Posts Tagged ‘short story’

They were new patients to me, all I had was the name, Olson. Please come down as soon as you can, my daughter is very sick.
When I arrived I was met by the mother, a big startled looking woman, very clean and apologetic who merely said, Is this the doctor? and let me in. In the back, she added. You must excuse us, doctor, we have her in the kitchen where it is warm. It is very damp here sometimes.
The child was fully dressed and sitting on her father’s lap near the kitchen table. He tried to get up, but I motioned for him not to bother, took off my overcoat and started to look things over. I could see that they were all very nervous, eyeing me up and down distrustfully. As often, in such cases, they weren’t telling me more than they had to, it was up to me to tell them; that’s why they were spending three dollars on me.
The child was fairly eating me up with her cold, steady eyes, and no expression to her face whatever. She did not move and seemed, inwardly, quiet; an unusually attractive little thing, and as strong as a heifer in appearance. But her face was flushed, she was breathing rapidly, and I realized that she had a high fever. She had magnificent blonde hair, in profusion. One of those picture children often reproduced in advertising leaflets and the photogravure sections of the Sunday papers.
She’s had a fever for three days, began the father and we don’t know what it comes from. My wife has given her things, you know, like people do, but it don’t do no good. And there’s been a lot of sickness around. So we tho’t you’d better look her over and tell us what is the matter.
As doctors often do I took a trial shot at it as a point of departure. Has she had a sore throat?
Both parents answered me together, No . . . No, she says her throat don’t hurt her.
Does your throat hurt you? added the mother to the child. But the little girl’s expression didn’t change nor did she move her eyes from my face.
Have you looked?
I tried to, said the mother, but I couldn’t see.
As it happens we had been having a number of cases of diphtheria in the school to which this child went during that month and we were all, quite apparently, thinking of that, though no one had as yet spoken of the thing.
Well, I said, suppose we take a look at the throat first. I smiled in my best professional manner and asking for the child’s first name I said, come on, Mathilda, open your mouth and let’s take a look at your throat.
Nothing doing.
Aw, come on, I coaxed, just open your mouth wide and let me take a look. Look, I said opening both hands wide, I haven’t anything in my hands. Just open up and let me see.
Such a nice man, put in the mother. Look how kind he is to you. Come on, do what he tells you to. He won’t hurt you.
At that I ground my teeth in disgust. If only they wouldn’t use the word “hurt” I might be able to get somewhere. But I did not allow myself to be hurried or disturbed but speaking quietly and slowly I approached the child again.
As I moved my chair a little nearer suddenly with one catlike movement both her hands clawed instinctively for my eyes and she almost reached them too. In fact she knocked my glasses flying and they fell, though unbroken, several feet away from me on the kitchen floor.
Both the mother and father almost turned themselves inside out in embarrassment and apology. You bad girl, said the mother, taking her and shaking her by one arm. Look what you’ve done. The nice man . . .
For heaven’s sake, I broke in. Don’t call me a nice man to her. I’m here to look at her throat on the chance that she might have diphtheria and possibly die of it. But that’s nothing to her. Look here, I said to the child, we’re going to look at your throat. You’re old enough to understand what I’m saying. Will you open it now by yourself or shall we have to open it for you?
Not a move. Even her expression hadn’t changed. Her breaths however were coming faster and faster. Then the battle began. I had to do it. I had to have a throat culture for her own protection. But first I told the parents that it was entirely up to them. I explained the danger but said that I would not insist on a throat examination so long as they would take the responsibility.
If you don’t do what the doctor says you’ll have to go to the hospital, the mother admonished her severely.
Oh yeah? I had to smile to myself. After all, I had already fallen in love with the savage brat, the parents were contemptible to me. In the ensuing struggle they grew more and more abject, crushed, exhausted while she surely rose to magnificent heights of insane fury of effort bred of her terror of me.
The father tried his best, and he was a big man but the fact that she was his daughter, his shame at her behavior and his dread of hurting her made him release her just at the critical times when I had almost achieved success, till I wanted to kill him. But his dread also that she might have diphtheria made him tell me to go on, go on though he himself was almost fainting, while the mother moved back and forth behind us raising and lowering her hands in an agony of apprehension.
Put her in front of you on your lap, I ordered, and hold both her wrists.
But as soon as he did the child let out a scream. Don’t, you’re hurting me. Let go of my hands. Let them go I tell you. Then she shrieked terrifyingly, hysterically. Stop it! Stop it! You’re killing me!
Do you think she can stand it, doctor! said the mother.
You get out, said the husband to his wife. Do you want her to die of diphtheria?
Come on now, hold her, I said.
Then I grasped the child’s head with my left hand and tried to get the wooden tongue depressor between her teeth. She fought, with clenched teeth, desperately! But now I also had grown furious–at a child. I tried to hold myself down but I couldn’t. I know how to expose a throat for inspection. And I did my best. When finally I got the wooden spatula behind the last teeth and just the point of it into the mouth cavity, she opened up for an instant but before I could see anything she came down again and gripping the wooden blade between her molars she reduced it to splinters before I could get it out again.
Aren’t you ashamed, the mother yelled at her. Aren’t you ashamed to act like that in front of the doctor?
Get me a smooth-handled spoon of some sort, I told the mother. We’re going through with this. The child’s mouth was already bleeding. Her tongue was cut and she was screaming in wild hysterical shrieks. Perhaps I should have desisted and come back in an hour or more. No doubt it would have been better. But I have seen at least two children lying dead in bed of neglect in such cases, and feeling that I must get a diagnosis now or never I went at it again. But the worst of it was that I too had got beyond reason. I could have torn the child apart in my own fury and enjoyed it. It was a pleasure to attack her. My face was burning with it.
The damned little brat must be protected against her own idiocy, one says to one’s self at such times. Others must be protected against her. It is a social necessity. And all these things are true. But a blind fury, a feeling of adult shame, bred of a longing for muscular release are the operatives. One goes on to the end.
In a final unreasoning assault I overpowered the child’s neck and jaws. I forced the heavy silver spoon back of her teeth and down her throat till she gagged. And there it was–both tonsils covered with membrane. She had fought valiantly to keep me from knowing her secret. She had been hiding that sore throat for three days at least and lying to her parents in order to escape just such an outcome as this.
Now truly she was furious. She had been on the defensive before but now she attacked. Tried to get off her father’s lap and fly at me while tears of defeat blinded her eyes.
The End
The Use of Force by William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)
(ack: classic shorts.com)

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At Chao-cheng there lived an old woman more than seventy years of age, who had an only son. One day he went up to the hills and was eaten by a tiger, at which his mother was so overwhelmed with grief that she hardly wished to live. With tears and lamentations she ran and told her story to the magistrate of the place, who laughed and asked her how she thought the law could be brought to bear on a tiger. But the old woman would not be comforted, and at length the magistrate lost his temper and bade her begone. Of this, however, she took no notice; and then the magistrate, in compassion for her great age and unwilling to resort to extremities, promised her that he would have the tiger arrested. Even then she would not go until the warrant had been actually issued; so the magistrate, at a loss what to do, asked his attendants which of them would undertake the job. Upon this one of them, Li Neng, who happened to be gloriously drunk, stepped forward and said that he would; where- upon the warrant was immediately issued and the old woman went away. When our friend, Li Neng, got sober, he was sorry for what he had done; but reflecting that the whole thing was a mere trick of his master’s to get rid of the old woman’s importunities, did not trouble himself much about it, handing in the warrant as if the arrest had been made. “Not so,” cried the magistrate, “you said you could do this, and now I shall not let you off.” Li Neng was at his wits’ end, and begged that he might be allowed to impress the hunters of the district. This was conceded; so collecting together these men, he proceeded to spend day and night among the hills in the hope of catching a tiger, and thus making a show of having fulfilled his duty. A month passed away, during which he received several hundred blows with the bamboo, and at length, in despair, he betook himself to the Cheng-huang temple in the eastern suburb, where, falling on his knees, he prayed and wept by turns. By-and-by a tiger walked in, and Li Neng, in a great fright, thought he was going to be eaten alive. But the tiger took no notice of anything, remaining seated in the doorway. Li Neng then addressed the animal as follows: “O tiger, if thou didst slay that old woman’s son, suffer me to bind thee with this cord;” and, drawing a rope from his pocket, threw it over the animal’s neck. The tiger drooped its ears, and, allowing itself to be bound, followed Li Neng to the magistrate’s office. The latter than asked it, “Did you eat the old woman’s son?” to which the tiger replied by nodding his head; whereupon the magistrate rejoined, “That murderers should suffer death has ever been the law. Besides, this old woman had but one son, and by killing him you took from her the sole support of her declining years. But if now you will be as a son to her, your crime shall be pardoned.” The tiger again nodded assent, and accordingly the magistrate gave orders that he should be released, at which the old woman was highly incensed, thinking that the tiger ought to have paid with its life for the destruction of her son. Next morning, however, when she opened the door of her cottage, there lay a dead deer before it; and the old woman, by selling the flesh and skin, was able to purchase food. From that day this became a common event, and sometimes the tiger would even bring her money and valuables, so that she became quite rich, and was much better cared for than she had been even by her own son. Consequently, she became very well-disposed to the tiger, which often came and slept in the verandah, remaining for a whole day at a time, and giving no cause of fear either to man or beast. In a few years the old woman died, upon which the tiger walked in and roared its lamentations in the hall. However, with all the money she had saved, she was able to have a splendid funeral; and while her relatives were standing round the grave, out rushed a tiger, and sent them all running away in fear. But the tiger merely went up to the mound, and, after roaring like a thunder-peal, disappeared again. Then the people of that place built a shrine in honor of the Faithful Tiger, and it remains there to this day. (ack:englishdaily626.com)

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494bde34ec1fe455c26f213a0753c78d photo of Daudet/lisa abramson/writers-pinterest)

That morning, Franz was taking his way very slowly to school. He had a great dread of being scolded, particularly as the school-master had said that the lesson for the day would be on participles about which Franz did not know a word. Suddenly an idea came to him. He would go through the fields.

It was so warm, so clear. He heard the blackbirds whistling on the borders of the wood, and in the meadow, behind the saw-mill, the Prussians were drilling. Then, as he passed on by the residence of the mayor, Franz saw them putting a notice on the gate. There, for two years, had been given out all the bad news; lost battles for Alsace, calls to arms, the orders of the command. The blacksmith and his apprentice were putting up the notice, and Franz called,

“What has happened, that they are posting a bulletin again?” But the blacksmith spoke gruffly,

“Why do you loiter, little one? It is not safe. Run along quickly to school.”

So Franz made haste at last, although he was sure that the blacksmith was not in earnest, and he arrived all breathless, at his class.

School seemed, somehow, very different to Franz that morning. There was ordinarily a good deal of noise as the children came in from the street, desks were opened, and lessons were repeated out loud and all in unison, and the school-master pounded with his ruler on his table.

Now, however, there was silence.

Although Franz was late, the school-master looked at him without the least anger, and spoke softly as he said, “Go quickly to your place, my little Franz. We have already begun without you.”

Franz seated himself at his desk. Only then, his fear gone, he noticed that the master had on his best green frock coat, his finely plaited shirt and the black silk cap that he never wore except on a day when there were prizes given out in school. All the children were extraordinarily quiet. But what surprised Franz the most was to see at the back of the room, seated on the benches which were ordinarily empty, the people of the village. There was an old soldier with his tri-colored flag, the old mayor of the town, the postman, and many others. Everyone seemed sad. And the old soldier had a spelling book, ragged on the edges, that he held open on his knees, as he followed the pages through his great spectacles.

As little Franz watched all this, astonished, the school-master rose from his chair, and in the same grave, soft voice in which he had spoken to the boy, he said,

“My children, this is the last time that I shall teach your class. The order has come from Berlin that no language but German shall be taught in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. Your new master arrives to-morrow. To-day, you will have your last lesson in French. I pray that you will be very attentive.”

Franz’s last lesson in French! And he could not write it without mistakes! He remembered all the time that he had wasted, the lessons he had missed in hunting for birds’ nests, or skating on the river. He thought of his books that would remind him always now, of his laziness–his grammar, his history, a present from his friend, the school-master, from whom he must part now with so much pain. In the midst of these thoughts, Franz heard his name called. It was his turn to recite.

He would have given a great deal to be able to recite the famous order of the participles, without a mistake, to give them clearly, and without a fault. But he confused them at the first word, and remained standing beside his desk, his heart trembling, not daring to raise his head. He heard the school-master speaking to him,

“I am not going to rebuke you, little Franz. You are already punished. Every day you have said to yourself, ‘Bah, I have plenty of time; to-morrow I will study.'”

“Ah, that has been the great fault in our Alsace, that of always putting off learning until another day. In the meantime, all the world has been quite right in saying of us, ‘How is it that you pretend to be French, and yet are not able to read and write your own language!’ Of all who are here, my poor little Franz, you are not the only one at fault. We all must reproach ourselves.”

Then the school-master told them of his longing to still teach the children the French language. He said that it would always be the most beautiful language of the world. He said that he wanted it treasured in Alsace and never forgotten, because, when a people fall into slavery it is almost like holding the key to their prison if they can speak to each other in the same tongue. Afterward he took a grammar and went over the lesson with the children. All that he read seemed suddenly quite easy to Franz; he had never attended so well, and never before had he understood how patient the school-master was in his explanations.

When the lesson was finished, writing was begun. For this last day, the master had prepared fresh copies.

_France, Alsace. France, Alsace_.

The copies were like little flags, floating all over the schoolroom from the tops of the desks. Nothing broke the great silence but the scratching of the pens upon the paper. Suddenly some May bugs flew in through the window, but no one noticed them. On the roof of the school some pigeons began to coo, and Franz thought to himself, “Will it be commanded that the birds, too, speak to us in a foreign language?”

From time to time, as Franz lifted his eyes from his paper, he saw the school-master sitting quietly in his chair, and looking all about him, as if he wanted to remember always every child and every bit of furniture in his little schoolroom. Only think, for forty years, he had been there in his place, with the playground facing him, and his class always as full! Only the benches and the desks which had once been polished were worn from usage now; the walnut trees in the yard had grown very large, and the hop vine that he, himself, had planted twined now above the window and as far as the roof. It was breaking the heart of the school-master to leave all these things.

But he had the courage to carry on the class to the very end. After the writing lesson, he began the lesson in history. Afterward, the little ones sang their A. B. C.’s all together and at the end of the room the old soldier took off his spectacles and, holding his spelling book in his two hands, he read off the letters with them.

Suddenly the clock in the tower of the village church sounded the hour of noon. Instantly, the trumpet call of the Prussians, returning from their drilling, burst through the windows. The school-master rose, quite pale, in his place. Never had he seemed so great to the children.

“My friends,” he said, “my little friends, I–”

But he could say no more; he was not able to speak the words. He turned to the blackboard and, taking a piece of chalk, he wrote upon it,

“_Vive la France!_”

Afterward, he remained there, his head resting against the wall, and, without speaking, he made a sign with his hand.

“It is finished. You are dismissed.”

[The end]
Alphonse Daudet’s short story: The Last Class

There is also a YouTube version put up by Mr. Robert Steiner.

In the backdrop of the recent outrage in the Charlie Hebdo office,Paris on Jan 8. 2015  by cultural bankrupts this story should be read as closely as a wake-up call. Any dent on the French Spirit sooner or later shall affect the rest of Europe. So Resist!


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You see me here, grown old and feeble. I have been squeezed dry as many who sit staring vacantly and my past keeps coming, recurring nightmare of the waking time.

In my time I was nurse and my oath ringing before me every time I took rounds. But routine takes away something from each and what have I in return? Nothing!

I was a nurse sent to care the old senile hags  in institutions where I worked. I worked to go higher and raise a family that shall be proud of me.

I was also young. I worked while my skin glowed and full twenty years made me curse my work every minute of it. None found me cross or less than my professional image I set for myself.  My smile and my teeth all well cared for made even a smile passed for truth. My body hygiene and appearance impressed my superiors.

Every day I signed the register and took my wards through their paces.  Did I enjoy it? To tell the truth, no Oh no.

I cursed the hags in their diapers. I ladled porridge spoonsful into their dead flaccid mouth wishing they would choke. But for the money that I made I would have thrown the whole filth I daily cleaned on the matron’s head. A battle-axe who never smiled at us nurses nor at the imbeciles whom we cared for. Oh when the director and trustees of the Bethesda Old Home came trooping in she smiled. As on cue we four nurses smiled and trooped the well fed starched straight-laced bible carrying Samaritans to their car. They earned the places in heaven and we kept our jobs.

It was not that we hated the old. Caring them was not of the same league as caring our mother or children. But tell me how long one can bring out her best under all provocations? The old who left under our care just didn’t care for our lot. For them time just stood still. Whereas we walked our line whether we fell short paying mortgage or could not afford an affordable education plan for our young. Our wards just sat in their wheelchair to be moved about and expected clean up the mess they left. OhI hated it. I do not regret it even for a moment. I stoically converted our frustration into work that was all.

As I am in this Home for the Aged do I care? Oh no. Now the nurse, a poison pill has her lipstick all wrong and hair  tucked in her cap,- she tells se is a Goth!, and she finds me as her millstone. I sit all day staring into TV and the nurse need not even see me twitch and squirm in pool of my own filth. She knows it by closed circuit beeps that warn her. Only she switches it off so she can rifle through her fashion catalogues or text message her boyfriend. My calls to ease my distress she treats as mere nuisance and she has learned to swat away as I did in my time. That is routine for you. I know she finds work just as I found: a A filthy business.

This evening the night nurses are planning a pillow fight for the entertainment of us,  inmates. And we are all watching the nurses fight it out. It is playful and it goes spirited and when all the feathers fly helter-skelter,  it is our secret night of horrors. All the feather fluff smelling of urine and shit would need mop after and some hard work. But we are the thing, morons laughing at our own cruel world we only let get this far. This night as hours tick by we only feel our private horror.

We see nurses have just shed their clothes, appearances of civility are gone. They have taken us back when we were as full as they.

Work was filthy for the peaches, the juicy young twenty something and they are us all in their ugly shapes, jeering at us.

Ah now they lug us into the heap of filth and dress us with cunning care, as chickens! It was a costume I never dreamed up! Hideous Jezebels are not done with us yet. As we scramble from mass of bodies, and pulled by hands to teeter and fall back with thud, there are screeches of merriment. There is a professional photographer who is creating a video diary. I know this age even our shame titillates some creep. We shall be in YouTube. It may be a viral hit among the viewers. 

I wept at the injustice of it. One of my tormenters leaned over and pulled out a feather from my toothless mouth to say,’ Nothing personal Martha, Work these days is still a four letter word.’

Now we are a spectacle and our carers have no excuse that they are kept short on money. They make money on us.
Work is still the same soulless aspect,- the world taken through a shredder of hell just gives some compensation for it. Money they call it. 


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I had become somewhat alienated from the rest who were basking in the presence of the cat.

Not for long. Till the cat one morning brought in a dead mouse. Three weeks after the solar event.

The ginger cat brought it and laid it before my work mate.

It was as though the cat had burst open the silent terror that was stalking me out into the open. Like the pollens cast into the air hay fever of disquietude broke out in general. It showed up in the looks of workmates. I thought the word ‘plague’ expressed nicely from the responses it drew on them.

I examined the situation. The cat had introduced into our world something strange. A mouse. Despite my forebodings it was as natural the cat. But the thing it had in its mouth was dead!

Death was a mystery! It was a weird puzzle, far stranger than mind games that were part of our exercise. A dead mouse with blood oozing from the puncture marks could not be wiped off at the end of a game. The neck broken remained askew; the puncture marks where the claw had talked its prey showed blue coloring.

I was jolted out of my reverie.

‘We are contaminated!’ the cry went up and the hubbub brought the boss to investigate. He dared not come anywhere near as he did at the first time. He called me to his cabin and said,’ You are the exterminator. The cat must be put out.’

I shuddered. A scream escaped. I remember the gurgle within seeking release. MEEOOW! It caught the boss look at me with horror. With great control I managed to say,’Killing the cat will not solve the problem. We are all doomed’. The boss had an inkling of the changes in my tone and in my working.’ He nodded and said in a reconciliatory tone.’ We shall work this all out. Steady, X-101.’

He pressed a button that seemed to beam invisible waves into me. My motor became somewhat detached from the program that went on in its steady hum,on standby motors. It made me unwind literally. I became slowed and by the time I became aware of my surroundings I was before a medical warden from M-GW section. He looked at me with a friendly gaze. He said, ‘Nothing fundamentally wrong.’ He laid out the X-ray photo of my mechanical parts. Against the chrome tubes and coils of wire sheathed in indestructible cables the imprint of the cat was unmistakable.

Δ ΙΕ and it was as bright as it showed on the cat first time it entered into our world. There was something in its strange luminosity. The command signal was on the action mode. Am I to be an exterminator? Did that command overrule the command of my boss? I could not decide which.

I felt as though violated. Was the cat playing games with me? I suspected some malignant purpose. From which quarter, I could not tell. I had to find out. I suspected I was part of a deadly mind game into which I was part of the solution. I had to make my moves so I was neither for the cat nor for the androids.

Was I laboring under some delusion? I had to find out.

The warden in the end concluded,’Undue influences. So it looks to me.’ He certified that I was to take things pretty easy for a while.

Undue influences? It could have meant so many things. I went to the boss and said,’ I require a change of scene.’ He agreed on condition that I disposed off the cat in whichever manner I chose. He knew that the cat had taken undue advantage of me that I dared not kill it.

Anticipating his train of thoughts I told him of my hunch that the cat had some mysterious bond with the three cadavers in the lab.

He made it easier for me. ‘I could transfer the mummies into a chamber. It shall be at the bay from where we send our cargo to HQ or to any other direction’.

You shall have three days to decide. ‘Let the cat take you where it will or kill it and remove them all to a place you choose.’

He got up before it could sink in and asked me to inspect the Dispatch Bay. I had never been to that part of the mother ship. There was a secret and exclusive entry for the Grand masters who made the Council. There were crates that piled up on the hold. Automatically these were being shifted by a mechanical arm into a pod. Teleportation was conducted a matter of course. He showed me the operation and the controls. There were various switches and controls by adjusting these to any longitude and latitude to the known star objects could be teleported.

Next two days I stalked the cat and got to know its routine. Everytime it went in the lab it walked about the cadavers three times and then took its crouching position before the air vent. From within I felt I was part of whatever that went on between the cat and some outside agency.

What surprised me was it had certain vibrancy and power in its movements as it climbed from there.

I decided against the kill while in the ship. It had to be at the end I solved the puzzle the cat posed. I was dead certain those three body bags were part of the puzzle.

I was the exterminator. I had to finish the job for which I was best qualified for. The cat had overshot the limit and the terror of the unknown was raking up the even tenor of the ship. It was another androidrama. It was a nightmare and I had to exterminate it.
What about the androida?The cat had forged a bond with me through her.
I shall leave it alive till I got it out. It was upset for great many. It didn’t matter if I was ignored by androids and androidas on account of my decision. Androida X-103 sulked because she knew I intended it harm.
In a way she was about to lose me as well.

(2 be cont’d)

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The Cat People ©
a short story

It was a marriage of convenience. But what the heck if the pairing of two androids brought a cat along nothing more could be said, as far as I could see. The cat was a ginger cat and it was the only natural object of desire about the singularity of our work world. Our ship in the constellation Alpha Venturi-CX was none the worse for it.
Androida X-103, she is my partner in the section of maintainance. Her specialty is biosphere and I, the exterminator. The name means many things. Let it not hold up my story for the moment. As I said the cat came out of nowhere.
My sidekick that day was in her pod, doing a fitness program along with algorithms that flashed across the screen each point designed to limber her body parts. In her world of such mathematical probabilities where algorithms determined every aspect of sequences she was merely being random. It was purely her feminine side that we were taught to accept as correct. I was the male side and I did just what I was designed to do. As android I didn’t think she had much say in the matter. The cat chose her and randomness of her world did the rest. Only that I got connected into that sequence in a manner of speaking.

In the days to come the presence of a strange animal was a ballast one too many. It made the ship wobble with curiosity. Every android and androida perk up and they wanted to know how it all started. In the end my partner had to put it all down for the record. Three workdays later we were called up. And the cat as well.
The boss examined the cat as methodically as meteorite that came hurtling through. The all clear indication of the machine didn’t make him ease though. In the end, he had to say in his dry indifferent tone,’ no cat ever stalks the space unless it has a motive.’The cat was furry; and its furry tongue as clean as a whistle. We all watched in fascination as the machine automatically ticked off the appropriate boxes and in the end for an added precaution the cat was sprayed and the machine made it deloused.
But my boss safely took the beast. In midst of it he paused and swiveled in our direction. He flicked a button and there was a laser imprint beneath the skin and its eerie luminescence was clear: ∆ IE.
But what did it mean?
The boss answered himself ‘He belongs to some one.’
Then he frowned. It was obvious. The animal could not be a stray. It must be on an errand. ‘Or is it?’ My musings were interrupted by my boss. He exclaimed, ‘The cat some 25 pounds just defied the safety hatches as fit as my spacesuit?’
What was the mystery? None of us had an answer to it. We stood there silent.
The boss remembered what we were there for. So he turned his visor with its cold steel spot of light to my mate.
‘X-103, the cat just dropped in while you worked out. Is that correct?’ She nodded.
The boss voiced if she didn’t think t strange the cat didn’t seek out any but her.
‘Of course not’ was her answer. She added, ‘Why I attend to the green section and the android exterminate is all merely a matter of convenience and internal matter. I see nothing queer about it.’ I was there to make it stick so I said, ’Random is what you get the more you delve into specialty.’ The boss merely entered the answer verbatim and looked at us strangely. ‘We shall soon see about it.’ We were dismissed by a curt wave of head.
There was something natural in the world of determined factors that made our space station function. Into which how a tabby cat got in was not Artificial Intelligence had to deal with. The boss didn’t. Nor was it our worry.

That evening I asked my mate to clue me in. The boss had made it all seem strange. The androida explained off the record her emotional responses to a cat that approached her. She said it just made her feel pinpricks of excitement that didn’t make sense to her. Its eyes were all afire with pupils changing colors, unearthly greens and violets. Having checked its new home and ambled around her ankles it yawned and said,’Meeow’.
In the end she said it had something of a mystery that didn’t figure in her AI workbook. That cry, the sound or its emotional equivalent made the book less than adequate. It had spoken for truth loud and clear what AI barely stood for. ‘The cat made claims on me, X-101. Period’. After a moment of silence she said, ’If you see it any different, I shall ask for a transfer’.
‘No worry, girlie. The cat shall not change our work relationship’. She knew I was there for her.
The tabby cat had become part of her world and I was naturally an extension of its world. Only that I had no clue if the cat had a view of the matter.
Thereafter life and work in the ship went on as before.
The boss of our assembly line averred the androida was better for it. The cat cleaned up the act, was his wry comment at the end of the term. The androids and androidas worked more efficiently and the cat was a kind of mascot to keep life aboard turn with ease.
Till the cat one morning brought in a dead mouse.
The ginger cat brought it and laid it before my work mate.
The looks of workmates suddenly brought out the full horror. I thought the word ‘plague’ expressed nicely from the responses it drew on them.
We never had experienced anything that we could not name or put a finger on. The cat was natural as the thing it had in its mouth. A mouse was not what we allowed in our hold. A dead mouse blood oozing from the puncture marks where the claw had stalked its prey.

‘We are contaminated!’ the cry went up and the hubbub brought the boss to investigate. He dared not come anywhere near as he did at the first time. He called me to his cabin and said,’ You are the exterminator. Check it out and report to me. Before the sundown I expect your findings on my desk. Understood?’
I nodded.
The word exterminator meant so many things. I regretted I coined the word. I was the wordsmith and had a feeling that goofed somewhere.
I fixed things around the spaceship. In one of the solar storms a couple of androids flipped their lids. The showed erratic readings. ‘This won’t do’, my boss was certain I was asked to investigate and I concluded: androidrama, a case where artificial intelligence mimic the human conditions with unpleasant consequences. The word and my explanation were accepted as apt. We androids use words to fix non-verbal modes of our terms of use. In a way I am the exterminator. I keep the words to fix limits so each of us knows exactly what we mean or do.
Our world was exactly that till the cat made its entry.
Androidrama was a nightmare we didn’t bargain for. I have a fellow who had made a specialty of flora fauna of the earth. By poring over the anatomy of several species we decided that the specimens fitted in all respects cat and the mouse
The Cat (Felis silvestris catus), also known as the Domestic Cat or House Cat

Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Felidae

Genus: Felis

Species: F. silvestris

Subspecies: F. s. catus

Trinomial name
Felis silvestris catus
(Linnaeus, 1758)

(to be continued)

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The Hangman’s Knot ©

Harlequin is a border town in New Mexico and the only saloon is Crumbles where the saloon keeper Dusty Nolan keeps his eye on his goods. Consider the harsh sun, it makes one think of desperate things. The locals are too poor to dip their hands into their wallets. Searching an empty wallet is a bother. All that shaking and searching a wallet inside out for some small changes makes one all the more thirsty. It makes them want to make a grab for the booze. Only that Dusty Nolan stands like the three- headed dog in the Hades.
Dusty Nolan always keeps count of the glasses he doles out customers, and of the barrels he has in the back room.
There they hang about him for some excitement.
There is always excitement. Take the border crossing.
The saloon keeper doesn’t like the trash who keep coming in the middle of the night from Mexico and the locals also share his opinion. So he has his fun organizing lynch parties for the poor immigrants. He has his goon Beanpole Mack and he sees to that vigilantes pay for the freedom of their ways by hanging all whom they catch. He also thinks they are coming just to get a load of his whiskey. He hates free loaders. As I said the harsh sun does make men do strange things.
Since Dusty Nolan took up business in that part of town excitement is a-plenty. Lynch parties go on without let up week days under his very nose and while he takes time out at the week- ends. Beanpole Mack is there to carry on with their clean up.
One day a stranger dropped in and said he was a hangman paid to do his job. He was an Englishman by name Jigsaw Jamie. He told many stories and Dusty Nolan liked what he heard. He said he had hanged a dook in his time,-and it is a fact he told him ‘You don’t hang nobs with hemp. It must be silk.’
The saloon keeper brightened up and served him a shot of whiskey saying, ‘this is on the house.’ How the locals quivered like a heap of jelly in the wind. ‘This ain’t like Dusty Nolan!’ they whispered to one another.
Meanwhile Dusty Nolan palavered with the stranger. Jigsaw Jamie whispered to him he had made a special knot that was his signature.’ Once the rope bites the victim, it is clean break,’ said he warming up to the niceties of his art. He showed him how to make it. He said, ‘With such a knot the dead will always keep his left eye open.’
Dusty Nolan was thrilled to learn the technique. Pointing to his wooden stump he gave a toothless laugh, ‘Shiver my timbers.’
Next day he went to the woods where he always shot bears. He was more for excitement than for heaving the hulk of a bear home. Now he had found another. Stringing a bear would be exciting he thought.
He made a noose with the special hangman’s knot. Unfortunately no animal took the bait.
He had to get back for a lynch party and it was such a stinker the sheriff who in the past had looked the other way, could not but take action. He arranged a posse to arrest Dusty Nolan.
Dusty Nolan escaped to the woods.
No one heard from him for weeks. Later a hunting party passing the woods came across a body and Beanpole Mack swore it was indeed the body of his boss. He pointed the wooden stump and told the sheriff it was the body of Dusty Nolan. The sheriff was mystified by the left eye of the dead man, and it was open.
The sheriff asked if his expression was natural. The dead seemed keeping still an eye.
Beanpole Mack drawled, ‘Well Dusty Nolan may be a goner. But sure he has his eye on his goods.’


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The Man Who Made Women As Good As New ©

by Benny Thomas

camp: Svandalen, Norway

19 April 2010

The man had no special gifts except his hands. And he had made the city his home.

The city was called Sin City. The particular adjective gave no air of anything even remotely hinting of moral or ethical lapse. In fact the city touted quality of life as its promise. Quality of civic life nevertheless made the name stick. The city fathers had given their solemn promise and through thick and thin of economic meltdown the city did not let go its virtue: quality of life for all. Yet the civic fathers failed them not for wanting to try but for something none could put his finger on.

Men made the city work for them but women found something go out of their lives.

They could not exactly say what. They made their homes and kept their budgets tight and in all that computing and meeting their civic obligations they ceased to feel quality of life, assured by statutory laws and it did not make them feel precisely as a woman should feel. Nothing between their legs or their biology suffered but a general malaise of being alive. At the same time of being made less than before. They shielded their own brood from the brunt of life they carried on daily basis. In making the nest they merely stressed their own strengths and these didn’t account for the empty nests the chicks would leave behind. Somewhat similar to this, women felt city had carried them high only to deny them something they could not find words for. Quality of life in their pursuit of happiness was not equal to what their femininity expected them as due. That gap merely became ever perceptible as time went by.

Somewhere in a woman’s life what she is born to and what she ends up with is a fault line and it creates symptoms. Some tried alcohol and another coke; some tried acupuncture and another yoga. There were many stimulants and sessions and every thing worked up to a point.

One woman tried massage and discovered him. How the man worked on her pressure points made her feel as good as new. He worked well and what he charged was worth every cent. She passed on his name to another. This made the out-of-towner to stay on. He was a masseur more of a complete woman than a body. He solicited custom on that point and women accepted it as the truth.

Each woman,young,fading,floundering or dithering felt as new.

Twenty years he worked with his hands and he could not yet say what made them exceptional. His hands were well padded but not fleshy; it was neither hands well shaped or that of a brute. His hands were such ordinary as hands that stuck out of cuffs neither calling attention to them nor to the cut. He was ordinary and the spanking whiteness of his shirt or his pants added little to to his evanescent personality. When he worked with his clients he was almost not there. His work-out made each woman count the professional hour as homage paid to her and he spoke not a word that was out of place. He was loathe to draw attention to himself. His hands worked silently. Even where what some positions of his workout could have compromised him he was cool detachment all through.

He lived and made the quality of the city pay him dividends. His office gave him panoramic view of the city and he desired nothing except what his hands could earn.

He put every client at ease and never he rose to a higher or lower pitch to give himself away. Part of the hour he let her sat on his lap or he bent over her while his discreet stance gave nothing that she could have benefited. Her private thoughts were all hers and if these put out tendrils of hope or nostalgia, and she seemed to float back in womb of time it was all hers. He merely let his hands touch pressure points and if his clients took off from there he chose to remain an outsider. His service was faultless as his distance from his clients was thoroughly cultivated by sheer will power.

He performed with clinical efficiency that his secretary kept strict watch over. Daisy from her cubicle saw the naked bodies of clients contort or go limp and if she grimaced or nod in approval it was over the client and not over the man. His hands were miracle workers and nothing more. She noted in satisfaction no woman remembered afterward the face except her. She took down appointments and arranged his daily schedule knew his worth.Her position was secure and won over as with the man by her professionalism. She greyed and somewhat frayed around her supple body in service. She didn’t mind, Her quality of life she wrested from the city by her iron will.

Each day she checked with her boss before the day. He worked by appointment. His office on the 10th  floor was as unobtrusive as those who came in or went out.

Under the watchful eye of his secretary he learned to work as though he were a free agent. He never felt imposed upon by certain rules of office practice each expected from the other.  His ten minute recess at the end of one hour session was strictly enforced and he appreciated she saw to that he had sufficiently recovered from the previous before he began the next. He was a miracle that paid for her bed and board and a place in the community. She was not going to lose all that by neglect. Her selfishness he saw as altruism. If he were not placed by society women in their social engagements or made calls it was not her problem. He had to have work. That was all he insisted upon. There was no let up from day one.

His anonymity gave his hands their mystery and women found it an exhilarating. Consider he had moved into the City with one valise and the clothes that he had on his back and in a matter of some 20 years every woman who made the city her home swore by them. His hands made them feel as good as new.

That day the women waited for their turn. She saw him take on the first patient. She saw the blond and saw her hair roots were dark. He jawbones relaxed she was not what she considered as a threat. She had a body that was far below the expectations her dress called out to all. She saw him in his kimono and he divested of his clothes and go through his routine. Five minutes later she heard the body of the blond turning over. He was still a machine that performed and only then she relaxed. She went through the papers and made notes. First two hours made her keep her mind alert that the day’s routine went on without a hitch. She was somewhat over alert and she noted with a frown. On that day sky was grey and the weather made its chill in her bones speak up. She was cautious as never before. It was on that day as though her mind sensed lurking dangers and every sound made her jump and noise broke the thread of her routine. She heard one speak with some elation,’Ah that feels good, I can cry!’ Her forehead furrowed, hardly letting go her own defenses. Perhaps age was catching up before she headed into the dangerous Forties.

Each day she had to keep watch and yet seem not inquisitorial. Each client took something of him and he was indestructible,- not a moment letting his guard down.

She remembered it was she who insisted he take a recess after an hour long session.Only that day made she was none special. She was on the wrong side of thirty!

She carefully scanned his face and gestures. She casually let her eyes rest around his boxer. He was relaxed and concentrated on his work. His movements didn’t hit any hitch but he was as cool and controlled as before. Again her mind took a defensive stance with the last patient and she could mentally describe every spot he covered or every sigh that escaped women feeling the waves of unease escape their psyche.

Daisy didn’t ask what made her feel uneasy that particular day. Fifteen years she had spent manning her station while the man prodigiously worked with his hands.Was it her hormones her age or what?

As the last patient made ready to leave she sent him sms to ask for an extra session.

‘Under exceptional circumstances, she pleaded.

He texted back:OK

When she went from her desk the man awaited his patient from the door. He was not a whit puzzled or complaining to see her. Before she removed her dress she asked,’ Do you feel embarrassed?’

He raised his eyebrows.

‘All those women who come to you see you as a machine.’


I come to you differently.’ she stammered and feeling red. It was painful to express what was so long churning up inside.

She removed her clothes coming closer and closer. Her eyes teased him now. ‘They want to be put at ease.’

He stared at her puzzled.’I want to be excited. Feel my heart!’ She took his hands and put them against her heart.’You surely must feel something.’

‘No I feel nothing.’

Her face went pale. She had removed her panties and she let it drop.

‘I am lying down. Make me feel like a client’.

He just sat on his stool shadow of dejection expanding from his forehead to his chin.

‘Oh I had a hard day, and my hands are like wet rags.’

Daisy whimpered. ‘Twenty years I slaved for you. Do I mean nothing to you?’

He turned his head away. He heard her hands bunch up the hem of her dress. She let it fall on the floor in helplessness. He could not bear her accusatory eyes. ‘ I ask to be treated like any other woman’ Her voice trailed off in a moan. He sat there. ‘You have hurt me!’

Her voice faltered and she did not cry but shook in convulsions of despair and loneliness.

‘You are my wife, and not my custom.’

‘I put 200 dollars before I came,it is there in the day-book. Consider it as my fee.’

He rose mechanically and walked towards the curtain wall of glass that looked towards the sea. He stood there lost in thought as though he wanted to watch the rising mist from the sea. He could not bear meeting her eyes that were misted in tears.

He said,’Let us go home. After dinner we shall make love as we used to.’ He walked over to her and silently held his hand out. He felt her hand and he closed over it. He sighed. It was a relief. He felt the day was much more difficult than he ever thought it was.

They took the elevator down two figures numbed already by the awful silence of the tower that was easing itself for the night.


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