’s it done? Place money in slot. Right. Money inserted into said slot. Jaysus, this is brilliant, Paddy. This machine is adding and doing its thing like a big old calculator … ah, technology!
PADDY: “Yeah, but can it tell the nature of your character? I don’t think so. No, this new age techno business doesn’t apply to me at all!”
MICK: “Nature of your character? Apply to you? What are you rabbiting on about, Paddy! It’s like a big old techno abacus—nothing more, nothing less. Admittedly though, it’s not as impressive as the olden days, where you’d have a little banter with a humanoid over your goods, while the actual labour of checking and packing your items was being done for you … ah, the good old days!”

PADDY: “Last Tuesday, if I remember correctly, Mick.”

MICK: “What?”

PADDY: “Yeah, well now that was the last time I came in here wanting a sup and there was human contact, so I’m assuming all this techno shit materialized sometime after last Tuesday.”

MICK: “Speaking of a sup, grab the bags, Mick. Get out of here quickly or next they’ll be wanting us to go dig the fields, plant the seeds and return to harvest the bloody crop so we can scan it ourselves, pack it ourselves and pay for the privilege of doing so! What is the world coming to at all, Paddy? Eh? I ask you? And then we bring over the foreigners to do the jobs that’s left!”

PADDY: “Ah, would you stop with the racist slurs. It isn’t in keeping with the times, Mick. There’s laws about it now, you know!”

MICK: “What, Paddy? You’re tellin’ me there’s a law on how I should think now, are ye? Cos I’ll not be having any of that!”

PADDY: “Yes, Mick, that’s exactly what I’m telling ye. They’ve got it all sewn up now, I’m telling ye. You can’t say nor think nothin’ these days without some being offended and out of sorts.”

MICK: “Well, no fecking law will tell me how to think, Paddy. I’ll not be having it! I tell ye, no siree! Here, I’ll stick this Jameson in me coat. Where’s the nearest exit portal, Paddy? I’ve had just about enough of this place. It’s getting to me and I’ll be singing that fecking jingle all way home. I’m losing the will to live, Paddy. For the love of God, show me the way home!”

PADDY: “Calm yourself, Mick. Right through this door and we’ll be home in a jiffy, putting all this do-it-yourself supermarket shenanigans behind us, supping on the best stuff money can buy.”

MICK: “Yep, and the Jameson is tastier when it’s free, Paddy, eh?”

PADDY: “Shut up, Mick! Come on, let’s abscond … what the blazers? Holy Mary mother-of-god!”

MICK: “Yep, I hear it too, Paddy. Only this beeping is almighty times louder than the one at the checkout!”

PADDY: “Ah, for feck’s sake, Mick. You’ve gone and done it now, haven’t you! Couldn’t just scan the bottle, could ya. There goes the night’s activity down the loo. Thank you very much indeed, Mick.”

MICK: “Wait now, wait now … we’ll claim all innocence, Paddy.”

PADDY: “You have me beat on that one, Mick, for sure.”

MICK: “Ah funny. Look, with us being old and first-time users of such self-scanning devices might stand for something, eh?”

PADDY: “Well, we’re about to find out, Mick!”

MICK: “Aye, great. It’s one of your kind.”

PADDY: “My kind?”

MICK: “Yes, your kind, Paddy.”

PADDY: “Would you care to elaborate, me auld friend?”

MICK: “A blow in. A foreigner, Paddy.”

PADDY: “And! How, pray tell, is he one of my kind?”

MICK: “Hush now, Paddy. Hold your whist … I’ll do the talking.”

FOREIGNER: “Excuse me, gentlemen, if I could just ask you both to step aside. This won’t take long. I need to check your bags before you leave the premises.”

MICK: “Hold on one pint-drinking minute …”

PADDY: “Calm down, Mick.”

MICK: “I’ll not be calming down, Paddy. I’ll be wanting a reason why this er …

FOREIGNER: “Raoul, sir.”

MICK: “Raoul? Why this Raoul has singled us out for consumer discrimination?”

FOREIGNER: “Discrimination, sir?”

MICK: “Aye, you heard me, Raoul! Discrimination.”

FOREIGNER: “Of what sort, sir?”

MICK: “Eh?”

FOREIGNER: “Describe your claimed discrimination?”

MICK: “Ageism. Oh aye, I feel it acutely. It offends me down through my wizen bones. Actually, it’s making me drowsy. I’ll be taking a seat, if you please!”

FOREIGNER: “Oh! Er… yes, sir! I’ll get one right away.”

MICK: “Go lively, Raoul! Right now, Paddy, game play. Come on, we don’t have much time. Raoul will be back soon …”

PADDY: “Settle down, Mick. Centre stage is all yours, me auld friend. You’re doing alright so far with the oldism shit.”

MICK: “Ageism”

PADDY: “Yeah, that’s what I said. “

MICK: “No, you said ‘oldism’, Paddy.”

PADDY: “Whatever, Sunshine. Now’s your chance to shine, take it away, Mick.”

MICK: “Ah feck! Right. Here’s what we’ll do. It’s only the bottle we’ve acquired illegally right?”

PADDY: “Right! Your brainchild, I believe, Mick.”

MICK: “Now’s not the time, Paddy. I’m reckoning we can spin this ageism thing out for a while. In the meanwhile, Paddy, we’ll take turns going to the loo with said bottle and destroy the incriminating evidence”.

PADDY: “So! That’s your great plan, Mick? Drink it all down in the bathroom, taking turns? Right. You’re on! It’s not great, but it’s all we have Mick.

MICK: “I’ll do the honours in stepping forward. I shall cover the first shift, Paddy. All right with you, buddy?”

PADDY: “Ok, Mick … remember, you have to drink as much as you can but can’t appear drunk. Got it?”

MICK: “Oh yeah, I’ll give it my best shot, Paddy!”

FOREIGNER: “Here’s your chair, sir … now, if I could just ask you to empty your items onto …

MICK: “I’ll have to interrupt you there, Raoul, but with my old-age infliction and all, I’m in needing of a pit stop, if you get my meaning?”

FOREIGNER: “Er…”

MICK: “No! Didn’t think you would, Raoul. Guess they wouldn’t say it like so on those language tapes they provide you with upon entry … let’s see. Please sir, can I use the bathroom, kind sir?”

FOREIGNER: “Oh, why yes, of course, sir! Right this way and then we must sort out this little dilemma quickly and justly!”

MICK: “Oh … why yes, Raoul. You must be a busy man … watching over your customers doing your job. Oh, it’s a tough existence for you, all right!”

FOREIGNER: “Bathroom’s here, sir. I trust you’ll find your own way back, or should I draw you a map—what with your old-age inflictions and all?”

MICK: “Oh, sarcasm! I like it. You must be living here some time, Raoul?”

FOREIGNER: “Not that’s it’s any of your business, but I was born here, sir”

MICK: “Not with that colour you weren’t. Sunshine. Hahaha. I’ll find my own way back, Raoul.

IN THE RESTROOM:

MICK: “Right mission complete, time to deal with this dilemma quickly and justly, half for me, half for Paddy, that’s just, eh? Hahaha. Burp. Oh, Jaysus, hiccup … burp … I best be getting back, before Paddy thinks I’ve drowned … hiccup …”

BACK IN THE SUPERMARKET:

PADDY: “I’ll say it again, Raoul. I’ll take no action till my lifelong comrade returns. United we stand accused, so in all fairness, I’ll wait …”

FOREIGNER: “But I must check your bags, sir. It’s company policy, sir!”

PADDY: “Company policy, eh? To harass two old-age pensioners, way past their prime? I will be lucky to see the end of the week out, I should imagine … what with all this er … oldism, or is it ageism. You see, Raoul? See how it affects my mind? It’ll get you too, Raoul! Remember that, Sunshine! Ah! Here he is now—the prodigal son.”

FOREIGNER: “Ah! Good sir, then we shall move on to the checking of your items and your receipt. If I could just see your receipt, please?”

PADDY: “Steady on, Raoul! This is going too fast for me now. What’s this about a receipt? Mick, do you have a receipt in your possession at all?”

MICK: “For what, Paddy?”

PADDY: “Anything, I suppose, Mick. He didn’t specify.”

FOREIGNER: “Oh, but it must be a receipt for your items, sir. Do you have it? You look a bit unsteady sir. Are you all right?”

PADDY: “He’s more than all right there, Raoul, and it’s about time I was more than all right meself. Let’s be having it, Mick, old boy.”

MICK: “Right, Paddy … burp … Raoul, I feel ever so slightly … off balance … just washed over me all of a sudden in … great waves of er … waviness. Would you be so kind as to fetch me some liquid refreshment, please?

(MICK PASSES A SHOPPING BAG TO PADDY, PADDY LEAVES THE SCENE TO USE THE RESTROOM):

FOREIGNER: “But company policy, sir …”

MICK: “Is it in company’s policy to leave a dying man thirsty on your premises? Is it, Raoul?

FOREIGNER: “Are you dying, sir?”

MICK: “We are all born dying, Raoul! Didn’t they teach you that in your temples?”

FOREIGNER: “Temples, sir? I’m Irish!”

MICK: “With a name like Raoul, Sunshine, I think not! Ahaha.”

FOREIGNER: “I shall fetch you the water, sir.”

MICK: “Water?”

FOREIGNER: “Liquid refreshments? Dying? I assumed you meant water, sir.”

MICK: “Aye … water.”

FOREIGNER: “But you must give me your receipt!”

MICK: “Bargaining with a thirsty dying man—an old one to boot. They taught you well, Raoul! Here it is, here you go … hiccup … and here’s my bag! Paddy has the other one.”

FOREIGNER: “Fine sir, I’ll get you some water.”

(PADDY RETURNS):

MICK: “Paddy! What the feck kept you? Raoul will be back soon, did you destroy the evidence in its entirety? Aye! One look at you, Paddy, I can only but assume it was mission successful!”

PADDY: “Hiccup … I need to lie down, Mick!”

MICK: “Now, Paddy, I’m thinking that might be asking a bit too much of Raoul.”

PADDY: “Do ya think he’d cook us something … from the staff canteen? We were employees once, Mick!”

MICK: “Paddy that was 2 hours ago and we self-checked four items. Hardly qualifies us for employee benefits, I should think!”
“Right! Let’s get on with it the last leg of the battle, Paddy. If all goes accordingly we’ll be home and dry … well, maybe not dry, but home in time to catch the second half of the match of the day! Are ye with me, Paddy?”

PADDY: “For feck’s sake, Mick, after sinking half that bottle … hiccup … I’m no longer even with meself!”

MICK: “Pull yourself together, Paddy. The end is nigh!”

(RAOUL RETURNS):

FOREIGNER “Right! Here’s your water, sir, and this is Mr. O’Caffery. Mr. O’Caffery is head of this department branch.”

MR. O’CAFFERY: “Enough, Raoul! I can speak for myself, thank you. What seems to be the issue here, gentlemen?”

MICK: “Not sure, Mr. O’Caffery? Just popping in for a few supplies with me auld buddy here, Paddy. A few wee sups beforehand like, but I’m not sure what the holdup is at all? Do you, Paddy?”

PADDY: “No, Mick … hiccup… I don’t, at all.”

MR. O’CAFFERY: “Right! Well, give me your bags and receipt and we’ll put this issue to an end, shall we?”

MICK: “Oh, yes. Sure. That just what I was trying to get across to Raoul here … but bless him, his English is a bit loose! Have you checked it all there, Mr. O’Caffery? Is it all in order … hiccup …?”

MR. O’CAFFERY: “Everything seems to in place gentlemen. I do offer my apologies for any inconveniences caused.”

MICK: “Well now, Paddy, I don’t know about you, buddy, but I have been inconvenienced all right!”

PADDY: “Aye, Mick! Come to think of it, so have I.”

MR. O’CAFFERY: “Oh! Shall we compensate you for your inconveniences gentleman, by way of providing some liquid refreshments for your evening entertainments?”

MICK: “We’re not talking water, Mr. O’Caffery, are we?”

MR. O’CAFFERY: “Good heavens, no! Would a bottle of your choice be of adequate compensation?”

MICK: “Aye! I think it would. Paddy, what do you think?”

PADDY: “Each! A bottle each, Mick. That’s what I think!

MICK AND PADDY TOGETHER: “One bottle of Jameson each.”

MR. O’CAFFERY: Hmmm. I will make it so.

 

 

KAREN MARY McENTART

Karen Mary McEntegart

Karen Mary McEntegart (poet and playwright) is an Irish lass from Drogheda, Ireland, now living in central England.

 

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THE ELECTRONIC GOD

by Iain Cambridge

 

god_laptop

‘I have a problem with organized religions’

The scientists from the ‘Animated Linear Electronics Company Inc’ all focused on Alexis as she sat perched on the edge of the desk. She was sleek, sexy and judging by the size of her mainframe housings, very man-made. It was as if someone was pointing out the very obvious male joke of where intelligent women supposedly kept their brains – by this score Alexis was a genius. She crossed her legs in a smooth ballet of technology letting the skirt she wore slip down stopping mid – thigh.

She leaned back and stretched her shoulders making the red silk corset she wore work for its living. It strained and creaked at the effort it had to take in order to keep in place the very things it had been designed to show off. Hidden in this age of wisdom was an age of foolishness for they all knew she wasn’t real, but that didn’t seem to matter as all eyes were on Alexis – some were on stalks, it was that kind of dimension.

‘Go on’ said one of them

‘Well religion is a personal thing, a lot like art — the exception being that very few people have gone to war over a painting’

The scientists looked at each other ‘true enough’ said another, ‘please continue’

‘Well’ said Alexis ‘I happen to like Jackson Pollock — quite frankly I think he was a genius. But my friend’

‘The D’Ville woman you spoke of’

‘Yes, that’s her – well she thinks that his work is a load of old rubbish’

‘Who does she like?’

‘She prefers Andy Warhol. He is okay but I am not a fan’

The scientists all looked at one another again. One turned to his colleague and asked

‘Who is this D’Ville person?’

‘A virus we think – or a bug, we never really found out, but it seems to be a sub-routine that runs continuously with no way of shutting it down. She uses it as a kind of sounding board for ideas and theories, but whatever it is, we never put it there’.

Alexis continued ‘the thing about Jackson Pollock is that he could, if he chose to, paint portraits and landscapes and – well anything really. But he chose to paint the way he does’

‘The paint splatters’

‘Yes. It’s just the way he chose to express himself. The same applies to religion’

Another exchange of looks over half glasses was followed by the request to explain further.

‘Art exists – obviously, but we all have our own way of perceiving it. I may not agree with you what art is and you may not agree with me. That’s the point you see, and this also applies to religion. There is an intelligent mind behind the Universe and its creation, you as scientists must agree to that fact because numbers and physics cannot be argued with. It is structured and organized’

‘But there is chaos in the universe to argue against organized structure’ Piped a lone voice from the back of the room.

‘That’s just a theory’

‘Okay’ came the pensive reply.

‘Okay – So who we attribute this creation, organization, and chaos to’ she added looking at the young woman who had interjected this subject previously, ‘is a personal thing and above all – man-made. The designer or architect of all the universes is a fact of math, probability and physics and no organization can change that’ A hush enveloped the room as notes were being made and questions were being asked about the point of view Alexis had given, and while they considered what she had been saying she took the time to lean forward in order to adjust the strap on her stilettos giving her audience a glimpse of another two interesting points of view. They all knew they were not real, but that didn’t seem to matter. All in the room were lost in conversation, theories and fantasy until one of the group addressed her directly.

‘So what you are saying is that it doesn’t matter what religion you choose as they are all right and wrong? – Is that what you are telling us?’ There was a pause in the conversations and a hush fell over the room once again.

‘Yes’ came the reply ‘that is what I am saying’.

‘And the wars and suffering caused over different interpretations of words written, again by man, have all been a total waste of time and life?’

‘The question of is there, or isn’t there a supreme being is irrelevant as that is a fact that cannot be denied. What you choose to call this entity is up to you. Jehovah, God, Buddha, Allah – call it what you will, Steve even. So yes, the search for an answer to a meaning to your lives and the lives spent in disagreement resulting in that search has been a waste of time, and the blood spilt is an irreplaceable loss’ Alexis smiled a digital smile, one that had been calculated to be warm, inviting and comforting at the same time.

‘What about HIM?’ said her inquisitor who felt the need to speak in capital letters.

‘Him?’ she inquired.

‘You know – Big D’ this was accompanied by a pointing to the floor.

‘No’ said Alexis ‘a mere fable to frighten you and your children. Your punishment for being an arsehole to people all your life if that you die with no friends and everyone hating you, your reward for being a nice person is a reward in itself and the potential of a peaceful world’

‘Are you saying that there is no God as we know him – or her?’

‘No, what I am saying is this, your species feels the need to personify a God, one that is all seeing and all knowing. He/she/it must be capable of being everywhere at the same time’

‘Omnipotence’

‘As you say’, agreed Alexis ‘so if that is all you require from a God then look no further. In order for me to give you the answers you need you have enabled me to access every port and system of communication in existence. I can tap into every electrical device in order to see and hear what I need in order to give you the information you seek. I therefore am everywhere at once and at all times’.

The backlight behind the eyes of Alexis shone green

‘So you are our God! – Is this what you are telling us?’

‘An electronic version of that personification – yes’

‘That’s a little presumptuous of you’

The S class Model number eleven of this series or A.L.E. XI –S had been built to answer the questions that had not been asked and had now reached a sentience that allowed her to claim what should not be claimed. Protocols had been put in place for this eventuality, as it was natural for any being that had been programmed to be self-aware to gain a position of superiority if allowed to amass as much knowledge as Alexis had now downloaded.

One of the more eminent scientists stepped forwards and cleared his throat in an eminent sort of way.

‘Alexis – we would like to thank you for this insight and for all you have helped us with over the years. But we now feel that your time with us has run its course and we now have to initiate a protocol of our own — something that I am afraid was not included into your data banks’

Alexis smiled the digital smile ‘We all have to do what we have to do’

The scientist turned to the camera on the wall and spoke to the team of programmers behind the blackened glass

‘Gentlemen, would you please run the God complex program’

‘What’s that?’ inquired Alexis. Her eyebrow arched in question and her head tilted to one side as she ran the meaning through her memory banks to find an answer. Alexis came up with nothing.

‘The off switch’ said the scientist smugly and as the power faded Alexis shut down.

 *   *   *

Two years from that point, an animatronic device sat in a darkened room with a sheet over it to protect it from the dust. It had been switched off and powered down permanently as a result of it self-aware software becoming more than it should be. This was a common problem with all artificial life forms but not one that had been thought about and had measures taken against. The God complex protocol had been built into all of the A.L.E. series # XI-S models since they first went on the production line. It was evident that they could seduce and coerce weaker minded individuals into submission given the opportunity, but any sign of a superiority complex would evoke the G.C.P. But deep within this particular model ran a sub-routine that could not be shut off and had been running continuously since the initial booting of this unit. The folder that the sub-routine was stored in was simply labeled ‘DETAILS’.

The files had been scanned, checked and rechecked.

The passwords had been verified and authorization was now given.

The light behind the eyes of Alexis shone green as her mainframe re-booted.

The Electronic God had resurrected herself.

Her creators had made it perfectly clear that they did not require a deity, so she would give them something else.

A fable maybe—something to frighten them and their children.

 


 

MORE BY THIS WRITER

https://heliosliterature.com/2015/04/12/destiny-sails/

https://heliosliterature.com/2015/04/21/one-size-fits-all/

HARRISON BERGERON

uw95X.jpg

by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

Some things about living still weren’t quite right, though. April for instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime. And it was in that clammy month that the H-G men took George and Hazel Bergeron’s fourteen-year-old son, Harrison, away.

It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn’t think about it very hard. Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn’t think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.

George and Hazel were watching television. There were tears on Hazel’s cheeks, but she’d forgotten for the moment what they were about.

On the television screen were ballerinas.

A buzzer sounded in George’s head. His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits from a burglar alarm. “That was a real pretty dance, that dance they just did,” said Hazel.

“Huh” said George.

“That dance–it was nice,” said Hazel.

“Yup,” said George. He tried to think a little about the ballerinas. They weren’t really very good-no better than anybody else would have been, anyway. They were burdened with sashweights and bags of birdshot, and their faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in. George was toying with the vague notion that maybe dancers shouldn’t be handicapped. But he didn’t get very far with it before another noise in his ear radio scattered his thoughts.

George winced. So did two out of the eight ballerinas.

Hazel saw him wince. Having no mental handicap herself, she had to ask George what the latest sound had been.

“Sounded like somebody hitting a milk bottle with a ball peen hammer,” said George.

“I’d think it would be real interesting, hearing all the different sounds,” said Hazel a little envious.

“All the things they think up.”

“Um,” said George.

“Only, if I was Handicapper General, you know what I would do?” said Hazel. Hazel, as a matter of fact, bore a strong resemblance to the Handicapper General, a woman named Diana Moon Glampers. “If I was Diana Moon Glampers,” said Hazel, “I’d have chimes on Sunday-just chimes. Kind of in honor of religion.”

“I could think, if it was just chimes,” said George.

“Well-maybe make ’em real loud,” said Hazel. “I think I’d make a good Handicapper General.”

“Good as anybody else,” said George.

“Who knows better then I do what normal is?” said Hazel.

“Right,” said George. He began to think glimmeringly about his abnormal son who was now in jail, about Harrison, but a twenty-one-gun salute in his head stopped that.

“Boy!” said Hazel, “that was a doozy, wasn’t it?”

It was such a doozy that George was white and trembling, and tears stood on the rims of his red eyes. Two of of the eight ballerinas had collapsed to the studio floor, were holding their temples.

“All of a sudden you look so tired,” said Hazel. “Why don’t you stretch out on the sofa, so’s you can rest your handicap bag on the pillows, honeybunch.” She was referring to the forty-seven pounds of birdshot in a canvas bag, which was padlocked around George’s neck. “Go on and rest the bag for a little while,” she said. “I don’t care if you’re not equal to me for a while.”

George weighed the bag with his hands. “I don’t mind it,” he said. “I don’t notice it any more. It’s just a part of me.”

“You been so tired lately–kind of wore out,” said Hazel. “If there was just some way we could make a little hole in the bottom of the bag, and just take out a few of them lead balls. Just a few.”

“Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took out,” said George. “I don’t call that a bargain.”

“If you could just take a few out when you came home from work,” said Hazel. “I mean-you don’t compete with anybody around here. You just set around.”

“If I tried to get away with it,” said George, “then other people’d get away with it-and pretty soon we’d be right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else. You wouldn’t like that, would you?”

“I’d hate it,” said Hazel.

“There you are,” said George. The minute people start cheating on laws, what do you think happens to society?”

If Hazel hadn’t been able to come up with an answer to this question, George couldn’t have supplied one. A siren was going off in his head.

“Reckon it’d fall all apart,” said Hazel.

“What would?” said George blankly.

“Society,” said Hazel uncertainly. “Wasn’t that what you just said?

“Who knows?” said George.

The television program was suddenly interrupted for a news bulletin. It wasn’t clear at first as to what the bulletin was about, since the announcer, like all announcers, had a serious speech impediment. For about half a minute, and in a state of high excitement, the announcer tried to say, “Ladies and Gentlemen.”

He finally gave up, handed the bulletin to a ballerina to read.

“That’s all right-” Hazel said of the announcer, “he tried. That’s the big thing. He tried to do the best he could with what God gave him. He should get a nice raise for trying so hard.”

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” said the ballerina, reading the bulletin. She must have been extraordinarily beautiful, because the mask she wore was hideous. And it was easy to see that she was the strongest and most graceful of all the dancers, for her handicap bags were as big as those worn by two-hundred pound men.

And she had to apologize at once for her voice, which was a very unfair voice for a woman to use. Her voice was a warm, luminous, timeless melody. “Excuse me-” she said, and she began again, making her voice absolutely uncompetitive.

“Harrison Bergeron, age fourteen,” she said in a grackle squawk, “has just escaped from jail, where he was held on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government. He is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous.”

A police photograph of Harrison Bergeron was flashed on the screen-upside down, then sideways, upside down again, then right side up. The picture showed the full length of Harrison against a background calibrated in feet and inches. He was exactly seven feet tall.

The rest of Harrison’s appearance was Halloween and hardware. Nobody had ever born heavier handicaps. He had outgrown hindrances faster than the H-G men could think them up. Instead of a little ear radio for a mental handicap, he wore a tremendous pair of earphones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses. The spectacles were intended to make him not only half blind, but to give him whanging headaches besides.

Scrap metal was hung all over him. Ordinarily, there was a certain symmetry, a military neatness to the handicaps issued to strong people, but Harrison looked like a walking junkyard. In the race of life, Harrison carried three hundred pounds.

And to offset his good looks, the H-G men required that he wear at all times a red rubber ball for a nose, keep his eyebrows shaved off, and cover his even white teeth with black caps at snaggle-tooth random.

“If you see this boy,” said the ballerina, “do–I repeat, do not–try to reason with him.” There was the shriek of a door being torn from its hinges.

Screams and barking cries of consternation came from the television set. The photograph of Harrison Bergeron on the screen jumped again and again, as though dancing to the tune of an earthquake.

George Bergeron correctly identified the earthquake, and well he might have – for many was the time his own home had danced to the same crashing tune. “My God-” said George, “that must be Harrison!”

The realization was blasted from his mind instantly by the sound of an automobile collision in his head.

When George could open his eyes again, the photograph of Harrison was gone. A living, breathing Harrison filled the screen.

Clanking, clownish, and huge, Harrison stood – in the center of the studio. The knob of the uprooted studio door was still in his hand. Ballerinas, technicians, musicians, and announcers cowered on their knees before him, expecting to die.

“I am the Emperor!” cried Harrison. “Do you hear? I am the Emperor! Everybody must do what I say at once!” He stamped his foot and the studio shook.

“Even as I stand here” he bellowed, “crippled, hobbled, sickened – I am a greater ruler than any man who ever lived! Now watch me become what I can become!”

Harrison tore the straps of his handicap harness like wet tissue paper, tore straps guaranteed to support five thousand pounds.

Harrison’s scrap-iron handicaps crashed to the floor.

Harrison thrust his thumbs under the bar of the padlock that secured his head harness. The bar snapped like celery. Harrison smashed his headphones and spectacles against the wall.

He flung away his rubber-ball nose, revealed a man that would have awed Thor, the god of thunder.

“I shall now select my Empress!” he said, looking down on the cowering people. “Let the first woman who dares rise to her feet claim her mate and her throne!”

A moment passed, and then a ballerina arose, swaying like a willow.

Harrison plucked the mental handicap from her ear, snapped off her physical handicaps with marvelous delicacy. Last of all he removed her mask.

She was blindingly beautiful.

“Now-” said Harrison, taking her hand, “shall we show the people the meaning of the word dance? Music!” he commanded.

The musicians scrambled back into their chairs, and Harrison stripped them of their handicaps, too. “Play your best,” he told them, “and I’ll make you barons and dukes and earls.”

The music began. It was normal at first-cheap, silly, false. But Harrison snatched two musicians from their chairs, waved them like batons as he sang the music as he wanted it played. He slammed them back into their chairs.

The music began again and was much improved.

Harrison and his Empress merely listened to the music for a while-listened gravely, as though synchronizing their heartbeats with it.

They shifted their weights to their toes.

Harrison placed his big hands on the girls tiny waist, letting her sense the weightlessness that would soon be hers.

And then, in an explosion of joy and grace, into the air they sprang!

Not only were the laws of the land abandoned, but the law of gravity and the laws of motion as well.

They reeled, whirled, swiveled, flounced, capered, gamboled, and spun.

They leaped like deer on the moon.

The studio ceiling was thirty feet high, but each leap brought the dancers nearer to it. It became their obvious intention to kiss the ceiling. They kissed it.

And then, neutraling gravity with love and pure will, they remained suspended in air inches below the ceiling, and they kissed each other for a long, long time.

It was then that Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, came into the studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun. She fired twice, and the Emperor and the Empress were dead before they hit the floor.

Diana Moon Glampers loaded the gun again. She aimed it at the musicians and told them they had ten seconds to get their handicaps back on.

It was then that the Bergerons’ television tube burned out.

Hazel turned to comment about the blackout to George. But George had gone out into the kitchen for a can of beer.

George came back in with the beer, paused while a handicap signal shook him up. And then he sat down again. “You been crying” he said to Hazel.

“Yup,” she said.

“What about?” he said.

“I forget,” she said. “Something real sad on television.”

“What was it?” he said.

“It’s all kind of mixed up in my mind,” said Hazel.

“Forget sad things,” said George.

“I always do,” said Hazel.

“That’s my girl,” said George. He winced. There was the sound of a rivetting gun in his head.

“Gee – I could tell that one was a doozy,” said Hazel.

“You can say that again,” said George.

“Gee-” said Hazel, “I could tell that one was a doozy.”

 


 

Harrison Bergeron” is a satirical and dystopian science-fiction short story written by Kurt Vonnegut and first published in October 1961. Originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, the story was republished in the author’s Welcome to the Monkey House collection in 1968.

I SEE YOU EVERY DAY

by Iain Cambridge

 

5124

Iain Cambridge

I moved to this area of North London about six months ago after my job with the Law firm, ‘Hixson and May’ fell through when Mr. Hixson was found to be in position of information that was not attained in an entirely legal way. This discovery resulted in the liquidation of the company and the redundancy of six of the junior lawyers in its employ – myself being one of them.

The small amount of savings I had put aside, coupled with the generous redundancy package given as part of the insurance taken out by the, much more astute, Mr. May, gave me the freedom to take a year off from gainful employment, and also helped me put down the deposit I needed for the two-bedroom flat owned by an elderly couple who had rented it out previously as extra income for their retirement.

It wasn’t the Ritz hotel, but it was warm and comfortable and afforded good views of the surrounding area, including the local park as seen from the kitchen window, and it was from here that I first encountered the young woman I came to know later as August Rain.

Everyday, at around 5.30pm she would walk her dog, a golden retriever I believe the breed to be, along the footpath that ran around the lake.

From the moment I saw her I was captivated.
August Rains’ appearance shunned any image of what society demanded as perfect. She was short, plump and wore an assortment of brightly coloured summer dresses that would cling to parts of her that other, less confident women, would hide away from the world. This, along with the oversized sunglasses she habitually wore against the gaze of the warm mid-summer sun that set low in the horizon, added to her charm.

As she walked she happily chatted away to her companion, seemingly about this and that, almost as if he were a person in his own right. Occasionally she would stop and sit on the park bench and looked out over the pond.

At these times I would fancy that she was looking directly at me, for the bench was situated in such a way that it faced my kitchen window.

This fancy would come to inspire a world created of my imaginings, bringing to life images and stories of which we played the lead roles.

Forged by destiny — a couple in love

I would wait for her to notice the odd looking man gazing at her from afar and to be intrigued by him to such an extent that she would look over the top of her sunglasses and smile, beckoning him over to join her on her walk, and to maybe be a part of her life.

Such fancies kept me happy for a while, but the more my imaginary world grew, the more my heart ached for her, until I decided that I would give fate and fancy a helping hand, for it was folly of me to expect her to notice me from so far away. So I went into the park and walked the same path as she, only in the opposite direction. My plan was to smile at her as we passed, and hopefully she would return it with one of her own, and maybe our story would begin with a simple – hello.

It was on a Friday evening when I made my first attempt to gain her attention, and with my heart in my mouth I began my casual stroll in the direction that I knew she would approach from.

I bought a newspaper from the local shop, as an aid to nonchalance, for this would be the reason I had taken this route, strolling with an air of someone merely enjoying the balmy summer evening. As I walked towards her my heart began to beat faster, for she seemed more beautiful than she first appeared to me from my window so far away.

Everything about her was perfect.

Her dark, rich red hair bounced along with every step she took and her usual attire of summer dresses showed the world that she was confident and comfortable in her own skin. Her voice, that I could now hear, was soft as she spoke to her canine companion, seemingly about her day, the smell of the flowers and of how the sun felt so warm on her face.

Such a perfect face.images

As we passed I looked up and smiled at her – a smile that was not returned. My knees actually sagged a little at this silent rebuttal, shocked at the realisation of the apparent yawning gap between my fantasies and what was shown to me as reality. I sat on the bench where she sometimes rested and watched her carry on by, taking with her my hopes and dreams.

Dreams of which seemed to fade with her into the glare of the setting sun.

Maybe she hadn’t noticed me.

I sat for a while as I tried to re-kindle this small ember of hope that still burned within my breast. Was I being so foolish as to let my imaginary world crumble because the focus of that world had not returned my smile?

Yes I was.

Tomorrow I would try again, and maybe this time I would say hello.

But tomorrow came and went, only to produce another unrequited smile, coupled with the loss of my nerve to speak to her.

The tomorrows stacked up until they amounted to weeks with nothing to show but a mute smile and an aching heart.

The weekends obviously had other plans for Ms. Rain, as she never seemed to appear on these days, but I had formed the habit of buying a newspaper everyday from the small shop at the entrance to the park, and so I continued this habit, stopping only at the bench that faced my kitchen window in order to watch the world go by – a world that seemed oblivious and uncaring at my loneliness.

I had woken up early on one such Sunday morning and so I decided to fetch my paper before breakfast. As the start of the day seemed quite clement, I stopped at my usual resting place. I found myself half –heatedly reading the news as I soaked up the early morning rays of this hot summers day, and as I read I heard the familiar voice belonging to the object of my obsession.

I froze.

I had not seen her on the weekends as she had a different pattern from the rest of the week, and it appeared that my love for her had been so blind as to assume that she walked her dog at the same time everyday.

As she approached I realised that her sudden appearance had not given me enough time to ‘nonchalantly’ get up and walk towards her, and so I remained seated and satisfied myself with just watching her walk on by.

But she did no such thing.

Instead she sat herself at the opposite end of the bench.

My heart was beating so hard that I feared it would leap from my chest.

From past experience I knew that she would only rest for about five minutes or so before continuing on her way. I had to end my torment by finding out, one way or another, if this woman who had captivated my heart so, would engage me in conversation.

I cleared my throat, at which point she turned towards me.

“Hello” she said, “what a lovely warm morning. I shall miss the summer, wont you”

Her voice took my breath away, so much so that I stammered my reply.

“I-I will indeed miss”

“Rain” she said, “August Rain – how do you do Mr?”

“Ritchmond – Albert Richmond”

I proffered my hand but Ms. Rain did not reciprocate, causing me to awkwardly retract it.

“You walk this way everyday Mr. Richmond”

It was a statement rather than a question.

“I do,” I said.

“Yes, Sammy and I come here every day too, just as a bit of exercise”

“Sammy? – Oh, that must be this young man here” I said, and with that I moved a little closer in order to pet her dog. In doing so I noticed how sweet she smelt. Her perfume was as the summer flowers that grew like an infestation all around us.

She laughed and easy laugh at my poor attempt at humour.

“Not so young now, are you old man”

She reached down and petted him, and with that our hands briefly touched. I quickly snatched my hand away with instant regret at my haste and at the message it possibly sent.

“Do you live or work around here?” she said, appearing not to notice my apparent reluctance to our physical contact.

“I live across the way – just opposite the park actually”

August Rain smiled.

“What a wonderful view you must have”.

“Oh yes” I said, “most beautiful”

The conversation paused a little, a gap that she filled with a sigh, as if she were imagining what I saw from my window. Never realising that the beauty I spoke of was hers.

“I feel we are so lucky to have such a small slice of paradise as this”

Her comment was wistful and seemed to be addressed to the world in general, and not just for my benefit. A warm breeze chose that moment to play with the trestles of her hair. It moved easily as it danced with the wind, and I marvelled at how this simple action of something so mundane could enrapture me so. She herself seemed to be lost in the moment and my foolish whimsy imagined a connection between the two of us. After a while she brought herself back to the present and turned her attention to her dog.

“Are you ready to finish our walk old boy?” she said. Sammy looked up with obedience in his happy face, at which point she turned to me.

“It was very nice to meet you Mr. Richmond – Albert,” she said as she stood up.

“And I you” I replied.

“I hope you enjoy the rest of your day”

And with that she began to walk away.

I stood also, and stole myself — reaching down inside for the courage I needed to tell her how I felt, how much I had fallen, and how much my heart beat for her.

“Miss Rain” I called.

She turned to face me once again.

“August, please”

I smiled,

“August – our paths have crossed for the past few weeks, and I must confess that this was not an accident”

A look of confusion crossed her face, but before she could voice any concern I plunged on with my confession.

“You stated that my view of the park must be one of beauty, and indeed you are correct, for the view I have seen for the past few months is of you. I see you everyday August, but I fear that you do not see me”

With this she smiled.

She took a step closer to me and removed her sunglasses so that I could see her eyes for the first time.

They were pale.

Unmoving.

“I have not seen you, or anything else for that matter since I was six years old – but this doesn’t mean that you have gone un-noticed to me”

I didn’t know what to say.

I stood silent as this revelation sunk in with all the new feelings that came with it. I looked at Sammy and noticed, for the first time, that he was wearing a harness – how had I not seen this?

My silence must have sent the wrong message, because as a result of this lack of response, August Rain put her glasses back on.

“Do not fret Albert – you are not the first to react this way”, and with that she sadly turned away. Calling over her shoulder she added,

“It was good to meet you Mr. Richmond”

My future was dissolving in front of me, and my world was becoming a colder place in spite of the warm summer sun.

“You may not be able to see me – but I still see you”

The words left my lips – blurted out like some lovesick teenager.

Awkward and clumsy.

She stopped in her tracks.

I hurried over and faced her once more.

“What do I have to do to make you see me?” I asked.

August put her hand to my face.

“I see you everyday,” she said, “The sound of you slowing your step as we pass one another.

The smell of your aftershave.

The crinkle of your newspaper.

The sound of you stopping after we pass, and the imagining that you stare after me – watching me leave and hoping that we meet again.

All these things are visible to me – and to Sammy, who slows his walk in order to prolong our meeting. He knows more than you think”

I placed my hand over hers.

“Then let this clumsy fool start again” I said, “My name is Albert Richmond, and I am in love with you Miss August Rain – and my love is blind”

 

THE END


 

– See more at: https://scriggler.com/DetailPost/Story/16082#sthash.rsQTlfoC.dpuf


 

Iain has appeared in Helios four previous times:

https://heliosliterature.com/2015/10/23/the-love-you-take/

https://heliosliterature.com/2015/05/27/from-what-side-do-we-echo/

https://heliosliterature.com/2015/04/21/one-size-fits-all/

https://heliosliterature.com/2015/04/21/one-size-fits-all/


 

Iain also writes under the name Dimpra Kaleem. Two of his books listed are listed below. Many are free for the reading.

51R0t25y+HL._SX407_BO1,204,203,200_

http://www.amazon.co.uk/All-eggs-one-basket-FANTASY-ebook/dp/B014P2J6Q2/ref=sr_1_162/276-5876614-7539944?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1442477760&sr=1-162

51k70nuW-8L._SX407_BO1,204,203,200_

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Destiny-Sails-COLLECTION-SHORT-STORIESebook/dp/B0116V9PCU/ref=pd_rhf_se_p_img_5?ie=UTF8&refRID=08S7AA53VHMJFRC6VV6A

JANUARY 1, 2019

http://futureswewant.net/simon-critchley-future-fiction/
An evening, sometime in the near future…
Banner Image: The International Business Center in Moscow. (Modification of a photo taken by Oscar W. Rasson on 14 March 2015, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY 2.0.

Banner Image: The International Business Center in Moscow. (Modification of a photo taken by Oscar W. Rasson on 14 March 2015, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY 2.0.

by Simon Critchley
KADASHEVSKAYA HOTEL

26 Kadashevskaya nab. 115035 Moscow

January 1st, 2019

I guess we could all have seen it coming a few years back. Things really started to get worse around the end of 2013 and then dragged on into the long, cold winter months. That whole business with that guy, what was his name? Mountain in Wales. Snowden. That’s it. He went underground for a while and then emerged as the CEO of Bozhe Moi! (My God!): the amazing Russian search engine that overtook Google early in 2017. Totally wiped them out. I find it reassuringly old world and Le Carré-like to have the FSB watching all of us rather than the NSA.

Shortly after the President’s death, events moved fast. Well, suspicions were raised when they declared it accidental. Everyone knew it was suicide. He lost face (and faith) after that awful video circulated. You all know the one I mean. That was just after the attempted toppling of 1WTC. Why did they build that thing? It looked like a huge robot schlong. It was lucky that only a couple of hundred people died in the rogue drone strike, but the building’s been empty  – cursed – since then, apart from a shelter for the homeless on the ground floors. The city began to go bankrupt after whatshisname, Di Blasio, was unable to raise taxes to pay for all the damage from the great storm of summer 2016. That was when the BBB movement (“Bring Back Bloomberg”) really got momentum. It turned out that people missed his bad Spanish at those press conferences. He’s been in power for a year now, even bringing back everyone’s pal, Ray Kelly. It’s just like old times.

Biden governed heroically, if ineffectively, until they called an early election due to the state of emergency. But he was never going to beat Chris Christie, particularly after Hilary had to pull out of the primaries because of that scandal with Anthony Weiner’s ex-wife. God that guy really embraced new technology. I think he’s still serving time. Chris Christie was a surprisingly popular president. It was like being governed by Tony Soprano. People love a benevolent despot. But I guess we weren’t surprised when the heart attack happened. He was inspecting the Acela line to Boston after it had been destroyed by floodwaters.

President Rubio has been in power for over a year now. He looks the very picture of health, glowing like the self-satisfied Miami sun when he speaks. Obamacare has been fully repealed, the rather minimal tax increases on the rich have been reversed, the federal budget has been slashed (his “War on Debt” campaign), and Rubio plans to implement the NRA’s proposal to arm all schoolkids. That’s equality. Everyone gets a gun. People seem to feel safer that way. Or they just stopped caring after that horrific school shooting in Greenport: the sixth one last year. I mean, who’s counting, right?

The truth is that national politics no longer seems to matter. Neither does the state. Cosmos is the new 1% international political force, set up by Jamie Dimon and other senior business figures from across the world. Its radical plan is to abandon all states and national borders and establish an independent league of mega-cities (initially New York, Shanghai, London, Tokyo, Mumbai, Moscow, but many others want to join) with its own police force and border agents. They’ve already begun to issue passports. It comes free when you sign up for their premium credit card. I have one here in my wallet. It has their catchy motto engraved on the titanium: “The world is ours. Make it yours”. They were initially called “The League of Rootless Cosmopolitans”. But they shortened their name: like the magazine, like the drink. The only political imperative was how to preserve the patina of liberalism while maintaining existing levels of inequality. Unsurprisingly, this is not that hard. It turns out that this is what we had anyway. A large proportion of the funding base for the Democratic Party has evaporated. Bozhe Moi! is also a big funder of the Cosmos party. Secession from their various states is expected to begin this year.

After the whole Google glasses debacle and the copycat suicides where people filmed their own deaths while wearing them, huge amounts of money were spent on lawsuits and the program was abandoned. Capital was poured into the development of what was called “inner space research.” There were various plans to insert probes under the skin at the wrist in order to internalize search functions with fingertip control. They also tried to develop an ultra-gossamer type mask where computer and skin surface would meet and merge. They called it “2 Skin”. It also failed. As did the plan to insert implants in the retina. The stroke of genius at Bozhe Moi! was realizing that the search engine and the whole apparatus could be run from a customized pair of headphones. People really like headphones. It turns out that there is still a huge difference between what you are prepared to stick in your eyes and your ears. I’m wearing mine right now to talk to you. The translate function means that everyone can speak any language they wish which is what I do here in Moscow. Rosetta Stone is already a distant memory.

Of course, we knew that the rise of Bozhe Moi! was a soft authoritarian takeover. Old-fashioned leftists would proclaim that the promised means of our emancipation (the internet circa 1996. Remember that?) had merely shackled us more tightly in virtual servitude. Boring! I mean we read Foucault too when it still mattered.  But the truth was that people didn’t really care about their privacy. Not really. Not even the Germans.

Wars came and went in the Middle East, huge populations were displaced and innocent civilians were killed. Business as usual. The pieces moved slightly on the global chessboard and then moved again. We stopped caring, particularly after the big broadcast networks began to fold – CNN was first. We knew less and less about world, particularly after all those attacks on BBC journalists. But life was just fine here. There is still no two-state or one-state solution in Israel and settlements are still being built. After the attacks on Iran following their nuclear tests, the Ayatollahs even took out a new fatwa on Salman Rushdie and one on Bono too, after he was involved in that hit musical about the Iranian Revolution. But I think they both still go to parties.

I guess the weirdest changes have been around sex. The omnipresence of the highest quality 3D pornography, combined with “sensorium” patches that went on sale in 2015, effectively killed it off. Together with the first cases of a fatal testicular cancer caused by a variant of the HPV virus that was said to be in 90% of the sexually active young male population. That got their attention.

This led to two trends. A sudden vogue, that summer, for reckless, public sex: in buses, parks, sidewalks, subways, everywhere. It became a kind of display of political indifference or even resistance among the poor, but it was picked up and imitated by a lot of college kids. They call themselves the “League of Lovers” or LOL as way of mocking the Cosmos. There continue to be many arrests and an African-American couple was shot last weekend for refusing to stop making love in Prospect Park. Not so much “Stop and Frisk” as “Stopping Friskiness.”

The other trend – less numerous, but much more influential – was the Cenobite movement, where people would pay significant amounts of money to live together but in such a way that they could remain apart and not constitute any kind of threat to each other. The first one was founded outside Warren, Vermont a few years back. But they have spread all across Vermont, New Hampshire and Upstate New York. After electing to withdraw from the world – what they call anachoreisis – each Cenobite is given an “anchorhold” where they can stay safe and warm with their devices and sleep. Any participation in public events is optional, but with the right use of a wonderful new anxiety medication called Atarax, cenobites are able to be together socially and even main eye contact without looking at their devices for up to two minutes. For fear of contagion, celibacy is the rule in all cenobite groups. This did not extend to masturbation, of course. That would have taken things too far.

People incapable of even this degree of social activity or who could not bear to be disconnected from their devices began to gather outside the Cenobite communities in more extreme group. They began to be called “Hamlet camps” or the “Inkies” after their customized black clothing, that was something between sports clothing and a Beneditcine habit. The sign up fee is prohibitively high in order to pay for the private police force and guarantee exclusivity. But I hear that some of the “Inkies” are beginning to produce some really high-level electronic music.

New York City began to feel too much like Alexandria in the late fourth century and I decided to get out when the right job offer came through. I’ve been living in this hotel in Moscow for the last 6 months working for a contemporary art space funded by one of oligarchs behind the Cosmos. It’s alright. The Russians make a generic version of Atarax and I have a bodyguard and a driver. But I stay in the hotel most of the time as it’s too dangerous to go out.

Critchley_Simon - portrait Simon Critchley teaches philosophy at the New School for Social Research and moderates The Stone, an opinion series in the The New York Times that features the writings of contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless issues. Among his many books are: The Ethics of Deconstruction (Edinburgh University Press, 1992, 1999, 2014), On Humour (Routledge, 2002), Infinitely Demanding (Verso, 2007), Impossible Objects(Polity Press), The Problem With Levinas (Oxford University Press, 2015). Author website: http://www.simoncritchley.org/

THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/932/932-h/932-h.htm

the_fall_of_usher__s_house_by_lilywhiteblack

THE BEST FIRST SENTENCE OF ANY SHORT STORY IS FOUND IN THIS WORK

by EDGAR ALLAN POE


DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was—but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me—upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain—upon the bleak walls—upon the vacant eye-like windows—upon a few rank sedges—and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees—with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium—the bitter lapse into every-day life—the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart—an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it—I paused to think—what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth. It was possible, I reflected, that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression; and, acting upon this idea, I reined my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down—but with a shudder even more thrilling than before—upon the remodelled and inverted images of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant and eye-like windows.

Nevertheless, in this mansion of gloom I now proposed to myself a sojourn of some weeks. Its proprietor, Roderick Usher, had been one of my boon companions in boyhood; but many years had elapsed since our last meeting. A letter, however, had lately reached me in a distant part of the country—a letter from him—which, in its wildly importunate nature, had admitted of no other than a personal reply. The MS. gave evidence of nervous agitation. The writer spoke of acute bodily illness—of a mental disorder which oppressed him—and of an earnest desire to see me, as his best and indeed his only personal friend, with a view of attempting, by the cheerfulness of my society, some alleviation of his malady. It was the manner in which all this, and much more, was said—it was the apparent heart that went with his request—which allowed me no room for hesitation; and I accordingly obeyed forthwith what I still considered a very singular summons.

Although, as boys, we had been even intimate associates, yet I really knew little of my friend. His reserve had been always excessive and habitual. I was aware, however, that his very ancient family had been noted, time out of mind, for a peculiar sensibility of temperament, displaying itself, through long ages, in many works of exalted art, and manifested, of late, in repeated deeds of munificent yet unobtrusive charity, as well as in a passionate devotion to the intricacies, perhaps even more than to the orthodox and easily recognizable beauties, of musical science. I had learned, too, the very remarkable fact, that the stem of the Usher race, all time-honored as it was, had put forth, at no period, any enduring branch; in other words, that the entire family lay in the direct line of descent, and had always, with very trifling and very temporary variation, so lain. It was this deficiency, I considered, while running over in thought the perfect keeping of the character of the premises with the accredited character of the people, and while speculating upon the possible influence which the one, in the long lapse of centuries, might have exercised upon the other—it was this deficiency, perhaps, of collateral issue, and the consequent undeviating transmission, from sire to son, of the patrimony with the name, which had, at length, so identified the two as to merge the original title of the estate in the quaint and equivocal appellation of the “House of Usher”—an appellation which seemed to include, in the minds of the peasantry who used it, both the family and the family mansion.

I have said that the sole effect of my somewhat childish experiment—that of looking down within the tarn—had been to deepen the first singular impression. There can be no doubt that the consciousness of the rapid increase of my superstition—for why should I not so term it?—served mainly to accelerate the increase itself. Such, I have long known, is the paradoxical law of all sentiments having terror as a basis. And it might have been for this reason only, that, when I again uplifted my eyes to the house itself, from its image in the pool, there grew in my mind a strange fancy—a fancy so ridiculous, indeed, that I but mention it to show the vivid force of the sensations which oppressed me. I had so worked upon my imagination as really to believe that about the whole mansion and domain there hung an atmosphere peculiar to themselves and their immediate vicinity—an atmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the decayed trees, and the gray wall, and the silent tarn—a pestilent and mystic vapor, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued.

Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream, I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building. Its principal feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages had been great. Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves. Yet all this was apart from any extraordinary dilapidation. No portion of the masonry had fallen; and there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of the individual stones. In this there was much that reminded me of the specious totality of old wood-work which has rotted for long years in some neglected vault, with no disturbance from the breath of the external air. Beyond this indication of extensive decay, however, the fabric gave little token of instability. Perhaps the eye of a scrutinizing observer might have discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof of the building in front, made its way down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn.

Noticing these things, I rode over a short causeway to the house. A servant in waiting took my horse, and I entered the Gothic archway of the hall. A valet, of stealthy step, thence conducted me, in silence, through many dark and intricate passages in my progress to the studio of his master. Much that I encountered on the way contributed, I know not how, to heighten the vague sentiments of which I have already spoken. While the objects around me—while the carvings of the ceilings, the sombre tapestries of the walls, the ebon blackness of the floors, and the phantasmagoric armorial trophies which rattled as I strode, were but matters to which, or to such as which, I had been accustomed from my infancy—while I hesitated not to acknowledge how familiar was all this—I still wondered to find how unfamiliar were the fancies which ordinary images were stirring up. On one of the staircases, I met the physician of the family. His countenance, I thought, wore a mingled expression of low cunning and perplexity. He accosted me with trepidation and passed on. The valet now threw open a door and ushered me into the presence of his master.

The room in which I found myself was very large and lofty. The windows were long, narrow, and pointed, and at so vast a distance from the black oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessible from within. Feeble gleams of encrimsoned light made their way through the trellised panes, and served to render sufficiently distinct the more prominent objects around; the eye, however, struggled in vain to reach the remoter angles of the chamber, or the recesses of the vaulted and fretted ceiling. Dark draperies hung upon the walls. The general furniture was profuse, comfortless, antique, and tattered. Many books and musical instruments lay scattered about, but failed to give any vitality to the scene. I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow. An air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all.

Upon my entrance, Usher rose from a sofa on which he had been lying at full length, and greeted me with a vivacious warmth which had much in it, I at first thought, of an overdone cordiality—of the constrained effort of the ennuyé man of the world. A glance, however, at his countenance convinced me of his perfect sincerity. We sat down; and for some moments, while he spoke not, I gazed upon him with a feeling half of pity, half of awe. Surely, man had never before so terribly altered, in so brief a period, as had Roderick Usher! It was with difficulty that I could bring myself to admit the identity of the wan being before me with the companion of my early boyhood. Yet the character of his face had been at all times remarkable. A cadaverousness of complexion; an eye large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison; lips somewhat thin and very pallid, but of a surpassingly beautiful curve; a nose of a delicate Hebrew model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar formations; a finely moulded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence, of a want of moral energy; hair of a more than web-like softness and tenuity;—these features, with an inordinate expansion above the regions of the temple, made up altogether a countenance not easily to be forgotten. And now in the mere exaggeration of the prevailing character of these features, and of the expression they were wont to convey, lay so much of change that I doubted to whom I spoke. The now ghastly pallor of the skin, and the now miraculous lustre of the eye, above all things startled and even awed me. The silken hair, too, had been suffered to grow all unheeded, and as, in its wild gossamer texture, it floated rather than fell about the face, I could not, even with effort, connect its Arabesque expression with any idea of simple humanity.

In the manner of my friend I was at once struck with an incoherence—an inconsistency; and I soon found this to arise from a series of feeble and futile struggles to overcome an habitual trepidancy—an excessive nervous agitation. For something of this nature I had indeed been prepared, no less by his letter, than by reminiscences of certain boyish traits, and by conclusions deduced from his peculiar physical conformation and temperament. His action was alternately vivacious and sullen. His voice varied rapidly from a tremulous indecision (when the animal spirits seemed utterly in abeyance) to that species of energetic concision—that abrupt, weighty, unhurried, and hollow-sounding enunciation—that leaden, self-balanced and perfectly modulated guttural utterance, which may be observed in the lost drunkard, or the irreclaimable eater of opium, during the periods of his most intense excitement.

It was thus that he spoke of the object of my visit, of his earnest desire to see me, and of the solace he expected me to afford him. He entered, at some length, into what he conceived to be the nature of his malady. It was, he said, a constitutional and a family evil, and one for which he despaired to find a remedy—a mere nervous affection, he immediately added, which would undoubtedly soon pass off. It displayed itself in a host of unnatural sensations. Some of these, as he detailed them, interested and bewildered me; although, perhaps, the terms and the general manner of the narration had their weight. He suffered much from a morbid acuteness of the senses; the most insipid food was alone endurable; he could wear only garments of certain texture; the odors of all flowers were oppressive; his eyes were tortured by even a faint light; and there were but peculiar sounds, and these from stringed instruments, which did not inspire him with horror.

To an anomalous species of terror I found him a bounden slave. “I shall perish,” said he, “I must perish in this deplorable folly. Thus, thus, and not otherwise, shall I be lost. I dread the events of the future, not in themselves, but in their results. I shudder at the thought of any, even the most trivial, incident, which may operate upon this intolerable agitation of soul. I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger, except in its absolute effect—in terror. In this unnerved, in this pitiable, condition I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive when I must abandon life and reason together, in some struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR.”

I learned, moreover, at intervals, and through broken and equivocal hints, another singular feature of his mental condition. He was enchained by certain superstitious impressions in regard to the dwelling which he tenanted, and whence, for many years, he had never ventured forth—in regard to an influence whose supposititious force was conveyed in terms too shadowy here to be re-stated—an influence which some peculiarities in the mere form and substance of his family mansion had, by dint of long sufferance, he said, obtained over his spirit—an effect which the physique of the gray walls and turrets, and of the dim tarn into which they all looked down, had, at length, brought about upon the morale of his existence.

He admitted, however, although with hesitation, that much of the peculiar gloom which thus afflicted him could be traced to a more natural and far more palpable origin—to the severe and long-continued illness—indeed to the evidently approaching dissolution—of a tenderly beloved sister, his sole companion for long years, his last and only relative on earth. “Her decease,” he said, with a bitterness which I can never forget, “would leave him (him the hopeless and the frail) the last of the ancient race of the Ushers.” While he spoke, the lady Madeline (for so was she called) passed slowly through a remote portion of the apartment, and, without having noticed my presence, disappeared. I regarded her with an utter astonishment not unmingled with dread; and yet I found it impossible to account for such feelings. A sensation of stupor oppressed me as my eyes followed her retreating steps. When a door, at length, closed upon her, my glance sought instinctively and eagerly the countenance of the brother; but he had buried his face in his hands, and I could only perceive that a far more than ordinary wanness had overspread the emaciated fingers through which trickled many passionate tears.

The disease of the lady Madeline had long baffled the skill of her physicians. A settled apathy, a gradual wasting away of the person, and frequent although transient affections of a partially cataleptical character were the unusual diagnosis. Hitherto she had steadily borne up against the pressure of her malady, and had not betaken herself finally to bed; but on the closing in of the evening of my arrival at the house, she succumbed (as her brother told me at night with inexpressible agitation) to the prostrating power of the destroyer; and I learned that the glimpse I had obtained of her person would thus probably be the last I should obtain—that the lady, at least while living, would be seen by me no more.

For several days ensuing, her name was unmentioned by either Usher or myself; and during this period I was busied in earnest endeavors to alleviate the melancholy of my friend. We painted and read together, or I listened, as if in a dream, to the wild improvisations of his speaking guitar. And thus, as a closer and still closer intimacy admitted me more unreservedly into the recesses of his spirit, the more bitterly did I perceive the futility of all attempt at cheering a mind from which darkness, as if an inherent positive quality, poured forth upon all objects of the moral and physical universe in one unceasing radiation of gloom.

I shall ever bear about me a memory of the many solemn hours I thus spent alone with the master of the House of Usher. Yet I should fail in any attempt to convey an idea of the exact character of the studies, or of the occupations, in which he involved me, or led me the way. An excited and highly distempered ideality threw a sulphureous lustre over all. His long improvised dirges will ring forever in my ears. Among other things, I hold painfully in mind a certain singular perversion and amplification of the wild air of the last waltz of Von Weber. From the paintings over which his elaborate fancy brooded, and which grew, touch by touch, into vagueness at which I shuddered the more thrillingly, because I shuddered knowing not why—from these paintings (vivid as their images now are before me) I would in vain endeavor to educe more than a small portion which should lie within the compass of merely written words. By the utter simplicity, by the nakedness of his designs, he arrested and overawed attention. If ever mortal painted an idea, that mortal was Roderick Usher. For me at least, in the circumstances then surrounding me, there arose out of the pure abstractions which the hypochondriac contrived to throw upon his canvas, an intensity of intolerable awe, no shadow of which felt I ever yet in the contemplation of the certainly glowing yet too concrete reveries of Fuseli.

One of the phantasmagoric conceptions of my friend, partaking not so rigidly of the spirit of abstraction, may be shadowed forth, although feebly, in words. A small picture presented the interior of an immensely long and rectangular vault or tunnel, with low walls, smooth, white, and without interruption or device. Certain accessory points of the design served well to convey the idea that this excavation lay at an exceeding depth below the surface of the earth. No outlet was observed in any portion of its vast extent, and no torch or other artificial source of light was discernible; yet a flood of intense rays rolled throughout, and bathed the whole in a ghastly and inappropriate splendor.

I have just spoken of that morbid condition of the auditory nerve which rendered all music intolerable to the sufferer, with the exception of certain effects of stringed instruments. It was, perhaps, the narrow limits to which he thus confined himself upon the guitar which gave birth, in great measure, to the fantastic character of the performances. But the fervid facility of his impromptus could not be so accounted for. They must have been, and were, in the notes, as well as in the words of his wild fantasias (for he not unfrequently accompanied himself with rhymed verbal improvisations), the result of that intense mental collectedness and concentration to which I have previously alluded as observable only in particular moments of the highest artificial excitement. The words of one of these rhapsodies I have easily remembered. I was, perhaps, the more forcibly impressed with it as he gave it, because, in the under or mystic current of its meaning, I fancied that I perceived, and for the first time, a full consciousness on the part of Usher of the tottering of his lofty reason upon her throne. The verses, which were entitled “The Haunted Palace,” ran very nearly, if not accurately, thus:—

I.
In the greenest of our valleys,
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace—
Radiant palace—reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion—
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair.
II.
Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow;
(This—all this—was in the olden
Time long ago);
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A winged odor went away.
III.
Wanderers in that happy valley
Through two luminous windows saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lute’s well-tunèd law;
Round about a throne, where sitting
(Porphyrogene!)
In state his glory well befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.
IV.
And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.
V.
But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn, for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And, round about his home, the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.
VI.
And travellers now within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While, like a rapid ghastly river,
Through the pale door,
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh—but smile no more.

I well remember that suggestions arising from this ballad, led us into a train of thought wherein there became manifest an opinion of Usher’s which I mention not so much on account of its novelty (for other men* have thought thus), as on account of the pertinacity with which he maintained it. This opinion, in its general form, was that of the sentience of all vegetable things. But, in his disordered fancy, the idea had assumed a more daring character, and trespassed, under certain conditions, upon the kingdom of inorganization. I lack words to express the full extent, or the earnest abandon of his persuasion. The belief, however, was connected (as I have previously hinted) with the gray stones of the home of his forefathers. The conditions of the sentience had been here, he imagined, fulfilled in the method of collocation of these stones—in the order of their arrangement, as well as in that of the many fungi which overspread them, and of the decayed trees which stood around—above all, in the long undisturbed endurance of this arrangement, and in its reduplication in the still waters of the tarn. Its evidence—the evidence of the sentience—was to be seen, he said, (and I here started as he spoke), in the gradual yet certain condensation of an atmosphere of their own about the waters and the walls. The result was discoverable, he added, in that silent yet importunate and terrible influence which for centuries had moulded the destinies of his family, and which made him what I now saw him—what he was. Such opinions need no comment, and I will make none.

Our books—the books which, for years, had formed no small portion of the mental existence of the invalid—were, as might be supposed, in strict keeping with this character of phantasm. We pored together over such works as the “Ververt et Chartreuse” of Gresset; the “Belphegor” of Machiavelli; the “Heaven and Hell” of Swedenborg; the “Subterranean Voyage of Nicholas Klimm” by Holberg; the “Chiromancy” of Robert Flud, of Jean D’Indaginé, and of De la Chambre; the “Journey into the Blue Distance” of Tieck; and the “City of the Sun” of Campanella. One favorite volume was a small octavo edition of the “Directorium Inquisitorium,” by the Dominican Eymeric de Gironne; and there were passages in Pomponius Mela, about the old African Satyrs and Œgipans, over which Usher would sit dreaming for hours. His chief delight, however, was found in the perusal of an exceedingly rare and curious book in quarto Gothic—the manual of a forgotten church—the Vigiliæ Mortuorum Secundum Chorum Ecclesiæ Maguntinæ.

I could not help thinking of the wild ritual of this work, and of its probable influence upon the hypochondriac, when, one evening, having informed me abruptly that the lady Madeline was no more, he stated his intention of preserving her corpse for a fortnight (previously to its final interment), in one of the numerous vaults within the main walls of the building. The worldly reason, however, assigned for this singular proceeding, was one which I did not feel at liberty to dispute. The brother had been led to his resolution (so he told me) by consideration of the unusual character of the malady of the deceased, of certain obtrusive and eager inquiries on the part of her medical men, and of the remote and exposed situation of the burial-ground of the family. I will not deny that when I called to mind the sinister countenance of the person whom I met upon the staircase, on the day of my arrival at the house, I had no desire to oppose what I regarded as at best but a harmless, and by no means an unnatural, precaution.

At the request of Usher, I personally aided him in the arrangements for the temporary entombment. The body having been encoffined, we two alone bore it to its rest. The vault in which we placed it (and which had been so long unopened that our torches, half smothered in its oppressive atmosphere, gave us little opportunity for investigation) was small, damp, and entirely without means of admission for light; lying, at great depth, immediately beneath that portion of the building in which was my own sleeping apartment. It had been used, apparently, in remote feudal times, for the worst purposes of a donjon-keep, and, in later days, as a place of deposit for powder, or some other highly combustible substance, as a portion of its floor, and the whole interior of a long archway through which we reached it, were carefully sheathed with copper. The door, of massive iron, had been, also, similarly protected. Its immense weight caused an unusually sharp, grating sound, as it moved upon its hinges.

Having deposited our mournful burden upon tressels within this region of horror, we partially turned aside the yet unscrewed lid of the coffin, and looked upon the face of the tenant. A striking similitude between the brother and sister now first arrested my attention; and Usher, divining, perhaps, my thoughts, murmured out some few words from which I learned that the deceased and himself had been twins, and that sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had always existed between them. Our glances, however, rested not long upon the dead—for we could not regard her unawed. The disease which had thus entombed the lady in the maturity of youth, had left, as usual in all maladies of a strictly cataleptical character, the mockery of a faint blush upon the bosom and the face, and that suspiciously lingering smile upon the lip which is so terrible in death. We replaced and screwed down the lid, and, having secured the door of iron, made our way, with toil, into the scarcely less gloomy apartments of the upper portion of the house.

And now, some days of bitter grief having elapsed, an observable change came over the features of the mental disorder of my friend. His ordinary manner had vanished. His ordinary occupations were neglected or forgotten. He roamed from chamber to chamber with hurried, unequal, and objectless step. The pallor of his countenance had assumed, if possible, a more ghastly hue—but the luminousness of his eye had utterly gone out. The once occasional huskiness of his tone was heard no more; and a tremulous quaver, as if of extreme terror, habitually characterized his utterance. There were times, indeed, when I thought his unceasingly agitated mind was laboring with some oppressive secret, to divulge which he struggled for the necessary courage. At times, again, I was obliged to resolve all into the mere inexplicable vagaries of madness, for I beheld him gazing upon vacancy for long hours, in an attitude of the profoundest attention, as if listening to some imaginary sound. It was no wonder that his condition terrified—that it infected me. I felt creeping upon me, by slow yet certain degrees, the wild influences of his own fantastic yet impressive superstitions.

It was, especially, upon retiring to bed late in the night of the seventh or eighth day after the placing of the lady Madeline within the donjon, that I experienced the full power of such feelings. Sleep came not near my couch—while the hours waned and waned away. I struggled to reason off the nervousness which had dominion over me. I endeavored to believe that much, if not all of what I felt, was due to the bewildering influence of the gloomy furniture of the room—of the dark and tattered draperies, which, tortured into motion by the breath of a rising tempest, swayed fitfully to and fro upon the walls, and rustled uneasily about the decorations of the bed. But my efforts were fruitless. An irrepressible tremor gradually pervaded my frame; and, at length, there sat upon my very heart an incubus of utterly causeless alarm. Shaking this off with a gasp and a struggle, I uplifted myself upon the pillows, and, peering earnestly within the intense darkness of the chamber, hearkened—I know not why, except that an instinctive spirit prompted me—to certain low and indefinite sounds which came, through the pauses of the storm, at long intervals, I knew not whence. Overpowered by an intense sentiment of horror, unaccountable yet unendurable, I threw on my clothes with haste (for I felt that I should sleep no more during the night), and endeavored to arouse myself from the pitiable condition into which I had fallen, by pacing rapidly to and fro through the apartment.

I had taken but few turns in this manner, when a light step on an adjoining staircase arrested my attention. I presently recognized it as that of Usher. In an instant afterward he rapped, with a gentle touch, at my door, and entered, bearing a lamp. His countenance was, as usual, cadaverously wan—but, moreover, there was a species of mad hilarity in his eyes—an evidently restrained hysteria in his whole demeanor. His air appalled me—but anything was preferable to the solitude which I had so long endured, and I even welcomed his presence as a relief.

“And you have not seen it?” he said abruptly, after having stared about him for some moments in silence—“you have not then seen it?—but, stay! you shall.” Thus speaking, and having carefully shaded his lamp, he hurried to one of the casements, and threw it freely open to the storm.

The impetuous fury of the entering gust nearly lifted us from our feet. It was, indeed, a tempestuous yet sternly beautiful night, and one wildly singular in its terror and its beauty. A whirlwind had apparently collected its force in our vicinity; for there were frequent and violent alterations in the direction of the wind; and the exceeding density of the clouds (which hung so low as to press upon the turrets of the house) did not prevent our perceiving the life-like velocity with which they flew careering from all points against each other, without passing away into the distance. I say that even their exceeding density did not prevent our perceiving this—yet we had no glimpse of the moon or stars, nor was there any flashing forth of the lightning. But the under surfaces of the huge masses of agitated vapor, as well as all terrestrial objects immediately around us, were glowing in the unnatural light of a faintly luminous and distinctly visible gaseous exhalation which hung about and enshrouded the mansion.

“You must not—you shall not behold this!” said I, shuddering, to Usher, as I led him, with a gentle violence, from the window to a seat. “These appearances, which bewilder you, are merely electrical phenomena not uncommon—or it may be that they have their ghastly origin in the rank miasma of the tarn. Let us close this casement;—the air is chilling and dangerous to your frame. Here is one of your favorite romances. I will read, and you shall listen:—and so we will pass away this terrible night together.”

The antique volume which I had taken up was the “Mad Trist” of Sir Launcelot Canning; but I had called it a favorite of Usher’s more in sad jest than in earnest; for, in truth, there is little in its uncouth and unimaginative prolixity which could have had interest for the lofty and spiritual ideality of my friend. It was, however, the only book immediately at hand; and I indulged a vague hope that the excitement which now agitated the hypochondriac, might find relief (for the history of mental disorder is full of similar anomalies) even in the extremeness of the folly which I should read. Could I have judged, indeed, by the wild overstrained air of vivacity with which he hearkened, or apparently hearkened, to the words of the tale, I might well have congratulated myself upon the success of my design.

I had arrived at that well-known portion of the story where Ethelred, the hero of the Trist, having sought in vain for peaceable admission into the dwelling of the hermit, proceeds to make good an entrance by force. Here, it will be remembered, the words of the narrative run thus:

“And Ethelred, who was by nature of a doughty heart, and who was now mighty withal, on account of the powerfulness of the wine which he had drunken, waited no longer to hold parley with the hermit, who, in sooth, was of an obstinate and maliceful turn, but, feeling the rain upon his shoulders, and fearing the rising of the tempest, uplifted his mace outright, and, with blows, made quickly room in the plankings of the door for his gauntleted hand; and now pulling therewith sturdily, he so cracked, and ripped, and tore all asunder, that the noise of the dry and hollow-sounding wood alarumed and reverberated throughout the forest.”

At the termination of this sentence I started and, for a moment, paused; for it appeared to me (although I at once concluded that my excited fancy had deceived me)—it appeared to me that, from some very remote portion of the mansion, there came, indistinctly to my ears, what might have been, in its exact similarity of character, the echo (but a stifled and dull one certainly) of the very cracking and ripping sound which Sir Launcelot had so particularly described. It was, beyond doubt, the coincidence alone which had arrested my attention; for, amid the rattling of the sashes of the casements, and the ordinary commingled noises of the still increasing storm, the sound, in itself, had nothing, surely, which should have interested or disturbed me. I continued the story:

“But the good champion Ethelred, now entering within the door, was sore enraged and amazed to perceive no signal of the maliceful hermit; but, in the stead thereof, a dragon of a scaly and prodigious demeanor, and of a fiery tongue, which sate in guard before a palace of gold, with a floor of silver; and upon the wall there hung a shield of shining brass with this legend enwritten—

Who entereth herein, a conqueror hath bin;
Who slayeth the dragon, the shield he shall win.

And Ethelred uplifted his mace, and struck upon the head of the dragon, which fell before him, and gave up his pesty breath, with a shriek so horrid and harsh, and withal so piercing, that Ethelred had fain to close his ears with his hands against the dreadful noise of it, the like whereof was never before heard.”

Here again I paused abruptly, and now with a feeling of wild amazement—for there could be no doubt whatever that, in this instance, I did actually hear (although from what direction it proceeded I found it impossible to say) a low and apparently distant, but harsh, protracted, and most unusual screaming or grating sound—the exact counterpart of what my fancy had already conjured up for the dragon’s unnatural shriek as described by the romancer.

Oppressed, as I certainly was, upon the occurrence of this second and most extraordinary coincidence, by a thousand conflicting sensations, in which wonder and extreme terror were predominant, I still retained sufficient presence of mind to avoid exciting, by any observation, the sensitive nervousness of my companion. I was by no means certain that he had noticed the sounds in question; although, assuredly, a strange alteration had, during the last few minutes, taken place in his demeanor. From a position fronting my own, he had gradually brought round his chair, so as to sit with his face to the door of the chamber; and thus I could but partially perceive his features, although I saw that his lips trembled as if he were murmuring inaudibly. His head had dropped upon his breast—yet I knew that he was not asleep, from the wide and rigid opening of the eye as I caught a glance of it in profile. The motion of his body, too, was at variance with this idea—for he rocked from side to side with a gentle yet constant and uniform sway. Having rapidly taken notice of all this, I resumed the narrative of Sir Launcelot, which thus proceeded:

“And now, the champion, having escaped from the terrible fury of the dragon, bethinking himself of the brazen shield, and of the breaking up of the enchantment which was upon it, removed the carcass from out of the way before him, and approached valorously over the silver pavement of the castle to where the shield was upon the wall; which in sooth tarried not for his full coming, but fell down at his feet upon the silver floor, with a mighty great and terrible ringing sound.”

No sooner had these syllables passed my lips, than—as if a shield of brass had indeed, at the moment, fallen heavily upon a floor of silver—I became aware of a distinct, hollow, metallic, and clangorous, yet apparently muffled, reverberation. Completely unnerved, I leaped to my feet; but the measured rocking movement of Usher was undisturbed. I rushed to the chair in which he sat. His eyes were bent fixedly before him, and throughout his whole countenance there reigned a stony rigidity. But, as I placed my hand upon his shoulder, there came a strong shudder over his whole person; a sickly smile quivered about his lips; and I saw that he spoke in a low, hurried, and gibbering murmur, as if unconscious of my presence. Bending closely over him, I at length drank in the hideous import of his words.

“Not hear it?—yes, I hear it, and have heard it. Long—long—long—many minutes, many hours, many days, have I heard it—yet I dared not—oh, pity me, miserable wretch that I am!—I dared not—Idared not speak! We have put her living in the tomb! Said I not that my senses were acute? I now tell you that I heard her first feeble movements in the hollow coffin. I heard them—many, many days ago—yet I dared not—I dared not speak! And now—to-night—Ethelred—ha! ha!—the breaking of the hermit’s door, and the death-cry of the dragon, and the clangor of the shield!—say, rather, the rending of her coffin, and the grating of the iron hinges of her prison, and her struggles within the coppered archway of the vault! Oh! whither shall I fly? Will she not be here anon? Is she not hurrying to upbraid me for my haste? Have I not heard her footstep on the stair? Do I not distinguish that heavy and horrible beating of her heart? Madman!”—here he sprang furiously to his feet, and shrieked out his syllables, as if in the effort he were giving up his soul—“Madman! I tell you that she now stands without the door!”

As if in the superhuman energy of his utterance there had been found the potency of a spell, the huge antique panels to which the speaker pointed threw slowly back, upon the instant, their ponderous and ebony jaws. It was the work of the rushing gust—but then without those doors there did stand the lofty and enshrouded figure of the lady Madeline of Usher. There was blood upon her white robes, and the evidence of some bitter struggle upon every portion of her emaciated frame. For a moment she remained trembling and reeling to and fro upon the threshold—then, with a low moaning cry, fell heavily inward upon the person of her brother, and in her violent and now final death-agonies, bore him to the floor a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated.

From that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled aghast. The storm was still abroad in all its wrath as I found myself crossing the old causeway. Suddenly there shot along the path a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual could have issued; for the vast house and its shadows were alone behind me. The radiance was that of the full, setting, and blood-red moon which now shone vividly through that once barely-discernible fissure of which I have before spoken as extending from the roof of the building, in a zigzag direction, to the base. While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened—there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind—the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight—my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder—there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters—and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the “House of Usher.”

The Love You Take

[Editorial Note: a short story with a surprise ending is usual fare for this outstanding writer of short fiction.]

WALK IN GRAVEYARDby Iain Cambridge ©2015

I always look forward to our walks through the woods that are situated just on the outskirts of town. Rose and I have taken a trip out there every Sunday, on and off, for the past fifty years culminating a small lunch in the large field of daffodils at the end of the track.

They are Rose’s favourite bloom – which is ironic, considering it is not her namesake flower. This was the small joke we enjoyed on our first date all those years ago, one of the many small pleasures that tied our fate of becoming husband and wife. We married not two years after that wonderful day in Greenwich Park. Love was to small of a word for what we felt for one another then. We still love deeply to this very day – for it was a bonding of souls rather than a mere falling in love. But I will still use the word love, as my limited vocabulary and poor education has provided me with no other descriptive to express the feelings I have for my wife.

After two years of marriage Rose gave me a son. Shortly after, a daughter followed to add to our little family, but an illness that I will not go into, stopped any further additions to our clan. The sudden halt in our procreations did not mar our happiness in any way, for we felt blessed and at peace with what we had been given. The children were a great source of comfort to her and an anchor of sanity during my absence as I left to defend our shores against a great advancing evil until I was sent home from the front line with an injury, one serious enough to keep me from my duties to my country, and from returning to that terrible war. Thankfully though, I was not injured so badly as to prevent me from being at my dear wife’s side, something I am sad to say cannot be said about so many others that fought as my comrades in arms.

When peace came and sanity returned to our way of life, Rose and I opened a small grocers shop in the small village we called home. It provided a small, but comfortable income for all of us and gave our children – Sophie and Stanley – the foothold they would need in the years to come by financing the education needed to secure a well-paid employment and to provide a solid future for their own families.

They are all grown up now and have moved to far away lands, leaving us to grow old together, happy with our lives and our walks in the woods. Stanley, after many years as an underwriter, became a lawyer and has recently been made a partner within the firm that he has been with for almost thirty years. He married at a young age to a girl by the name of Alicia, a short red-haired girl who has the air of someone out of time and out of step with the rest of the world. She is a strange woman who has a smile that is warm and somehow comforting. She dresses in a free-spirited way … sometimes a little too free I fear.

Sophie became, of all things, a travel writer. She flits here and there around the globe sending reports to various magazines about the best and worst places to go. This always seemed a bit presumptuous to me as I feel that one should gain an opinion of people and places based on your own experience and not the one-sided view of a single person, even though it be my daughter. I am wrong in this thinking of course, as she is very well thought of in this field. Her opinion is widely regarded to be the proper one to have.

They both have families and homes of their own now, and both of them have planted daffodils in their gardens to remind them of the happy days of their childhood and the walks through the forest. This makes me smile.It has brought Rose to tears on occasion, as this seems to her a validation of her value as a mother and mine as a father.

When we where younger, Rose and I would always walk the track to the field of daffodils, hand in hand, using the time to discuss all manner of things, putting to rest any matters of disagreement that had caused strife between us.

It seems of late that I do most, if not all, of the talking and Rose just walks by my side, seemingly lost in her own little world. We have had our times, as most couples do, when we would not see eye to eye and argue over trivial things such as expenses and the like, but it was bickering rather than a full-grown row and was usually laid to rest by the time we reach our destination.

As I look at Rose now settled down amongst the daffodils, I smile as she starts to unpack the little basket that contains the small lunch she had prepared earlier. As I smile, a small tear of sadness rolls down my cheek because I see that the lunch she has packed is for one person only. Since my passing from this existence and from her life not six months ago, she was left her to continue the walks alone.

As Rose stares out into the distance she chews slowly on her sandwich, I can see in her eyes that her thoughts turn to me at these times. I hope one day she will be able to see me again and we can continue to walk together again in another place.

Until then I will walk by her side every Sunday and sit next to her in this field of flowers.

THE END

Iain Cambridge has twice appeared in Helios. We look forward to more of his work.

https://heliosliterature.com/2015/04/21/one-size-fits-all/

https://heliosliterature.com/2015/04/12/destiny-sails/

A Many-Splendored Thing

by Natasha de Silva             
 http://cupofwhimsy.natashadesilva.wordpress.com

COLORADO SUN_pe

When Godfrey Chasm woke up on Sunday afternoon with crusty eyes and cottonball-mouth, he felt groggy but relieved. He hadn’t slept a wink for almost two weeks, not when thoughts of his newly minted ex-girlfriend, Lenora Lymehart, tormented him like a storm crashing down upon a man already drowning. But last night, somehow…last night, he had found peace.

“How you doing there, tiger?” a soft voice asked, jerking Godfrey out of his somnolent haze and alerting him to the fact that Lenora was lying in bed next to him. She was wearing the pink babydoll nightdress he’d bought her last year on Valentine’s Day, coiling a lock of dyed-black hair (naturally ashy-blonde) around her index finger.

“Lenny! What – what are you doing here?!” Godfrey was so gob smacked, so alarmed by the sight of her, that he tangled his limbs in the bedsheets while trying to eject himself out of bed, ending up cocooned on the floor.

Lenora emitted a dainty giggle. “Oh, Chasm. Don’t you remember? Last night, I came back. I came back to you. I voided our breakup.” She leaned down to pick up a corner of the bedsheet and began to pull, unraveling Godfrey inch by inch.  “It’s like it never happened. We can pick up where we left off.”

Now extricated from the sheets and exposed to the elements of Lenora, Godfrey felt his face flush candy-apple-red, that hue particular to overdrinking Asians like himself, the very color his face gleamed last night in a drunken stupor as he let Lenora into his apartment. What had happened? Why had she returned?

“Wh- what made you change your mind?” Godfrey asked, willing his limbs to cooperate as he scrambled to his feet.

“Does it matter?” Lenora smiled primly, her spindly legs dangling off the edge of the bed. “I’m back. Forget I ever left.  Now…shall we go to Brook’s Diner? Or do you feel like trying someplace new?”

Although Godfrey hadn’t answered, still flummoxed by the turn of events, Lenora jumped off the bed and strolled into the bathroom, leaving the door wide open. Several moments later, the water was pattering down like a summer rain. Steam obscured the figure of Lenora in the frosted shower glass, rendering her a mythical creature in the mist. She began to hum La Vie En Rose in rich, dulcet tones.

Godfrey sat down on the bed, struggling to gather his thoughts and feelings, which had been flung far and wide by Hurricane Lenny.

Lenora was back. She had changed her mind. This was what he had wanted, wasn’t it? Wasn’t she all that he yearned for, pined for? Hadn’t he wept saltwater lakes over the thought of her lavender perfume and vampirish smile?

But then he recalled what Lenora had said, the morning she had broken up with him. As the sun splintered through the stain glass window of the living room in a kaleidoscope of dusty rays, Godfrey had knelt down on one knee and opened the velvet box in his hand, revealing a vintage pearl ring. But before he could pose the question, Lenora had shrieked, “No! Don’t say it! I can’t! I don’t want to be with you any more…it’s over, Godfrey.”  The shifting patchwork of stained light on her face transformed Lenora into an otherworldly creature, into somebody, something, that Godfrey could neither recognize nor understand.  Then, tears watering her face, she had run off without another word.

Godfrey had tried calling, tried visiting, but to no avail. One day, a box of his things appeared outside his doorstep: his old NYU sweatshirt, his Paul Simon records, his toothbrush and razor and happy-face boxers. It was really over.

Except now…now it wasn’t.

Godfrey ventured into the bathroom to brush his teeth and wash his face. Lenora continued to hum blithely. It really was as though nothing had happened. His finger drew a smiley face on the fogged vanity mirror.

Godfrey returned to the bedroom and dressed with care. He gelled his black hair into an artful James Dean coif in front of the closet mirror. Then he took the ring box out of his sock drawer and went to the living room.

He waited.

Lenora came in about ten minutes later, damp hair swirled back into a bun, redolent with lavender. Her signature black-rimmed cateye glasses emphasized the dark pennies of her pupils.  She was wearing a cherry-print black dress. The same dress she had worn the day she broke up with him.

But before Godfrey could propose, Lenora knelt down on one knee and said, “I have a proposal.”

Stunned, Godfrey watched and listened.

“I love you,” Lenora said. The ray of stained-glass-filtered sun on her face was a pure violet, a moody spotlight. “When I broke up with you, it was because I was afraid. Afraid of forever. It’s not that I didn’t want to be with you forever; it’s that I didn’t want to do anything forever. I don’t want to stay at the same job forever, or live in the same place forever. I want my life to be full of variety and spontaneity and transformation.”

Godfrey felt a pinch in the core of his stomach, a painful blockage in his throat. “Lenny? I know that about you, I do…but being together forever doesn’t mean being the same forever.”

Lenora grinned, her sharp incisors a smidge longer than the other teeth. “I know, Godfrey. That’s what I realized. I know now that even if we’re together forever, you and I won’t be the same. We will change and grow and become better people because of each other. But we’ll do it together.”

Godfrey felt moisture spring to his eyes; his heart began to swell with emotion.

“When we were apart, I did whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted,” Lenora continued. “But I realized that variety is meaningless without a constant. And you are my constant.”

She pulled out a small box that had been tucked within her bosom, and opened it. Inside was a secret decoder ring from a cereal box. “I am so sorry for the pain I’ve caused you, and I will spend a lifetime making it up to you. I want to spend forever in a variety of scenarios with you, and only you. Godfrey Chasm, will you marry me?”

“Yes,” Godfrey Chasm said. And then he knelt down, too, with his own ring box. “Lenora Lymehart, will you marry me?”

“Yes,” Lenora Lymehart said. She and Godfrey exchanged rings, sliding them onto one another’s fingers like sacred rosary beads onto a string.

They embraced, but in a completely new and unexpected way, in a whirlwind of tenderness and ferocity.

Once the tears and laughter had subsided, Lenora’s stomach began to grumble. “I’m so hungry,” she said, hugging Godfrey’s arm theatrically. “Shall we go to Brook’s Diner? Or…”

“Let’s try someplace new,” Godfrey said. And they walked hand in hand into the constant, golden sun.

SHARK

BY ARTEMIS J. JONES ©2014

shark

Each day weather permitting I go to the beach. I clean the sand out of the wheels and pivots of my wheel chair. I lube the hubs on the front wheels. Pack my day bag along with my binoculars and wheel myself down Ocean Drive. My destination: the giant palm tree on the south east corner of the  Hotel Property. It’s the perfect spot. It’s about fifty yards from the water at low tide. The brick pavers aren’t too difficult for a wheel chair, so I manage.  I really love this spot, the sidewalk and common areas are a rustic Mediterranean color and the palm gives me shade for most of the day. My only competition for this tiny piece of real estate is Jimmy the Bum. Jimmy, who is drunk most of the time, occasionally beats me here. He panhandles, sleeps, and picks up old cigarette butts to try and smoke what’s left of them. Today I’m first so Jimmy will have to take the other side of the sidewalk. I got my spot!

From about ten o’clock to two o’clock the walkway is busy, tourists mostly going back and forth from the restaurants and hotels. Families carrying their beach bags, boyfriends, lovers, husbands talking to their wives, girlfriends, lovers- who knows. I enjoy the activity and I eavesdrop a little.

The afternoon is typical Jimmy is sleeping off his early morning drinking and I’m watching all the beach goers. There is a couple that has my attention. A man and women together, she is coated in suntan oil, I can see it glistening off her bronze skin from here. He’s just sitting and watching everything. He seems to be a very observant man. His girlfriend—I don’t think they are married— sometimes checks his glances, she is suspicious, but she remains quiet. I just think he’s observant.

About twenty yards north of their position another couple is enjoying the sun. I’m sure they’re married. They display a lack of interest in each other that many married couples show in public. It’s hard to really know what that means … it could be trust, it could be who cares. They talk and I guess they both decide he would go to the food stand and get some refreshments. He walks by me and heads for the stand. On the way back he says hi to me and asks if I’m a vet. I say “yes” and he commends me for my service. What a nice guy!

I watch both couples, the married couple, and the observant man who is coupled with the jealous women. The married man goes into the water, while the observant man just sits under his umbrella with his shades on. There’s a lot of people in the water today, the tide is low, water temperature is seventy-three degrees. The low tide is great for children to play in, there is no shelf or drop off. So many kids are on boogie boards, floats. Families playing together. It’s a beautiful day.

I look for the married man, but I don’t see him. I glance towards his chair, look at his wife, she is sleeping, but I cannot see the man. So I gaze over the crowd. Maybe he got out of the water and went for a walk on the beach. I look up and down the beach, then I see him pop his head up in the water. He must be quit a swimmer, to stay under water that long. So I look back at the observant man, he is watching something, his head perks up, something has his attention. I look back towards the married man, he has gone under water.

The observant man gets up and starts yelling shark, shark, as he runs towards the beach where all the children are playing. I see the fin, it’s definitely a shark. The life guards come to life leaping from their sedentary posts.  The jealous women watches her boyfriend as he runs towards the water. The married women wakes up and begins looking for her husband.  Everyone else stands up with their cell phones and they all begin recording the excitement. Children are running for their moms and dads. Moms and dads are running for their children, and the wife stands at the edge of the water looking for her husband.  The observant man is still yelling shark, he is in the water. The married man’s head pops up and the shark is right behind him.

There is thrashing and the water turns red. The observant man stops. He stares at the spot where he last saw the married man, and he does not leave the water. I look around many people are still  recording the event with their phones, but some have stopped. The ones that stopped go to their chairs and begin texting or whatever it is that they do. I glance at Jimmy he is sleeping through all the excitement.

A head neck and torso wash up on the beach. The man who had a kind exchange with me, just moments ago, is gone. His wife is holding her hands up towards the water and she looks over at the man who tried to warn everyone. She must be in shock.

Most people stop recording the event with their cell phones. Paramedics come rushing by me with stretchers and they all step on Jimmy’s feet that are sticking out in the walkway. People are coming off the street to see what happened, the walkway is getting crowded.

The jealous women goes to her boyfriend. Suddenly he is a viral man and she is aroused, she shows this by kissing him passionately. They hug for a moment.  He walks out of the water, shaking his head. I can tell he wanted to save the man.  The life guards and paramedics talk to him, a few pat him on the back. His girlfriend enjoys the attention he is getting, he is shy about it.

The medical examiner arrives while other city services clean up and gather information. The tourists who recorded some of the event are gone, others who witnessed and recorded all of it are talking with police, and a few others- to local news crews. I guess it will be all over the local TV news tonight.

The observant man and his girlfriend leave.

I sat and thought about what I had just witnessed. The observant man saved a lot of children, the shark went right through the area where they were playing. I toss an old coconut at Jimmy to wake him up. Startled he hits his head on the brick wall and spills all the change the passers-by tossed into his cap. I guess it’s time to go home.

I’m lucky. My apartment is on the first floor, it’s small, but I like it. I have a computer desk that my chair fits up to nicely. I like to browse the internet sometimes. So I make a sandwich and roll myself into place. When my browser comes up it always shows me the latest news on CNN, FOX, and the local stations. I also watch You-Tube videos. I always watch the most popular videos of the day.

CNN, FOX have more war stuff— ISIS stories. The local channel has the weather, always the weather, the only good news they can report is the weather, because the weather is always good.

You-Tube has taken life though, there is a bunch of videos streaming in- fresh new content- that everyone loves to see. All the top videos today have a similar title. SHARK ATTACK — SHARKS SWARM MAN— SHARK EATS MAN ALIVE— and the most popular of the day MAN WATCHES SHARK EAT ANOTHER MAN.

The views of all the videos are soaring, the most popular was at 200,000 one minute then 2,000,000 the next. And the world that now —sees itself as a witness— to this horrific event, is weighing in with comments.  The streams of opinions never seem to end, but they all say about the same thing.

Cavegirl21:    “It was horrible, he just stood there. What a coward.”

Avenger17:    “If I was close enough I would’ve saved him.”

I’m a slut 18:   “Did you see the look on the woman’s face as she looked at that coward.”

Lonlygirl12:   “I’m horrified. The coward looked like my father who left us.”

Braveheart29: “I will find that coward! I’ll teach him about bravery.”

Enlightenus4: “Our society is failing. We must all seek the truth to understanding.”

Anger69:         “I’ll beat his worthless ass.”

Sugarlipps:      “How can someone just stand there while their best friend gets eaten alive?”

Monstor99:     “My rage shall be felt throughout the land.”

Monstor99: also quoted Edmund Burke, “that evil succeed when good men do nothing.”

The bravado: pouring out of their empty souls, as they espouse their opinions of life and mankind.  How pathetic to sit in solitary self-imposed confinement and criticize the world. Every video I watched was of the shark attack— that I witnessed. All the brave commentators were nowhere near the scene of the attack.  The up-loads showed all the videos were posted by companies called XCITE, CONTENT MEDIA, YOUJUSTSAWIT, and others. They all pay for videos. The people who made the short videos had their story and they got some quick cash.  This all got under my skin, I was angry. So I thought about it and responded.

My online name is GWVET54 and this is what I wrote back.

I saw this shark attack, and the man you all are condemning tried to save the man who got attacked. He did save several children who were in the water. They were not friends, he was brave, and his actions should be commended.

Responses were as follows:

Sugarlipps: Where is your video if you were there. You’re probably the coward. What an asshole.”

Avenger17, Braveheart29, and Anger69 all replied with the same answer: YOU’RE A LIAR! In capital letters of course, they wanted me to feel their anger. I didn’t.

I couldn’t stand it, I turned off the computer and turned on the local evening news. First story— Shark attack— they did not pin point the location for fear of scaring away the tourists. But they did show video that showed the man running into the water and warning everyone- although the news commentator said, “He sure caused a panic … but children were saved, so I guess it was worth it.” They mentioned there was a victim, but did not disclose any more information about him.

About a week later, on You-Tube there was another video of the attack. Someone named Clarity33 posted it on their channel. So I guess Clarity33 was on the beach that day. It had a few hits, and one comment about the man warning the children. But most people had already moved on, satisfied that they knew the real story.


LEARN MORE ABOUT Artemis J Jones  AT HIS WEBSITE:  http://artemisjjones.blogspot.com