Short and Very Short Stories

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1) A Second Temozoc

2) Parabolic to Diapason

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– A Second Temozoc –

A group of children were sitting lazily in the shade near the store, telling stories. If one of them happened to spend a few minutes sweeping or cleaning a window he got a cigarette. If he worked the counter or stocked a shelf then he got the match, too. Sometimes a vehicle would go past, which they watched until it became only a glint of sunlight on the distant highway.

One car pulled in. A woman got out of the driver’s side and hurried into the store. A little later the passenger door opened and, swinging out his legs, a man sat for a while with his head in his hands. Then he stumbled up to the fence near where the children sat in the purple shadows. He pointed at a large plant with fat yellow-green leaves and a tall, dry flower-spike.

“Que es eso?” he asked.

“Maguey,” one of them replied.

The man smiled, his watery eyes half closed. Leaning against the fence he unzipped and eased his heavy bladder onto the plant, which made a drumming sound. He was still pissing when his wife came out of the store.

“They didn’t have any asprin,” she said, “but I got you a bottle of water. What are you doing?”

“Taking revenge,” he muttered.

As he shook off and zipped up the woman stood next to him looking into the desert and at the people’s homes. There were no houses to speak of, only scattered shacks daubed in a white clay which dulled everything. The people sat in their doorways. Sometimes on top of each other. Nothing suggested that they had anything to do.

“All those houses look made out of mud,” the woman said.

“So do the people,” said the man, shuffling back to the car.

Before long their vehicle, too, was a speck on the horizon, consumed by its own reflected sun.

The children went on telling stories, sometimes losing someone, sometimes gaining, without noticing the difference. Tedium reigned. Most everything was bleached by dust and light. But their superstitions painted the walls with hallucinations and populated the desert with monsters and ghosts. Every stone and cactus doubled as a spirit. The nocturnal saguaro blooms concealed both bats and winged snakes. Full moons disfigured the unborn. And whatever was loved too much the daemons would inevitably take away.

Whoever came back with a cigarette had to either share it or tell a story. No one ever shared. One boy with dark eyes, dark skin and long dark hair, his impassive face obscured by smoke, began talking. He told of something that was said to lurk in the desert called Temozoc, which couldn’t die. It was like a man, but without weapons, without nails and teeth even. So when it caught its prey it had to rip instead of cut. It was responsible for any dead thing found that you could not see what it was.

Another boy said something to keep his smoke. He, too, had dark eyes, dark skin and long dark hair. His story was of a woman who used to live amongst them, but had to leave when her son went mad and started frightening animals. Chickens stopped laying eggs and goats stopped giving milk. Then one morning a little girl was found strangled to death. An angry mob broke into the woman’s home, but they were already gone. They had moved deep into the desert, to a shack within an acacia grove. There the woman kept her son chained to the wall and fed him on insects and cream. They boy’s hair grew down to the floor.

Other stories were told. It was only noon. Then someone pointed at the sky and said: “look!”

A rare bunch of clouds was moving in to blot out the sun. In the sudden coolness the children got up to wander around. They kicked among the scrubbrush and chased the tumble weeds. Some flung stones at lizards or birds. They made the hares run away. Others picked the flowers and prickly pears from the cactus and ate them. No one really paid attention to where they were going, though they did not stray too far from each other. After a long while, when the clouds finally passed and the sun lit up the sand and stone again, they did not know where they were. Somehow everything had vanished except the old monotonous expanse in all directions. They shrugged and kept on walking.

Eventually the scrubbrush gave way to yucca. The cactus grew larger and their flowers were orange instead of white. They saw more insects. Cottonwoods appeared out of nowhere. Large, colorful rocks cropped up. The animals no longer ran away and they were a little scared now to throw rocks at the lizards, because they hissed. The desert was changing. One boy with dark eyes suggested that maybe they were going the wrong way. Everyone agreed. They shrugged and kept on walking.

Then someone pointed at the ground and said: “look!”

A spatter of blood had flecked a gray stone red.

They began to walk on more cautiously, scrutinizing wherever they stepped. Some more drops were found, so fresh still they had not seeped in but remained like red beads resting on the sand. Next they came across tufts of long dark hair caught on various trees and cactus, and later on a fence also.

They feared to go on in this direction, lest they came upon the dead thing or the thing that killed it. But they continued because no one of them turned back, and because the terrain descended slightly that way, and because none of them ever did have a mind for scruples. It was not long before they found another clump of long hair, but this time stuck to a little piece of flesh. One boy poked at it with a stick. Everyone felt sort of giddy with terror. Suddenly it did not matter that the desert was beautiful and its colors brilliant, but everything had a pall of ugliness.

Someone pointed at a tree and said: “look!”

In a low branch a rat was nibbling up the fleshy stalk of an eye, swollen by the heat.

When they moved closer to inspect it someone discovered a faint footpath cut through the big grove.

“Are these acacias?” one boy asked.

They followed it and soon enough came upon some decaying corrals, one holding goats, another holding chickens. As the boys passed the goats snorted and charged the fence. The chickens just scratched in the dirt.

“This must be the place,” another boy suggested.

A stalk of white smoke drifted from somewhere behind and disappeared against the only cloud in the sky.

“Well, go find out,” suggested a third boy.

They all looked and spoke so much the same.

So that boy crept up to a hole which, I suppose, served as a window in that lost shack, and there he lifted up the curtain and peeked in with as much caution and reverence as if he were beneath the stands at a festival looking up the girls’ skirts. I’m not sure why he acted with such stealth, for the others only stood together openly, awkwardly, in the center of the dirt yard. Hands in their pockets. Awash in sweltering light.

Then something slammed, like a screen door on a spring.

“If you are going to visit me,” said a voice, “at least come in and have something to eat and drink.”

A woman in a faded, flowerprint frock, shoeless, hair tied back beneath a red handkerchief, skin weathered like a rock, walked towards them from the side of the shack. She grabbed the arm of the boy at the window and dragged him with her. He did not make a noise. Everyone paused for a long moment while the cicadas measured time.

Then they followed her inside.

A bucket of thick goat cream sat in the center of the table, a palish with specks of dirt in it. The children began looking around for jars of pickled roaches and grubs. Instead, live ones scurried across the floor and walls. Dirt floors. The walls were tin and sunlight snuck through little holes eaten through by rust. Each boy received a boiled egg and a mug of cream.

“Where is your son?” someone asked.

She pointed, without turning, to a doorway behind her with a bedsheet hung across it. Inside was only a cot with a dark figure reclined in it, a bedside table and a lamp, spent. They expected the rattle of chains and they got it. The figure sat up still swathed in the blanket.

“How come it doesn’t smell as awful in here?” someone asked.

She took that boy by the neck and pushed his face into a clump of dried plants nailed to the wall. They were everywhere, hanging around the dark room like bats. Clumps of lavender and verbena and sage, sprigs of sweet acacia.

“He likes it,” was the extent of her explanation. Then she said, “come on child, say hello.” Meanwhile someone drew back the curtain and filled the room with light. There were gasps. How beautiful! Her son was beautiful. And he was chained to the wall.

“He’s not very clever,” she said, “but look at him!”

His hair did indeed reach the floor, but it was clean and perfumed and so black it shone blue. His face was long and sharp and clean shaven. His eyes looked like they were rimmed with kohl. His expression, though indicating perfect emptiness, was far from stupid. The corners of his mouth were upturned so slightly, in such a soft, serene grin it made the children uneasy — as of something deceptive, concealing what it truly is, like quicksand or a carnivorous plant. He wore a sort of frock, like his mother, but made from an array of polychromatic patches, flannel, denim, linen, corduroy. He said, very calmly:

“Hello.”

None of them could quite put their finger on of what this all reminded them. I can. It was like the shrines they often saw in the rural churches and the ones piled in graveyards and in front of doors on the Day of the Dead. Nevertheless a vague sensation unsettled them. They thanked the lady and left.

Returning, they found an old soccer ball near the corral and kicked it along as they went, but without much excitement. Until someone gave it a real heavy foot and launched it over a big rock, or behind a hill, or around a bend, or into the undergrowth — I don’t know. When they caught up to it it was resting against a mutilated corpse.

“Oh!” they said.

It looked turned inside out, and they could not tell what was the head and what was the hoof, or foot. Someone poked it with a stick. Then they left.

When their village came into view it was already evening and in the stillness the desert smelled exquisite. Except one boy seemed very disturbed.

“Where is . . ?” he said.

“Who?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “but one of us is gone. We all look so much alike.”

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– Parabolic to Diapason –

Only the officer was in uniform; the two privates were dressed as shabbily as the two prisoners, while the condemned man was naked. Still, even epaulettes all around would have lent no dignity to these proceedings.

After an hour’s march into nowhere, the group (one half forcing on the other half at gun-point) entered a clearing hemmed round by tall pines. In the center was a small, circular pad of concrete from which rose a contraption of wood and glinting steel. A dozen crows were perched upon it. They lifted raucously into the air, disappearing beyond the tree tops.

The device was a thing of barbaric and austere beauty.

First, there was the heavy, flat, wooden bed-plank with seven openings in it — this was where the condemned lay strapped. The bed-plank was attached to two wooden stanchions on either side so that, while remain horizontal, it could slide freely up and down them. Two long poles extended, one from each side, for the lifting and lowering of the bed-plank. At the base were seven blades, widening along their length, of staggered height, arranged in a narrow rectangle with one in the center. Upon these blades the bed-plank was to be lowered so that first the shoulders, then the spleen and liver, then the knees, and finally the spine would be stabbed and severed. Nothing immediately fatal. Shock and hemorrhaging would be the cause of death. In front of the device, embedded in the concrete, was a sundial. Time was the eighth knife.

“Strap him in and lock him,” ordered the officer, “but leave his arms free.” He checked his pocket watch, snapped it shut and stuck a cigarette in his mouth. “We have four minutes and forty-seven seconds until noon.”

The privates trained their rifles upon the prisoners, giving orders. But the desperate, naked man struggled, now that he had a good idea of his fate. “Beat him,” shouted one private, “if he will not comply.” And he tossed the prisoners a length of bamboo. A few cracks across the shins and shoulders and the man grew submissive. They strapped the man in and fitted the bed-plank onto the stanchions, the poles across their shoulders, supporting the weight. Then the privates chained their legs to the stanchions.

“Now!” snapped the officer, flicking the smoking butt to the ground, “this is how we shall proceed.” He snatched the bamboo piece from the prisoner. “The only thing between this man and a quick death by impalement are the strength of these,” he said, smacking one prisoner’s legs with the bamboo, “and these,” smacking the other’s shoulders. “If we wanted him to die quickly we would have shot him. But we want him to die in terrible agony over the course of many hours. So, by the precision of this sundial you will lower the condemned one increment every five minutes. For your convenience the measurement are clearly marked upon the stanchions.” He grabbed a rifle from one of the privates and cocked it dramatically. “If you move quicker than this, by fifteen seconds, for any reason, you will be shot. Understood?”

The prisoners nodded silently, grimly. The condemned man began to whimper, calling out in sobs for his mother and for God.

“Cheer up!” the officer commanded, “did you think we would forget you? You, indeed, will have a little control over the course of your own demise. That is why your arms are free.” Marching over, his metal boot heels ringing out against the concrete, he placed the length of bamboo in his hand. “If you succeed in beating these men, your executioners, into unconsciousness, there is always the chance of hastening your death and avoiding many hours of agony.” He checked his watch again. “Prisoners, if he succeeds you know your fate.”

The condemned man stared reverently at his glossy, green bamboo scepter muttering something about the merciful hand of God. The prisoner’s faces went white. Then tossing the rifle and his pocket watch to the private the officer clapped his hands once.

“Silence!” he shouted, though no one had spoke. “Listen, and tell me what you hear.”

Everyone listened. It was a clear, mellow autumn morning. Somewhere in the distance a little flowing creek could be heard. Everywhere was the chirping of birds and the buzzing of insects. Breezes softly shook the foliage. Occasionally there was a muted thud as a nut or a dead limb fell to the leafy ground. The air smelled of dirt and dew and life.

“You hear,” continued the officer, “all that I want to hear. I will not tolerate your screams and moans of pain polluting the peace and beauty of this place.” He drew a deep, satisfying breath and sighed. “Don’t think that things cannot get any worse for you,” he counselled, “no one yet has found the limits to human suffering.” He glared at the prisoners, then at the privates, then stuck another cigarette in his mouth. “Alright,” he said, “begin.”

The bed-plank was lowered one increment. Only two more before the first blade would pierce flesh.

Satisfied with things the officer looked dreamily into the sky for a while, took out a handkerchief and dabbed the sweat from his brow, then turned to the privates: “I am going to go enjoy this beautiful day; maybe take a walk; maybe find myself some place nice for a nap. You will make sure this execution runs smoothly.” Then he disappeared into the pines.

The privates waited five minutes, then were quick to take off their boots and cartridge belts and relax in the shade. The bed-plank was lowered another increment. The privates took out a pack of cards and played for cigarettes, laughing and telling stories. The bed-plank was lowered again.

“My friend,” said one of the prisoners to the condemned man, “what is your name? What is your crime?” The condemned was an eerie color white, clutching the bamboo club to his chest and shivering. “Why have you not struck us with that thing yet?” asked the prisoner.

“I-I-I . . .” stuttered the condemned, then went silent.

“We would like to apologize for those blows we dealt you earlier. That sort of went beyond our control, if you know what I mean. We want you to know that we sympathize with you, Adam and I. That’s Adam and I am Zachary, if you were wondering. The first and the last man!” laughed the prisoner, “you lie between the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I hope you have a name equal to such a position.”

“N-n-no,” said the condemned, “j-j-just Joshua.”

“Well, Joshua,” said the prisoner, “brace yourself for we are lowering you.”

Down went the bed-plank. The condemned let out such a horrific scream that the birds all around fled from their nests and perches and into the air. Then with a burst of furious energy he struck back and forth across the prisoner’s heads, opening deep wounds on both their brows. The privates looked around nervously to see if the officer was returning, then settled back into their card game.

“Enough!” shouted the prisoner Zachary, and the condemned fell still. “That blade is just barely in you, and this is how you react? Where is your manhood, your dignity?”

“F-f-fuck you,” stammered the condemned, wincing.

“Put the club down and wipe the blood from my eyes, you beast. I cannot see the sundial.” With one hand the condemned ripped a piece of fabric from the prisoner’s shirt and very delicately wiped out both their eyes.

“S-sorry,” he said.

“It’s not your fault, don’t let it bother you. How are you feeling?” The condemned began to stutter something, but the prisoner did not wait. “Anyhow, it’s only going to get worse. But I want you to listen to me. Whatever you did might very well justify you ending up here, but it is too late to discuss that. But Adam and I do not deserve this — prison yes, but not this. We are here through a completely misfortunate unfolding of dumb events. We both plucked the short end of the tooth-pick, if you know what I mean. But you could help us, you know . . . Prepare yourself, Joshua. I’m sorry.”

They let down the bed another increment, and for their efforts received resounding cracks across the tops of their skulls.

“D-d-do not fool your s-selves,” said the condemned, “you are h-here because you are here, while n-n-no one else is in your p-place. Look at the sweat d-dripping down you, and th-the worry written on your f-faces. And we h-have hours yet to go. The odds are stacked against all our l-l-lives.” And with that he dealt them each another sharp blow.

“All we require,” growled the prisoner, “is for you to leave us alone. You accept your inevitable fate and let us fight to out pace the undecided nature of our own. Look out, asshole, we are going down.”

They lowered the bed-plank. By now both upper blades had dug more than an inch into his back. The pain at first was centralized and sharp, like an amplified bee-sting. But the longer the steel points dwelt in his back and the further in they pushed the broader the pain grew, like a spreading poison or fire. The only comfort was that the blades were no longer cold, his own flesh having warmed them. He eased his erratic breathing to cope, drawing longer, more even breaths.

“That’s right, friend,” said the prisoner Zachary, “calm yourself, for it will only get worse. I can see the blades and your liver is next.” He said this with a grin, but it quickly fell from his mouth for the condemned started to chuckle, then opened into real laughter.

“And I can see the sky,” said the condemned, “and there are c-c-clouds coming.”

Both prisoners looked up and cursed. They could just see the edge of a bank of cumulus clouds moving in from the west. Neither very large nor very dense, but enough. They would take longer than five minutes to pass.

Seeing their shade darken, the privates looked up from their card game, cigarettes hanging lazily from their mouths. One nudged the other, who checked his watch. Then grudgingly he pulled his boots on, strapped on his cartridge belt and approached the prisoners. Checking the chamber, he primed his rifle and leveled it at the prisoner Zachary’s chest.

“Remember, my friends,” he said, looking back and forth at both the prisoners, “no excuses. Those clouds will blot out your time-marker but not your responsibility.” He took out the pocket watch and studied it. “You better count the five minutes in your heads.”

“Allow m-m-me!” cried the condemned and, lifting his bamboo club high above him, he brought it down across Zachary’s head, crying, “one!” and then across Adam’s head, crying, “t-two!” and back again, “three!”

The prisoner Adam bore this silently, closing his eyes and never changing his expression. But Zachary could not take it.

“Hey, d-d-dead man!” he sneered in a mock stutter, “Do you know what happens to a man once his liver is punctured? Would you like me to describe it for you? You may think those points digging into your shoulders are always just an instant shy of intolerability, but you wait. Your liver is like a winesack for all the distilled venom in your body, a fleshy alchemist’s alembic. Wait until it’s opened up and spills its contents out inside your belly. A fire on the outside of you will make you want to rip off your own skin. This, my friend, is a fire within. You will relent with these incompassionate blows to our heads, I promise you, so that you can rip out your own burning guts.”

He had worked himself into a froth; blood and saliva and rage disfigured his face. The private turned laughing to the other one, pointing at Zachary.

“You should come listen to this,” he said. “This one has got a way with words.” Then he tapped at the crystal dome of the pocket watch. “The bird is on the wing, gentlemen. When is it going to be?”

Zachary immediately grew quiet and blanched. Deeply panicked he glanced at the sky where the clouds looked like a severed range of mountains, dark at their centers and trimmed in gold white where the light crept past. The sundial, with a broad inert shadow, indicated all hours at once. He turned to Adam.

“When is it, brother? Have you been counting?”

“Yes,” he said, still expressionless, “but I think I counted the third minute twice, with all the blows and your screaming. I don’t know. Why didn’t you count? I’ll guess another minute.”

“I’ll guess another fifteen seconds,” said the condemned Joshua. Zachary scowled.

“F-f-fuck you, corpse,” he said.

“Thirteen seconds now.”

“Most executions don’t end this quickly. The captain won’t like it,” said the private in a voice both menacing and unsure. “I don’t really feel like being disciplined or punished. So if you err you will be shot in the head, eventually. But I will shoot you in both knees first, and the groin and hands and abdomen, and wherever else until you’re swollen like a balloon and twice your own weight with lead.” He studied the watch, pocketed it and braced the rifle butt against his shoulder. “Now is not the time for mistakes.”

“Five seconds,” said the condemned. “Four. Three.”

A loose V of geese went honking low across the clearing’s small circle of sky, from north to south. As if people below were not in extraordinary pain. But no one noticed.

“He’s right,” said the prisoner Adam, and tried to let the bed-plank drop. But Zachary struggled like Atlas to keep the whole thing aloft. More self possessed, perhaps through the sobering effort or the nearness of death, though still desperate, he spoke to Adam with tears in his eyes.

“Why? What reason would he have to ruin this opportunity? Why would he tell us the right moment? He could end his torture now. Good sense, at the very least, should tell us to ignore him another fifteen seconds.”

“He’s right!” cried Adam, “drop it now!”

Zachary let it down another increment, and watched the third blade push into Joshua’s back, and watched a rill of bright blood rush down its length and join the expanding pool on the ground, and watched every muscle of that back clench as stiff as its merciless bed. The private uncocked his rifle, laughing.

“Who would have thought?” he muttered with a smile, traipsing back to his shade tree.

The clouds began to pass. Things shed their violet tones and took back up tones of gold and light. The sundial’s narrow shadow carved itself with vigor back into the stone. The prisoners and the condemned panted quietly, wondering at their situation. Having survived a definite crisis the prisoner Zachary began to feel more hopeful, injected with strength, heroic even. He had traveled in and out of Death’s dim valley alive, reducing the burden on his shoulders to nothing more than a test, an ordeal for his ultimate betterment, material for a good drinking tale. But something was tugging at him, sending a shiver down his body as he had only felt before upon witnessing the sea for the first time, or listening to that great anonymous guitarist in the street, or having his first love run her fingers up the back of his neck in through his hair. What was it? After a moment’s reflection he realized with a shock that it was beauty, and more than that, gratitude. Was he in fact grateful for what was happening to him? The magnitude of the notion made him ecstatic. With a sob of joy Zachary looked at the condemned Joshua grimacing in agony, biting into the butt of his bamboo weapon. The gratitude was for him. He had saved them. Dying, he had driven them to the point of despair only to shield them from disaster at the final moment, and make out of this intolerable affair an experience of real worth. This was a great man. And he had to return the favor, show him love, make his death beautiful. Zachary reached out and took the condemned’s hand.

“Thank you,” he said, with more meaning than he had ever given those words before.

Joshua pulled his hand away.

“I did that,” he said coldly, “to help d-d-drive the nail home. I am in control. I can have you any t-time I want.”

Then he smashed Zachary in the mouth, hard. Zachary tried to speak, tried to explain that things were different, that he loved him now, but only silence and a few teeth came out. He took another blow to the jaw and his knees gave out beneath him. He fell to the ground. It felt like he had withdrawn a mile into his own head. In the distance he heard Adam groan as all the weight fell upon him; he heard the private’s heavy boots run up to him and saw the rifles aimed at his face. Why? He had just received wisdom for the first time in his life; he knew this for he still felt its glow. How could wisdom lead to this? And love? The muzzle flashed. The bullet went through his eye.

“Good luck,” the private said to Adam, shrugging. “You’re on your own now.” He unchained Zachary’s corpse from the stanchion and dragged it away, leaving it in a heap near their shade tree, the back of its skull blown open.

“Why did you trust me?” the condemned asked Adam, without looking at him.

“Bite into that piece of bamboo,” Adam said. “I’m lowering you.”

Now every blade had entered his body, the first two were scraping against the back of his clavicles, the next two were fully within his liver and spleen, and the final two were beginning to unstring his knees. The pain was beyond comprehension and he spoke in a forced whisper. He asked again:

“Why d-did you trust me?”

“Because I have faith in the constant of human wickedness,” Adam said. After a long pause he went on. “It would have made simple, selfish sense for you to try and deceive us in order to end your pain, and also ours. I think it was always clear we won’t survive this, so why play it through? But that would be too easy, and not even close to terrible. In my experience people will accept massive amounts of suffering if only they can have the satisfaction of inflicting a little suffering on someone else. You must be very sad your plaything is dead, like a child who squeezes the frog too hard when he tries to catch it. I bet you didn’t mean to do that.”

Staring off into the sky a weak smile spread out on Joshua’s lips that was difficult to interpret. “This proves beyond doubt,” he laughed, “that those with f-faith are superior to those without.” He let the piece of bamboo fall to the ground. “I won’t need that anymore,” he said. “I c-can see it will no longer serve.”

“Now what?” Adam asked.

“It’s simple, you take c-c-care of your affairs and I’ll take care of mine,” he responded, almost sleepily, resting his arms across his chest as though already laid out in the coffin.

“Then it seems to me that nothing has changed. I’m afraid out prerogatives are still opposed.”

“Not anymore, I’ll l-leave you alone. Anyhow, it is only the anticipation and then the novelty of p-p-pain that are unbearable. Once met, there is no possible experience with which consciousness cannot cope. Reality is a p-poor thing.”

“So has your body grown numb to it, then?”

“No, the pain is still as acute as ever. It’s just no longer m-m-my pain. It has about as much to do with me as a cloud or a bird that passes. I am j-just looking at it.”

“Somehow that is not my experience,” Adam said. He was almost in a crouch the bed-plank had been brought so low. He watched the first blades finally break through Joshua’s chest, yet he could see that he was obviously the one in greater misery. The condemned laughed, blood beginning to seep from his mouth, the rattle growing in his throat.

“Of course not. I’m the one in more pain. It is only the g-great disasters that people can ever resign themselves to; the small ones remain unacceptable. Your aching back and shred of hope are ruining your peace. I’m one s-s-step from death and thus as calm as corpse.”

“I apologize for still wanting to live. That seems to me more than a small irritation.”

“I don’t m-mean to belittle your situation, compared to mine. Everything is born of small irritations. God c-created the universe to escape a minor discomfort. Had his pain been greater, everything would still be the in equilibrium of the abyss.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means, had God’s misery reached a certain critical m-m-mass, it would have become everything. And everything is always effectively nothing, having no opposite.”

“So why tell me this? How does this help me?”

“It doesn’t. W-what makes you think I am trying to help you? I hate you.”

“What? You threw your bamboo weapon away! You said you would leave me alone! . .”

Adam was startled. He wanted to go on but at that moment he watched the officer emerge from the pine trees, stretching and refreshed. The privates jumped to attention, cards and loose cigarettes flying everywhere.

“I only said my bamboo would not serve — for you. It worked just fine for your friend. Instead, I am giving you wisdom.”

The absurdity of the remark took a moment to register. Then Adam broke into peals of bright laughter.

“How awful!” he howled. “I don’t think I shall be able to bear it!”

Joshua waited for Adam’s hilarity to subside. Meanwhile the officer had ripped a thin, pliant limb from a nearby tree and was whipping the privates mercilessly as they pulled on their boots, straightened their uniforms, cleaned up their cards and so on.

“I have a question for you,” said the condemned.

“Ask!” cried Adam, tears of laughter still in his eyes.

“Have you understood some of what I have been saying?”

“Of course. I am not so stupid as you think.”

Hearing this Joshua smiled. “Am I really letting you raven on for life and light and air?” he questioned. “Think about it: wisdom has never helped the living.”

“And how is that?”

“Because it is only ever understood by the dead.”

With a cry of horror Adam dropped the bed-plank: dropped everything. All seven blade at once burst through Joshua’s body with such force that bits of bone and flesh were pushed through, his broken spine exiting his abdomen. But his expression remained unchanged: a weak, inscrutable grin.

“I wonder,” he whispered, a bubble of mucousy blood expanding on his lips, “what happened to my stutter?” Then the light fled from his eyes.

The officer looked up from beating the privates. He grabbed one of the rifles leaning against the trunk of the shade tree and charged Adam, who stood in a sort of daze, watching but not seeing the officer come towards him.

“Failed!” the officer cried, smashing Adam across the face with the butt of the rifle, knocking him to the ground. Then with his heavy boot on Adam’s chest he fired a round into his eye.

A frightened dove lifted noisily from some nearby tall grasses. Without drawing another breath the officer set it in the sight and shot it down.

“It did not rise up!” he cried triumphantly, “and it did not fly away!”

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4 Responses to “Short and Very Short Stories”

  1. Sick. Ingenious. Seems to have spawned from Kafka’s In the Penal Colony. Love the Atlas reference. Wouldn’t have picked up on it if my conceited lit teacher hadn’t ruined my life.

  2. That was one of my favorite journal entries. I’m going to use this device to deal with my malcontents when I’m the enviable King of the Northern Hemisphere.

  3. Brilliant. I followed some of your links yesterday to a journal with similar stories. The really beautiful thing about this writing is the care taken over it. It is meticulous while dealing with the borderline between two worlds which is a fantastic technical feat of writing giving that the line is usually so blurry.
    The levels of imagery and reference are so carefully intertwined and the prose so balanced and correct that one can only read the story as a literal one, a journal entry whilst at the same time the reader is transported into a world of spirits and fables.
    Brilliant writing, wonderful prose.

  4. Fabulist tales hold a special place in my heart. Just otherworldly enough to make me read carefully, just sane enough to make me glad I did. Great stuff…

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