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short storyn the year 1841, there resided, at different points in the State of Illinois, three brothers by the name of Trailor. Their Christian names were William, Henry and Archibald. Archibald resided at Springfield, then as now the seat of Government of the State. He was a sober, retiring, and industrious man, of about thirty years of age; a carpenter by trade, and a bachelor, boarding with his partner in business—a Mr. Myers. Henry, a year or two older, was a man of like retiring and industrious habits; had a family, and resided with it on a farm, at Clary’s Grove, about twenty miles distant from Springfield in a northwesterly direction. William, still older, and with similar habits, resided on a farm in Warren county, distant from Springfield something more than a hundred miles in the same northwesterly direction. He was a widower, with several children. In the neighborhood of William’s residence, there was, and had been for several years, a man by the name of Fisher, who was somewhat above the age of fifty; had no family, and no settled home; but who boarded and lodged a while here and a while there, with persons for whom he did little jobs of work. His habits were remarkably economical, so that an impression got about that he had accumulated a considerable amount of money. In the latter part of May, in the year mentioned, William formed the purpose of visiting his brothers at Clary’s Grove and Springfield; and Fisher, at the time having his temporary residence at his house, resolved to accompany him. They set out together in a buggy with a single horse. On Sunday evening they reached Henry’s residence, and stayed overnight. On Monday morning, being the first Monday of June, they started on to Springfield, Henry accompanying them on horseback. They reached town about noon, met Archibald, went with him to his boardinghouse, and there took up their lodgings for the time they should remain. After dinner, the three Trailors and Fisher left the boardinghouse in company, for the avowed purpose of spending the evening together in looking about the town. At supper, the Trailors had all returned, but Fisher was missing, and some inquiry was made about him. After supper, the Trailors went out professedly in search of him. One by one they returned, the last coming in after late teatime, and each stating that he had been unable to discover anything of Fisher. The next day, both before and after breakfast, they went professedly in search again, and returned at noon, still unsuccessful. Dinner again being had, William and Henry expressed a determination to give up the search, and start for their homes. This was remonstrated against by some of the boarders about the house, on the ground that Fisher was somewhere in the vicinity, and would be left without any conveyance, as he and William had come in the same buggy. The remonstrance was disregarded, and they departed for their homes respectively. Up to this time, the knowledge of Fisher’s mysterious disappearance had spread very little beyond the few boarders at Myers’, and excited no considerable interest. After the lapse of three or four days, Henry returned to Springfield, for the ostensible purpose of makings further search for Fisher. Procuring some of the boarders, he, together with them and Archibald, spent another day in ineffectual search, when it was again abandoned, and he returned home. No general interest was yet excited. On the Friday, week after Fisher’s disappearance, the Postmaster at Springfield received a letter from the Postmaster nearest William’s residence, in Warren County, stating that William had returned home without Fisher, and was saying, rather boastfully, that Fisher was dead, and had willed him his money, and that he had got about fifteen hundred dollars by it. The letter further stated that William’s story and conduct seemed strange, and desired the Postmaster at Springfield to ascertain and write what was the truth in the matter. The Postmaster at Springfield made the letter public, and at once, excitement became universal and intense. Springfield, at that time, had a population of about 3,500, with a city organization. The Attorney General of the State resided there. A purpose was forthwith formed to ferret out the mystery, in putting which into execution, the Mayor of the city and the Attorney General took the lead. To make search for, and, if possible, find the body of the man supposed to be murdered, was resolved on as the first step. In pursuance of this, men were formed into large parties, and marched abreast, in all directions, so as to let no inch of ground in the vicinity remain unsearched. Examinations were made of cellars, wells, and pits of all descriptions, where it was thought possible the body might be concealed. All the fresh, or tolerably fresh graves in the graveyard, were pried into, and dead horses and dead dogs were disintered, where, in some instances, they had been buried by their partial masters. This search, as has appeared, commenced on Friday. It continued until Saturday afternoon without success, when it was determined to dispatch officers to arrest William and Henry, at their residences, respectively. The officers started on Sunday morning; meanwhile, the search for the body was continued, and rumors got afloat of the Trailors having passed, at different times and places, several gold pieces, which were readily supposed to have belonged to Fisher. On Monday, the officers sent for Henry, having arrested him, arrived with him. The Mayor and Attorney Gen’l took charge of him, and set their wits to work to elicit a discovery from him. He denied, and denied, and persisted in denying. They still plied him in every conceivable way, till Wednesday, when, protesting his own innocence, he stated that his brothers, William and Archibald, had murdered Fisher; that they had killed him, without his (Henry’s) knowledge at the time, and made a temporary concealment of his body; that, immediately preceding his and William’s departure from Springfield for home, on Tuesday, the day after Fisher’s disappearance, William and Archibald communicated the fact to him, and engaged his assistance in making a permanent concealment of the body; that, at the time he and William left professedly for home, they did not take the road directly, but, meandering their way through the streets, entered the woods at the northwest of the city, two or three hundred yards to the right of where the road they should have travelled, entered them; that, penetrating the woods some few hundred yards, they halted and Archibald came a somewhat different route, on foot, and joined them; that William and Archibald then stationed him (Henry) on an old and disused road that ran near by, as a sentinel, to give warning of the approach of any intruder; that William and Archibald then removed the buggy to the edge of a dense brush thicket, about forty yards distant from his (Henry’s) position, where, leaving the buggy, they entered the thicket, and in a few minutes returned with the body, and placed it in the buggy; that from his station he could and did distinctly see that the object placed in the buggy was a dead man, of the general appearance and size of Fisher; that William and Archibald then moved off with the buggy in the direction of Hickox’s mill pond, and after an absence of half an hour, returned, saying they had put him in a safe place; that Archibald then left for town, and he and William found their way to the road, and made for their homes. At this disclosure, all lingering credulity was broken down, and excitement rose to an almost inconceivable height. Up to this time the well-known character of Archibald had repelled and put down all suspicions as to him. Till then, those who were ready to swear that a murder had been committed, were almost as confident that Archibald had had no part in it. But now, he was seized and thrown into jail; and indeed, his personal security rendered it by no means objectionable to him. And now came the search for the brush thicket, and the search of the mill pond. The thicket was found, and the buggy tracks at the point indicated. At a point within the thicket, the signs of a struggle were discovered, and a trail from thence to the buggy track was traced. In attempting to follow the track of the buggy from the thicket, it was found to proceed in the direction of the mill pond, but could not be traced all the way. At the pond, however, it was found that a buggy had been backed down to, and partially into the water’s edge. Search was now to be made in the pond; and it was made in every imaginable way. Hundreds and hundreds were engaged in raking, fishing, and draining. After much fruitless effort in this way, on Thursday morning the mill dam was cut down, and the water of the pond partially drawn off, and the same processes of search again gone through with. About noon of this day, the officer sent for William, returned having him in custody; and a man calling himself Dr. Gilmore, came in company with them. It seems that the officer arrested William at his own house, early in the day on Tuesday, and started to Springfield with him; that after dark awhile, they reached Lewiston, in Fulton County, where they stopped for the night; that late in the night this Dr. Gilmore arrived, stating that Fisher was alive at his house, and that he had followed on to give the information, so that William might be released without further trouble; that the officer, distrusting Dr. Gilmore, refused to release William, but brought him on to Springfield, and the doctor accompanied them. On reaching Springfield, the doctor re-asserted that Fisher was alive, and at his house. At this, the multitude for a time, were utterly confounded. Gilmore’s story was communicated to Henry Trailor, who without faltering, reaffirmed his own story about Fisher’s murder. Henry’s adherence to his own story was communicated to the crowd, and at once the idea started, and became nearly, if not quite universal, that Gilmore was a confederate of the Trailors, and had invented the tale he was telling, to secure their release and escape. Excitement was again at its zenith. About three o’clock the same evening, Myers, Archibald’s partner, started with a two-horse carriage, for the purpose of ascertaining whether Fisher was alive, as stated by Gilmore, and if so, of bringing him back to Springfield with him. On Friday a legal examination was gone into before two Justices, on the charge of murder against William and Archibald. Henry was introduced as a witness by the prosecution, and on oath re-affirmed his statements, as heretofore detailed, and at the end of which he bore a thorough and rigid cross-examination without faltering or exposure. The prosecution also proved, by a respectable lady, that on the Monday evening of Fisher’s disappearance, she saw Archibald, whom she well knew, and another man whom she did not then know, but whom she believed at the time of testifying to be William, (then present,) and still another, answering the description of Fisher, all enter the timber at the northwest of town, (the point indicated by Henry,) and after one or two hours, saw William and Archibald return without Fisher. Several other witnesses testified, that on Tuesday, at the time William and Henry professedly gave up the search for Fisher’s body, and started for home, they did not take the road directly, but did go into the woods, as stated by Henry. By others, also, it was proved, that since Fisher’s disappearance, William and Archibald had passed rather an unusual number of gold pieces. The statements heretofore made about the thicket, the signs of a struggle, the buggy tracks, &c., were fully proven by numerous witnesses. At this the prosecution rested. Dr. Gilmore was then introduced by the defendants. He stated that he resided in Warren county, about seven miles distant from William’s residence; that on the morning of William’s arrest, he was out from home, and heard of the arrest, and of its being on a charge of the murder of Fisher; that on returning to his own house, he found Fisher there; that Fisher was in very feeble health, and could give no rational account as to where he had been during his absence; that he (Gilmore) then started in pursuit of the officer, as before stated; and that he should have taken Fisher with him, only that the state of his health did not permit. Gilmore also stated that he had known Fisher for several years, and that he had understood he was subject to temporary derangement of mind, owing to an injury about his head received in early life. There was about Dr. Gilmore so much of the air and manner of truth, that his statement prevailed in the minds of the audience and of the court, and the Trailors were discharged, although they attempted no explanation of the circumstances proven by the other witnesses. On the next Monday, Myers arrived in Springfield, bringing with him the now famed Fisher, in full life and proper person. Thus ended this strange affair and while it is readily conceived that a writer of novels could bring a story to a more perfect climax, it may well be doubted whether a stranger affair ever really occurred. Much of the matter remains in mystery to this day. The going into the woods with Fisher, and returning without him, by the Trailors; their going into the woods at the same place the next day, after they professed to have given up the search; the signs of a struggle in the thicket, the buggy tracks at the edge of it; and the location of the thicket, and the signs about it, corresponding precisely with Henry’s story, are circumstances that have never been explained. William and Archibald have both died since—William in less than a year, and Archibald in about two years after the supposed murder. Henry is still living, but never speaks of the subject. It is not the object of the writer of this to enter into the many curious speculations that might be indulged upon the facts of this narrative; yet he can scarcely forbear a remark upon what would, almost certainly, have been the fate of William and Archibald, had Fisher not been found alive. It seems he had wandered away in mental derangement, and, had he died in this condition, and his body been found in the vicinity, it is difficult to conceive what could have saved the Trailors from the consequence of having murdered him. Or, if he had died, and his body never found, the case against them would have been quite as bad, for, although it is a principle of law that a conviction for murder shall not be had, unless the body of the deceased be discovered, it is to be remembered, that Henry testified that he saw Fisher’s dead body. Published by Abraham Lincoln, April 15, 1846 Listen to a reading of the story:   Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literature / short storyThe vast Amazon Valley, traversed by the largest river in South America, is covered from end to end by forests of spectacular beauty, and is without equal anywhere. However, these jungles have a terrible reputation due to the extraordinary abundance of reptiles hidden beneath those endless canopies of greenery. The most colossal boas can be found there, either lurking below or suspended from the branches of the trees. They wait for unfortunate animals or people to pass by, then drop to coil around their prey. The thinnest and smallest snakes, only the length of a quill pen, are also found here, and these are perhaps even more deadly due to the potency of their poison. Woe to any careless man venturing into these magnificent forests without a large knife or a good machete! He will not leave this place alive, and either die in the terrible coils of the boas or perish from the venom of coral snakes, for which there is no antidote. Some years ago, a great unease spread among those who worked at the San Felipe plantation, which belonged to a Brazilian who had amassed a fortune cultivating coffee. Slaves who had ventured into the nearby forest for kindling spoke with terror of a serpent without equal in length or size. When the owner of the plantation, Don Manuel Herrera, was told about this, he feared that his laborers, mostly Black slaves, would flee for their lives. So he summoned loggers to help him verify the tales – the stories seemed too fantastic even to Don Manuel Herrera. Don Manuel had seen large snakes himself several times, and had even killed quite a few of them. He had also heard indigenous stories of an immense monster called “giloia,” native to the swamps and the marshes, and which was sometimes observed in certain caves along the banks of the Amazon. The four loggers and their overseer, who was also happened to be the farm manager, returned from the jungle and reported to the owner. The poor souls were still trembling with fear. “Tell me, Como,” he said to the oldest one. “Did you find any serpents?” “A huge, horrible snake, sir,” the terrified slave replied. “I’ve never seen one like it, and I don’t think there is in all of the Amazon.” ““We were cutting a dead tree when the ground rumbled… a long crack appeared…. a bad demon rose from hell. It was strange…inexplicable………we ran to a clearing. “Then we saw the monster. The ground had split! Plants were broken. The gigantic snake rose from that crack, master. Twenty-five meters long… thicker than you and me.” “You saw this with your own eyes?” “Yes, sir,” the four of them replied in unison. “Are you sure it wasn’t a python?” “No, sir. No python.” Como replied. “What did it look like?” “It was dark as a demon….with the skin of a dragon” The planter turned to his overseer, a local man who was also well traveled. “Do you think serpents so enormous can exist?” he asked. “It could be a ‘giloia,’ sir,” the overseer replied. “A rare reptile whose existence was doubted for a long time, but it does live in certain Amazon forests.” “How dangerous is this creature?” “They say it can tear a man limb from limb.” “I don’t believe in the existence of such prehistoric monsters at all,” the planter said. “However, I intend to seek out this reptile, determine its species and kill it.” “Don’t expose yourself to such danger, sir.” “Would you be afraid to accompany me?” “I will follow my master anywhere,” the overseer replied. “If you are heading into danger, it’s my duty to accompany you.” “Then we’ll go and look for this legendary “giloia,'” the planter said with a determined voice. “If it exists at all. Gather my weapons and prepare my dogs.” Less than half an hour later Don Manuel Herrera left his house, followed by his overseer and four his enormous mastiffs, dogs used to chase off jaguars and cougars and for hunting runaway slaves. They were fierce and hardened canines, each wearing an iron collar covered with sharp spikes to prevent them from being strangled by wild beasts. The four slaves had proceeded in advance, and were waiting at the edge of the forest. It was noon. The sun – now at its highest – scorched the backs of the poor laborers across the fields, and the valley seemed locked in an ominous silence. The birds, drowsy from the intense heat, no longer chirped. Even the parrots, those eternal chatterboxes, remained quiet, hidden beneath the enormous leaves of the jupati palms. Don Manuel and the overseer hurried across the open fields. The heat in the Amazon valleys, especially between eleven in the morning until four in the afternoon, is extremely dangerous. Only indigenous tribes or Blacks may defy the mid-day sun with impunity, and work without woven head ware. Fortunately, the protective roof of the forest was nearby. It was more than a forest; it was an endless expanse of virgin wilderness, extending from the deserted banks of the Amazon – for leagues and leagues. Plants of all species and sizes grew side by side wrapped in vines. Many of them were highly valuable. In such fertile regions, a person could find the necessities of life without farming or even work. In the depths of the forest, there were trees that produce excellent milk not much different from what a cow might provide. A cut in a tree trunk would make the tasty liquid drip in abundance. Other trees produce a kind of bread, or rather, certain fruits as large as a child’s head. These are filled with pulp that is sliced and toasted on charcoal, and which they say taste almost like artichoke. And still others that produce excellent wax for the making of candles, and filaments for weaving very sturdy clothing, as well as delicious fruits like bananas, pineapples, and more. When the planter and the overseer reached the first trees, they found the four Blacks crouched behind the trunk of a coconut palm, their faces pale. “Master,” Como said, “do not make us meet the devil again. The ‘giloia will eat our soul.” “I don’t know what to do with your help,” the planter replied. “Have you seen the serpent again?” “No, sir.” “Where did you see the crack?” “The gates of hell lie 500 paces yonder, master!” “Let’s go, overseer,” Herrera said. “And you cowards, may return to the plantation!” He released the four mastiffs, loaded his rifle, and ventured into the forest. “Always keep an eye on the treetops, master,” the overseer said. “Boas often hide among the leaves and drop from above as soon as they spot prey.” “I’ll be cautious,” the planter replied. The dogs began to show signs of unease. They stopped frequently, sniffing the air and the ground, and growled while looking at their owner. They seemed frightened, yet they were fearless animals, that never shied away even from the fiercest jaguars, which are the tigers of America. Five hundred paces into the forest, they found the huge fissure. The ground, which appeared to be made of dry mud, had been lifted along a vast stretch, and the force exerted by the monster had been such that it had overturned several plants. “It was under here that the reptile was hiding,” said the planter, astonished that a serpent could develop such strength. “You can still see scales and bits of skin scattered among the debris,” sighed the overseer. “Do you really think it’s one of those infamous ‘giloias’?” “They say that these monstrous reptiles, during the dry season, immerse themselves in swamps where they fall into a deep slumber or hide in caves, only to emerge two or three months later.” “In which direction do you think the monster twisted?” “It must have headed toward the river to seek refuge in caves. There are many of them in these parts, you know.” “Let’s rely on the dogs,” the planter said. “I believe they are already on the right track.” The four mastiffs, after sniffing along the entire crevice, had moved up to the opposite side, trotting among the dry leaves covering the forest floor. They had picked up the scent of the enormous reptile and were determening a direction. Don Herrera and the overseer loaded their rifles and set off after the dogs, looking under the thick bushes and among the branches, although they were convinced that a creature of that size couldn’t climb those trees without breaking them. They had discovered a passage among the plants, like an immense furrow, which must have been created by the monstrous reptile. Many young plants had been flattened, and numerous shrubs were completely broken. It now dawned on the planter that the indigenous legends of the ‘giloia,’ might be true, after all. The evidence was simply too strong. They had been walking for half an hour, trailing the dogs, when barks and agitated growls were heard. They were now near the river. The distant roars of the immense Amazon could already be heard, its waters smashing against protruding rocks. “Master,” said the overseer with a pale and solemn face, “we must be near the serpent’s refuge.” “Are there caves here?” the planter asked. “Yes, there’s a huge one that no one has ever dared to explore, and it’s believed to lead into the heart of a mountain.” “We’ll cut some resinous branches and go visit it.” As they were about to move on, they heard screams from the river, shrill female cries: “Jaco! Jaco!” with an indescribable tone of terror. The howling dogs lead the planter and the overseer toward the river. At this point, the amazon streamed between tall and rocky banks, pierced by deep holes that might lead to the mysterious caves. After passing the cliffs, the planter stopped, and overcome by a paralyzing fear, he was for a moment unable to lift his rifle. An enormous serpent, over twenty-five meters long, all dark, with its body covered in very thick scales still encrusted with mud in their joints, emerged from one of those black crevices, sliding down the steep bank. At the bottom, in a wooden canoe, a young woman from the tribes, desperately clasped her baby, shouting in desperation and despair: “Jaco! Jaco!” It was probably her husband’s name. The terrifying reptile had spotted her and was descending with its mouth wide open, flicking its forked tongue and hissing. Paralyzed by fear, the woman -who belonged to a local tribe – was unable to push her canoe from the banks. She embraced her precious child in desperation, as if this would save it. When she saw the two of them, her arms stretched towards them, holding up her baby. Her voice – almost choking with terror – screamed: “Help, white man!” Two gunshots rang out, one after the other. But it was too late. The enormous reptile had snatched the woman and the child, and with incredible speed, it had slid into its black hole, vanishing from sight. For a moment, they still heard the cries of the poor woman, then there was a profound silence. Even the dogs no longer barked. “She’s lost!” the planter exclaimed, throwing his arms in the air. “We arrived too late.” At that moment, an tribesman armed with an axe hastily descended the riverbank. “My wife! My son! The ‘giloia!'” he shouted, stopping in front of the planter. “Accursed snake! I knew it had to be here. I must avenge my wife and my son, or I can no longer be a chief for my tribe.” After the outburst, he composed himself with a sudden self-control unique to Red men. Whether they belong to the warlike tribes of North America or to the indolent and wild ones of South America, emotions will never disfigure their faces long. Once the initial surprise or anger has passed, they vanish behind a mask of indifference – as if nothing had happened. This came as no surprise to the planter, who had had frequent dealings with the indigenous tribes. “What will you do now that the ‘giloia’ has destroyed your family?” he asked. “I will avenge my wife and my son,” Jaco replied, his jet-black eyes sparkled and gleamed fiercely. “Have you ever killed a ‘giloia’?” “No, those snakes are rare. But I heard that my friend, the chief of the Ottomachi, found one near a cave last year and killed it. Why shouldn’t I, Jaco, neither a weakling nor a coward, be able to do the same?” “The monster won’t be taken by surprise,” said the overseer. “It knows we’re here, it will be on guard. After devouring its prey, it will prepare for a fight.” “At night, snakes sleep,” said the tribesman “Behold the shadow of evening!” “Do you know that cave?” Don Herrera asked. “I’ve visited it several times to find the green stones that we use as amulets against enemy arrows.” “If you help us kill that monster, I’ll give you a rifle.” That was all it took to win over a tribesman. Besides, the man wanted to avenge his wife and son, not because he was grieved by the loss of his companion and heir, as tribesmen are not overly attached to their families, but because of that primal instinct that dominates primitive peoples. “I will kill the ‘giloia,” he said calmly. “Wait for me here.” He climbed up the bank, and half an hour later, he returned with a bundle of resinous branches, which were to serve as torches, and his blowgun, a kind of wooden tube, slightly wider at the base and narrower toward the top, which they use to launch their arrows with tips dipped in the highly poisonous curare. By blowing forcefully into it, they can send their darts a distance of up to fifty meters and are so skilled that they don’t miss even the smallest birds. “When the white man is ready,” he said after distributing the branches. The sun was about to disappear behind the thickets, and night was descending rapidly. The birds were fleeing, and giant bats, ominous vampires that feed on blood, flapped over treetops. They feed on any man or animal that falls asleep in the forests or on the riverbanks. The planter, the overseer, the tribesman, and the dogs climbed the bank and stopped in front of the crevice where the colossal reptile was last seen. Fearing that it might be nearby, they first lit resinous branch and stretched it into the opening, shaking it in all directions. Hearing no noise or hissing, the three men cautiously entered the cave, their rifles and blowgun ready. “It must have fled into the cave,” said the tribesman. “There’s a hall of stone…the ‘giloia’ will feel safe… And a lake without bottom..they love water.” “This tribesman has courage,” the planter said to the overseer. “I must admit, master, that I have an uneasy feeling about this.” “We have the dogs in front of us, and they’ll warn us of danger.” The mastiffs preceded the hunters, but they didn’t seem too eager to discover the terrible cave boa. From time to time, they stopped and turned their heads toward their master, as if to ask if it wouldn’t be better to give up the expedition, which didn’t seem to be to their liking. The cavern widened enormously. Huge rooms adorned with magnificent stalactites followed one another, with lateral cavities that it was impossible to know where they led. The monster could be lurking in any one of these. The tribesman, appearing confident, never hesitated. He continued to advance under the dark vaults, holding the resinous branch high, its reddish flame sometimes flickering, as if strong air currents were entering from invisible cracks. They had already crossed four caves when Jaco stopped, bending toward the ground and showing something that wavered in his hand. “Do you see the ‘giloia’?” the planter asked. The tribesman stood up, extending his hand. “My wife’s hair,” he said in a hoarse voice. “The ‘giloia’ spat them out.” Then he added with a certain satisfaction: “They are black and long and will make a good impression on my war shield.” “These tribesmen,” said the planter, disgusted. “They have not an ounce of heart!” Jaco hung the hair, still smeared with blood and saliva, from his belt and resumed the march. He had abandoned his blowgun and was now wielding the war ax, a much better and safer weapon for facing such a reptile. They crossed four more caves, each one longer than the previous. Then they entered a gallery and arrived on the banks of a large, almost circular, blackwater pond. They were about to go around it when a gust of wind, coming from a lateral gallery, suddenly extinguished their torches, leaving them in utter darkness. “Light the torches! Light the torches! the terrified planter yelled to the tribesman. They heard Jaco rummaging in the bag hanging from his belt, then he exclaimed: “I no longer have the flint!” “Overseer, you do it!” Don Herrera whispered, as if afraid to draw the attention of the lurking boa. “I’m not a smoker, master,” was the reply. “I never carry one with me.” At that moment, they heard the dogs growling, and then the black waters of the pond began to roar and gurgle. “Let’s flee!” the planter cried. “The ‘giloia’ is breaking the surface” They rushed toward the gallery they had crossed shortly before, fumbling in the profound darkness. A few seconds later, they bumped into a wall, and all fell together. “Where are we?” Herrera asked. “We must have lost our way and entered a side gallery,” the tribesman said. “Listen!” the overseer exclaimed, shivering. From the depths of the cave, near the pond, they heard shrill hissing and furious barking. “My dogs are attacking the reptile,” Herrera said. “They’re lost,” the tribesman said. The barking had turned into lamenting cries that lasted for a few moments, and then silence once again enveloped the cave. “The serpent has killed my dogs!” the planter exclaimed, making an angry gesture. “We’ll avenge them too,” the tribesman replied. “You know what, let’s just get the hell out of here,” Herrera said, losing all confidence in the tribesman. “We’ll find the exit,” Jaco said. “Stay close to me, or better yet, hold onto my belt.” He detached from the wall and pushed forward, trying not to veer to the right or left, eventually finding a passage. “We must be in one of the seven caves,” he said then. “Keep following me.” He walked at a very fast pace. He, too, wanted to get out as soon as possible, afraid that the terrifying serpent might strike at them at any moment. Suddenly, he stopped, leaning against a wall. “Halt!” he said. “Have we lost our way again?” the planter asked. “Listen.” A rustling noise sounded nearby, the slither and rattle of the ‘giloia’s’ large scales, and it was approaching at some speed. “Could the boa be heading for the exit?” Herrera whispered. “Yes,” the tribesman replied. “Hold your breath and don’t move! If it senses our presence, it will come at us.” They pressed up against the wall, their rifles and blowgun ready, fearing an attack at any moment. The rustling drew nearer. But then there was a sudden silence. They thought had been discovered, but then the sounds resumed as it moved farther and farther from them. “It has passed us,” the tribesman said. “Now we attack!” “Perhaps we should let it go?” the overseer suggested. “No,” Jaco replied. “We’ll wait until it is halfway out of the crevice, and then off its tail.” They tiptoed after the rustles, until, finally, the mouth of the cave appeared before them – illuminated by the moon. “The ‘giloia’ is about to leave,” Jaco said, holding the ax. “Wait until the head and half of its body is out!” The attack from the dogs had disturbed it, it no longer felt safe and now it searched for another hiding place. The enormous body slid into the crevice, almost blocking it entirely. It was caught in a trap, unable to turn in its defense. “Attack!” the tribesman yelled, his eyes had already adjusted to the darkness. He leaped with the ax raised and began to strike the serpent’s tail vigorously, while the planter and the overseer, with their rifles unloaded, grabbed the cutlasses, which were no less sharp than the tribesman’s ax. As the serpent felt pain it its tails, it hissed angrily and writhed, trying in vain to back up and confront its attackers. The narrow opening held it in a lock. Now, the two planters and the tribes stuck at it repeatedly, breaking its vertebrae and scales. The serpent, mad with pain, then tried to escape. With one final effort, it withdrew the end of its body and slid down the slope into the river below, and vanished in the water. “It’s gone!” the planter exclaimed with regret. “I wanted to preserve its skin.” “It will be my gift to you,” the tribesman said. His wife’s canoe still floated by the banks, and he stepped into it and paddled off. Two days later, Jaco returned to the fazenda, followed by six tribesman carrying the skin of the enormous reptile. He had found the monster on an islet, where it had gone to die. The skin measured twenty-four meters and had a circumference of seventy centimeters. Today that fearsome cave boa makes a fine display in the lounge of the San Felipe plantation, and naturalists flock to admire it.   translated by Michael Henrik Wynn         Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literatureIn Praise of Fanfic I wrote my first story when I was six. It was 1977, and I had just had my mind blown clean out of my skull by a new movie called Star Wars (the golden age of science fiction is twelve; the golden age of cinematic science fiction is six). I rushed home and stapled a bunch of paper together, trimmed the sides down so that it approximated the size and shape of a mass-market paperback, and set to work. I wrote an elaborate, incoherent ramble about Star Wars, in which the events of the film replayed themselves, tweaked to suit my tastes. I wrote a lot of Star Wars fanfic that year. By the age of twelve, I’d graduated to Conan. By the age of eighteen, it was Harlan Ellison. By the age of twenty-six, it was Bradbury, by way of Gibson. Today, I hope I write more or less like myself. Walk the streets of Florence and you’ll find a copy of the David on practically every corner. For centuries, the way to become a Florentine sculptor has been to copy Michelangelo, to learn from the master. Not just the great Florentine sculptors, either — great or terrible, they all start with the master; it can be the start of a lifelong passion, or a mere fling. The copy can be art, or it can be crap — the best way to find out which kind you’ve got inside you is to try. Science fiction has the incredible good fortune to have attracted huge, social groups of fan-fiction writers. Many pros got their start with fanfic (and many of them still work at it in secret), and many fanfic writers are happy to scratch their itch by working only with others’ universes, for the sheer joy of it. Some fanfic is great — there’s plenty of Buffy fanfic that trumps the official, licensed tie-in novels — and some is purely dreadful. Two things are sure about all fanfic, though: first, that people who write and read fanfic are already avid readers of writers whose work they’re paying homage to; and second, that the people who write and read fanfic derive fantastic satisfaction from their labors. This is great news for writers. Great because fans who are so bought into your fiction that they’ll make it their own are fans forever, fans who’ll evangelize your work to their friends, fans who’ll seek out your work however you publish it. Great because fans who use your work therapeutically, to work out their own creative urges, are fans who have a damned good reason to stick with the field, to keep on reading even as our numbers dwindle. Even when the fandom revolves around movies or TV shows, fanfic is itself a literary pursuit, something undertaken in the world of words. The fanfic habit is a literary habit. In Japan, comic book fanfic writers publish fanfic manga called Dōjinshi — some of these titles dwarf the circulation of the work they pay tribute to, and many of them are sold commercially. Japanese comic publishers know a good thing when they see it, and these fanficcers get left alone by the commercial giants they attach themselves to. And yet for all this, there are many writers who hate fanfic. Some argue that fans have no business appropriating their characters and situations, that it’s disrespectful to imagine your precious fictional people in sexual scenarios, or to retell their stories from a different point of view, or to snatch a victorious happy ending from the tragic defeat the writer ended her book with. Other writers insist that fans who take without asking — or against the writer’s wishes — are part of an “entitlement culture” that has decided that it has the moral right to lift scenarios and characters without permission, that this is part of our larger postmodern moral crisis that is making the world a worse place. Some writers dismiss all fanfic as bad art and therefore unworthy of appropriation. Some call it copyright infringement or trademark infringement, and every now and again, some loony will actually threaten to sue his readers for having had the gall to tell his stories to each other. I’m frankly flabbergasted by these attitudes. Culture is a lot older than art — that is, we have had social storytelling for a lot longer than we’ve had a notional class of artistes whose creativity is privileged and elevated to the numinous, far above the everyday creativity of a kid who knows that she can paint and draw, tell a story and sing a song, sculpt and invent a game. To call this a moral failing — and a new moral failing at that! — is to turn your back on millions of years of human history. It’s no failing that we internalize the stories we love, that we rework them to suit our minds better. The Pygmalion story didn’t start with Shaw or the Greeks, nor did it end with My Fair Lady. Pygmalion is at least thousands of years old — think of Moses passing for the Pharaoh’s son! — and has been reworked in a billion bedtime stories, novels, D&D games, movies, fanfic stories, songs, and legends. Each person who retold Pygmalion did something both original — no two tellings are just alike — and derivative, for there are no new ideas under the sun. Ideas are easy. Execution is hard. That’s why writers don’t really get excited when they’re approached by people with great ideas for novels. We’ve all got more ideas than we can use — what we lack is the cohesive whole. Much fanfic — the stuff written for personal consumption or for a small social group — isn’t bad art. It’s just not art. It’s not written to make a contribution to the aesthetic development of humanity. It’s created to satisfy the deeply human need to play with the stories that constitute our world. There’s nothing trivial about telling stories with your friends — even if the stories themselves are trivial. The act of telling stories to one another is practically sacred — and it’s unquestionably profound. What’s more, lots of retellings are art: witness Pat Murphy’s wonderful There and Back Again (Tolkien) and Geoff Ryman’s brilliant World Fantasy Award-winning Was (L. Frank Baum). The question of respect is, perhaps, a little thornier. The dominant mode of criticism in fanfic circles is to compare a work to the canon — “Would Spock ever say that, in ‘real’ life?” What’s more, fanfic writers will sometimes apply this test to works that are of the canon, as in “Spock never would have said that, and Gene Roddenberry has no business telling me otherwise.” This is a curious mix of respect and disrespect. Respect because it’s hard to imagine a more respectful stance than the one that says that your work is the yardstick against which all other work is to be measured — what could be more respectful than having your work made into the gold standard? On the other hand, this business of telling writers that they’ve given their characters the wrong words and deeds can feel obnoxious or insulting. Writers sometimes speak of their characters running away from them, taking on a life of their own. They say that these characters — drawn from real people in our lives and mixed up with our own imagination — are autonomous pieces of themselves. It’s a short leap from there to mystical nonsense about protecting our notional, fictional children from grubby fans who’d set them to screwing each other or bowing and scraping before some thinly veiled version of the fanfic writer herself. There’s something to the idea of the autonomous character. Big chunks of our wetware are devoted to simulating other people, trying to figure out if we are likely to fight or fondle them. It’s unsurprising that when you ask your brain to model some other person, it rises to the task. But that’s exactly what happens to a reader when you hand your book over to him: he simulates your characters in his head, trying to interpret that character’s actions through his own lens. Writers can’t ask readers not to interpret their work. You can’t enjoy a novel that you haven’t interpreted — unless you model the author’s characters in your head, you can’t care about what they do and why they do it. And once readers model a character, it’s only natural that readers will take pleasure in imagining what that character might do offstage, to noodle around with it. This isn’t disrespect: it’s active reading. Our field is incredibly privileged to have such an active fanfic writing practice. Let’s stop treating them like thieves and start treating them like honored guests at a table that we laid just for them. Originally published in Locus, May 2007. Included in Cory Doctorov’s collection Content, published under a creative commons license. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyby Michael Henrik Wynn I have suspected my neighbor of using my garden hose without my permission for many years, perhaps even 20. Of course, I have never asked him about it, even if he sometimes comes to dinner in my own home. In stead, I have begun watching him. I sit by my window in the evening observing him as he goes about his business. My thought was that if I could catch him in the act then I would rush out and finally have my theories proven. I am retired, and I don’t have much else to do. After having been at my post every morning some years, I discovered that someone else, the neighbor one house up, was in fact using my neighbor’s garden hose in his absence, most certainly without his permission. Clearly, this was extremely immoral, and I would not stand for it. So, I got the idea that if I informed my long hated Nemesis about the fact that his neighbor was taking liberties, the two of them would bring about each other’s downfall. So, one morning I casually walked up to my dishonest neighbor and mentioned, almost in passing, that I had seen the neighbor one house down entering his house that morning. My neighbor did not say anything, but his eyes revealed a total shock. I was very pleased, and returned to my lookout post. The next day, I could see my Nemesis peering through his curtains, obviously trying to verify my gossip. He also began walking down the road, looking up at his neighbor’s house in disbelief. The two passed even each other in the street, and my Nemesis gave the neighbor a very nasty look. I almost had to smile. But what happened then was not what I expected. My Nemesis told me over dinner that he had discovered that the matter was related to a use of a garden hose, and that he had talked with his neighbor one house down, and that the garden hose would be placed in the shed, where they both could get to it with ease. The matter was settled, he said. This was not what I wanted, so I had to come up with something else in the spur of the moment. “And what about your car?” I asked. “My car?” said my neighbor. “Yes, I have seen your neighbor driving your car while you are away? I thought you had an agreement?” My neighbor was wonderfully shocked, threw down his dinner napkin and ran out the door. The next morning the two of them were shouting it out on the front lawn. I was hidden behind a semitransparent curtain in front of an open window. I could not see their faces, but I saw the distinct silhouettes of their waving arms and heard their mutual accusations and insults. I almost laughed when my long held Nemesis struck his neighbor in the face. Now it would be a matter for the police, and the courts would be involved. And I was quite right. I wandered down the road to the neighbor one house down. I have never known him very well. Still, I feel some connection to him because his sister is the ex-wife of my own brother. She is a very nice person, but I have kept my distance out of respect for my brother. They quarreled, you see. I found him frantically dialing something on his mobile phone. He had a black eye, and was very agitated. “Hello”, I said. “Have you been in an accident?” I pointed to my own eye to indicate what I meant. “No! I most certainly have not,” he said. “My neighbor has gone absolutely insane and has started to accuse me of using his car. It all started with me using his garden hose without his permission. I thought it would be no big deal.”“No big deal!!” I exclaimed. “Taking liberties with others is a huge breach of trust. And now he has struck you in the face! You must take legal action!”“I was planning to, but then I thought my credibility would be ruined by the fact that I had used his garden hose. I have admitted this in front of witnesses. But using a garden hose is not the same as using his car. Which is what he is now claiming.”“Well”, I said. “Your neighbor might not be as morally upright as he is pretending to be. In fact, I may be willing to testify in court to this fact. And as you know, I may be retired. But I have impeccable credentials after spending almost 40 years as a clerk in the legal department of the town property registry. No one will doubt my word”.“Really? You would do such a thing for me? But we hardly know each other?”“We do in a way. Many years ago, your sister was married to my younger brother. I have never mentioned it because they argued so terribly, and I kept my distance out of respect for my brother. But I have always liked your sister much better than my own brother.”“I see,” he said and thoughtfully scratched his ear. “Will you give me a week to think about this. I will do as you say. But I must find a good lawyer. Some are very expensive?”“Of course”, I said and smiled confidently. “I understand completely”.I then returned to my home, and had a full bottle of wine to celebrate. Finally, I would be given a chance to confront my best friend about his illegitimate use of my garden hose. The whole world would be able to read the court transcripts a hundred years from now. If there is one thing a legal clerk knows, it is that history does not remember things that are not written in black and white.A week later, I was informed that a date for a trial was set. Of course, the case was not given priority, so we all had to wait half a year. But it was worth the wait because matters of principle cannot go unsettled.The two of them appeared in court on opposite sides with each their own suited lawyers. I was seated at the back, and would appear as a witness later. They both knew this, but I had not been too specific about what I was going to say. I had mentioned the hose, but I thought I would air some other flaws in my Nemesis’ character that had annoyed me over the years.First, there was some legal mambo-jumbo, but then finally the man was on the stand telling the horrific story of the unmotivated violence to which he had been so unfairly subjected. I smiled as he recounted the unsubstantiated car story to the court. “But of course, this is nothing compared to the man who is about to appear as a witness. He always uses this man’s lawnmower when he is gone. And he also sometimes steals his mail.”“WHAT!!” I shouted from the back.“Yes, I can confirm this” my Nemesis said. “I have seen this many times. He is always taking liberties. He is not honest. I am very sorry for having struck you. Will you forgive me?”Then the two of them met in front of the judge, and hugged. The judge sighed. Then, he lifted his gavel and, almost in dismay, struck at the table as he said: “case dismissed”. My two neighbors and their lawyers then left, almost without looking at me.I sat alone at the back utterly confused. But then I got up and shouted at the judge: “I have NEVER EVER used someone else’s lawnmower without their permission. These are all lies, I tell you!”.   Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / literatureIn 1873 the restless poetic prodigy composed one of his final and greatest works. Arthur Rimbaud had been shot by his lover. Now he left the literary salons to become a vagabond, a deserter and a gun runner among the sand dunes of north Africa. Rimbaud came upon the artistic crowd in Paris like an invasion from the Ardenne. All his life he tried to escape his claustrophobic childhood. His father was passing soldier who deserted his family and his mother was strict, religious and maintained a facade of respectability. Most people who met Rimbaud were stunned by his talent, but they soon detected a rebellious streak behind his childish features. If there ever lived a poet of the gutter or a man who lived up to the bohemian myth of the restless artiste, Rimbaud must be it. He wrote his masterpieces between the ages of 16 and 19. Then he quit suddenly, left everyone and everything and became a legend. There are different theories as to why he did this. Was it the break-up with his homosexual lover Paul Verlaine? (Verlaine was much older than Rimbaud.) Was it his tragic childhood? He ran away from home when he was 14. As a teenager he searched the dustbins of Paris when France lost the war against Prussia in 1870. He saw the last French empire dissolve and the communes of Paris. He hung out with artists, painters, drank constantly, experimented with drugs and lived fully the life of the caffees. But after Verlaine had shot him in the hand, Rimbaud withdrew to face up to his theory of art in the poem “A Season in Hell” and decided to become a man of action. Verlaine, who still missed his wife and children, made a futile attempt at reconciliation, but Rimbaud turned his back on him. Verlaine was a born again christian at this time, and he is said to have prayed for Rimbaud’s salvation: “Merciful God,please save this angry child.” Distant horizons Rimbaud’s travels brought him to most countries in Europe, including Sweden, but after his sister’s death in 1875, he set his eye on exotic continents. First he decided to travel to Russia via Austria, but in Wien he was robbed by his own coachman. He begged in the streets until he was arrested by the police for vagrancy and shipped out of the country. A year later he was in the Netherlands where he joined the army for a six-year period, but after a few months in Java, he deserted. He returned to Paris wearing British sailor’s outfit. Then he decided to go to Egypt. In Hamburg he heard that a ship was due to sail from Greece, and in 1878 he crossed the alps during the winter season, an insane undertaking that almost cost him his life. A few months later he could proudly engrave his name on one of the pillars at the Luxor temple. In Egypt he worked for a while in Alexandria before he moved to Cyprus. Here he contracted typhoid, and when he returned to his mother he was only 25. Rimbaud’s return was nothing but a stay of necessity. Suffering had been a part of his artistic ideas, and now it became the force that drove him. He returned immediately to Cyprus where he saved up enough money to travel south along the shores of the Red Sea. Tired and sick with fever he ended up in the desolate and isolated seaport of Aden. Here he came into contact with a French coffee merchant, and it was in his service that the vast interior with its waving sand dunes, jagged peaks and savage tribes opened up to him. He was sent to Harar, a city where no Frenchmen had been, and soon he was given the opportunity to penetrate deeper into the unknown continent, the heart of darkness. His article about this journey was published by the French Geographical society, but only his letter to his mother revealed his true feelings: Loneliness is a wretched thing, and I am starting to regret the fact that I never married or started a family. As things are now, I am obliged to roam the earth, tied down by a distant enterprise. And every day I lose my taste for the climate and way of life in Europe. But no, what does the endless spending and accumulation of profit mean, these adventures, this hardship among alien races, these languages that fill my mind; what does all the indescribable suffering mean if I not, after many years, can rest in a place I like and have my own family. . .. Who knows how long I can survive in the mountains here. I may lose my life among these people without anyone ever knowing. .. The arms dealer When Rimbaud finally returned to Aden he brought with him an Abyssinian woman with who he lived happily for a while. We don’t know the reason for why he sent her away. New changes arrived in the area. Egypt was losing its political position, and like many Europeans Rimbaud tried to make money from gun running. He found experienced partners and invested all his savings to fund a caravan, but lady luck was not on his side. One of his colleagues was murdered and the other two fell ill. Rimbaud took charge of the caravan himself, from the coast to the interior. It took several months, a bitter contest with the elements. When he finally reached his destination, he was swindled by the devious king Menelek, and the balance only barely swung in his favor. Because he had a unique knowledge of local conditions, and because Italy had become active in the region, Rimbaud sent some articles to the newspaper Le Temps. The articles were rejected, but the newspaper could tell about his growing reputation in France. You probably don’t know this as you live so remote, but you have become a legend to a small circle here in Paris; one of those who is taken for dead, but who still maintain a group who believes in you and who patiently awaits your return. The petty salons of Europe were part of a world that Rimbaud had permanently abandoned. Rimbaud was now a weathered adventurer who pursued his investments. He found a partner for shipping goods between the French port Djibouti and Harar. His partner got him involved in the illegal slave trade to Arabia. However, he traded mostly in guns and other merchandise. Gradually he established a significant business and was well liked as a trader and known for his integrity and frugal nature. He had a good relationship to the natives, often helping those in need. As a white man in Africa, he was still an outsider, and he often wrote dreamy letters to his mother about how she would give him away in marriage upon his return to France. The servant Djami kept him company, a constant support for Rimbaud. The warm-hearted Rimbaud married him off when he turned 20, even if it served to consolidate his own solitude. The poet returns The decision to return to Europe was inevitable. In 1891 Rimbaud was struck by pains in one of his feet. It became infected and he lost mobility. He feared that his days were numbered and he immediately set course for home. 16 servants carried him through desert and rainstorm to the sea port. The local doctor eased his symptoms, which allowed him to set sail for Marseille. He telegraphed his mother and his sister and asked them to meet him there, and told them he might have to amputate one of his legs. He was carried ashore, but realised his time had come. All he could think about now was whether his personal life had been wasted. He returned as a poetic legend, but he never got in touch with his old colleagues. His final days were spent with his sister and he constantly complained about the fact that he had not married: And I who had planned to return to France this fall to marry. Goodbye marriage! Goodbye family! Goodbye future! My life is over! I am nothing but a rotting log. Rimbaud died November 9 1891 by his sister’s side, at the age of 37. His many acts of rebellion both in life and in poetry have since influenced a generation of poets. When his old lover, the great Verlaine, published his book about what he called “the damned poets”, Rimbaud was given special mention. In the 1960s he was admired by Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan, and he became – in spite of the fact that he resented his own fate – the poet icon of the sixties. Michael Henrik Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literatureOur new podcast  series, “At the Bottom of the Sea”, starts one rainy afternoon in Tromso, a small town in North Norway some time in the near future. We follow a number of characters as they board a helicopter. There is Frank Hansen, a military diver, Fatima Ali, the cook and several others. The aircraft are heading to a converted oil rig in the middle of the North Sea. There, a diving vessel will take them to the sea floor and a research base, a permanent settlement 2000 m below the surface. However, something goes wrong, and soon events unfold which baffle the imagination and test them all. The Cast Frank Hansen (military diver) Krister Brandser Fatima Ali (cook) Julie Hoverson Peter Edwardsen (base leader) Peter Yearsley Henrik Abelsen (genius mathmatician) George Snow Hans Storm (biologist) mentioned character Egon Gundersen (engineeer) mentioned character  Schultz (chief engineer)  mentioned character Inga & Nils (twins, kitchen help)  mentioned characters The play was written and edited by  Michael Henrik Wynn ( editor) Listen to “At the Bottom of the Sea” episode 1. Listen to “At the Bottom of the Sea” episode 2. Listen to “At the Bottom of the Sea” episode 3. Listen to “At the Bottom of the Sea” episode 4. (conclusion) Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short story“Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” by Kelly Link (1969- ) Dear Mary (if that is your name), I bet you’ll be pretty surprised to hear from me. It really is me, by the way, although I have to confess at the moment that not only can I not seem to keep your name straight in my head, Laura? Susie? Odile? but I seem to have forgotten my own name. I plan to keep trying different combinations: Joe loves Lola, Willy loves Suki, Henry loves you, sweetie, Georgia?, honeypie, darling. Do any of these seem right to you? All last week I felt like something was going to happen, a sort of bees and ants feeling. Something was going to happen. I taught my classes and came home and went to bed, all week waiting for the thing that was going to happen, and then on Friday I died. One of the things I seem to have misplaced is how, or maybe I mean why. It’s like the names. I know that we lived together in a house on a hill in a small comfortable city for nine years, that we didn’t have kids—except once, almost—and that you’re a terrible cook, oh my darling, Coraline? Coralee? and so was I, and we ate out whenever we could afford to. I taught at a good university, Princeton? Berkeley? Notre Dame? I was a good teacher, and my students liked me. But I can’t remember the name of the street we lived on, or the author of the last book I read, or your last name which was also my name, or how I died. It’s funny, Sarah? but the only two names I know for sure are real are Looly Bellows, the girl who beat me up in fourth grade, and your cat’s name. I’m not going to put your cat’s name down on paper just yet. We were going to name the baby Beatrice. I just remembered that. We were going to name her after your aunt, the one that doesn’t like me. Didn’t like me. Did she come to the funeral? I’ve been here for three days, and I’m trying to pretend that it’s just a vacation, like when we went to that island in that country. Santorini? Great Britain? The one with all the cliffs. The one with the hotel with the bunkbeds, and little squares of pink toilet paper, like handkerchiefs. It had seashells in the window too, didn’t it, that were transparent like bottle glass? They smelled like bleach? It was a very nice island. No trees. You said that when you died, you hoped heaven would be an island like that. And now I’m dead, and here I am. This is an island too, I think. There is a beach, and down on the beach is a mailbox where I am going to post this letter. Other than the beach, the mailbox, there is the building in which I sit and write this letter. It seems to be a perfectly pleasant resort hotel with no other guests, no receptionist, no host, no events coordinator, no bellboy. Just me. There is a television set, very old-fashioned, in the hotel lobby. I fiddled the antenna for a long time, but never got a picture. Just static. I tried to make images, people out of the static. It looked like they were waving at me. My room is on the second floor. It has a sea view. All the rooms here have views of the sea. There is a desk in my room, and a good supply of plain, waxy white paper and envelopes in one of the drawers. Laurel? Maria? Gertrude? I haven’t gone out of sight of the hotel yet, Lucille? because I am afraid that it might not be there when I get back. Yours truly, You know who. The dead man lies on his back on the hotel bed, his hands busy and curious, stroking his body up and down as if it didn’t really belong to him at all. One hand cups his testicles, the other tugs hard at his erect penis. His heels push against the mattress and his eyes are open, and his mouth. He is trying to say someone’s name. Outside, the sky seems much too close, made out of some grey stuff that only grudgingly allows light through. The dead man has noticed that it never gets any lighter or darker, but sometimes the air begins to feel heavier, and then stuff falls out of the sky, fist-sized lumps of whitish-grey doughy matter. It falls until the beach is covered, and immediately begins to dissolve. The dead man was outside, the first time the sky fell. Now he waits inside until the beach is clear again. Sometimes he watches television, although the reception is poor. The sea goes up and back the beach, sucking and curling around the mailbox at high tide. There is something about it that the dead man doesn’t like much. It doesn’t smell like salt the way a sea should. Cara? Jasmine? It smells like wet upholstery, burnt fur. Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose Dear May? April? Ianthe? My room has a bed with thin, limp sheets and an amateurish painting of a woman sitting under a tree. She has nice breasts, but a peculiar expression on her face, for a woman in a painting in a hotel room, even in a hotel like this. She looks disgruntled. I have a bathroom with hot and cold running water, towels, and a mirror. I looked in the mirror for a long time, but I didn’t look familiar. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a good look at a dead person. I have brown hair, receding at the temples, brown eyes, and good teeth, white, even, and not too large. I have a small mark on my shoulder, Celeste? where you bit me when we were making love that last time. Did you somehow realize it would be the last time we made love? Your expression was sad; also, I seem to recall, angry. I remember your expression now, Eliza? You glared up at me without blinking and when you came, you said my name, and although I can’t remember my name, I remember you said it as if you hated me. We hadn’t made love for a long time. I estimate my height to be about five feet, eleven inches, and although I am not unhandsome, I have an anxious, somewhat fixed expression. This may be due to circumstances. I was wondering if my name was by any chance Roger or Timothy or Charles. When we went on vacation, I remember there was a similar confusion about names, although not ours. We were trying to think of one for her, I mean, for Beatrice. Petrucchia, Solange? We wrote them all with long pieces of stick on the beach, to see how they looked. We started with the plain names, like Jane and Susan and Laura. We tried practical names like Polly and Meredith and Hope, and then we became extravagant. We dragged our sticks through the sand and produced entire families of scowling little girls named Gudrun, Jezebel, Jerusalem, Zedeenya, Zerilla. How about Looly, I said. I knew a girl named Looly Bellows once. Your hair was all snarled around your face, stiff with salt. You had about a zillion freckles. You were laughing so hard you had to prop yourself up with your stick. You said that sounded like a made-up name. Love, You know who. The dead man is trying to act as if he is really here, in this place. He is trying to act in a normal and appropriate fashion. As much as is possible. He is trying to be a good tourist. He hasn’t been able to fall asleep in the bed, although he has turned the painting to the wall. He is not sure that the bed is a bed. When his eyes are closed, it doesn’t seem to be a bed. He sleeps on the floor, which seems more floorlike than the bed seems bedlike. He lies on the floor with nothing over him and pretends that he isn’t dead. He pretends that he is in bed with his wife and dreaming. He makes up a nice dream about a party where he has forgotten everyone’s name. He touches himself. Then he gets up and sees that the white stuff that has fallen out of the sky is dissolving on the beach, little clumps of it heaped around the mailbox like foam. Dear Elspeth? Deborah? Frederica? Things are getting worse. I know that if I could just get your name straight, things would get better. I told you that I’m on an island, but I’m not sure that I am. I’m having doubts about my bed and the hotel. I’m not happy about the sea or the sky, either. The things that have names that I’m sure of, I’m not sure they’re those things, if you understand what I’m saying, Mallory? I’m not sure I’m still breathing, either. When I think about it, I do. I only think about it because it’s too quiet when I’m not. Did you know, Alison? that up in those mountains, the Berkshires? the altitude gets too high, and then real people, live people forget to breathe also? There’s a name for when they forget. I forget what the name is. But if the bed isn’t a bed, and the beach isn’t a beach, then what are they? When I look at the horizon, there almost seem to be corners. When I lay down, the corners on the bed receded like the horizon. Then there is the problem about the mail. Yesterday I simply slipped the letter into a plain envelope, and slipped the envelope, unaddressed, into the mailbox. This morning the letter was gone and when I stuck my hand inside, and then my arm, the sides of the box were damp and sticky. I inspected the back side and discovered an open panel. When the tide rises, the mail goes out to sea. So I really have no idea if you, Pamela? or, for that matter, if anyone is reading this letter. I tried dragging the mailbox further up the beach. The waves hissed and spit at me, a wave ran across my foot, cold and furry and black, and I gave up. So I will simply have to trust to the local mail system. Hoping you get this soon, You know who. The dead man goes for a walk along the beach. The sea keeps its distance, but the hotel stays close behind him. He notices that the tide retreats when he walks towards it, which is good. He doesn’t want to get his shoes wet. If he walked out to sea, would it part for him like that guy in the bible? Onan? He is wearing his second-best suit, the one he wore for interviews and weddings. He figures it’s either the suit that he died in, or else the one that his wife buried him in. He has been wearing it ever since he woke up and found himself on the island, disheveled and sweating, his clothing wrinkled as if he had been wearing it for a long time. He takes his suit and his shoes off only when he is in his hotel room. He puts them back on to go outside. He goes for a walk along the beach. His fly is undone. The little waves slap at the dead man. He can see teeth under that water, in the glassy black walls of the larger waves, the waves farther out to sea. He walks a fair distance, stopping frequently to rest. He tires easily. He keeps to the dunes. His shoulders are hunched, his head down. When the sky begins to change, he turns around. The hotel is right behind him. He doesn’t seem at all surprised to see it there. All the time he has been walking, he has had the feeling that just over the next dune someone is waiting for him. He hopes that maybe it is his wife, but on the other hand if it were his wife, she’d be dead too, and if she were dead, he could remember her name. Dear Matilda? Ivy? Alicia? I picture my letters sailing out to you, over those waves with the teeth, little white boats. Dear reader, Beryl? Fern? you would like to know how I am so sure these letters are getting to you? I remember that it always used to annoy you, the way I took things for granted. But I’m sure you’re reading this in the same way that even though I’m still walking around and breathing (when I remember to) I’m sure I’m dead. I think that these letters are getting to you, mangled, sodden but still legible. If they arrived the regular way, you probably wouldn’t believe they were from me, anyway. I remembered a name today, Elvis Presley. He was the singer, right? Blue shoes, kissy fat lips, slickery voice? Dead, right? Like me. Marilyn Monroe too, white dress blowing up like a sail, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Looly Bellows (remember?) who lived next door to me when we were both eleven. She had migraine headaches all through the school year, which made her mean. Nobody liked her, before, when we didn’t know she was sick. We didn’t like her after. She broke my nose because I pulled her wig off one day on a dare. They took a tumor out of her head that was the size of a chicken egg but she died anyway. When I pulled her wig off, she didn’t cry. She had brittle bits of hair tufting out of her scalp and her face was swollen with fluid like she’d been stung by bees. She looked so old. She told me that when she was dead she’d come back and haunt me, and after she died, I pretended that I could see not just her—but whole clusters of fat, pale, hairless ghosts lingering behind trees, swollen and humming like hives. It was a scary fun game I played with my friends. We called the ghosts loolies, and we made up rules that kept us safe from them. A certain kind of walk, a diet of white food—marshmallows, white bread rolled into pellets, and plain white rice. When we got tired of the loolies, we killed them off by decorating her grave with the remains of the powdered donuts and Wonderbread our suspicious mothers at last refused to buy for us. Are you decorating my grave, Felicity? Gay? Have you forgotten me yet? Have you gotten another cat yet, another lover? or are you still in mourning for me? God, I want you so much, Carnation, Lily? Lily? Rose? It’s the reverse of necrophilia, I suppose—the dead man who wants one last fuck with his wife. But you’re not here, and if you were here, would you go to bed with me? I write you letters with my right hand, and I do the other thing with my left hand that I used to do with my left hand, ever since I was fourteen, when I didn’t have anything better to do. I seem to recall that when I was fourteen there wasn’t anything better to do. I think about you, I think about touching you, think that you’re touching me, and I see you naked, and you’re glaring at me, and I’m about to shout out your name, and then I come and the name on my lips is the name of some dead person, or some totally made-up name. Does it bother you, Linda? Donna? Penthesilia? Do you want to know the worst thing? Just a minute ago I was grinding into the pillow, bucking and pushing and pretending it was you, Stacy? under me, oh fuck it felt good, just like when I was alive and when I came I said, “Beatrice.” And I remembered coming to get you in the hospital after the miscarriage. There were a lot of things I wanted to say. I mean, neither of us was really sure that we wanted a baby and part of me, sure, was relieved that I wasn’t going to have to learn how to be a father just yet, but there were still things that I wish I’d said to you. There were a lot of things I wish I’d said to you. You know who. The dead man sets out across the interior of the island. At some point after his first expedition, the hotel moved quietly back to its original location, the dead man in his room, looking into the mirror, expression intent, hips tilted against the cool tile. This flesh is dead. It should not rise. It rises. Now the hotel is back beside the mailbox, which is empty when he walks down to check it. The middle of the island is rocky, barren. There are no trees here, the dead man realizes, feeling relieved. He walks for a short distance—less than two miles, he calculates, before he stands on the opposite shore. In front of him is a flat expanse of water, sky folded down over the horizon. When the dead man turns around, he can see his hotel, looking forlorn and abandoned. But when he squints, the shadows on the back veranda waver, becoming a crowd of people, all looking back at him. He has his hands inside his pants, he is touching himself. He takes his hands out of his pants. He turns his back on the shadowy porch. He walks along the shore. He ducks down behind a sand dune, and then down a long hill. He is going to circle back. He is going to sneak up on the hotel if he can, although it is hard to sneak up on something that always seems to be trying to sneak up on you. He walks for a while, and what he finds is a ring of glassy stones, far up on the beach, driftwood piled inside the ring, charred and black. The ground is trampled all around the fire, as if people have stood there, waiting and pacing. There is something left in tatters and skin on a spit in the center of the campfire, about the size of a cat. The dead man doesn’t look too closely at it. He walks around the fire. He sees tracks indicating where the people who stood here, watching a cat roast, went away again. It would be hard to miss the direction they are taking. The people leave together, rushing untidily up the dune, barefoot and heavy, the imprints of the balls of the foot deep, heels hardly touching the sand at all. They are headed back towards the hotel. He follows the footprints, sees the single track of his own footprints, coming down to the fire. Above, in a line parallel to his expedition and to the sea, the crowd has walked this way, although he did not see them. They are walking more carefully now, he pictures them walking more quietly. His footprints end. There is the mailbox, and this is where he left the hotel. The hotel itself has left no mark. The other footprints continue towards the hotel, where it stands now, small in the distance. When the dead man gets back to the hotel, the lobby floor is dusted with sand, and the television is on. The reception is slightly improved. But no one is there, although he searches every room. When he stands on the back veranda, staring out over the interior of the island, he imagines he sees a group of people, down beside the far shore, waving at him. The sky begins to fall. Dear Araminta? Kiki? Lolita? Still doesn’t have the right ring to it, does it? Sukie? Ludmilla? Winifred? I had that same not-dream about the faculty party again. She was there, only this time you were the one who recognized her, and I was trying to guess her name, who she was. Was she the tall blonde with the nice ass, or the short blonde with the short hair who kept her mouth a little open, like she was smiling all the time? That one looked like she knew something I wanted to know, but so did you. Isn’t that funny? I never told you who she was, and now I can’t remember. You probably knew the whole time anyway, even if you didn’t think you did. I’m pretty sure you asked me about that little blond girl, when you were asking. I keep thinking about the way you looked, that first night we slept together. I’d kissed you properly on the doorstep of your mother’s house, and then, before you went inside, you turned around and looked at me. No one had ever looked at me like that. You didn’t need to say anything at all. I waited until your mother turned off all the lights downstairs, and then I climbed over the fence, and up the tree in your backyard, and into your window. You were leaning out of the window, watching me climb, and you took off your shirt so that I could see your breasts, I almost fell out of the tree, and then you took off your jeans and your underwear had a day of the week embroidered on it, Holiday? and then you took off your underwear too. You’d bleached the hair on your head yellow, and then streaked it with red, but the hair on your pubis was black and soft when I touched it. We lay down on your bed, and when I was inside you, you gave me that look again. It wasn’t a frown, but it was almost a frown, as if you had expected something different, or else you were trying to get something just right. And then you smiled and sighed and twisted under me. You lifted up smoothly and strongly as if you were going to levitate right off the bed, and I lifted with you as if you were carrying me and I almost got you pregnant for the first time. We never were good about birth control, were we, Eliane? Rosemary? And then I heard your mother out in the backyard, right under the elm I’d just climbed, yelling “Tree? Tree?” I thought she must have seen me climb it. I looked out the window and saw her directly beneath me, and she had her hands on her hips, and the first thing I noticed were her breasts, moonlit and plump, pushed up under her dressing gown, fuller than yours and almost as nice. That was pretty strange, realizing that I was the kind of guy who could have fallen in love with someone after not so much time, really, truly, deeply in love, the forever kind, I already knew, and still notice this middle-aged woman’s tits. Your mother’s tits. That was the second thing I learned. The third thing was that she wasn’t looking back at me. “Tree?” she yelled one last time, sounding pretty pissed. So, okay, I thought she was crazy. The last thing, the thing I didn’t learn, was about names. It’s taken me a while to figure that out. I’m still not sure what I didn’t learn, Aina? Jewel? Kathleen? but at least I’m willing. I mean, I’m here still, aren’t I? Wish you were here, You know who. At some point, later, the dead man goes down to the mailbox. The water is particularly unwaterlike today. It has a velvety nap to it, like hair. It raises up in almost discernable shapes. It is still afraid of him, but it hates him, hates him, hates him. It never liked him, never. “Fraidy cat, fraidy cat,” the dead man taunts the water. When he goes back to the hotel, the loolies are there. They are watching television in the lobby. They are a lot bigger than he remembers. Dear Cindy, Cynthia, Cenfenilla, There are some people here with me now. I’m not sure if I’m in their place—if this place is theirs, or if I brought them here, like luggage. Maybe it’s some of one, some of the other. They’re people, or maybe I should say a person I used to know when I was little. I think they’ve been watching me for a while, but they’re shy. They don’t talk much. Hard to introduce yourself, when you have forgotten your name. When I saw them, I was astounded. I sat down on the floor of the lobby. My legs were like water. A wave of emotion came over me, so strong I didn’t recognize it. It might have been grief. It might have been relief. I think it was recognition. They came and stood around me, looking down. “I know you,” I said. “You’re loolies.” They nodded. Some of them smiled. They are so pale, so fat! When they smile, their eyes disappear in folds of flesh. But they have tiny soft bare feet, like children’s feet. “You’re the dead man,” one said. It had a tiny soft voice. Then we talked. Half of what they said made no sense at all. They don’t know how I got here. They don’t remember Looly Bellows. They don’t remember dying. They were afraid of me at first, but also curious. They wanted to know my name. Since I didn’t have one, they tried to find a name that fit me. Walter was put forward, then rejected. I was un-Walter-like. Samuel, also Milo, also Rupert. Quite a few of them liked Alphonse, but I felt no particular leaning towards Alphonse. “Tree,” one of the loolies said. Tree never liked me very much. I remember your mother standing under the green leaves that leaned down on bowed branches, dragging the ground like skirts. Oh, it was such a tree! the most beautiful tree I’d ever seen. Halfway up the tree, glaring up at me, was a fat black cat with long white whiskers, and an elegant sheeny bib. You pulled me away. You’d put a T-shirt on. You stood in the window. “I’ll get him,” you said to the woman beneath the tree. “You go back to bed, mom. Come here, Tree.” Tree walked the branch to the window, the same broad branch that had lifted me up to you. You, Ariadne? Thomasina? plucked him off the sill and then closed the window. When you put him down on the bed, he curled up at the foot, purring. But when I woke up, later, dreaming that I was drowning, he was crouched on my face, his belly heavy as silk against my mouth. I always thought Tree was a silly name for a cat. When he got old and slept out in the garden, he still didn’t look like a tree. He looked like a cat. He ran out in front of my car, I saw him, you saw me see him, I realized that it would be the last straw—a miscarriage, your husband sleeps with a graduate student, then he runs over your cat—I was trying to swerve, to not hit him. Something tells me I hit him. I didn’t mean to, sweetheart, love, Pearl? Patsy? Portia? You know who. The dead man watches television with the loolies. Soap operas. The loolies know how to get the antenna crooked so that the reception is decent, although the sound does not come in. One of them stands beside the TV to hold it just so. The soap opera is strangely dated, the clothes old-fashioned, the sort the dead man imagines his grandparents wore. The women wear cloche hats, their eyes are heavily made up. There is a wedding. There is a funeral, also, although it is not clear to the dead man watching, who the dead man is. Then the characters are walking along a beach. The woman wears a black-and-white striped bathing costume that covers her modestly, from neck to mid-thigh. The man’s fly is undone. They do not hold hands. There is a buzz of comment from the loolies. “Too dark,” one says, about the woman. “Still alive,” another says. “Too thin,” one says, indicating the man. “Should eat more. Might blow away in a wind.” “Out to sea.” “Out to Tree.” The loolies look at the dead man. The dead man goes to his room. He locks the door. His penis sticks up, hard as a tree. It is pulling him across the room, towards the bed. The man is dead, but his body doesn’t know it yet. His body still thinks that it is alive. He begins to say out loud the names he knows, beautiful names, silly names, improbable names. The loolies creep down the hall. They stand outside his door and listen to the list of names. Dear Bobbie? Billie? I wish you would write back. You know who. When the sky changes, the loolies go outside. The dead man watches them pick the stuff off the beach. They eat it methodically, chewing it down to a paste. They swallow, and pick up more. The dead man goes outside. He picks up some of the stuff. Angel food cake? Manna? He smells it. It smells like flowers: like carnations, lilies, like lilies, like roses. He puts some in his mouth. It tastes like nothing at all. The dead man kicks at the mailbox. Dear Daphne? Proserpine? Rapunzel? Isn’t there a fairy tale where a little man tries to do this? Guess a woman’s name? I have been making stories up about my death. One death I’ve imagined is when I am walking down to the subway, and then there is a strong wind, and the mobile sculpture by the subway, the one that spins in the wind, lifts up and falls on me. Another death is you and I, we are flying to some other country, Canada? The flight is crowded, and you sit one row ahead of me. There is a crack! and the plane splits in half, like a cracked straw. Your half rises up and my half falls down. You turn and look back at me, I throw out my arms. Wineglasses and newspapers and ribbons of clothes fall up in the air. The sky catches fire. I think maybe I stepped in front of a train. I was riding a bike, and someone opened a car door. I was on a boat and it sank. This is what I know. I was going somewhere. This is the story that seems the best to me. We made love, you and I, and afterwards you got out of bed and stood there looking at me. I thought that you had forgiven me, that now we were going to go on with our lives the way they had been before. Bernice? you said. Gloria? Patricia? Jane? Rosemary? Laura? Laura? Harriet? Jocelyn? Nora? Rowena? Anthea? I got out of bed. I put on clothes and left the room. You followed me. Marly? Genevieve? Karla? Kitty? Soibhan? Marnie? Lynley? Theresa? You said the names staccato, one after the other, like stabs. I didn’t look at you, I grabbed up my car keys, and left the house. You stood in the door, watched me get in the car. Your lips were still moving, but I couldn’t hear. Tree was in front of the car and when I saw him, I swerved. I was already going too fast, halfway out of the driveway. I pinned him up against the mailbox, and then the car hit the lilac tree. White petals were raining down. You screamed. I can’t remember what happened next. I don’t know if this is how I died. Maybe I died more than once, but it finally took. Here I am. I don’t think this is an island. I think that I am a dead man, stuffed inside a box. When I’m quiet, I can almost hear the other dead men scratching at the walls of their boxes. Or maybe I’m a ghost. Maybe the waves, which look like fur, are fur, and maybe the water which hisses and spits at me is really a cat, and the cat is a ghost, too. Maybe I’m here to learn something, to do penance. The loolies have forgiven me. Maybe you will, too. When the sea comes to my hand, when it purrs at me, I’ll know that you’ve forgiven me for what I did. For leaving you after I did it. Or maybe I’m a tourist, and I’m stuck on this island with the loolies until it’s time to go home, or until you come here to get me, Poppy? Irene? Delores? which is why I hope you get this letter. You know who.   Originally published in the collection Stranger Things Happen (2001), released under a creative commons license.  Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literature / travelWhen Somalis appear in western media it is often as victims or perpetrators. “It is to be expected. They come from a country in anarchy”, we’re told. Yet, even among the ruins of Somalia, books are being read and written, and problems are being discussed in fictional form.  Ali Jimale Ahmed is a professor of comparative African literature, and he draws a nuanced picture of the cultural life of his native country. Somalia has long been considered a failed state, but are there still significant authors who write about daily life in the country? Professor Ahmed: By all accounts Somalia is a failed state–governmental structures and the ideologies that sustained them have collapsed. But that does not mean that a semblance of pseudo-state organizations are absent. The international community–the U.N., the EU, the AU, and a host of other organizations are in the country to shore up the internationally recognized government. That said, when we speak about Somali writing and writers, it is much better to differentiate between two forms of discourses, namely, discourses of the state and discourses of the nation. Seen from that perspective, there are significant authors who write about daily life–the trials and tribulations, as well as the accomplishments of people trying to eke out a living under difficult circumstances–in all parts of Somalia. These writers publish articles and books inside the country. One need only read the many books published in the “country.” What sort of education do the normal citizen of Somalia get these days? Professor Ahmed: Education is one of the sectors severally impacted by the collapse of the state. There is no uniform or harmonized curriculum. The various state entities do not have a coherent educational policy in place. Private institutions and civil society groups run the educational sector. Depending on their affiliation or from where they get their financial or moral/intellectual support from these institutions replicate the kind of curriculum found in Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan, and the UK, and so on. That said, graduates from those schools and universities are found to be well prepared to undertake undergraduate and graduate studies in European and North American universities.  Some such students are now studying at Princeton, for example. Like many African countries Somalia has a proud and ancient history, to what extent do Somali today writers revive this tradition of stories in their work? Professor Ahmed: This is one of the reasons that Somali society has still a viable and resilient culture. Since the collapse of the state, there has been a concerted effort on the part of intellectuals to publish on Somali history and literature. There are Somali websites like Hoyga Suugaanta and Laashin that specialize in literature, and Somali presses, such as Scansom, Laashin and Iftiinka Aqoonta in Sweden, Looh press in England, Redsea-online publishing Group in Italy/UK/Somaliland, that publish the findings and collections of both aspiring and established authors. Literature, in all its forms, is held in high esteem. Indeed, the etymology of suugaan, Somali word for literature, means the sap or fluid of certain plants like the geesariyood. These plants are evergreen, and are associated with life and the sustaining of life under precarious situations or conditions. When all else is gone as a result of a drought, for example, the sap from this plant will sustain a modicum of existence, of life. Thus for the Somali, literature is sustenance that nourishes both the body and mind. When we hear news from Somalia, they often involve Al Shabab and Islamic extremism. What sort of attitude do the major Somali writers take to religion? Professor Ahmed: With the exception of Nuruddin Farah, whose novels have internationalized the Somali case, other major writers rarely discuss religious issues in their fiction. In Maps and Secrets, for example, Farah is at times critical of what he perceives to be excesses and transgressions by those who claim to be religious. In his Past Imperfect Trilogy (2004-2011), In Links, the narrative limns the contours of the post-Siad Barre Somalia–warlords, U.s. intervention, the successes of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), and the eventual arrival on the scene by the better equipped Ethiopian soldiers that denied the ICU what seemed to be a total victory against the warlords. In Crossbones, farah’s narrative reveals a misreading of Somali pirates who were perceived to be Al Shabab members or surrogates. The diaspora is central to the Somali experience, and thus also the racism and prejudices that its citizens face abroad. Are there novels in the Somali language which tell the story of refugees? A recent novel that touches on this topic is Ismaaciil C. Ubax’s Gaax (“Deferment or Postponement”), . It is a novel that describes or trails the lives of three main characters who, even though they live in different climes and times, share certain uncanny characteristics. Equally important are books written for Somali children who are born in the Diaspora. Musa M. Isse’s bilingual tales written in Somali and Swedish help kids born in the Diaspora to develop strong identities. Isse is also the Editor-in-Chief of the first Somali Children’s Magazine in the Europe. The subject of racism is discussed in Igiaba Scego’s Italian-language short stories, and Yasmeen Mohamed’s novel Nomad Diaries, written in English. The topic is also taken up in the novels of two seasoned and award-winning novelists in the Diaspora: Nadifa Mohamed who writes in English and Abdourahman Waberi who writes in French. Somali is a non-european language. Do writers leave their native tongue in favor of English, French or some other European language? To what extent is the Somali language under threat? Professor Ahmed: Somali writers who write in European languages are small compared to those who write in Somali. I do not perceive any threat per se. Rather, the absence of a strong state to nurture and promote the language is perhaps more of a threat to the flourishing of Somali language. Are there big differences between the literary schools of Europe and Somali literature? Is there a Somali modernist school, for instance? Will the intellectual thoughts of urban Europe even make sense in a Somali context? Professor Ahmed: We live in a globalizing/globalized world. The kind of Somalis who could read novels in Somali are, more often than not, the ones who are able to traverse borders. The hundreds of thousands of Somalis who live in Europe travel constantly between Somalia and Europe. That said, we must distinguish between modernization (the process) and modernity (the consciousness). Some parts of Somalia have experienced peace for some time. What sort of literature have been produced in these areas? Professor Ahmed: There are several writers who have written books on their experiences (or those of others) as refugees. But a great deal of literature is coming out of the parts of Somalia that have experienced peace. One need only catalog the plethora of novels published in the country and exhibited at the Hargeysa International Book Fair in Somaliland. The last few years have witnessed the growth of Book Fairs in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, and Garoowe in Puntland. We hear a lot about “the great American novel”. Is there such a thing as “the great Somali novel”? Is there a book or a novel that all Somalis love? Professor Ahmed: The novel has not been fully domesticated in Somalia. Of course, the novel genre is such that it is in its protean form; it has yet to crystallize and assume a definite form. That said, two novels would contend or vie for the distinction. Maxamed Daahir Afrax’s (Mohamed Dahir Afrah) Maana Faay (1981;1993) ushers in a new form of storytelling, as it exhibits ingenious and conscious ways of using language to reflect the quotidian life of its characters. With Maana Faay the novel genre in the Somali language comes of age, both in terms of content and structure. The other novel is Yuusuf Axmed Ibraahin-Hawd’s Aanadii Negeeye, a riveting story that recounts the gory details of murder and revenge. The narrative unfolds as the eponymous protagonist, Negeeye, whose father was murdered shortly after Negeeye’s birth, remembers his mother’s account of the brutal killing of his father. Negeeye, then, plots to avenge his father’s death. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyBy Aleister Crowley atricia Fleming threw the reins to a groom, and ran up the steps into the great house, her thin lips white with rage. Lord Eyre followed her heavily. ‘I’ll be down in half an hour,’ she laughed merrily, ‘tell Dawson to bring you a drink!’ Then she went straight through the house, her girlish eyes the incarnation of a curse. For the third time she had failed to bring Geoffrey Eyre to her feet. She looked into her hat; there in the lining was the talisman that she had tested—and it had tricked her. What do I need? she thought. Must it be blood? She was a maiden of the pure English strain; brave, gay, honest, shrewd—and there was not one that guessed the inmost fire that burnt her. For she was but a child when the Visitor came. The first of the Visits was in a dream. She woke choking; the air—clear, sweet, and wholesome as it blew through the open window from the Chilterns—was fouled with a musty stench. And she woke her governess with a tale of a tiger. The second Visit was again at night. She had been hunting, was alone at the death, had beaten off the hounds. That night she heard a fox bark in her room. She spent a sleepless night of terror; in the morning she found the red hairs of a fox upon her pillow. The third Visit was nor in sleep nor waking. But she tightened her lips, and would have veiled the hateful gleam in her eyes. It was that day, though, that she struck a servant with her riding-whip. She was so sane that she knew exactly wherein her madness lay; and she set all her strength not to conquer but to conceal it. Two years later, and Patricia Fleming, the orphan heiress of Carthwell Abbey, was the county toast, Diana of the Chilterns. Yet Geoffrey Eyre evaded her. His dog’s fidelity and honesty kept him true to the little north-country girl that three months earlier had seduced his simplicity. He did not even love her; but she had made him think so for an hour; and his pledged word held him. Patricia’s open favour only made him hate her because of its very seduction. It was really his own weakness that he hated. Patricia ran, tense and angry, through the house. The servants noticed it. The mistress has been crossed, they thought, she will go to the chapel and get ease. Praising her.True, to the chapel she went; locked the door, dived behind the altar, struck a secret panel, came suddenly into a priest’s hiding-hole, a room large enough to hold a score of men if need be. At the end of the room was a great scarlet cross, and on it, her face to the wood, her wrists and ankles swollen over the whip lashes that bound her, hung a naked girl, big-boned, voluptuous. Red hair streamed over her back. ‘What, Margaret! so blue?’ laughed Patricia. ‘I am cold,’ said the girl upon the cross, in an indifferent voice. ‘Nonsense, dear!’ answered Patricia, rapidly divesting herself of her riding-habit. ‘There is nohint of frost; we had a splendid run, and a grand kill. You shall be warm yet, for all that.’ This time the girl writhed and moaned a little. Patricia took from an old wardrobe a close-fitting suit of fox fur, and slipped it on her slim white body. ‘Did I make you wait, dear?’ she said, with a curious leer. ‘I am the keener for the sport, be sure!’ She took the faithless talisman from her hat. It was a little square of vellum, written upon in black. She took a hairpin from her head, pierced the talisman, and drove the pin into the girl’s thigh. ‘They must have blood,’ said she. ‘Now see how I will turn the blue to red! Come! don’t wince: you haven’t had it for a month.’ Then her ivory arm slid like a serpent from the furs, and with the cutting whip she struck young Margaret between the shoulders. A shriek rang out: its only echo was Patricia’s laugh, childlike, icy, devilish. She struck again and again. Great weals of purple stood on the girl’s back; froth tinged with blood came from her mouth, for she had bitten her lips and tongue in agony. Patricia grew warm and rosy—exquisitely beautiful. Her bare breasts heaved; her lips parted; her whole body and soul seemed lapped in ecstasy. ‘I wish you were Geoffrey, girlie!’ she panted. Then the skin burst. Raw flesh oozed blood that dribbled down Margaret’s back. Still the fair maid struck and struck in the silence, until the tiny rivulets met and waxed great and touched the talisman. She threw the bloody whalebone into a corner, and went upon her knees. She kissed her friend; she kissed the talisman; and again kissed the girl, the warm blood staining her pure lips. She took the talisman, and hid it in her bosom. Last of all she loosened the cords, and Margaret sank in a heap to the floor. Patricia threw furs over her and rolled her up in them; brought wine, and poured it down her throat. She smiled, kindly, like a sister. ‘Sleep now awhile, sweetheart!’ she whispered, and kissed her forehead. It was a very demure and self-possessed little maiden that made dinner lively for poor Geoffrey, who was thinking over his mistake. Patricia’s old aunt, who kept house for her, smiled on the flirtation. It was not by accident that she left them alone sitting over the great fire. ‘Poor Margaret has her rheumatism again,’ she explained innocently; ‘I must go and see how she is.’ Loyal Margaret! So it happened that Geoffrey lost his head. ‘The ivy is strong enough’ (she had whispered, ere their first kiss had hardly died). ‘Before the moon is up, be sure!’ and glided off just as the aunt returned. Eyre excused himself; half a mile from the house he left his horse to his man to Lead home, and ten minutes later was groping for Patricia in the dark. White as a lily in body and soul, she took him in her arms. Awaking as from death, he suddenly cried out, ‘Oh God! What is it? Oh my God! my God! Patricia! Your body! Your body!’ ‘Yours!’ she cooed. ‘Why, you’re all hairy!’ he cried. ‘And the scent! the scent!’ From without came sharp and resonant the yap of a hound as the moon rose. Patricia put her hands to her body. He was telling the truth. ‘The Visitor!’ she screamed once with fright, and was silent. He switched the light on, and she screamed again. There was a savage lust upon his face. ‘This afternoon,’ he cried, ‘you called me a dog. I looked like a dog and thought like a dog; and, by God! I am a dog. I’ll act like a dog then!’ Obedient to some strange instinct, she dived from the bed for the window. But he was on her; his teeth met in her throat. In the morning they found the dead bodies of both hound and fox—but how did that explain the wonderful elopement of Lord Eyre and Miss Fleming? For neither of them was ever seen again. I think Margaret understands; in the convent which she rules today there hangs beside a blood-stained cutting-whip the silver model of a fox, with the inscription: ‘Patricia Margaritæ vulpis vulpem dedit.’ Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / literatureDiscuss WWII in our Forum In 1943, an 84 year-old Nobel prize winner made his pilgrimage to the lair of Adolf Hitler in Germany. The writer Knut Hamsun was received by the Nazi dictator, who was a fan. He shook the Fuhrer’s hand and two years later he would still praise Hitler as “a warrior for mankind”. Like the philosopher Heidegger in Germany and the poet Ezra Pound in the US, Hamsun was an intellectual tainted by World War II. Like these he would inflict a trauma upon the national culture of his country, and raise many ethical concerns. We talked with professor Frode Lerum Boasson from The Norwegian University of Science and Technology and Ane Helga Bondahl, two specialists on Hamsun, in order to discover the truth about the controversial author, by some still regarded as Norway’s finest novelist. Hamsun was arrested after the war, but deemed unfit to stand trial. But was he really senile, or was he simply a Nazi? Bondahl & Boasson: The short answer to this question must be: No; Hamsun was not unfit to stand trial, but yes he was, or rather, he became, a Nazi. But in order to give a proper answer we must take a wider perspective. We need to start with the trial against Hamsun after WWII. Hamsun was like many others investigated in connection with what we call «the legal purge» in Norway following WWII. During the war Hamsun had written pro-German articles and had expressed sympathy and support for the Nazis. All through the war he wore a Nazi pin on his lapel, and it was speculated that he was a member of Quisling’s National Socialist Party. The trial was, however, far from straightforward, and it has often been emphasized that Hamsun’s prestige as Norway’s most important and most popular writer made any prosecution difficult. How should the state treat a beloved writer who had expressed sympathy for the enemy? In October 1945, the attorney general stated that he wanted an expert assessment in order to decide whether Hamsun should be placed under judicial psychiatric observation. At the start of the trial Hamsun was shipped off to a psychiatric institution and evaluated by senior doctor and professor of psychiatry Gabriel Langfeldt. The conclusion, which was published as The legal psychiatric assessment of Knut Hamsun (1978), was clear. Several strokes in recent years as well his advanced age had diminished his mental abilities, and Langfedt recommended that he be sentenced to legal observation. Hamsun therefore spent almost four months in a psychiatric clinic in Oslo, and was submitted to thorough examinations. It was concluded that he was not to be regarded as insane, but as a person with “permanently impaired mental faculties” and that there was little if no chance of his crimes being repeated. (Langfeldt & Ødegård, 1978:101). Hamsun was deemed unfit for trial and on the basis of this recommendation, all charges were dropped. In stead, Hamsun was sentenced to pay a fine of 320000 NOK,-. Hamsun describes his trial and the process against him in his final work On Overgrown Paths (1949), which has been regarded as his defense and an apology for his treatment after the war. Both his diagnosis and his trial has been much debated in Hamsun research. Many have argued that the writer was both sane and completely aware of his actions during the war. His own apology, in which he blames both his limited hearing and a total isolation during the war years, has been subject for much discussion. Many biographers have examined the process against Hamsun, and in one of the more recent books, Jørgen Haugan speculates whether the diagnosis, as well his commitment to a psychiatric institution, was directly ordered by the Norwegian PM at the time, Einar Gerhardsen. In order to save the country’s honor. If Hamsun was sentenced for treason and shot, it was feared that it would harm Norway’s standing in the world. A diagnosis and a judicial acquittal was a far better solution. The debate over Hamsun’s sanity ended with the publication of On Overgrown Paths (1949), in which he describes the period following the war, his case and his psychiatric examination. The book is both brilliant and scandalous, and leaves no doubt: The writer was fully aware of what he was doing and admits nothing: «What I was writing was not wrong. It was not wrong when I wrote it. It was right, and what I wrote was right». In spite of the fact that Hamsun wrote Hitler’s obituary and described the dictator as «a reformist of the highest order» , a «warrior for mankind and prophet of the gospel of right for all nations». In spite of the fact that he awarded Goebbels his Nobel Prize and allowed himself to be used for various propaganda purposes, the issue of whether he actually was a Nazi has never been settled by Hamsun researchers. However, following the works by Ståle Dingås and by Tore Rem, the apologists have dwindled in number. Today it seems fairly settled, however: Hamsun was a Nazi by any measure. But the most important issue still remains. How should we approach Hamsun’s works? Are there traces of antisemitism in the literature he wrote? Hitler was a fan of The Growth of the Soil, I have been told? Bondahl & Boasson:  Scholarly examinations of the issue of antisemitism in Hamsun’s writing have been a hot potato, and have a long history. But systematic studies are few, and for the most part center on the portrayal of the Jew Papst in his Vagabond-trilogy (1927-1933). There is little doubt, however, that Hamsun expresses antisemitism in his letters, in his journalism and in Wonderland (1903). That Hamsun is both stereotypical and racist in his descriptions of the Sami, the Kven, Africans and others is also quite clear. Hitler’s alleged fascination for The Growth of the Soil is more uncertain. Hitler is supposed to have left The Growth of the Soil on his nightstand, and he must have read it. However, it is propaganda minister Goebbels who was Hamsun’s most avid fan among the senior Nazis. Goebbels even made sure that The Growth of the Soil was handed out as Christmas present to 250000 soldiers in order to remind them about what they were fighting for. Should we perhaps, as a matter of principle, distinguish between an artist and his work? Bondahl & Boasson: This question strikes at the heart of Hamsun research and points to the issue often referred to as «the Hamsun-problem»: How do we relate to the fact that one of the really great writers was a Nazi? The question has proven divisive. For the most part researchers have tried to distinguish between Hamsun the individual and Hamsun the writer, between his ideologies and his fiction, between his literature and his politics. These are the ways researchers have tried to avoid the politics of writing and the specter of Nazism. By doing so, we have ignored the unspoken contract between reader and writer, Hamsun’s ideological subtexts and the moral dimension. This is, however, a complex reading and several researchers have in recent years stated that such an approach neither benefits Hamsun nor literature in general. Why and how should such a distinction be made? We cannot escape the fact that Hamsun was both a Nazi and one of the greatest writers in Norway. This is not an answer, it’s a beginning. The question is how politics emerges in Hamsun’s writing and how we should relate to it. Great art is often immoral and will continue to be so, even if we distinguish between artist and art. There has been some debate on this issue in a Norwegian literary journal, Vagant. He was married to Marie Hamsun, and she was more friendly toward the Germans than most. How did the two of them meet? Bondahl & Boasson : Marie Hamsun was an enthusiastic member of the Norwegian National Socialist Party. She supported the Germans and the Nazi ideology during the war. Hamsun had a turbulent marriage, and he often argued with his wife. After the war, he wanted nothing to do with her, and for a while the two were separated. After his trial, however, when he returned to his farm Nørholm i Grimstad, she was again embraced, and she took care of him in his final years. The two first caught each other’s eye on the 17 of April 1908 at the theater. This has been mentioned in many biographies. Anne Marie Andersen was known as Marie Lavik at the time. She was an actress and was living with a much older man, Dore Lavik. They were not married, but Lavik had helped Marie achieve her dream to become an actress. She met Hamsun this day because she wanted to play the character Elina in one of Hamsun’s plays. She hoped the author might help her. They met and the first thing Hamsun said was «My God, how pretty you are, my child!» Like many of his fictional characters, Hamsun fell head over heels in love with Marie and invited her to Theatercafeen, a writer’s hang-out in Oslo. One meeting became several, and they were both swept off their feet. Hamsun traveled a lot and wrote love letters that not only make you blush, but which almost seem to form part of his fiction. They were engaged, but had to wait for Hamsun’s divorce from his first wife before they married. They were married on the 25 of June 1909 at the city magistrate in Kristiania (now Oslo). Marie was 27 years old, and he was 49. Initially, they had a passionate relationship. However, it soon became apparent that Hamsun was a jealous and controlling man. He was afraid her life as an actress with all its attributes, as well her lengthy relationship to Dore Lavik, would cause her to leave him. Marie consequently left her profession and became a full-time house wife. It has often been noted that Marie too, was jealous, and that she couldn’t stand the fact that her husband met other women. They were both jealous. There is little doubt, however, that they had artistic temperaments and strong personalities, and that this fueled their married life. They were even so married until Hamsun’s death. Hamsun is very attached to Nordland, and the magnificent local scenery. In some ways Hamsun is a man who finds something universal in the familiar. Is this a requirement for writing great fiction, do you think? Bondahl & Boasson : Yes. Finding the universal in the familiar is a hallmark of great art. And you find this in Hamsun’s writing, sometimes at least. And not only in his descriptions of nature, but also in his exaggerated sensibility and his humor. Hamsun opposed  the previous generation of Norwegian writers quite strongly. Tell us a little about his rebellion? Bondahl & Boasson : Like all great artists Hamsun distanced himself from his predecessors by attacking them head on. And it was the giant among them who would suffer the most: Ibsen. According to Hamsun Ibsen barely counted as a writer, at least not in his later years. The younger Ibsen who wrote Peer Gynt, was, however, a master craftsman. The older Ibsen who concerned himself with social issues after 1870 was as mysterious as the Sphinx, according to Hamsun. Hamsun felt his predecessors failed to describe the psychology of the individual. Realism was, in his view, neither adequately sensitive, vivid or sufficiently aristocratic. The realists represented a materialist and bourgeois simplicity, while Hamsun’s sought to portray the complex, attentive and refined minds that we encounter in his famous essay “From the Unconscious Life of the Mind” (1890). Realism was poetry about society for the public, adapted for «the least developed among us». Hamsun, on the other hand, would demonstrate that we were beings of flesh and blood consumed by sex, desire and psychological drives. This was not a moral issue for Hamsun. He simply wanted to portray life the way he saw it, the way it actually was. We should «frame all aspects of life in art». Hamsun visited the US, and was inspired by Mark Twain. Tell us a little about his relationship to Twain? Bondahl & Boasson: To my knowledge, Hamsun never met Mark Twain, but he both admired and was influenced by him. When Hamsun writes about American journalism, he mentions Twain as one of his preferred reads. He also contributes a text to a book written to honor Twain. Hamsun writes: «I smile at the mere mention of Mark Twain because his humorous spirit overwhelms me. But he was not only a humorist, there is a depth to his jokes, he was both a teacher and an educator. His wit communicated fundamental and valuable truth». Hamsun was clearly thrilled, and he was probably very influenced by Twain’s humor and linguistic prowess. Hamsun began playing with words in a new way and to create funny situations, exaggerations and subtleties that are influenced by Twain’s popular caricatures and descriptions of ordinary folk. Hamsun plays around in a similar way. What would you say is Hamsun’s great strength as a writer? He is not a social commentator on the level of Ibsen? Bondahl & Boasson : Hamsun’s greatest strength as a writer is undoubtedly his style. His refined sensibility is both tender and awkwardly ironic, sometimes with flashes of humor and sometimes as harsh satire. He was, it must be said, also a social commentator, both in his fiction as well as in his articles. The difference is that he was often wrong, unlike Ibsen. Hamsun was a very old man during WWII, and he lived at the same time as another Norwegian Nobel laureate, Sigrid Undset. Did the two of them have any sort of relationship? Bondahl & Boasson: Hamsun and Sigrid Undset were on opposite sides during the war. Undset’s son was shot by the Germans, and she was as much opposed to Germany as Hamsun was opposed to Great Britain. Except for the fact that they were both Nobel Laureates they had little in common. They disagreed on most issues. Their different views become apparent in the so-called discussion over «child killings» between 1915-1917. Hamsun initiated the debate by focusing on the increasing number of infanticides. Hamsun felt that such crimes should be punished by deterrence and lengthy sentences, that is, by hangings. He also felt that orphanages should be improved so that young mothers with unwanted children could place them in care in stead of killing them. But only the healthy. These were the only ones with a claim to life, while the blind, the sick and the handicapped were worthless: «I want to exterminate and purge the hopeless in favor of lives that may assume value.» He also treats the subject in his Nobel Prize winning novel, The Growth of the Soil (1917). Undset was shocked by Hamsun’s views and felt that there was a social dimension to the increasing number of infanticides. Undset had a handicapped daughter and Hamsun’s purge was met with disapproval. The Norwegian intelligentsia was in turmoil, and many followed Undset in distancing themselves from Hamsun’s anti-humanism. Hamsun and Undset faced each other on another more political issue, the Ossietzky scandal of 1936 in which Hamsun attacked the Polish-German writer and journalist Carl Von Ossietzky, who at the time was in a Nazi prison camp. Ossietzky was awarded the Nobel prize, much to Hamsun’s dislike. Undset led the charge against Hamsun. The two writers disagreed and represented different political traditions. Bjørn Fontander has written extensively on this issue. Hamsun is well-known as a novelist, but he tried his hand as a dramatist and as a poet. How did that go? Bondahl & Boasson : Hamsun re-invented the novel, and this is not only an exaggeration by literary scholars. It is actually the case. At least if we accept the testimonies of the next generation of writers, Kafka, Joyce and Thomas Mann, who all claim to be influenced by him. However, his dramatic efforts were not as successful. In his own day, he was noted, but today? Nobody remembers that he wrote 6 plays as well as one in verse. And to be honest- they aren’t very memorable. Hamsun has a special place in the hearts of Norwegians, but how do foreigners regard him? Bondahl & Boasson: In Norwegian literature Hamsun’s legacy as the modernist re-inventor of the novel is assured. He is almost modernism personified- and he was a Nazi. He is still the only one among the greater Norwegian writers, who, with the exception of Ibsen, continues to be read by everyone. Not only researchers. Hamsun seems to have maintained his standing abroad, especially in Germany. Still, his esteem is perhaps less in the Anglo-Saxon world, especially since the increased focus on his Nazi views after the 1960s and 1970s. In spite of this, the official Hamsun commemoration in 2009 was celebrated all over Europe. New translations continue to appear and he might even see a new wave of popularity. After all, Hamsun was «the father of the modern school of literature», according to Isaac Bashevis Singer. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyThere lived an old retired major in the hills of central Europe. No one knew in which armies he had fought, or which battles that had disfigured his wrinkled face. Some took for granted that he had supported the Nazis during the war. They barely knew his name, and only referred to him with contempt as “the grumpy old major”. His home was a log cabin, overlooking a valley that was often covered in mist. And when the rains and the wind darkened the evenings, the light from his window was a solitary gleam – like the eye of the mountains themselves – peering down on the village below. The major was thoroughly disliked because of his ferocious temper. He arrived in the afternoons, unshaven, stinking of sweat and alcohol, and then he would be very rude and cold – if he indeed he said something at all. The only creature on this earth that seemed to be good enough for the old major was his dog. No one knew the age of the creature, or even of the of the major himself. The dog walked with a proud skip in its steps, and he showered it with luxury and food. In the evenings the major would silently ponder the landscape from his vantage point. What his thoughts were, not even the dog could tell. There was never a visitor to the old cabin, but the major sometimes sobered up and cleared the path. He worked into the afternoons with a pick ax and shuffle. When he was done he would take a seat in a chair outside, and drink whiskey and smoke until he fell asleep where he sat. The evening chill would wake him and then he would withdraw to his bed. Sometimes when the major slept he would kick and scream, as he was struggling for his life. Then the dog would jump down from the bed, and lie down in a corner until he quieted down. When the major woke, he would be sweaty and confused, and then he would drink coffee, and then read a book til dawn penetrated the morning mist. The landscape around the village was vast and wild, and the major would limp up and down those isolated paths followed by his mute companion. In winter, blizzards would descend upon his outpost with terrifying violence. A lighted fireplace and piles of wood kept him warm. He stored canned food of various kinds, beans, spam, fish, and he salted meats to comfort himself. When the water froze he opened the door and collected snow in a bucket which he melted by the fire for his coffee. Sometimes, when he was in the mood, he dug deep into a wooden chest and found an old battery powered radio, and he would sit quietly, intensely concentrated, trying to move the antenna back and forth in order to make out those almost imperceptible voices that penetrated into his dominion from the world outside. But sometimes this proved impossible, and therefore he did not receive advance warning of the horrific storm of 1973. On 21 of October that year the heavens gave birth to the worst winds and heaviest snow fall seen in those parts. The other villagers never talked to the old major because they did not like him, and by the time storm had arrived, and he entered their thoughts, it was too late. They thought that the cabin on the hill has stood there for hundreds of years. Like the major himself it seemed carved out of the hillside. If he just sat quiet where he was, no harm could befall him. And they were right, and the old major knew it. He did what he normally did during winter storms, lighted his fire. The flames flickered, and when the shutters were secured, they filled the room with comfort, light and heat, while the Day of Judgment brewed outside. The old major was used to this, it had been his life, in every sense. He got up a bottle of whiskey, and sipped from a glass. His dog, however, was utterly terrified. It crawled under the table, and whined. The old major tried to reassure the creature, calm it with offers of treats, but the howl of the winds, the creaking walls and what seemed like an inexplicable drone from the heavens above frightened it, and it would take no food. The old major then got down on his knees under the table and sat next to the dog with his glass of whiskey. He looked at the dog, and for a while dog was calm. But then suddenly a tremendous gust blew the door open, filling the room with swirls of snow. The old major rushed to his feet, and struggled against the wind to shut it. When that was done, he noticed that the dog had fled into the night to seek refuge among the trees. First, he was overwhelmed with grief when the room was quiet. He looked at the empty space where the dog used to lie. Then his eyes were suddenly filled with defiance, an old soldier was returning to battle. He put on his thickest coat, and hat and scarf, grabbed an oil lamp and unlocked the door. So it was that the old major decided to take on the very spirits of the mountain to fight for his dog. He waded to his ankles in snow for a few hundred meters up the hill. He shouted, but his voice was inaudible. As he became removed from his cabin, he saw its light extinguish in the storm. And not soon after, the old major was overcome with fatigue and sat down under a tree. That is where the men from the village found his frozen body two days later. They did not have much sympathy for him because he had always been mean and yelled at them. The dog, however, was found alive in the shed outside. Everyone thought that this was the most faithful creature on earth which stayed so loyal to such a terrible person. It was brought down from the mountain, and given to a breeder, who made sure that it produced many litters, whose offspring still run around on the meadows in those parts. They say old majors die, but their dogs live on forever. by Michael Henrik Wynn Like this:Like Loading... 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short storyMy name is dr. John Smith, and I am – or rather was – a GP in a mid-sized town. I am about to retire, my own health is failing, and I wish to pass on some memories of a patient that really meant a lot to me. Of course, we had no private friendship, but I did talk to him in consultations and I bumped into him now and again in the street. At the time I had just turned fifty, the desperation and ambition of my midlife crisis had passed. I had packed up my leather jackets and my tight training outfits, and had accepted that I would remain in my small practice for the rest of my life. My wife had long since packed up her things and left, allegedly on the grounds of my ties to the male patriarchy, and my son had a pregnant girlfriend in the capital, far from his patronizing, though always well-meaning father. What remained for me then was my own mother, whom I visited every Sunday in her home, bringing various things that she needed from the shops. I also learnt that my only friend, Peter, my colleague at the practice, had been offered a wonderful job in the pharmaceutical industry with a huge pay, and would be transferring some of his patients who did not want a new GP that required lengthy travels to me. I was very sad that last day I saw him in our clinic, even though I knew he would always be there for me on the phone, and that I could visit him whenever I wanted. Work not be the same. As I went through the list of my new patients, I saw that most of them were old, including old Jacob, the subject of this story. At the time, however, he was one of many, and it is in fact because he was so typical that he has remained in my mind all these years. I first saw him a Wednesday in June, and he was a tall thin man in his mid eighties. His face was wrinkled like sun dried-leather, and his brows were bushy, but he had a modest, almost shy smile, and very intelligent eyes. He seemed surprisingly agile for a man his age. Since this was our first meeting, he told me something about himself. He was not an educated man by any means, he had been a fisherman, and then a truck driver, but he had also been on some ship ages ago. This man is an anachronism, I thought, how many old sailors are left these days? I listened to his chest, made examinations, did blood work, nothing unusual. He then got up and left, and the results were Ok when they arrived, which I told him the next time. It was not until August that year that he started complaining about pain and being short of breath, and I then sent him to the local hospital for further tests, knowing his age. At this time, I was feeling a little lonely privately, and I had decided to scan all my mother’s family photos, and restore them digitally. I had nothing to do when I was alone in my apartment, and this also gave me a subject on which to chat and reminiscence with my mother. She was more than delighted, and often looked at each photo with a nostalgic smile. Everything was tied to a story, and even though she had recounted all of these stories God knows how many times, I enjoyed hearing them again. Somehow, I was reminded about who I was, and where I had come from. And this knowledge was more powerful than my wife’s irrational, but long-anticipated departure or my son’s indifference. When I returned from these meetings, I felt that I had more energy in my work, and I spoke to the likes of old Jacob, and was more dutiful in the performance of my job. Once I asked Jacob whether he had anyone to support him during his old age, knowing that my mother at least had me. “Do you know my age?”, he asked. “Yes, but still…” “Everyone I know has long since left this world, and I have no children. You see as you grow older, you will notice that one by one witnesses leave you, one by one..” “Witnesses……?” “Yes, the people who was the life you once had. Who knew you while you still were a man about town and so on.” “I don’t think I have ever qualified for that description. I have been a nerd all my life. God knows I have tried…” “I was a very smooth operator in my prime”, he said with a very unexpected confidence in his gray eyes. As I looked at his face then, I tried to restore the man in my mind the way he had once been. If you straightened out his wrinkles, if you removed the bushy brows, if you corrected his back, and if you gave him a thick black mane, perhaps oiled, he would be a very handsome man! I shuck my head at the thought. But then I looked at him, and laughed. That was a very nice moment for the two of us. And then he left. That evening I went to the shop to get things for my mother. She was very particular about what she ate. Some people think picky eating is an eccentric and demanding cry for attention, but being a doctor I knew very well that the reason was related to bowel movements and stuff that most people feel uncomfortable discussing with others. So, I got her what she demanded. I arrived at the home around seven. Evening was falling, yet no stars were up. As I entered and walked down the white linoleum corridors towards the counter, I noticed at once something new in the glances from the nurses. As I placed my hands its surface, I knew that something had happened. My mother had a sudden heart attack, and had passed away very suddenly in the evening. It had been very quick, she had not suffered, they told me. But somehow that did not matter. I almost ran home, locked the door to my apartment, drew the curtains and cried. I then sent an email to work, and called in sick. In fact I did not leave my home for three days, when I was forced to get food from the store. I spoke to no-one, and I only called my son four days after my mother’s death. I have always been reluctant to burden my son with my own feelings and problems. I have always felt that parents should remain a rock in their children’s lives, and that part of being a parent is hiding those frustrations that one feels at work or elsewhere, and provide safety and security. After all, that is what remained in my own experience. Being a doctor I have dealt with the practicalities of funerals many times. But this time it was different. Going online and visiting what seems like a brochure of various coffins somehow seems perverse. “Special autumn sale!” “20% discount on our finest model!” And when you enter the store in person, and that slick salesman slides in front you with exaggerated sympathy, accompanied by words like “payment options” and “down payment”, it adds to a certain surrealism. And that surrealism is what remains of the person that you once were. I walked down the shop floor feeling the fabric and texture of coffin interiors, the smoothness of their varnish. Then I was overcome by grief and asked for the bathroom. I sat there for ten minutes, staring at the tiled floors. As I left, I had decided upon a model, and was about to wave to the salesman, when I saw him in what seemed like a very pleasant conversation with an elderly man. I heard laughter, the old man patted the young salesman on the shoulder. When the man turned, I recognized old Jacob. His eyesight was poor, I knew, and he hadn’t seen me at the far end of the shop. I withdrew into the corner, and saw him striding about the room touching the coffins one by one. “I will take this one,” he suddenly said. Then he produced his credit card, paid and brought up what seemed like a shopping list. He had a small pencil, and then then crossed out one item. Then he left. The whole scene had come so suddenly, that I quite forgot about my own purchase. The salesman approached me, but I stood completely stunned for a while. “I will be back tomorrow,” I said and made for the exit. It was late September, and there were leaves on the sidewalk. Old Jacob was three hundred meters down the road moving very slowly. I don’t know what came over me, but I followed him at a distance. 200 meters farther on there was a huge supermarket. He then vanished in a crowd, but I tracked him down in the milk section. There he noticed me and his face lit up with that shy smile of that former smooth operator. “Hello Jacob,” I said nervously, what are you doing here?” “Shopping!” he said, “I needed some things”. Then he lifted a liter of milk and placed it in his shopping cart next to a box of coffee. “That would be it!” he said. And then he brought out his list and his small pencil, and crossed out his items. And then he left. I never saw him again. by Michael Henrik Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literature / moviesListen to Nixon and Hoover discussing the freedom of the press During the decades that J. Edgar Hoover headed the FBI, the height of the cold war, state agencies in the United States increased their surveillance of many writers that today are household names. The files vary in length, and so does their justification. In the case of John Steinbeck, it is stated that his integrity “is beyond question”, but that his wife attended a meeting of the communist party. Others that were more outspoken, like Bukowski or James Baldwin, attracted attention for their own opinions and strong public presence. Today the FBI has released most of these files, sorted them and presented them freely online for history buffs. They resemble scrapbooks, with clippings and notes about the doings of those under investigation. Oddly, the files contain information that many today release themselves on social media. For those interested in literary history, however, Hoover’s archive can shed new light on the personalities of past writers, and satisfy our modern cravings for voyeurism. Below are a few samples:     You can search the FBI celebrity archive yourself at     Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyby Feng Menglong (1574-1646)(an interpretation by Michael Henrik Wynn) It is said that during the cultural revival of the Song Dynasty in the early middle ages, there was a high-ranking official named Chen Ya, who, due to a dispute with the learned Zhang Zihou, was demoted to the position of pacification commissioner for the eastern region of Jiangdong. As such, he was obliged to oversee the important city of Jiankang, located inland on the Yangtze River. One day, while attending an official banquet by the riverside, he suddenly heard a shrill voice beyond the perimeter shouting, “I am able to foresee all your futures, even without consulting the sacred Five Elements!” “Who dares utter such words in my presence?” Chen Ya exclaimed. One of the officials recognized the man and said: “That, my lord, is the fortune-teller Bian Yin of Jinling.” “Bring him to me.” Chen Ya declared. Bian Yin was summoned to the gate, and stepped barefooted forth from the crowd wearing nothing but rags and a tattered hat. His white bushy beard and gleaming eyes gave him a haggard appearance. Supporting himself on a staff, he made a deep and respectful bow before he sat down at the edge of the steps. “You are nearly blind and not even able to read ancient classics, how dare you belittle the Five Elements?” asked the commissioner. “I am adept in discerning the minute signs that fate transmits by sound, the ebb and flow of life. I can even hear faint footsteps move across soft grassland,” the old man said. “And how accurate are these skills of yours?” Chen Ya asked. At that very moment a painted boat appeared suddenly on the river heading downstream, its oars creaked as its keel clashed against the water. “What is the fortune of the vessel we now see? the commissioner said. ” I can hear sorrow in the creak of those oars, my lord. A man of high-rank has been summoned by eternity,” Bian Yin sighed. The commissioner then sent someone to inquire. Upon their return, he learnt that Li, a lieutenant of the army stationed at Linjiang, had passed away on duty. The boat was transporting his remains to his hometown. “Even if Dongfang Shuo were resurrected, he could not surpass you!” exclaimed the astonished commissioner. The old fortune-teller was rewarded with ten jars of wine and ten taels of silver, and then dismissed. The first fortune-teller thus heard the fate of a man in moving oars. But there was another fortune-teller named Li Jie. He came from Kaifeng, the capital city located in a bend of the great Yellow river. After serving in Zhuofu, a County deep inland, he set up a divination stall. Here he displayed a large sword and a sign that read: “This blade is for use by anyone in China who wishes to question the skills of the owner.” Li Jie was indeed well-versed in the Book of Changes (Zhouyi), adept at deciphering the Six Writings, and had a deep understanding of astrology and geomancy. He could explain the significance of the Five Stars and predict good or bad fortune like a deity. His knowledge of the Three Fates allowed him to determine success or failure and rise or fall with great accuracy. One day, as he displayed his sign, a man entered his stall, wearing what might be termed an unusual costume: a headscarf, two black collared shirts, a silk sash around his waist, clean shoes, and neat socks. He also carried a scroll of text. He greeted the diviner, and provided his date and time of birth for a prediction of his fate. “This fortune is difficult to foresee.” Li Jie complained as he examined the hexagram. “Why is it difficult?” “Honorable sir”, Li Jie said anxiously, “you should abstain from drinking and tell only the truth”. “I am as sober as you, and I have nothing to hide,” the man muttered. Fearing errors, Li Jie then verified the dates he was given, and recalculated. Upon seeing the hexagram, he then said: “Honorable sir, some fates are better unprobed.” “Why?” “I am afraid the signs are unfavorable.” Li Jie replied. He then wrote four lines: “A tiger approaches your birthdate,When it does, calamity awaits.Tomorrow, at the hour of the Ox,Your family will grieve in shock.” “But what does this hexagram indicate in terms of fortune and misfortune?” the man asked. “I dare not hide the truth,” Li Jie sighed, “it means that you will die.” “When?” “This year.” Li Jie replied. “In which month of this year?” “This month.” Li Jie answered. “On which day of this month?” “Today,” Li Jie replied. “At what time during the night?” “At the third night watch of tonight,” Li Jie said. “If I truly die tonight”, the man said, “everything will be over. If I do not die, I will deal with you at the county office tomorrow!” “If you do not die tonight”, Li Jie said with sorrow, “come back tomorrow. On that wall hangs a sharp sword. You must then apply that blade upon my neck!” The enraged man could not contain his anger, and dragged Li Jie out of the divination stall. Li Jie had meddled in worldly affairs and now he was deeply worried. However, several county officials approached the man, who was in fact, Sun, a magistrate. “What was this commotion?”“This man has tricked me by means of absurd arguments. I purchased a divination reading, and he told me I would die at the third night watch tonight. I am not ill, and how could I die at the third night watch? I will take him to the county office, and the official investigation will clear things up.” “Divinations are like selling houses and selling divination readings is just talk. Sun, the magistrate, was sold a poor product,” was the popular and quite unanimous conclusion. “You have reached beyond your skill by divining for Sun, the magistrate, “they told Li Jie, “and now you can no longer conduct divinations here. The fate of the poor and the lowly may be simple to forsee. Yet, the length of any life is shrouded in mystery, and the moment of death impossible to specify. Only fathers and brothers can predict life and death with the certainty of hours and minutes. You have been inconsiderate. Divinations can be inauspicious if they flatter people and can lead to misunderstandings if they tell the truth.” Li Jie apologized, closed his divination stall, and moved to another city. Sun, the magistrate, had been calmed by the crowd, and now he felt ashamed and returned to his office. At home, his wife recognized the worried lines on his face. “What troubles you, husband? Are you having problems at work?” she asked. “No, don’t ask!” But she continued: “Have you been reprimanded by your superior?” “No!!” “Did you have a dispute with someone of a higher rank?” she persisted. “No! I bought a divination reading today, and the fortune-teller told me that I would die at the third night watch tonight.” Hearing this, his wife widened her brown eyes and raised her brows, saying, “How could anyone deliver such a message in this way? Why didn’t you report him to the authorities?” “I wanted to, but I was persuaded not to. Wife, I want you to stay with me this evening. If I don’t die tonight, I’ll settle the matter with him tomorrow, which is better than you going to someone else’s house.” Dusk now descended on their home. “Let’s prepare a few cups of wine to pass the time. I won’t sleep; I’ll spend the night awake”, Sun said. After drinking three or four cups, however, he became intoxicated nevertheless, and Sun, the magistrate, then dozed off in his official chair. “My husband, you must not sleep,” she said and called their daughter for assistance. “Shake your father awake, child!” The daughter did her best – in vain. “My child, we must get your father into bed. The chair is not suited for sleep.” The drowsing and quite drunk magistrate had insisted on staying awake, as if attempting to keep Time itself at a standstill. But, such a feat is beyond even the very wise. The magistrate struggled against the pull of his own mind, and his wife wishing to assist her spouse, instructed the maid, Ying’er, to light a candle in the kitchen. “Have you heard the awful news? A fortune teller has today told my husband that the hexagrams have predicted his death at the third watch tonight?” “Yes, I have heard. But how can this be?” “Ying’er, I will even pay you for your effort. Take what coins I have! If my husband does not die tonight, we will confront the fortune-teller tomorrow.” “Make sure you don’t fall asleep!” “I won’t dare!” Ying’er replied.Ying’er did her best, but eventually night overcame her, and she dozed off. “Ying’er, I told you to stay awake” the magistrate’s wife shouted. “How can you fall asleep?”“I won’t sleep,” the drowsy maid replied. But soon after, her head dropped, her eyes reluctantly shut and she drifted off. Her employer now shook the maid, but was unable was unable to get a response. At that very moment, the sudden and steady thumps of a drum pierced the night. The night-watch had arrived for the third watch. “Ying’er, stop pretending!” shouted the magistrates wife. “Don’t do this now!” But to no avail. Suddenly, the middle door of the house creaked, footsteps moved in the hallway and then the front gate slammed. In a frantic effort the magistrate’s wife woke the maid, lit a lamp and together spied into the darkness outside. The front door was open, and a human form dressed in white, the head of their household, slid hurriedly through courtyard towards the raging river, covering his face with one hand. They both rushed outside, only to see him jump into the water and vanish. Two female voices echoed through the night: “What is to become of us now! Magistrate, why did you jump into the river?” Several neighbors were then summoned for help, and the grieving wife then recounted the story of her husband’s death, as you have now heard it.“This is truly a strange occurrence!” the of them said shaking her head. “Yesterday, I saw the magistrate returning with a Taoist priest in a straw robe and carrying scriptures. I even greeted him.” “Yes, I also greeted the magistrate when he returned with the Taoist priest” added another. “I went to the county office in the morning, and I saw the magistrate scolding a fortune teller who was selling hexagrams. Who could have known?” “Why didn’t the magistrate come to us for help?” They all cried, and before they left one of them turned in the door, placed her hand on the new widow’s shoulder and sighed: “Considering what a virtuous man your husband was, anyone would be overcome by grief. This decent man will now never be seen again.” The matter was immediately reported to the authorities, and the magistrate’s wife was ordered to perform good deeds and offer prayers for the deceased. The mourning period passed in the blink of an eye. One day, two rosy-cheeked women came strolling towards the late magistrate’s house. One of them had a bottle of wine, and the other carried two bundles of wildflowers. “Have we come to the right place?” they said and lifted the curtains. The magistrate’s wife then recognized Zhang and Li, the local matchmakers. “I have not seen you two in a very long time!” she said. “We should have been here earlier. We hope you are not offended,” Zhang replied.“How long has it been since my husband passed away?” “Oh, more than a hundred days!” Li replied.“Over a hundred days,” the widow sighed, “well…. time flies! Sun was really a very decent man. Sometimes, he would scold me, but he could still be affectionate. Now that he has been gone for some time, the house is very quiet…….”“It’s time to discuss marriage proposals,” Zhang concluded.“I am not sure there will be another man like Sun in this world for me?” The magistrate’s wife said.“Actually, it will not be difficult to find one,” Li said confidently. “You have a good daughter-in-law, don’t you?” The widow nodded. “But, I am old and tired, and in order for another marriage to make any sense, I have certain specific demands….three in fact. If you can find one who matches my needs, then we can talk about a proposal. If not, I’d rather live alone.” “What are your demands?” Zhang asked.“Well,” the magistrate’s wife said: “First, I am too old to change my surname. I am used to it now. I want to marry someone with the same surname as my late husband, Sun. Second, my late husband had a very good job as magistrate. So, I want someone with a similar position. Third, if we don’t marry, I want him to enter the household.” “Alright! And if we are able to find a person who meets your requirements, will you then agree to a marriage?” Li asked.“I will believe that when I see it. But go ahead and give it your best effort. Maybe fate will intervene, who knows?” Zhang smiled. “Today is the first day of the rest of your life! We will do our best,” she said.“I don’t have any couplets for marriage proposal in my house,” the widow replied.“I have some here,” Li said triumphantly and produced a pair of marriage couplets from her pocket. They read: “Snow hides the mountains of Sichuan until it’s seen; Willow conceals the parrots’ chatter until it’s known.” In the afternoon, the magistrate’s wife scribbled down her own marriage proposal and presented it to Li and Zhang. Gifts were then exchanged, and after a lengthy communication back and forth, a new husband nicknamed Little Sun arrived at her doorstep. Little Sun was everything the widow had wanted, and she was everything he wanted, and the union was judged a great success. One day, the newlyweds both got drunk on sweet wine, and the maid Ying’er then decided to prepare some sobering soup. In the kitchen, she attempted to start a fire, but found that the chimney was blocked. She began knocking on the side trying to clear whatever it was that prevented the flow of air. Suddenly, a cold hand dropped from the opening. Then a neck and a noose followed. And finally the head itself covered by long silvery locks. The tongue protruded from mouth of the corpse, and its eyes seemed to weep blood. While she recovered her breath, she thought it lifeless. But then a spark flickered in the dark eyes, facial muscles contracted – and a faint whisper emerged from its blue parted lips: “Do not forget!” Then the scream of Ying’er echoed through the house, followed by a thump as she fell unconscious to the floor. Wife and husband rushed into the kitchen, and found her lying by the fireplace. Her face had seemed pale, her eyes had shifted back and forth as if she were in a delirium, her lips had turned purple and her fingernails blue. Eventually she came to, and later they told her how happy they had been in that moment. For some minutes they even feared that her soul had been freed, like some caged bird, from the confounds of her body. They then brewed her a herbal potion to restore her health, and asked her what had happened. Ying’er told them about her strange and grotesque vision by the fireplace, how a corpse of what she had assumed was the late magistrate, Mr. Sun, with a noose around his neck, blood dripping from his eyes and hair covering his face, had appeared before her, whispered and frightened her from her wits. This fantasy about the dead magistrate infuriated the widow who immediately slapped her maid in the face and said: “You idiot! I told you to make soup, and you start rambling about my deceased husband. Stop this charade, put out the fire and go to your room!” Ying’er returned to her room and soon after fell asleep. Later that night, as the couple withdrew to their sleeping quarters, the widow whispered, “Husband, that girl is no longer useful. We should send her away.” “Yes, but where?” he replied.“I have a plan.” The next day, after they had breakfast, Little Sun went to handle official matters. The magistrate’s wife called Ying’er and said, “Ying’er, you’ve been with us for seven or eight years, and I’ve always treated you well. But now you bring back so many memories of my late husband. I know that you are dreamer. Have you never a dreamed of a husband yourself?” “I wouldn’t dare to expect such a thing. You should know that I am grateful for what you have done for me.” “I don’t want you to marry just anyone,” the magistrate’s wife continued, “we will consult the matchmakers, read sign and hexagrams, and set the same demands as we did for me. We will tell them you too should marry a man with the surname ‘Sun’. What do you say?” Ying’er hesitated, but realized that becoming the second wife of a magistrate like Little Sun was not only an honor, but a significant promotion. However, once the principle of a marriage had been settled and the matchmakers had consulted wise men, hexagrams and the stars, it was decided that she marry another, more suited man. That man’s name was not Sun, but Wang Xing, a notorious drunk and a gambler. It did not take long before Ying’er saw all their savings vanish. One day, when Wang was drunk, he came home and scolded Ying’er, saying, “You worthless woman! Can’t you see how I suffer for us both? Why didn’t you ask your father for some money to support us?” Unable to bear his insults, Ying’er tied up her skirt, left her home, and returned to the residence of Magistrate Sun. When the magistrate’s wife saw her, she said, “Ying’er, you’ve already married someone else. What brings you here?” Ying’er tearfully explained, “I don’t dare to hide anything. The man I married is a drunkard and a gambler. In just three months, we’ve spent all our money. I don’t know what to do, so I came to ask for a loan, we need three to five hundred coins to survive.” “Ying’er, your marriage is your own affair. I’ll give you some silver this time, but don’t come back again,” the magistrate’s wife replied.Ying’er accepted the silver and expressed her gratitude before returning home. However, a few days later the new money was gone as well. One evening Wang was short of cash, and had to return to his house sober. When he saw his wife, he shouted:“You useless woman! How can you do this to me? Why didn’t you ask the magistrate’s wife for another loan? I need three or maybe five hundred coins!” “I have been once”, Ying’er replied, “I used the necklace as collateral, and told her all sorts of lies to persuade her. How can I go to her another time?” She sensed the anger in Wang’s eyes as he turned to her.“Listen, you’ll better do as you’re told. If not, I’ll break your legs!” This was too much for Ying’er. As dusk descended, she walked the shameful path to the magistrate’s residence. When she arrived, she found the door bolted for the night. She could not wake the whole house by hammering at the entrance? So, she continued down the road passed the lighted windows of her old neighbors. As she stopped to rest, she suddenly heard a voice saying:“Ying’er, you must be ware! The path of any marriage is uncertain. Trust me, life must be lived on its own terms.”Ying’er immediately turned towards the source of the sound, and noticed movement under the eaves of a house. She made out the silhouette of a hat, and outstretched arms in the moonlight. “Ying’er”, was the sudden whisper: “I am the restless soul of the former magistrate. It is with great sadness that I approach you, please accept what I offer.” A lonely woman on a deserted road at night will do what she is told. Before she knew it the shadow had melted into dusk, and she was left holding a small silk purse – filled to the brim with shiny silver. Tucking her robe tightly around her slim waist, she then hurried through evening mist. At home, she found the front door locked, and began knocking. To no avail.Then she shouted, and eventually there was a reply:“Damn you wife, why haven’t you gone to ask for help from the Magistrate? It may be too late now!” “I have already been there, but they’ve already bolted their door. I couldn’t make a nuisance of myself. I was about to return when a man calling himself “the former magistrate” appeared out of nowhere and practically donated me some silver.” “What is this nonsense about ghosts! Bags of silver do not magically materialize. Show me this silver.” Ying’er handed him the silver. At first he was confused, but when he saw the amount, he exclaimed:“This is stolen property! We must report it, or face punishment!” He shook his head in despair. “Keep it safe, tomorrow we must bring it to the local courthouse”. Morning, however, brought second thoughts to Wang.“You know, when I think about this,” he said, “……I cannot accuse a magistrate of theft or dishonesty? And what evidence do I have? He makes good money, why would he do such a thing?” His forehead furled under strenuous thought. “I have an idea, let’s order some new clothes and have them sent to my friend Pei’s house. We then collect them there. They will think he paid for the order.” He smiled. A scheme was thus hatched, and the very next day Wang purchased fine silks and garments for himself and his wife, and had everything sent to his friend’s house. Arriving at the unwitting co-conspirator in the evening, they then cleaned themselves and changed into their new lavish costumes. However, the spectacle caught the eye of their friend’s curious mother.“Where did you get the money for all this?” she asked as she saw the colorful fabrics. “Yesterday I got two taels of silver from some work I had done, bought this and had it sent here,” Wang lied. “I have stopped gambling and drinking…” “Wang Xing”, the mother said thoughtfully, “can you spare your wife for a couple of days? I am old and I need her help, you see?” When the husband had left, her wrinkled face turned to Ying’er.“My dear,” she said, “tomorrow we will burn incense in the great temple.” They woke at dawn, did their chores and made their way to Dongyue Temple. They burned incense in the two long corridors of the lower hall, and were moving passed some offices, when Ying’er felt her skirt loosen. She stopped to fix it while the old mother continued towards the exit. She was tying it up in the back, when she noticed a judge in one of the offices. He wore a slender hat, and like her he was in the process of arranging his attire, the corner of his belt had loosened. Suddenly his face turned towards her, and he whispered:“Ying’er, I am your first magistrate. If you want a sentence, I will pass one. This official paper is yours.”Ying’er received the sealed scroll with shaking hands.“But this is very odd!” she exclaimed. “How can a stranger pass sentences on me? I have never heard of such a thing…” Ying’er hid the document in her clothing, hurried on her way and said nothing to the old woman waiting outside. However, when she entered her own familiar home, she did tell her husband. Wang examined the scroll. It turned out to be a riddle on a single sheet of paper, which read: Follow women who waive in an alley,both young and old have purposeon both sides of a tomb. Listen to the drum of the third watch,Men will plunge and arise from water. The text seemed incomprehensible, and a puzzled Wang ordered his wife to keep silent for many months. It was in February, a year later, that the great Judge Bao entered the story. He was born in Luzhou district in southern China. His full name was Bao Mingzheng. During the Song dynasty, China had system of pavilions, which were higher state institutions. Bao became a member of the Longtu Pavilion, and later he rose to the position of bachelor there. Hence his name became Bao Longtu. He was still a mere county magistrate when these events occurred. But he had been intelligent and upright since childhood, and in his official capacity he always cut straight to the bone, bringing clarity to many who struggled in confusion. Judge Bao had been in office a mere three days, when he one night had a dream that he was sitting in the hall, and there was a couplet posted on the wall: “To know the three changes, light your fires and plunge into water.” The next morning, Bao went to the hall and summoned local wise men to explain the two sentences to him. No one could make any sense of them. He then asked for a white card on which to write a riddle that had come to him in his dream. When he was done, Judge Bao said:“If anyone can make any sense of this conundrum, they will be rewarded with ten taels of silver.” He then hammered the card to the county gate causing much commotion. Even some officials and their servants, sensing an opportunity for profit, arrived to examine the mysterious text. It so happened that Wang- Ying’yer’s drunkard of a husband – was buying food from a stall nearby. He noticed the chatter and the murmur, and overheard puzzled remarks about the magistrate who had pinned an unsolvable riddle to the old oak door. Curiosity then got the better of him. He made his way through the throng, and approached the small white sign. He could not believe his own eyes, before him was the message that a ghost had presented to his own wife. Wang had the odd feeling of being watched, and turned. Suddenly he stared straight into the round face of his friend Pei. “There is no use in hanging around”, Wang said desperately trying to mask his surprise, “the new magistrate is an odd man with a ferocious temper. I can let you in on a little secret”, Wang whispered, “my wife is the only person on earth – except for myself- that has any inclination about what this riddle might mean.” Wang then bought his food, and returned home. The house was empty when he entered, and he began pacing back and forth across the squeaking wooden floor. It was by no means a large home, so he turned frequently, scratching his.arms as if bitten by a leech. At the sound of his wife outside, he rushed out. But then he stopped, afraid to appear unmanly, sucked it all up and followed her slowly inside. Finally, he could bear it no longer and unburdened his mind. “First, the ghost of the old magistrate appeared three times to teach me to avenge him,” Ying’er said, “and I got a bag of silver for nothing. Whatever you do, you must not lock yourself up here like a coward.” It was with a certain reluctance that Wang returned to the county gate. Again he navigated through the throng towards the sign, hoping that it had vanished. But it had not. When he again spotted his friend Pei, he felt slightly relieved and dragged him into a deserted street to ask his advice. There were rows of two storied houses. The sky was blue, but the sun had passed its zenith and long shadows stretched of from the buildings on the opposite side, almost to their feet. They stood under the a solitary tree, and Wang recounted his story under the shade of sighing branches. Then Pei looked at him and said: “What do you want me to do? Where is this piece of paper that the spirit-judge handed your wife?” “The last time I saw it, my wife had stuffed into a closet with her clothes.”“We must bring this before Judge Bao and collect your reward. I will go and tell him that you will present crucial evidence in the case. Go home, fetch the paper and bring it to the court office. When Judge Bao asks for it lay it before him.”At that moment, they heard someone coming up the alley and lowered their voices. “Go now!” Pei whispered as he turned to make out the shadow approaching from the shade at the other end. Wang did as he was told, and hurried off. Pei heard footsteps in the alley, but could not make out where they were coming from. This was not a common place for robbers? Suddenly a door in the side gallery creaked open, and the clear silhouette of Judge Bao appeared three paces from him. Pei immediately threw himself to the ground crying “My Lord, we were just coming to see you. Please do not harm me!”“My dear stranger, please get up!” Judge Bao exclaimed. “I am not here on your account”. Pei looked up with surprise, then he slowly rose to his feet, brushed dust from his clothes and glanced furtively at the Judge.“I am here to buy food from the stalls, just like everyone else,” he said and smiled. “But now that you have admitted that you have something I need to hear, you might as well tell me what that might be.” So it was that Pei recounted what he knew to Judge Bao. Ying’er was nowhere to be seen when Wang opened the door. He headed straight for her closet, throwing all her garments to the floor, even her fine red silk scarf. At last he found the wrinkled piece of paper, but when he unfolded it the calligrapher’s strokes had vanished , leaving only solitary ink stain in one corner. There was no more evidence and no case to be made, and Wang sank down in a chair. Daylight was fading outside, small gleaming stars penetrated the darkening blue above. Suddenly he heard the sound of a horse. It neighed, and out front and man’s voice shouted: “Wang Xing you are hereby summed by the Lord Bao to appear before his court. Bring your evidence and follow!” Wang grabbed the blank paper, and followed the trotting horse of the stern sword carrying official down the road, across the bridge, through the city streets- all the way to the court house. Before he knew it he had been lead down several corridors and a great metal door had closed behind him. He was in a darkened hall, only lit by flickering oil lamps along the walls. In the middle stood Judge Bao. “My envoy has informed me that you collected a piece of paper in the Yue Temple”, the judge said, “I wish to see it”. Wang bowed as respectfully as he could and said “My wife burned incense at the Yue Temple last year, my Lord. As she passed by an office, a spirit showed himself and delivered this written message. “I am sorry, My Lord, but the message seems to have vanished” Judge Bao carefully examined the paper and then directed his penetrating eyes at Wang.“Wang Xing, I’m asking you,” the Judge said, “did that spirit give any instructions to your wife along with this piece of paper?” “The Shinto only instructed her to seek justice,” Wang replied. Judge Bao became angry and said, “Nonsense! No Shinto priest would ask such a thing? Shouldn’t she be the one granting justice instead? This is an absurd story! Who do you think you can fool?” Wang quickly knelt down and said, “My lord, I will explain.” “Your story does not make sense,” Judge Bao said, “If your explanation is reasonable, you will be rewarded; otherwise, you’ll be in trouble.” “My wife used to serve under Magistrate Sun’s family,” Wang began, “and her name is Ying’er. She heard an astrologer predict that Magistrate Sun would die at the age of fifty-three during the third watch of a certain year and month. When it happened as predicted, the magistrate’s wife remarried to the current Magistrate Sun and married off Ying’er to me. When Ying’er was working in the magistrate’s house, she saw the former magistrate appear twice. The first time, he was hanging on a well fence, disheveled, with his tongue sticking out and blood in his eyes. He said, ‘Ying’er, help me decide.’ The second time, near Magistrate Sun’s house, she met the former magistrate again, who gave her a bag of silver. The third time, at the Yue Temple, a mysterious shinto priest appeared and gave her this paper, instructing her to seek justice. The appearance of the judge was exactly like that of Magistrate Sun, who was formerly her guardian.” “I see!“ Judge Bao said with a sardonic smile. “Bring me the second magistrate Sun and his wife. Now!” His subordinates lowered their gazes and did as instructed. “You two have done a fine job! Well executed,” Judge Bao said mockingly as they were brought before him.“We have done nothing wrong,” Magistrate Sun replied.Judge Bao then lifted his scroll, looked at them with doubt and pronounced the following solution to the unsolvable riddle: “‘This text speaks of two magistrates, you and your predecessor. It also hints at your marriage to his widow. And even specifies the time of your predecessor’s death, and the rewards lavished upon you by such good fortune. But more than this, the spirit claims that you keep him prisoner below boiling water. We all know what what your maid saw: the dangling corpse with bleeding eyes and protruding tongue ….and fluttering white locks. In my experience this is the face of a strangled man. Finally, the ghost mentions the time of my arrival and these very words now spoken to you.” The widow sighed. “Take Magistrate Sun and his wife to their house”, Judge Bao ordered. “Search that stove and kitchen from end to end. Every spirit must be free to join its ancestors!” The small crowd looked at each other with doubting eyes and muttered. However, they all obeyed without question, and wife and husband were brought to their own home. There they stood silent while men scoured the kitchen. Even the great stove was moved to one side. Immediately, a hidden stone slab appeared, and beneath it they found a well with cold and murky water. The well was then drained, and a bamboo basket was lowered. From that moist and dark cavity a rotting corpse was then retrieved. It was the old Magistrate, and there was evidence of strangulation. The widow and her new husband turned pale and mute. The onlookers were shocked. As it turned out, the younger Magistrate Sun had initially been a man who been saved from the cold during a heavy snowstorm. After restoring him to health, the elder magistrate had taken him in, educated him, and taught him to read and write. However, the young man later had an affair with Magistrate Sun’s wife. On the day a diviner predicted the death of the elder Magistrate Sun, the old man had discovered the truth. Fearing exposure, the younger magistrate got his rival drunk and strangled him to death, hiding the body in the well. The couple then staged a suicide using the maid as a witness. Thus the rumor of a personal tragedy was spread, an old magistrate had drowned himself. Later, his young rival returned and moved the stove to cover the well. A marriage was then arranged. No-one would have suspected, unless the elder Magistrate’s spirit, tormented by the lack of a proper burial, had made three visits to the maid, Ying’er. This case helped spread the reputation of Judge Bao far and wide. To this day, people speak of Bao Longtu, who solves riddles from this world and the other. As you can hear in the following poem: In a calligrapher’s elegant riddle we find,Judge Bao tracing your footsteps in his mind.If the deed is done, you must be ware,His scarred spirit will be arriving here.     Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literatureLaura White is a renowned expert on Jane Austen. However, she has chosen a novel approach to this classic British icon. The Nebraska professor is an innovator in the emerging field of digital humanities, and studies literature by means of a computer. The rigid divide between human creativity and the world of binary computer code is quickly being bridged, according to Google.  I had a few words with professor White about this new branch of study, and what it means for writing and literary studies. You have studied Jane Austen, have you discovered something new about her, something we couldn’t have discovered without the use of a computer? Professor White: Yes, I think so. What we did was identify (code) each and every word in the six major novels as to speaker. That’s easy to do for the narrator and character speech, but trickier with free indirect diction, when the narrator is “speaking for” a character, using his or her vocabulary and point of view. Such shared speech we coded as such, and weighted to reflect the depth of ventriloquism. The results are not yet fully known, because what we created is a public sandbox in which people can design their own searches about diction to use the coding we created—there is a lot waiting to be discovered. But at the very least we found that Austen’s use of free indirect discourse (and she was the first major novelist to exploit FID fully) was far more complex and varied than we (and all the scholars writing on the subject thus far) had suspected. We also have found some cute nuggets—for instance, the fact that no male character in Austen uses the word “wedding” and no female character uses the word “marriage”! When you began your studies of Austen, did you have to create your own methodology? Professor White: We had to create coding that would properly reflect the complexity of Austen’s speakers: was the speech spoken or written? How many levels of speaker are in a given phrase (in one letter, for instance, we have the string of Mrs.Younge-told-Darcy-told-Mr.Gardiner-told-Mrs.Gardiner-told-Elizabeth-told-reader). But the flexible marvel of .xml already existed, and even more importantly, the program TokenX, designed by our team member Brian Pytlik Zillig (Professor at UNL’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities), was at our service. TokenX determines unique frequencies of words and thus provides an easy-to-use interface for text analysis (especially through frequency tables) and visualization. I have heard of similar studies on Agatha Christie, and that they were able to create a profile of her style. Is this your goal with Jane Austen? Professor White: You can’t actually get to a full knowledge of Austen’s style, even by understanding her patterns of diction, because verbal irony (and its reverberations) can’t be caught mathematically—and her verbal irony is pervasive. But you can learn a lot about her use of free indirect diction, which is in turn important to understanding her style. One could make a profile about percentages of indirect diction, dialogue, and so on—but that would only be helpful to compare with other writers—or, using big data searches, comparing that data against the profile of such a thing as “the eighteenth-century British novel” or “Henry James” (the latter being an author who took Austen’s innovations with FID and ran with them about as far as they can be run). Our project may indeed do such things in the future—it’s the next obvious step. If you had something resembling a profile, not only of her choice of words, but of the larger patterns in her plot construction, do you think a computer could emulate Austen? Could it produce a fake Austen, so to speak? Professor White: You could perhaps create an Austen that could fool some people, but it wouldn’t be a good fake. Unless you can feed in her values (not possible) AND her education, including but not restricted to her reading (difficult) AND the operations of her irony (not possible), you’ll just get a partial simulacrum. This new approach could be used to compare authors, and then detect larger patterns in literary and cultural history. Austen is of course a central figure in the development of the English novel. In the past, this has been studied by Ian Watt and others. Do you think we now could have a more empirical history of literature? Professor White: I do think we can have more data that tells us interesting things about patterns of diction and clusters of tropes across large bodies of texts—a lot of people at UNL, such as my colleagues Steve Ramsay and Matt Jockers, do work on just that sort of thing. Matt for instance has very recently uncovered a lot of information about patterns among popular fiction, especially bestsellers. If we can design the right questions, we can find some interesting answers. But as I pointed out before, huge literary elements such as irony can’t be reckoned computationally, so a Theory of All Lit from digital humanities is impossible. Gillian Beer, Arthur O. Lovejoy and others have specialized in detecting patterns from the history of ideas in fiction. Can a computer assist us in this type of study? Professor White: This kind of work is my favorite kind of scholarship to read, that which finds the largest patterns in imaginative literature over the centuries. I’d recommend your readers go to Northrop Frye’s The Anatomy of Criticism (1957) for the best of such of work; Eric Auerbach’s Mimesis (1946) is also marvelous. For finding the largest patterns in the Bible, read Frye’s The Great Code (1982) (admittedly very demanding). And, yes, to some degree, computers can help with this kind of work, especially with discerning patterns of diction and plot (though in the latter case obviously the text won’t tell you its own plot—a human being has to schematize what happens and feed that information in). Where do you see the field of digital humanities in 20 years or so? Professor White: Moving upward and onwards. By the 90s, humanities had been somewhat exhausted following the usual roads of literary criticism—I don’t generally advise students to focus on Jane Austen, for instance, because it’s very hard to find room for an original thought. One way the humanities are being revitalized is with a much more stringent attention to history, and digital humanities plays a role here too by making it easy to read texts long forgotten, literary and otherwise. For instance, in my recent book on Carroll’s Alice books, I made much use of the texts in Carroll’s library of about 3,000 volumes. They were all auctioned off at his death, but catalogs of the library which have been produced by Jeffrey Stern and Charlie Lovett let one read his library cover to cover through Googlebooks, Hathitrust, and other such digitization initiatives. When read in detail, one finds this virtual library corrects many of the critical and biographical misperceptions about Carroll. And these resources are just a small part of how digital humanities is transforming literary studies: visualization, archives, data-mining all play a part. Some people think that creativity is unique to us as humans, and may feel threatened by the fact that our “cultural soul” is gradually dissected by computers. What do you say to them? Professor White: I’d agree that creativity is unique to humans, though some of the higher apes do seem to like to finger-paint. Computers can’t be creative—it isn’t possible. They can be programmed to make wild outputs, and we might think creative thoughts about those generated outputs, but there’s no creativity on the part of the computer involved. We are more threatened by computers in terms of surveillance; we are not at all private when we’re online, and big data (which doesn’t care about us as individuals) can nonetheless potentially be retrofitted to be small data, fingering us one by one. So people are right to worry about this—since human beings are in charge of computers, it is very unlikely that they will always be used for good (no other human invention has been).   Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyBy Margie Harris, Mobs magazine 1930(Courtesy of John Locke. His collection of her stories is available from Amazon) A mystery night club queen, with a look of death in her eyes and a little black book filled with names . . . a steadily shorter list! eattle, Queen City of the Northwest, gleaming like a great, white jewel on rising ground overlooking Elliott Bay, is a city beautiful. There roses bloom the year around. There men and women live and love and die, far from the tenements and slums of the great Eastern cities.But in Seattle lies hidden one canker spot. It is the district below Yesler Way, which is the sole blot on the city’s fair escutcheon. There is to be found the last remaining trace of those other days when lumberjacks from the woods and miners from Alaska came whooping forth with gold-filled hands, demanding of Life those things of which they had been deprived.“Below Yesler” is evil, and of all the evil things within its purlieus, none is more depraved, more terrible in the minds of the decent and law-abiding than the underworld cabaret and speakeasy operated for nearly two decades by “Scar” Argyle. There gathered waterfront thugs, gangsters, racketeers, gunmen.Most fearsome of all, to the uninitiated, was its proprietor. His face was thoroughly repulsive. A great red seam led from the stiff hair above his left temple and down across the bridge of his nose. It ended at the right jawbone after creasing the cheek deeply. In healing it had drawn the flesh so that the mouth seemed cast in a permanent sneer. The right eye was so affected that half of the lower eyelid turned down, gleaming redly.That was Scar’s reminder that he once had double-crossed “Nigger George,” a piano player. True, Scar had seen to it that there was an early funeral in George’s personal social circle, but the razor slash had put a permanent end to whatever was delightful, either in countenance or disposition, of Argyle. Now he was a leering, gross mountain of fat. For hours he would sit, seemingly without movement, his piggish black eyes searching, always searching for new methods of vile profit. On a bright afternoon in March, Scar sat cursing his luck, his failing patronage and most of all the police of his precinct. Their increasing demands for graft and favors bade fair to turn his once prosperous business into a losing venture.Only that day he had received a shipment of liquor and had paid his “delivery charge” to the policeman on the beat without demur. Later he had sent to the precinct captain the usual weekly payment for protection. Now, within the last four hours, four sergeants had slipped in to see him.One had compelled him to buy four tickets for a police ball. The next had asked for two quarts of prime liquor “for the lieutenant.” Number Three asked for a couple of drinks and then borrowed five dollars.The fourth brought the crowning blow. With him came a stranger—a supposed friend. Scar had been bullied into cashing a twenty dollar check for this man. He tore it up after they left. Too many such had bounced back from his bank. Truly the lot of an underworld cabaret owner was trouble filled.The side door bell rang as Scar cogitated on his woes, and the doorman turned to say:“Lady to see youse, Scar. Good looker!”“Hell, let her in!” Scar almost spat the words. “Probably a hen cop with another touch; they’re all that have overlooked me this week.”His eyes brightened, however, as a modishly gowned, athletic appearing girl stepped through the door and looked unconcernedly about her. Few such had been there since the days of the gold rush. When her eyes encountered his, Scar beckoned. She walked to the table and took a place opposite him.“Pat Jennings told me to see you,” she said confidentially. “My name is Kate Dever. I’m on the lam from New York—witness in a gang killing, which means a year in the sticks for me. Jennings says you need a hostess to pep up your game; I need a job. Also I know my stuff, Big Boy, and the jack I can make for you will be nobody’s business. I’ll have to do it in my own way, though; no buttinskys.”As Argyle stared suspiciously at her, the girl dropped her coat from her shoulders and removed a close-fitting hat. Scar’s eyes lighted as a throat and shoulders a Diana might have envied, were revealed. He grunted in renewed admiration as the dim lights outlined a beautiful, resolute face and a frame of dark-red hair, well kept and bobbed in the latest mode.“Hell, kid,” Scar burst forth breathlessly. “Sure! You’re fixed fer life.”The tone, the gleam in his eyes, made his meaning all too clear. Kate Dever did not seek to evade his burning glance.“Yes?” she queried coldly. “You wouldn’t kid a little girl, would you, Scar? You think you want me? Then come and take me.”The man lurched to his feet with a speed surprising in one of his bulk and clawed at her in an awkward attempt to draw her into his arms. One hand fixed itself on her shoulder. Before he could do more, she sprang up, thrusting with both hands against his chest.Scar stumbled backward a step and the girl slipped out from behind the table. In her hand, seemingly juggled out of thin air, was a gleaming Spanish dagger, needle-pointed and with a blade almost paper thin. Scar eyed the knife; noted that it was held in the thrusting position—and that the point was aimed directly at his stomach. His arms dropped to his side in token of surrender.“What th’ hell do you think—?” he began thickly.Kate, smiling now, resumed her seat.“Oh, sit down, stupid,” she said quietly. “Sit down and buy me a drink. You had to learn it some time—and right at first is the best time. Remember this hereafter. I’m no man’s woman. Any man who puts his hands on me gets hurt. I know how to take care of myself morning, noon and night—also vacations. Now how about the job?”Scar had signaled for a waiter, who brought whiskey. Scar gulped down a huge portion. Kate poured a few drops in a glass with ginger ale and tossed it off.“My first and last drink in your place,” she said. “If I work here I’m served tea for whiskey, distilled water for gin and sparkling cider instead of what you call champagne. And Lord help the waiter who brings me anything else!” Here was a new type to Scar. A beautiful woman who dared to come to his own joint and flout him when the odds were all his way, would be an asset. He visioned the returning trade when the word went out through the underworld that the Argyle Club had a new hostess who could not be “made.”“You’ve got the job,” he said decisively. “Seventy-five a week and a piece of the profits over the first thousand. That’s about what I’m doin’ now.”“Big-hearted Scar!” Kate mocked him. “Hundred a week, five per cent of the gross—and I start tonight.”About to protest, Scar thought better of it and extended his hand for the underworld shake of acceptance. Instead, Kate turned sidewise, circled his arm with her left, caught the knuckles of his fist with her right and bent the member downward. Scar grinned. It was the gangster method of making the sucker loosen up from whatever he held.“Know your grapes, don’t you?” he chuckled. “Well, I’ve loosened for a yard and five per cent a week, so be here at eight. Wanna little advance?”Kate opened her purse and smiled. A wad of yellow-backed bills had been thrust in there loosely.“No, thanks,” she replied sweetly. “A nice old gentleman on the train attended to that for you. Somehow he got off at the next station; the conductor put him off. He tried to get into my berth.”“Onto all the games, hey?” Scar queried. “Now, what’s your deal?”“What are you using?” she countered, looking about at the small stage and the orchestra stand.“Pretty fair nigger string band, six dancin’ girls who double as drink grafters and cigarette girls, an’ a good boy hoofer. You sing, kid?”“Nor dance,” Kate replied. “I work from the floor; out where the money jingles and the saps need encouraging. Leave it to me, Big Fellow, and don’t mind later on if I make some changes.”Scar nodded perplexedly.“It’s O.K. by me, girlie,” he replied, “but leave Little Laura on th’ job if you can. She’s a good little guy—kinda fond of me. And by the way, kid, what’s your moniker? Got one?”Kate looked him squarely in the eye and said:“They call me ‘Cougar Kitty’—better let that spread around a little.”“She mountain lion, huh?” Scar mused. “Damn if they ain’t right.” Midnight in Scar’s cabaret was merely breakfast time in Gangland.Kate, resplendent in a gold sequin gown which cast forth points of light in every direction as she moved, sat chatting with Scar at a table near the orchestra. With them, snuggled close against the proprietor’s bulk, was the cigarette girl, Little Laura. She was a big-eyed, wistful child woman of the clinging type, but except when she looked at Scar, there was a hard little glitter in her eyes.Scar had said she was “kinda fond” of him. Strangely enough, Kate reflected, there seemed reason for the statement. Between the big-eyed girl and the gross flesh-mountain of villainy there existed some bond. When he spoke to the girl, Scar’s tone was gentle and as nearly affable as it could be. Laura was serious in her talk with him and actually seemed to enjoy his elephantine pawings.The grapevine telegraph of the underworld had carried the news of Scar’s new attraction. Already the tables had filled with a swaggering crew of gangsters, sleek haired, gorgeously dressed young gunmen, and here and there older men—cold of eye, and each seemingly determined to sit so as to face the door.Many brought their molls and, because a thug’s standing is measured by the appearance of his woman, they made a brave showing of costly garments and gleaming jewels. Only those older men, the square jawed poachers in the Land of Rackets, were alone. They hunted among the ranks of the hostesses and entertainers.Presently Kate caught Scar’s eye and nodded. He had his orders and when he lumbered to his feet and stopped the music, everyone became quiet.Scar was about to make a speech! Usually he contented himself with howling, profane comments from his chair by the orchestra.“Listen, guys and molls,” he rumbled. “Seattle ain’t so big as Noo York, but she’s just as lively, and when it comes to givin’ you the best in ent’tainment, Scar Argyle’s the boy to do it. From now on, the Argyle Club’s the live spot here. And I now takes pleasure in int’ducin’ to you Miss Kate Dever—knowed mostly as ‘Cougar Kitty,’ our new hostess.”Kate, self-possessed as her namesake in the home nest, walked to a place beside him and smiled brightly. Prolonged hand-clapping and a few cheers greeted her.“I am glad to be here,” she said, “and I want one and all of you for my best pals. Scar Argyle has given me the right to do what I please for your entertainment. The word hereafter is ‘Go as far as you like, as fast as you like, so long as you keep fairly quiet—and so long as you don’t get fresh with the new hostess.’ ”New applause burst forth and Kate nodded to the orchestra. Instantly a mad, jazzing dance number flared forth. Some derisive laughs had greeted Kate’s reference to herself and some of the bolder of the young cannons left their tables to gather around her.Scar was watching, fascinated. Kate dismissed the pleas of dance partners one by one, until Speedball Kane, a leader among the gunmen and handsome in a wild, boyish fashion, clasped her about the waist. He fell into a dance step and tugged. The smile never left her face. Suddenly her hands came up apparently to hold him off, but instead they caught both of his shoulders firmly. At the same moment she stepped forward with the speed of a striking reptile. She thrust her toe back of his left heel, then pushed him backward with all her surprising strength.Though he was a rough-and-tumble fighter trained on the docks, Speedball had not expected the reverse back-heel from a handsomely gowned night hostess. The backward thrust was too powerful, the fulcrum supplied by her foot too far below his center of balance to be resisted.The gangster crashed to the floor on his shoulders. A split-second later his head collided with the maple with a resounding thump. A roar of laughter followed. It stilled a few seconds later when the young tough failed to rise. Two of his friends moved toward him.“Leave him there,” Kate commanded coldly. “I want him to come to there so he’ll realize that he’s to keep his hands off me in future. I’m no better than he is—but I’m as good—and when I want a man’s hands on me, I’ll ask him to put them there.”Speedball stirred, blinked, dragged himself to his knees. Then his glance swept upward and encountered the gleeful eyes of Cougar Kitty. He shook his head and looked about. On every hand he saw the awe-stricken eyes of his friends. Instantly a dull red suffused his face. He gathered his muscles for a leap at the mocking girl before him.“Damn you—” he began. Then the words choked in his throat and his eyes went wide with surprise.Kate’s right hand was extended toward him. A dull ring of blued steel peeped out between her second and third fingers; the whole hand was tightening on something within her palm. Too well Speed knew what that meant.For Cougar Kitty was holding in her plump, beringed hand one of the dwarfed, vicious little plunger guns of Gangland. It was a mere ring of metal extending out of a firing chamber, back of which was a trip plunger which released the pin against a solitary bullet of heavy caliber.Speed could be forgiven for pausing. The one-inch barrel was trained directly on his forehead. A child could not miss at that distance. The crook teetered on his feet uncertainly. Then a girl’s voice cut the silence:“Slap the broad down, Speed,” it said. “Don’t spoil a good notion.”Kate smiled bleakly and waved Speed back to his place. Then came a muffled roar and gray smoke curled from between her fingers.She had fired the weapon into the floor as the best means of squaring Speedball against later accusations of cowardice. Everyone leaped up; all had some question to ask.Kate held the still smoking weapon above her head.“Sorry, boys and girls,” she said. “I hate to pull off rough stuff on our first evening together—but I had him covered—plenty. I had to let you know I meant it when I said: ‘Don’t get fresh with the new hostess.’ All right? Well, let’s play again.”She motioned to the goggling bandsmen to continue playing. Then, under cover of the opening notes, she walked straight to where Speedball was struggling into his light overcoat. He felt alone, disgraced in the eyes of the other gangsters and their molls. The red of shame colored his face, but about his mouth was the deadly white line which marks the killing rage in man. Everyone was watching openly. Kate moved as one who has decided on a definite course. Speed jerked his coat into place and clapped his hat down over his eyes. She was at his side now, hand extended.“Sit down, Speed,” she said in a tone intended for his ears alone. “If you go out now, you’ll leave these others laughing. Be nice and I’ll make it all jake for us both. Now shake hands like a sport and tell me it’s all right—even if you did start it.”Speed took her hand, shook it heartily and grinned. Too well he knew it was his only course. Unless there was more to add to the story, Gangland would be yelping taunts at him for months to come. Maybe, he reflected, he could turn the tables on this wise broad from New York if he was crafty.“I’m game; speak your piece,” he half whispered. “But don’t figure to start nothin’ more.”“Be your age,” she replied. “Now, listen, Speed, I’m starting a new racket here and I need at least one friend on whom I can depend. You made me tangle with you before your friends, but I didn’t ask you to. Now, we can be the best of friends, and at the same time I’ll show you how to get yourself some good out of it.“I’ve heard about you. They call you ‘Speedball’ because you drive the stickups and hijackers away so far and so fast, they have to wait ten minutes before they start to make an alibi. What?”Such tribute to his unerring efficiency at the wheel of a getaway car caused the young gangster to flush happily. Maybe here was a woman worth hanging about after.“No,” Kate went on as though reading his thoughts, “you don’t mean any more to me than any other man, but if you wish, I’ll let you be my Number One Pal. We’ll play around together and sometimes you can take me home—as far as the door.“What I want of you is to keep them off my back if things get rough—nothing more. If the others see us palling around together we’ll be accused of having fallen for one another. Now, say it. Want to play, or will you put on the funny hat and coat and go out and get yourself laughed at? First and last chance, boy.”“Sure, Kitty, I’ll play,” he answered, “just to square myself.”“Speedball and I are all made up ‘n’ everything,” Kate announced to the watching crowd. “And now I want you all to walk past here in line and shake hands with us both. Then we’ll all be the best kind of pals. Scar will buy a drink for the house, and I’ll show you the latest New York racket.”She was exerting herself now, putting into her simple little speech and almost childish plan of personal contact with each, all of the hard won personality she possessed. She let her eyes flicker toward Scar. He sat there, a contented mountain of evil, literally drooling over the manner in which she was earning the attention of his patrons. The idea struck the gangsters and their molls favorably. There was an instant rush to get into line. Speed fell into place beside Kate as the orchestra struck up a slow drag march. The head of the line moved forward. Kate had a bright smile, a word, a nod for each. One plump patron found himself being prodded in the ribs. Another laughed when Kate flicked his tie from under his vest. One pretty girl simpered when Kate whispered: “Gosh, kid! I’m jealous of you—you’re so darn lovely.”Scar came to his feet as the last of the line passed and bellowed for the drinks. Kate held up her hand for silence.“Wait, please,” she said. “Will the tall gentleman in dinner clothes, the one at the last table—you, handsome—; the girl with the black hair and the red dress; the man who left his hair at home but wore a horseshoe pin in his tie—and you, Mister Red Necktie—all please come forward?”The four responded somewhat sheepishly.“I want you to search my new pal, Speedball,” Kate said smilingly. “I think he’s turned dip. Look in his left, outside pocket.”Speedball did not wait to be searched. He felt in the pocket himself and gaspingly brought forth a watch, attached to which was a fine chain and gold key; a gold mesh coin purse wrapped in a handkerchief, a diamond stickpin and a thin, but costly, cigarette case.The crowd roared with laughter at Speed’s consternation. No other group could appreciate better what had happened. None had even a remote suspicion of the youth. He was a known gunman and gangster, and as such, he looked down on the dip as dips in turn look down on doormat thieves.Kate waited until there was a measure of silence.“That’s one of the New York night club tricks,” Kate laughed as she restored the property to its owners. They get you all hot and bothered over something that’s happening and then the waiters and house dips put the vacuum to you. One man swore somebody’d stolen his underwear while he waited to kiss a toe dancer whose number he’d drawn in a lottery!”“What a dame,” someone croaked admiringly. “She’s oke for me,” another chimed in. For minutes the place buzzed with admiration for Kate’s deftness. Scar bought for the house. The two losers of property would not be outdone in generosity and the girl in red, whose coin purse was restored, argued her boy friend into loosening up as well.It was daylight when the last patron left. That was Speedball, who had waited for Kate. She dismissed him with a shake of her head.“See you tonight, pal,” she said. “And wear your rod.”When Scar counted up, he found a take for the night of $900.Cougar Kitty was an established institution in Seattle’s underworld.As she walked to the corner of First Avenue to catch a cab, Kate noticed one of the waiters slipping from door to door behind her. As she entered the taxi, she saw him sprint forward and flag down another.“Drive around for half an hour,” she told the driver. He nodded joyously at such luck at the beginning of his day’s work. Kate, sitting in the center of the rear seat, used her compact mirror to watch the street behind her. She was not mistaken, the other car was dawdling along half a block behind her.“Keep ahead and when you get a chance pretend to try to lose a cab that’s following us,” Kate told the driver, putting a folded bill into his hand. “Then when you get a chance, make him pass you and cut him off at the curb. I want to talk to his passenger.”The driver looked at the bill and smiled knowingly. “I’ll have him in two blocks,” he said.At the next corner he slipped along the right hand curb until traffic changed for east-and-west travel. Then he meshed his gears and swung right up the hill to Second Avenue, going at a furious pace in low gear.At First Avenue he turned south again and stopped with a shrieking of brakes just past the building line. In a few moments the other cab charged up the hill and turned right also.“Get him!” Kate commanded. Her driver swung wide from the curb, ran even with the other cab and forced it slowly but surely against the curbing despite the other driver’s shrill curses and the sounds of his horn.A policeman ran up. “Here!” he demanded. “What’s goin’ on?”Kate opened the cab door and smiled at the officer.“The man in the other cab has been following me all over town,” she said, “and I wish to prefer a charge against him, if you please, officer.”The policeman dragged the luckless waiter from the cab by his collar.“Tell me about it,” he demanded of Kate.“He works at Scar Argyle’s,” she replied. “I was there for awhile and when I left this fellow got in another cab and followed me.”But great was the power of Scar in policedom.“I wouldn’t do that, lady,” the officer replied. “You go on about your business and I’ll keep this baby here. If you have him pinched, you got to go to court.”“All right, officer—and thanks,” Kate said as her cab moved off. It was late afternoon when Kate emerged from her tiny apartment in a huge building on the shores of Lake Union to go abroad again in a taxicab.Her first stop was at the office of The Hour, greatest of the city’s newspapers. Largess properly distributed to a reception clerk and office boy bought her way into the paper’s morgue of photographs and clippings.A chubby, partly deaf statistician was in charge. His sole desire seemed to be to prevent any intrusion into his domain. A five dollar bill again wrought wonders and soon Kate was deep in a huge envelope of clippings out of the “H” file.When she departed, the attendant also dumped out the clippings and studied them.“Humph!” he grunted. “Now I wonder?”From the newspaper office she drove to a tall building given over to plastic surgeons, beauticians and hair dressers. One of the latter “touched up” the roots of her dark-red hair. A dermatologist on the floor above injected a white liquid under her skin at the temple, massaged it, and said:“Lay a good cold-cream base under the powder. When you are ready I will radium-peel your face and we’ll hide that scar entirely.”“Thanks, doctor,” she replied. “But I’m a busy girl now.”Dinner at one of the better cafés, a picture show afterward and then Kate took a cab to the Argyle Club where she found a deferential corps of barmen and waiters ready to extend her a grinning welcome. Also she found the place well filled. Her name and fame had spread rapidly among the cannons and molls of South of Yesler.Scar too waved a warm welcome. She walked to his side in response to a beckoning finger.“Where you livin’, kid?” he demanded. “It’s a police regulation, you know.” He produced a soiled memorandum book and a stub of pencil expectantly.“Find out like you tried to this morning,” Kate jeered, but she softened the taunt with an amused smile.“That’s a bet!” Scar replied. “Think I can’t, huh?” He was in nowise disconcerted.“Not by using a waiter for a gumshoe, anyway,” Kate replied, seating herself at his table. “What did it cost you to get him loose?”“Crook of me finger,” Scar jeered in turn. “The bulls don’t want none of my boys.”“Right, Scar. Now tell me, how did you like my stuff last night? Shall I keep it up?”“That’s what I hired you for.” Scar was becoming wary now.“Then we’ll have a novelty night once each week, beginning tonight. You know what I mean? Funny light flashes, contests with everybody doing goofy things like they do at highbrow parties? Get everybody into it and the losers have to buy. Get the idea?”“The dump’s yours from now to closin’ time. Take it apart if you want to.”Kate rose, smoothed down her skirt, and said casually.“By the way, I ordered a regular stage electrician to be here at 11 o’clock to handle the lights. He’s bringing a dimmer; the rest we’ll do with the master switch.”“Bring two,” said Scar grandly, “or three—if he’s triplets. Keep on getting in the jack and you can hire the devil himself.”“No need, Scar old thing,” Kate laughed. “He’s here already—and wearing your union suit.”Scar grunted happily, the nearest to a laugh of which he was capable.“Wrong,” he said. “Mine’s two-piece.” Meanwhile Kate was going from table to table, welcoming the friends of the night before and newcomers, attracted by the news of the tiger-girl hostess at the Argyle Club.The bleak-faced victim of the pocket-picking episode of the previous night was back at his usual table in a corner across from the orchestra and not more than three feet distant from Scar’s customary seat. As Kate stopped before him, he stared at her searchingly.“Did I ever see you before?” he asked suddenly.“Surely you did,” she laughed. “I’m King Tut’s daughter. Remember how you used to hold my hand under the purple Egyptian skies—or what have you?”“Can the jokes,” the man snapped. “I’m serious.”“Oh-h-h!” Kate said derisively, “so, Mister Kinney, racketeer-in-chief and Big Fixer mustn’t be kidded by a night club hostess.”“Drop it!” the man snarled. “Forget that name here. It’s ‘Hanson’ now. What the— Say, did you know me in Detroit?” With the question he snatched at her wrist, his fingers pinching deep into her flesh.The girl did not reply, nor did she wince. Instead she leaned slightly forward, bringing her sneering, ice hard glance on a level with his own.“All right, Kinney-Hanson,” she said, and there was a deadly chill in her tones. “Don’t move that other hand. I can get you before you ever could touch your gun—and believe me, it’ll be one big pleasure to do it.”Hanson’s hard eyes searched hers angrily. The smile clung to her lips but he recognized the basilisk expression of the natural killer seeking the slightest excuse to slay. Yet he held to her wrist, trying to probe her mind—to find some reason for such bitter hatred from the mere touch of his hand.“Let go!” Kate rapped the words out venomously. “I said last night that nobody is permitted to touch me. If I let you get away with it, then I’m sunk here.” Then, in a louder tone for the benefit of those nearby, she said airily:“Unhand me, vill-yun—and when are you going to buy a drink?”Hanson’s steely fingers relaxed. He gestured to a seat across the table.“You’re a nice, pleasant little thing,” he said sarcastically, “but tell me what you want to drink—and all about Detroit.”“Champagne,” Kate replied with a disarming smile. “Detroit? No, I don’t know much about things there. A girl friend of mine was married to a boy named Wilbur Bealey—‘Wib the Gun,’ they called him. He was mixed up in a booze running gang, and soon after I left there he was killed. Someone said his own gang finished him.”“Know him pretty well?” Hanson demanded.“Oh, in a way,” Kate replied nonchalantly. “Daisy, his wife, was an old sidekick of mine, but Wib was away most of the time when I was visiting her.”“Who else did you know there?” Hanson continued.“Let me see—why, you were there! I saw you out at a Grosse Pointe roadhouse the night Merrill Orrum, the criminal lawyer, was killed.”Hanson’s eyes were pinpoint lights of green now, but his poker face did not change. Quietly he produced a cigarette and lighted it. Kate noted that the hand which held the ornate gold lighter did not tremble.He let a thin cloud of smoke drift from his mouth and Kate felt his eyes studying her critically. Her expression was bored, a trifle uninterested.“Ah yes, Merrill Orrum,” he said musingly. “I’d forgotten his name. And by the way”—he almost hissed the words—“how does it happen that you, a stranger, remember it? That was a whole year ago.”“Oh, I don’t know,” she shrugged her shoulders as though tired of the subject. “Probably it was because it was an unusual name and the papers said they—the other mobsmen—called him ‘Mary Lorum’ for a nickname, sort of a pun name. Things like that stick in one’s mind, don’t you think so?”“Not so you’d notice it,” Hanson replied quickly. “You haven’t told me all of it. Damn it, you remind me of someone—”“Some dizzy blonde from over the river in Windsor probably,” Kate suggested teasingly. Hanson’s eyes narrowed to mere slits.“Blonde!” he said explosively. “What do you know about a blonde in Detroit?”Kate laughed merrily.“Listen, Big Boy,” she replied, “What I know about all Detroit blondes is plenty. Did poor, little Hansy-Hanson get all mixed up with a fuzzy yellow-head?”Hanson flared up again at the derisive note in her voice.“Hell with her!” he growled. “I fixed her up good and plenty; don’t worry. But it’s you I’m wondering about. What’re you holding out on me?”“What would you give to know?”“Nothing or a lot; I don’t know which. I’ve got a hunch about you, Miss Cougar Kitty whatsyourname, and the first thing you know I’ll be calling the turn on you. Don’t figure me for a dumbbell.”“Do your prettiest, Big Boy,” she replied as she rose. “And if you guess right—you’ll have something coming to you. I said—‘you’ll have something coming to you’!”She accented each of the drawled words. Hanson caught a note of menace in her voice; frowned as he watched her retreating form and sought for the answer to the riddle.He motioned to Scar to come over.“Where’d you get that damned twist?” he said in a low tone. “She just called the turn on me in Detroit—cracked about ‘Wib the Gun,’ and that lousy mouthpiece, Orrum.”Scar grinned knowingly.“She’s a wise head,” he husked. “Doin’ all right here and maybe’ll stand a little watchin’. If she gets flossy she’ll go for a ride—but I ain’t worryin’ none about her. Don’t you, neither.”Further conversation ended with the entrance of Speedball Kane.“Whoopee!” Kate sang out. “Solomon in all his glory! Lookit the boy friend!”Speed was attired in his first dinner clothes. His broad shoulders filled the pinch waisted coat perfectly. He had been shaved, pomaded and massaged into the condition of pink shininess which in Gangland is accepted as perfection.It is true that he hitched once at the harness of his shoulder holster, but in Argyle Club circles that meant no more than button-fiddling meant in the higher walks of life.“Everybody give the dressed-up boy friend a hand!” Kate demanded. The guests obliged. “Boy friend and I will buy a drink now.” She continued. There was more applause. Kate drew Speed to a place near the orchestra.“Speed is to be associate master of ceremonies tonight,” she continued. “So I told him to bring his rod. His job is to see that everybody does just what I tell them to. We’re going to raise hell tonight and put a chunk under it, but we can’t do it unless everybody helps. The first number will be a button busting contest, with Scar Argyle leading off.”“Huh?” Scar grunted in amazement. “Run your own damn show.”“Burn him down, Speed, if he don’t mind,” Kate laughed. “Oh come on, chief, it’s easy. Draw a big breath, lean against the inside of the old vest and see what happens. Snap into it, dearie, take a big breath and do your stuff.” Scar’s mind dealt largely in cash-register terms. Kate had said the loser would buy the drinks. Very well, then, the idea was for him not to lose.Slowly he inflated his huge chest. His cheeks began to purple as he set his muscles and began to expand. Quickly the vast mountain of fat and muscle pressed outward. An audible “pop” followed and a button tinkled on a glass table top across the room.“One!” cheered Kate. As she spoke there were three other “pops.” “Two, three, four!” she counted. “Don’t anybody wisecrack. If Scar laughs now he’ll undress himself.” The final button held but tore its way through the buttonhole.“Fine!” Kate exclaimed. “Four buttons and one buttonhole. Now, who’s next?”Several of the gunmen patrons went into a huddle. Presently ‘Shanty’ Boles turned and said:“Us four’s buyin’ for th’ house, Kitty. Name it an’ we pays. Dat’s cheaper’n buyin’ new vests!”“Lovely!” Kate responded. “Did someone tell me Shanty wasn’t bright?”As the round of drinks was being served, the electrician touched Kate’s arm and told her the dimmer was connected.“Don’t test it,” she ordered, “just follow up the orders I gave you. Everybody out now,” she demanded, turning to the patrons. “There’s another surprise for you. We start off with a march around the room. When the lights go out, drop your partner and take the girl ahead of you for a partner. That leaves an extra man and he goes to the end of the line.“When the orchestra stops playing, everybody buys a drink for the girl with him. Remember now—no cheating or hitting in the clinches.”The orchestra struck up a jazz march and the patrons, hard-boiled thieves and killers playing a “kid” game for the first time in their lives, began to parade about the room. Kate nodded and the electrician pulled the main switch. Stygian darkness followed.“One, two, three, four, five, six!” Kate counted slowly. “Lights on!”As they flared forth everyone went into shrieks of laughter. From a recess back of the stage where Kate had concealed her, an immense negro girl had emerged, taking a place silently beside Scar. She had been well coached for, as the light came on, she leaned confidingly toward the proprietor and snuggled her head against his shoulder.Scar leaped up, glaring ferociously at Kate while the patrons vented jeers and catcalls. Kate raised her hand and said:“The house buys on that one, gang—and Scar ought to be thankful that we didn’t see her coming in with him.”The negress, grinning happily, waddled out. Kate patted Scar’s shoulder and whispered:“We’ve got to give ‘em stunts, Scar—and we can’t kid the money customers all of the time.”The evening was off to an auspicious start. Stunt followed stunt in rapid succession. The lights, on dimmers now, went up and down the range of their power; again they flashed like lightning’s play. They would go out and come on again, occasionally disclosing grim gunmen and their molls engaged in the softer process of “necking.” This brought jeers and another round of drinks.Kate kept it going at fever heat. Between dances she had the girls balancing on beer barrels laid on their sides, or trying to step through the “U” made by their arms and a broom handle. It was a real novelty to the socially starved tough boys and girls and through it all Scar sat and listened happily to the tinkle of the cash registers.Here and there heads not hard enough to resist the kick of Scar’s raw liquor, had succumbed. Shanty Boles and his moll slept side by side, their heads pillowed on the table before them. Someone had taken a lipstick and painted Shanty’s nose a violent crimson.Through it all, Hanson sat sipping his liquor, smoking innumerable cigarettes—but always watching Kate narrowly. He seemed to enjoy chatting with one of the chorus girls—Gladys King—whom he had chosen for his companion of the evening.Once, as the lights came back on, Kate saw him slip a heavy automatic back under his arm. He was taking no chances of an attack in the dark. She slipped to Speed’s side and asked:“What’s the matter with Hanson? He’s out with the gat every time the lights go down.”“He’d better,” Speed whispered. “He’s a wholesale junkie. There’s a gang back east gunnin’ for him, and some of the big boys here figure to spot him if they can get him right. He’s nudgin’ in on their racket.” As they talked, a clock outside chimed the hour of four. Thereafter, Kate kept a close check on the face of her watch.Fifteen minutes later she snapped into action. First she nodded to the orchestra with a signal for a mad jazz number, calling to the electrician, “Use your own judgment, Johnny.”With this she stepped over beside Scar and Little Laura. It seemed to Scar that her fingers, pressing on his shoulder, were unduly heavy. Thus she stood while the electrician ran the gamut of his light changes. Scar still could feel the weight of her fingers on his shoulder when the lights went completely out.There followed a moment of silence, punctuated by minor squeals of fright and laughter. Suddenly someone grunted as though in pain.A gun roared heavily in the blackness. A girl’s screaming moan sounded as a body struck the floor. The music had been silenced with the sound of the shot.Out of the babel of sound came Kate’s clear voice: “Lights—quick,” she commanded.As they came on the horrified merrymakers saw Gladys King squirming on the floor, blood flowing from a wound high up on her right shoulder. Scar leaped up and barked angrily:“Shut up your damn noise—want the bulls in here?”Kate knelt beside the injured girl. A cool-headed waiter brought water and Kate began bathing the girl’s forehead.“What was it, dear?” she asked tenderly. “What happened?”“He—he—shot me!” Gladys replied. She pointed weakly at Hanson.From the others there came a growl of anger. Gladys was a favorite. Then followed a concerted rush to the table where Hanson sat, apparently unperturbed. His eyes were half closed. But as the foremost of the gang reached him his body seemed to sag. Then he toppled and his chin struck the table with a thud.The color had drained from the flesh in his neck. Right at the edge of the hair a single drop of blood stood for a second. It rolled down inside the dead man’s collar and another welled slowly in its place.Hanson unquestionably was dead. Too many present knew the marks of the coming of the Dread One. An unerring hand had struck once at the base of the brain, severing the spinal cord.Scar glared around the room ferociously. A mighty anger shook his frame. Hanson, as an individual, meant nothing to him. As a racketeer, head of a junk-running organization of no mean proportions, his murder spelled trouble.“Who done this?” Scar roared. “Get up on your damned hind legs and have the guts to say so—” A stream of horrible profanity welled and bubbled from his lips.Kate whispered something to Speed under cover of the noise. The gangster moved quickly to Scar’s side. He talked rapidly in an undertone. At first the proprietor shook his head impatiently. Speed continued talking until silenced with a gesture.“Listen, guns and molls,” Scar said after a moment of thought. “This here thing ain’t goin’ to do us any good. Now, we’re all-right guys here tonight; there ain’t a rat or snitch in the joint. Hanson’s croaked. Nobody knows who done it, but me and Speedy figgers it will be a good idee for him to be found somewhere else. What say?”“Take the blankety-blank out and dump him in the bay,” someone growled. “That’s the ticket—out in the streets some’rs,” another said. Scar and Shanty Boles turned to the gruesome task of dressing the corpse in overcoat, gloves and soft gray hat.“Whose car are you going to use?” Kate asked quietly. Then before anyone answered, she suggested: “Better steal one, Speed, and leave him in it out in the residence district. And while we’re about it, poke a gun in his ribs hard. The blood will settle there and the dicks will think his kidnappers did it.”“Damn smart,” Scar applauded. “Go ahead, Speed. Find a likely lookin’ bus and shoot her in the alley. I’ll have a lookout waitin’.”Thus it was arranged. Hanson’s body, with a gangster on each side of it, was loaded into a stolen limousine, Speed at the wheel. Larry Michaels, his buddy, followed in another car. Within thirty minutes all were back at the Argyle Club.Scar closed soon afterward. Kitty, en route home, made certain she was not being followed. When she had disrobed and made her night toilet, she unfastened a secret compartment in a suitcase and brought to light a small memorandum book.Then she drew a heavy black line through the first of three names inscribed on its fly-leaf.The name was “Lester Kinney.” Seattle morning newspapers had good reason for first-page streamer lines that morning.Henry Wilson, a milkman, discovered Hanson’s body, rigid behind the steering wheel and with the gloved hands in driving posture. It was in a shining limousine, standing before one of the beautiful homes in the exclusive Queen Anne Hill district.Wilson notified the police and detectives made several startling discoveries. The first was a footprint in the mud of the gutter where apparently someone had stood beside the car. Plaster casts were made, but later the sleuths were chagrined to find it matched perfectly to the milkman’s brogans.Next came the news that the limousine had been stolen from a patron of the Elk’s Club. Atop of this came the medical examiner’s announcement that Hanson’s death had been brought about by someone thoroughly skilled in surgery.Then the discoloration on the side of the body was discovered. As Kate had predicted, the detectives seized on this as proof that someone had jammed a gun against the victim’s side, had kidnapped him and taken him for a ride.“Gawd, kid!” Scar said to Kate when she entered the club that night, “you sure saved ol’ Scar’s bacon with quick thinkin’ last night. Hereafter they’s another five per cent in the cut fer you.”“Thanks, Scar,” Kate said listlessly. “Who do you think did it?”Scar ruminated for a time, then said in a low voice:“If you hadn’t stood with your hand on my shoulder all the time the lights was out, I’d have said, ‘Mebbe you!’ I seen you and Hanson glarin’ at one another, an’ I copped you two watchin’ each other all evenin’. But I ain’t answerin’ any questions—nor askin’ any. I know where you was every second.”“Who was against him in the dope game here?” Kate asked after a brief pause, during which she studied Scar’s face attentively.“Mugs Dietrich,” Scar replied. “He was the big junkie until Hanson showed up nine-ten months ago. Hanson nudged in on the alky racket, but as soon as he’d built up a gang, he hijacked a trunkful of dope, coming from Kansas City to Mugs.“They was better’n fifty thousand dollars worth in it. Hanson sent for Mugs, covered him with a rod and they talked turkey. When Mugs left, he had half the dope and Hanson had half the town. That’s how Hanson worked. Since then, he’s been edgin’ in on Mugs and four-five boys on both sides has been croaked. Mugs got sore last week and cracked that Hanson better come smokin’ next time they met. That’s why the dicks is figgerin’ last night’s job as a gang-spottin’.”“Who is Hanson’s Man Friday—his next in command?” Kate asked.“A guy twicet as hard as Hanson ever wanted to be. They call him Sugarface Mallon. He’s the reason I didn’t want anybody to know Hanson was croaked here. This pritty boy came from the East with Hanson, and after the first week none of our gunnies wanted any of Sugarface’s game. He throws hot lead faster ‘n easier than anybody I ever did see—and some of the best of ‘em has come through that door there.” Thrill-seeking and curiosity brought back all of the crowd of the night before and yet others who had heard of the live-wire Cougar Kitty. It was by that title she was known in Gangland now; few could have told her last name.But it was an apathetic crowd. Even Kate’s flaming personality could not evoke a real response, except from the newcomers. The shadow of tragedy still lingered over the place.The bar patronage was holding up well, however. Some of the patrons seemed anxious to drink themselves insensible in the shortest possible space of time. These were succeeding admirably. Such failed to witness the new situation which unfolded itself suddenly.During an interval when the orchestra was silent, the doorbell pealed shrilly. When the doorman swung the steel-faced portal open, two well-dressed men stepped into the room. Both stood looking the crowd over coldly.One, the taller, might have posed for magazine collar advertisements. Nature had given him a trig slenderness, height, a handsome face and a certain air of real gentility. His companion was shorter, dark and glowering, seemingly dissipated and he had a hangdog air. As he turned it was apparent that one of his ears was badly cauliflowered. Both had one thing in common. Their air was purposeful and either could be depended on to do what was needful, no matter what the circumstances.Scar started to struggle to his feet, but sank back at a signal from Kate. Straight to the pair she went, eyes shining, teeth flashing in a smile of welcome.“Greetings, Mr. Sugarface Mallon,” she called from the middle of the floor. “Come on in, both of you. The water’s wet—and we haven’t any.”Mallon eyed her with evident admiration, yet curiously. His companion scowled darkly and whispered something. Sugarface stepped forward and took Kate’s outstretched hand.“A stranger in town, yet she calls my name,” he said suavely. “Who am I—to be so honored?”“Tell you later,” Kate said in a low tone. “Play up now.”Now Scar came lumbering forward. Mallon gave him a cold nod; his companion struck the owner’s outstretched hand aside. Scar turned and waddled back to his chair.Two of the waiters removed a somnolent drunk from one of the tables, brought a third chair and Kate, Mallon and the other man sat down. Kate and Mallon faced each other across the table; the other’s back was to the dance floor.“This is Kid Sharkey,” Mallon said, pointing to his companion. “He’s with me always—now that Hanson’s dead.”“Oh yes,” Kate said nonchalantly, “I read of it in the papers. You were his associate, weren’t you—both here and in the East?”Mallon’s eyes probed hers ominously, curiously, for a moment.“See here,” he said as though in sudden decision. “They tell me you’re a wise head; anyway you look it, and I’m going to lay ‘em right out before you. There is a whisper that Hanson was done in right in this room. It is a whisper that hasn’t reached the police, however. One of my boys heard a girl stew talking about it and came to me with the story.“Now get me right; I’m not caring one half-witted damn about Hanson being rubbed out. Probably it saved me the trouble. He was a bad one and would knock me off in a minute, but he knew I could let him draw and then kill him. For the last six months when we talked he sat with his hands folded over his most recent meal. I’d warned him to.“But I’m head of the gang now. I’m taking over where he left off. If it was one of Muggsy’s gang that croaked him, then I know where to watch. If it was done here, then there’s a new enemy for me to go gunning after.“What would you do in my place?”He fairly hissed the last words.“I’d buy a drink!” Kate said nonchalantly. “Waiter!”A red surge of color leaped to Mallon’s pale face.“Damn it!” he snarled. “Answer me, you rotten—”Kate’s hand—the right one—slipped over the edge of the table. With the index finger of the left Kate pointed casually toward it. Mallon’s eyes dropped; visioned the deadly steel muzzle of the little plunger-gun between her fingers. Kid Sharkey gasped. For the fraction of a second the weapon turned on him, then flashed back to Sugarface.“Rotten—what—?” she demanded. “Say anything that’s in your system—and if I don’t like it, then it’s my turn to say or do something—you fool. Say it!” she demanded coldly. Now she was Cougar Kitty indeed. Speedball Kane, who had lost no item of the byplay from a distance, came slipping to the table. His body was poised on the balls of his feet. The right hand was under his left lapel.Kate sensed, rather than saw him.“My affair,” she said over her shoulder. “Don’t interfere unless things get hot—and if they do, then burn Kid Sharkey down and burn him fast.”“Baby,” Speed said with deep conviction. “He’s afire now.”“What a broad!” It was Kid Sharkey’s unwilling tribute as he realized just how hot things had become.Mallon it was who broke the tension.“Stand off all around,” he said putting his hands before him on the table. “I’m apologizing—not because of the palm-gun, but because they taught me as a kid not to call girls bad names.”The deadly muzzle slipped out of sight beneath the table. Mallon had a dubious impression that it still covered his stomach.“Right,” Kate snapped. “Now what do you want to know?”“Was Hanson fixed up here? That’s all.”“He was not,” she replied steadily. “He left here about two.”“Alone?”“Alone. I think he had a telephone call.” Then, before Mallon could stop her, she called over her shoulder, “Oh, Scar!” When he lumbered over, she asked:“Hanson left last night about two, didn’t he—alone?”“Uh-huh, about then,” Scar said easily. “I got th’ idee somebody was waitin’ for him—or did he get a ‘phone call?”“Thanks!” Mallon said carelessly after a moment’s close scrutiny of the scarred, evil countenance before him.“S’all right,” Scar rumbled. “Let’s us have a drink.”“Why not?” the younger man replied lightly. “Kid, you go along and see about the trucks. I’ll be at the hangout later.”Sharkey started to protest, then rose and lurched from the place. His last glance at Kate was one of reverent worship. Kid Sharkey had seen his first real gun-moll.Mallon rose as Kate did and accompanied her to the table adjoining Scar’s lookout chair, unwittingly dropping into the seat where his chief’s body had been but a few hours before.Suddenly Kate felt his eyes on her and turned about to surprise the same searching, calculating expression she had encountered in Hanson’s eyes. She smiled, blandly, seated herself across from him and said:“Want to tell an inquisitive girl something, Mr. Mallon?”“What?” he demanded. She paused before replying, holding his glance by sheer willpower for a moment.“How is it that a man of your class, who could be anything he set out to be, is in the booze and dope game?” she said at last.“Just naturally bad, I guess,” he replied, but Kate saw she had scored her first victory in her fight to draw his interest to her personally.From then until the moment later when Mallon, now warmed by a number of drinks, began paying her elaborate compliments, Kate used her every art to let glances and half spoken sentences show him that she was not indifferent to him. At last, while the electrician had dimmed the lights to almost out, he leaned across the table and whispered:“I’m waiting for you tonight, baby—and every other night, if you say so.”Kate did not answer, contenting herself with letting her hand touch his for a moment in a quick, firm pressure. Then she excused herself and turned to the other patrons. The crowd was thinning out now. Several of the more intoxicated still slumbered in their chairs. Not more than fifteen couples were on the dance floor when Kate stopped the music with a wave of her hand and said:“Not enough pep, gang. We’re closing soon now, and let’s make it all hot ‘n everything in the meantime. Make it snappy now, for Speed and I have a surprise for you pretty soon.”The orchestra swung into a mad jazz number, quickening the cadence until the dancers’ feet literally were flying. Kate called Little Laura to her away from Scar’s side, and whispered something. The girl laughed and took a chair at a vacant table.Kate caught the electrician’s eye and nodded, holding up a silver chime whistle as a signal. He nodded and began a furious succession of light changes. They flickered up, then dimmed down to mere red-brown shapes within the globes. On again—and the electrician snapped the main switch off and on rapidly, giving the effect of lightning flashes. Once Kate caught Mallon’s eyes and tossed him an airy kiss from her fingertips. Scar, sitting three feet distant from him, scowled wonderingly.Occasionally couples would barge together on the dance floor, the girls screaming curses or ribald commands. Kate’s eyes narrowed calculatingly watching the unconscious distribution of the couples about the floor.Suddenly she sounded a musical trill from the whistle. The music rose to a shrill crescendo of noise as the electrician pulled the main switch and threw the entire club into darkness.But over the music, the shouts of laughter and the scrape of feet, there sounded ten clearly spaced blasts of Kate’s whistle as though she was marking time for the next stunt.Three sharp blasts followed one another in rapid succession. The lights flared on and the music ceased in the middle of a bar.For an instant there was a grave-like silence; then gasps of surprise—here and there a nervous titter from one of the molls.There was reason. Midway down the room, clear of the dancers and at a point where every person in the room was under her eye stood Cougar Kitty, in each hand a thirty-eight automatic. Flanking her, four at each side, stood the club’s eight waiters. Now they were masked with handkerchiefs tied across their noses to conceal mouths and chins. Each carried two snub-nose, small caliber automatics! These were trained on the dancing group and the orchestra.Kitty’s guns covered Mallon and Scar.“Up with them,” she demanded dramatically. “Drag me down a star and let me look at it. This is a stick-up and I don’t mean perhaps.”Mallon and Scar laughed happily, admiringly.“Some twist, that one,” Scar said out of the corner of his twisted mouth. “Who else’d think of a stunt like that?”With the words the tension broke. The waiters snapped the handkerchiefs from their faces, broke the seeming automatics and disclosed that they were cigarette guns, made in the shape of pistols. These were distributed to the dancers as they crowded about the smiling hostess.Kate, meanwhile, stood toying with the weapons hanging loosely at her side. She looked anxiously about for Speedball. He was at one of the tables, retying a shoelace. He looked up at her and grinned.It was Scar, master of the double-cross and personification of vileness, who was the first to sense the tenseness which had descended on the room. As he dropped his hands to the chair arms, ready to derrick his great body to a standing position, Kate whirled and leveled both guns.“Down!” she snapped savagely. “Up with them—both of you—you’re in on this too, Mallon. “Quick—fingers together behind your heads.”The muzzles of both guns jumped in unison. With the roar came a splintering crash as the missiles flew past the heads of the two men and buried themselves in the wall behind them.There was no question now of obedience. Mallon, white, silent but watchful as a snake, cradled the back of his head in his hands. Scar was slower and his gross face was splotched and purple as he too withdrew his hands from his holster.The girl’s tense figure, alone in the center of the floor as she held two redoubtable gunmen helpless, appealed to their sense of the dramatic. They were breathless with suspense when at last she broke silence to say in a lifeless monotone:“Listen everybody—I’m going to tell you about a couple of damned, lousy skunks—the two sitting there, and another I got last night—Hanson.“In a little while, I’m going out of here. It is up to you—you boys and girls who, like me, have had to fight for yourselves—it’s up to you whether I go out of here—or whether I don’t! But I’m going to take Skunk Mallon and Skunk Argyle with me! It’ll be the hot seat for them! And I’ve nothing on you!“I’m a slum kid from Brooklyn. My dad was a drunk; mother was a decent woman. I had two brothers, Wilbur and Merrill. Our family name was Orrum. Merrill, the older brother, was a good kid. He made me go to school just as he did. The other was weak, a sneak thief at twelve and an ex-con at twenty. They called him ‘Wib the Gun.’ ”Scar’s arms jerked at the words and the girl’s finger tightened for an instant on the trigger of the weapon in her right hand.“Means something to you, doesn’t it, Skunk Argyle?” she taunted. “Wib was the lad you and Hanson and Mallon, jobbed into killing his own brother that night in Detroit—the lad Mallon and Hanson killed later to stop his mouth.”Someone in the crowd grated out a curse. She continued her story.“Merrill had worked his way through law school and had taken up criminal practice. In a few years he was known as the best crook mouthpiece in Detroit. I was his helper—his private investigator.“But Merrill fell out with Hanson and Mallon, and also with Scar who was the big money back of their booze and dope running. They got poor Wib drunk one night and planted him out to kill a Federal dick near a roadhouse. They decoyed Merrill to the spot and let Wib kill his own brother.“When he found out what he’d done, he went into hiding. It took me days to find him and when I got there he was croaking. He had just enough strength to tell me the story and to let me know that Mallon had run him down and shot him to silence him.“I went crazy then. When I found where Hanson was planted out I went there one night and got into the house. I hoped to get him as he slept. But Sugarface Mallon was on the prowl and got me before I could shoot.“He tied me up. He didn’t call Hanson. He just gagged me—and for that night I was his prisoner. Figure that for yourselves.“The next morning he threw me down the front steps. He’d finished wrecking the Orrum family. Nice boy—Skunk Mallon—isn’t he?”“Hanson and Mallon disappeared,” she continued, and now she was tumbling the words forth with machine-gun speed. “But I found they were here, working with Scar Argyle on a new dope underground.“My hair was gold-yellow. I dyed it red. My figure was slight. I ate sweets, drank heavy cream, stuffed like a Strasbourg goose until I had gained twenty pounds. I went to Chicago and then New York to establish a new identity, but always I kept track of the three skunks.“You know most of the rest of it. I came here and tricked Scar into giving me work. Last night I stood beside Scar, pressing my fingers into his fat shoulder until the lights went out. Then I got Hanson in the neck with a thin, knife. I was back beside Scar when the lights went on again. He thought he had felt my hand on his shoulder all of the time.”She paused for a quick glance about the tables, flashed her eyes toward the doorway where waiters and barmen were grouped.But even that brief second of respite was enough for Sugarface. As she turned back his right hand was flitting under his coat lapel, fingers clawing for the gun butt nestling there.Cougar Kitty’s left gun jerked twice and a horrible oath spat from Scar’s lips as two black holes appeared, one above the other, in Mallon’s smooth, white forehead. He teetered for a moment in his chair, then fell sideways across Scar’s feet.The death threat in the girl’s eyes as they flickered to Scar nerved the gross man to action. He threw himself, wedged as he was in his great chair, sideways to the floor. His hand flashed with incredible speed to the butt of his gun.Cougar Kitty, her eyes pinpoints of blazing hate, waited as the thick fingers grasped the weapon, started to raise it.Crash! Crash! Crash!Her gun spoke thrice in rapid succession. A jet of blood leaped from Scar’s lips as the first bullet smashed against his set teeth.The second smashed through the center of the scar under the victim’s right eye and ploughed into the brain.The third struck squarely between the eyes—a small, purple edged perforation which wrote the final period on the life-tale of Scar Argyle.For a moment Cougar Kitty stood silent, staring at the two unmoving bodies on the floor. “Killing was too good for them!”Then with a gesture of finality she let the guns crash to the floor. Turning, her hands outstretched toward the silent group of grim-faced onlookers, she whispered:“And now—the verdict. Getaway—or?”Tense eyes stared back into hers. Still no word was spoken.Suddenly, as though an invisible wedge was driving into the group, they began to fall back.White lipped, staring unseeingly before her, Kitty passed the grimly watchful cannons and molls who lined her pathway. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyOn June 30, 1980, a promising young academic got into his car in Guyana. Minutes later a bomb detonated and he was instantly killed. That man was Walter Rodney, an influential historian whose thinking about Africa and the colonial legacy caused an uproar in the 1960s and 70s. But who was Rodney really and what was his academic legacy? And was his mysterious murder in any way connected to his revolutionary ideas? We asked Dwayne Wong Omowale, author of The Political and Intellectual Legacy of Walter Rodney. Why is Walter Rodney such an important character in African intellectual history? Dwayne Wong Omowale: Walter Rodney’s importance to African intellectual history is the work that he was doing was very revolutionary in many ways. He was a historian and political activist who challenged many of the racist ideologies and ideas that were prominent in academia at the time, but more so than challenging the often racist and Eurocentric narratives about Africa’s history, Rodney also spoke out against the injustices that were being inflicted against African people around the world. What is also especially noteworthy about Rodney is that he seemed to have left a profound impact wherever he worked, whether it was in Guyana, Jamaica, Tanzania, or in the United States. Prior to this death, Rodney was also planning to move to Zimbabwe because he was invited to work as a professor there. Very few Pan-African intellectuals left the type of global legacy that Rodney did. Tell us a little about his background, his family and education? Dwayne Wong Omowale: Rodney was born in British Guiana in 1942. His father was a member of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), which was led by an Indian man named Cheddi Jagan. At the time the PPP was the leading anti-colonial political party in British Guiana. Eventually there was a split between Jagan and Forbes Burnham, who was one of the founders of the PPP. Burnham would go on to create his own political party, the People’s National Congress (PNC). Burnham would go on to lead British Guiana into independence in 1966 and the name of the country was subsequently changed to Guyana after independence. In school Rodney was able to distinguish himself as a very brilliant student and he eventually earned a scholarship to study at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. He then completed his doctorate at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, England in 1966. Rodney was 24 at the time that he finished his doctorate. The interesting thing about this is that when Rodney began working as a professor in Tanzania some thought that he was one of the students because Rodney was actually younger than many of the students there. When did he start developing his theories about colonialism? Dwayne Wong Omowale: As I mentioned, Rodney’s father was involved in the PPP at the time. As a child Rodney was tasked with distributing party manifestos, so Rodney was introduced to politics and the anti-colonial struggle in Guyana at a young age. As an undergraduate at the University of the West Indies, Rodney was involved in campus activities, which included many of the political discussions that were being held at the time. In 1962, Rodney traveled to Cuba and returned with a book by Che Guevara. That same year Rodney also attended a congress that was held in Russia. It was during this period as an undergraduate that Rodney was being exposed to communist literature and this would continue when Rodney went to study in England. There Rodney was in contact with communists. C.L.R. James, who was from Trinidad, was a significant influence for Rodney. James was a Pan-Africanist and a Marxist theoretician. Rodney participated in study groups with James and other Marxists in England. Rodney’s theories regarding colonialism were developed during his years in college as an undergraduate and a graduate student, but Rodney was exposed to the anti-colonial struggle since he was a child. According to Rodney the West prevented Africa from developing after liberation. Especially the multinationals were blamed. With the benefit of hindsight, does his theories still hold water? Dwayne Wong Omowale: In hindsight much of what Rodney said regarding multinationals is still very much true. We can look at the blood diamond controversy for example. Civil wars in countries such as Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Congo were financed by Western diamond industries. In Botswana the San people took the government to court because the government of Botswana was trying to evict the San people from their land in order to gain access to the diamond deposits there. Aside from blood diamonds, there is also the issue of coltan from the Congo. Coltan is used for electrical devices such as smart phones. The mining of coltan has included forced labor, as well as child labor. These are just two quick examples of how multinational corporations have been exploiting Africa’s resources and hindering Africa’s development since Rodney died. There still is this persistent issue of foreign nations benefiting from Africa’s resources at the expense of the African people. Much of the mineral wealth and resources that is extracted from Africa benefits foreign corporations and foreign nations, but Africa remains underdeveloped and the African masses are still struggling. This relationship has not changed very significantly since Rodney was alive. What sort of reception did his book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972) get? It was not as scholarly as his dissertation? Dwayne Wong Omowale: How Europe Underdeveloped Africa is Rodney’s most well-known book. The reception to it has been very positive largely because Rodney was able to put Africa’s underdevelopment and poverty into its proper historical context. Rodney was not the first person to suggest that there was a relationship between Africa’s underdevelopment and Europe’s exploitation of Africa, but How Europe Underdeveloped Africa was a very extensive study of that relationship. It was also a very important work because it dispelled the idea that colonialism was a benefit for African people. Colonialism was often justified on the basis of bringing civilization or modern advances to Africa, but Rodney demonstrated that the technological gains that Africa made as a result of colonialism were very minimal at best and this was offset by the tremendous suffering that Africans endured as a result of colonialism. Medical care is one area that Rodney specifically addressed. Typically, the best medical care was reserved for Europeans who were living in Africa and Africans were forced to be treated in hospitals that were in very poor condition. In most cases Africans simply did not have access to hospitals at all because the European administrations decided not to build one. Rodney also criticized the fact that in many colonies the Europeans not only failed to provide medical care, but they also failed to train African doctors. The benefits of modern medicine from Western society was not something that the majority of Africans were not able to truly benefit from, yet Africans badly needed proper healthcare because they were being overworked and underfed by the colonial administrations. Malnourishment and curable diseases killed many Africans during colonialism. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa was more of a polemic against colonialism in Africa than Rodney’s dissertation was, so it may not have been as scholarly in that regard, but How Europe Underdeveloped Africa was still very thoroughly researched and built on some of the arguments that Rodney had made in his dissertation. He was quite a controversial figure on Jamaica where he worked for a while. What were the 1968 Rodney Riots? Dwayne Wong Omowale: He was very controversial in Jamaica. At the time there was a growing Black Power movement in the Caribbean, which was influenced by the Black Power movement in the United States. Many in the Caribbean were frustrated with the fact that colonialism had ended, but there was still a lot of poverty in the region, so for the masses of people in Jamaica and other Caribbean countries independence did not bring about a significant change in their situation. Caribbean governments were very uncomfortable with this development. For example, Jamaica banned books by Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and other activists who were deemed to be too radical. What made Rodney so controversial is that he was very critical of the Jamaican government for neglecting the black masses on the island. Rodney himself wrote about meeting with people who lived in rubbish dumps. This was the type of abject poverty that existed in Jamaica at the time. Rodney was also preaching the same message of Black Power which the Jamaican government was attempting to censor. In 1968, Rodney went to Canada to attend a conference. When he attempted to return to Jamaica, he was denied entry into the country. What became known as the Rodney Riots was a reaction to the news that Rodney was banned. People in Jamaica took to the streets and began rioting to express their frustration that Rodney, who had become a very popular figure in Jamaica, was banned. Rodney was seen as a spokesperson for the struggling masses in Jamaica, so banning him sent the message that the Jamaican government truly did not care about the suffering of its own citizens. The Jamaican opposition also criticized the government’s decision to ban Rodney. Hugh Shearer was the prime minister of Jamaica at the time Rodney was banned and he would go on to lose to Michael Manley in the election that was held in 1972, so in a sense the Rodney Riots also represented an important shift in Jamaica’s politics. Unlike Shearer, Manley was much more supportive of the Black Power movement. In his writings Rodney often referred to “race” and “class”? Are these terms sufficient to explain the historical period he was writing about? Dwayne Wong Omowale: I would argue that these terms are sufficient. For Rodney, both race and class were important to truly understand the oppression of African people around the world. As an African descendant, Rodney was combating the racial oppression that African people were experiencing around the world, but he was also a Marxist who was fighting against the class structure of the global capitalistic society as well. Class was important to Rodney’s analysis because within this racist capitalist structure there were certain Africans who were able to amass somewhat of a privileged position. This included the Caribbean and African heads of government whom Rodney was very critical of. These Africans belonged to the class of people whom Rodney referred to as the “petit bourgeoisie.” Rodney included himself in this class as well because he worked in academia. Rodney saw this class of Africans—the petit bourgeoisie class—as people who benefited from the exploitation of the African working class. He included academics in this category because many of them earned a comfortable living working at public universities which were paid for by taxpayers, but few of these academics truly served the interests of the African working class. In Rodney’s view the struggles of African people around the world was not just a struggle against racism, but also a struggle against a global capitalist system which exploited working class Africans around the world and a system in which a particular class of Africans were benefiting from at the expense of the masses. Race and class were especially important in Guyana, where politics were polarized based on race. I mentioned the split between Burnham and Jagan before. This not only created a political split in Guyana, but a racial split as well, which resulted in violence between Africans and Indians in Guyana in the 1960s. When Rodney returned to Guyana in 1974, he joined an organization known as the Working People’s Alliance. The WPA was trying to create racial unity in Guyana and criticized both political parties for exploiting Guyana’s racial tension for their own purposes, so within that context the class structure of Guyana was just as important to Rodney as the racial make up of the country as well. What sort of views did Rodney have on the transatlantic slave trade? Dwayne Wong Omowale: In Rodney’s view the transatlantic slave trade began the underdevelopment of Africa, which is a process that would continue under colonialism. You mentioned Rodney’s dissertation before and the slave trade was a very central topic in his dissertation. In his writings Rodney mentions some of the ways in which the slave trade adversely impacted Africa’s development. He wrote that it completely changed the social and political organization in West Africa, as well as stagnating both Africa’s population and economic development. Rodney also applied his views of class and race to the slave trade. Rodney wrote that the European ruling class and the African ruling class jointly preyed on the African masses during the slave trade. Rodney argued that the slave trade not only sharpened class divisions in Africa, but that the slave trade was a forerunner for the present day “neo-colonial” situation in Africa in which African politicians and multinational corporations jointly work together to exploit the African masses. So, on an academic level the slave trade was central to Rodney’s work because the slave trade is not only where Africa’s underdevelopment began, but it is also where certain class formations began forming in Africa. Apart from Rodney’s views on the slave trade as a historian, the slave trade was also important to the work that he was doing as a political activist. The slave trade stole millions of Africans away from their homeland, so a lot of the work that Rodney was engaged in was an effort to reconnect with that lost African identity. This was one of the reasons why Rodney became so interested in studying African history and why he worked as a professor in Africa. Rodney felt that it was important for African descendants in the Americas to reconnect with their African roots and to take pride in their identity as descendants of Africa. Was there any relationship between Walter Rodney and Immanuel Wallerstein?  Dwayne Wong Omowale: I am not sure honestly. The two men shared many of the same ideas regarding the adverse impact that colonialism had in Africa and they were both very critical of capitalism, but the precise nature of their relationship is not something that I am aware of. I was able to come across information about a letter that Wallerstein had sent to Rodney, which included a cheque, but I am not sure what Rodney did to earn this cheque. That is the most that I know about the relationship between the two men. Who were Rodney’s chief academic opponents at the time? Dwayne Wong Omowale: That is an interesting question because usually the focus tends to be on Rodney’s political opponents, such as the governments of Jamaica and Guyana. Rodney was a Marxist, an anti-colonialist, and an anti-imperialist, so many of his academic opponents were typically people in academia who were opposed to the ideas that Rodney was putting forward. The example that comes to mind is a historian named J.D. Fage, who disagreed with Rodney’s views on the slave trade for many reasons. Fage argued that the slave trade was good for Africa’s political development, whereas Rodney held the opposite view. Fage also accused Rodney of romanticizing Africa. Rodney was challenging many prevailing ideas about Africa’s history at the time, such as the notion of Africa being a “Dark Continent” which had no civilizations of its own until Europeans arrived, so much of the opposition that Rodney received came from scholars like Fage who wanted to hold on to these ideas about Africa. There are many theories about his murder? Some speculate that the West was involved somehow? Is there any truth to this? After all, this was the Cold War and Rodney was a socialist? Dwayne Wong Omowale: It would be difficult to say how much Western involvement there was. I know there is a lot of speculation that the West was involved not only because of the political climate at the time, which you alluded to, but also because Burnham was someone who was helped into power by the United States and Britain. Jagan, whom I mentioned before, was a communist. Western countries saw Burnham as a more moderate alternative to Jagan, although Burnham was a professed socialist as well. Western countries intervened in Guyana to ensure that Burnham was the prime minister of Guyana by the time the country became independent. Burnham remained in power in Guyana from 1966 until his death in 1985. The view that some Guyanese have expressed to me is that the same CIA which helped Burnham take power in Guyana was still assisting Burnham to remain in power, so the CIA eliminated Rodney because of the threat that Rodney potentially posed to Burnham’s government. It is difficult to say with certainty because when Rodney was killed there was not a real investigation to find out what happened. The government at the time alleged that Rodney had killed himself with his own bomb, but there was never an official investigation. In 2015 there was a commission of inquiry held on Rodney’s assassination. The commission concluded that Rodney was indeed assassinated and that Prime Minister Burnham was complicit in the plot to kill Rodney. The commission also presented evidence to dispel the notion that Rodney had blown himself up with his own bomb. As to how much of a role the CIA or other Western entities played, I am not aware of any documents or evidence that directly links Western entities to Rodney’s assassination and this was not something that was discussed at the commission, although there is good reason to believe that the CIA may have been involved. What sort of reactions did his death cause at the time? Dwayne Wong Omowale: I have some personal experience with this because I was born in Guyana. My mother, who was still a child at the time, attended some of Rodney’s rallies. She told me that she was devastated, so much so that she had buried her memory of Rodney deep in her subconscious, until I reminded her about him more than three decades later. Many of the Guyanese who supported Rodney felt this same feeling of shock and devastation regarding Rodney’s assassination. It is estimated that as many as 35,000 people attended Rodney’s funeral. It is also important to understand what was happening leading up to Rodney’s death as well. Prior to Rodney being killed, there was a Guyanese journalist and priest named Bernard Drake, who was stabbed to death because of his criticisms of the government. There was also the Jonestown massacre which happened in 1978, so this was a very dark period in Guyana’s history and Rodney’s death added to the fear and uncertainty that Guyanese were feeling about the future of the country. Rodney inspired hope in many Guyanese, so to have him be killed—especially in such a horrible manner—was a very devastating blow to Guyana. What do you think Rodney would say about the way Africa is today, almost 40 years after his death? Dwayne Wong Omowale: As I indicated earlier, I think much of what Rodney said still applies today, so I am sure that much of what Rodney was saying about Africa in the 1970s is what he would be saying today if he were alive. Africa is still underdeveloped and the petit bourgeoisie African leaders that Rodney denounced when he was alive are still in authority in Africa today. I also think Rodney would be encouraged by some of the events that have been happening in Africa. In recent years there have been uprisings and protests that have resulted in regime changes in countries such as Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, the Gambia, and more recently the Sudan. Togo, which has the oldest military regime in Africa, experienced mass protests in 2017 and the Togolese activists are still fighting to end dictatorship in Togo. Rodney wrote a pamphlet titled, “People’s Power, No Dictator.” The pamphlet was directed specifically at the Burnham regime in Guyana, but in it Rodney also wrote very broadly about dictatorships and why the masses must organize to liberate themselves from dictatorships. Rodney argued that the people must mobilize to liberate themselves from oppression and this is something that we are witnessing today across Africa. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
creative writing / literatureThere is no longer any need to argue that the communications satellite is ultimately going to have a profound effect upon society; the events of the last ten years have established this beyond question. Nevertheless, it is possible that even now we have only the faintest understanding of its ultimate impact upon our world. There are those who have argued that communications satellites (hereafter referred to as “comsats”) represent only an extension of existing communications devices, and that society can therefore absorb them without too great an upheaval. I am reminded rather strongly of the frequent assertions by elderly generals immediately after August 1945 that nothing had really changed in warfare because the device which destroyed Hiroshima was “just another bomb”. Some inventions represent a kind of technological quantum jump which causes a major restructuring of society. In our century, the automobile is perhaps the most notable example of this. It is characteristic of such inventions that even when they are already in existence, it is a considerable time before anyone appreciates the changes they will bring. To demonstrate this, I would like to quote two examples, one genuine, one slightly fictitious. For the first I am indebted to the Honorable Anthony Wedgewood Benn, now UK Minister of Technology, who passed it on to me when he was Postmaster General. Soon after Mr. Edison had invented the electric light, there was an alarming decline in the Stock Exchange quotations for the gas companies. A Parliamentary Commission was therefore called in England, which heard expert witnesses on the subject; I feel confident that many of these assured the gas manufacturers that nothing further would be heard of this impractical device. One of the witnesses called was the chief engineer of the Post Office, Sir William Preece – an able man who in later years was to back Marconi in his early wireless experiments. Somebody asked Sir William if he had any comments to make on the latest American invention – the telephone. To this, the chief engineer of the Post Office made the remarkable reply: “No Sir. The Americans have need of the telephone but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.” The second example is due to my friend, Jean d’Arcy, Director of Radio and Visual Information Services Division of the United Nations. He has reported to me the deliberations of a slightly earlier scientific committee, set up in the Middle Ages to discuss whether it was worth developing Mr. Gutenberg’s printing press. After lengthy deliberations, this committee decided not to allocate further funds. The printing press, it was agreed, was a clever idea, but it could have no large-scale application. There would never be any big demand for books for the simple reason that only a microscopic fraction of the population could read. If anyone thinks that I am labouring the obvious, I would like him to ask himself, in all honesty, whether he would have dared to predict the ultimate impact of the printing press and the telephone when they were invented. I believe that in the long run the impact of the communication satellite will be even more spectacular. Moreover, the run may not be as long as we think. The human mind tends to extrapolate in a linear manner, whereas progress is exponential. The exponential curve rises slowly at first and then climbs rapidly, until eventually it cuts across the straight-line slope and goes soaring beyond it. Unfortunately, it is never possible to predict whether the crossover point will be five, ten or twenty years ahead. However, I believe that everything I am about to discuss will be technically possible well before the end of this century. The rate of progress will be limited by economic and political factors, not technological ones. When a new invention has a sufficiently great public appeal, the world insists on having it. Look at the speed with which the “transistor revolution” occurred. Yet what we now see on the technological horizon are devices with far greater potential, and human appeal, even than the ubiquitous transistor radio. It must also be remembered that our ideas concerning the future of space technology are still limited by the present primitive state of the art. All of today’s launch vehicles are expendable, single-shot devices which can perform only one mission and are then discarded. It has been “recognized for many years that space exploration, and space exploitation, will be practical only when the same launch vehicle can be flown over and over again, like conventional aircraft. The development of the reusable launch vehicle, the so-called “space shuttle” will be the most urgent problem of the space engineers in the 1970s. It is confidently believed that such vehicles will be operating by the end of the decade, the end of the 1970s. When they do, their impact upon astronautics will be comparable to that of the famous DC-3 upon aeronautics. The cost of putting payloads and men into space will decrease from thousands, to hundreds, and then to tens of dollars per pound. This will make possible the development of multipurpose manned space stations, as well as the deployment of very large and complex unmanned satellites which it would be quite impractical to launch (from Earth) in a single vehicle. It must also be remembered that comsats are only one of a very large range of applications satellites; they may not even be the most important. The Earth Resources satellites will enormously advance our knowledge of this planet’s capabilities, and the ways in which we may exploit them. The time is going to come when farmers, fishermen, public utility companies, departments of agriculture and forestry, etc. will find it impossible to imagine how they ever operated in the days before they had space-borne sensors continually scanning the planet. The economic value of meteorological satellites and their potential for the saving of life has already been demonstrated. Another most important use of satellites, which has not yet begun, but which will have an economic value of thousands of millions of dollars a year, is their use for air-traffic control. It appears possible that the only real solution to the problem of air congestion, and the mounting risk of collisions, may be through navigational satellites which can track every aircraft in the sky. Arthur C. Clarke predicts the internet, creative commons video from ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company): In dealing with telecommunications problems it is convenient and often indeed essential to divide the subject according to the type of transmission and equipment used. Thus we talk about radios, telephones, television sets, data networks, facsimile systems, etc. as though they were all quite separate things. But this of course is a completely artificial distinction; to the communications satellite, which simply handles trains of electric impulses, they are all the same. For the purposes of this discussion I am therefore looking at the subject from a different point of view, which may give a better overall picture. I am lumping all telecommunications devices together and am considering their total impact upon four basic units in turn. Those units are the Home, the City, the State, and the World. Note that I start with the home, not the family, as the basic human unit. Many people do not live in family groups, but everybody lives in a home. Indeed, in certain societies today the family itself is becoming somewhat nebulous around the edges, and among some younger groups is being replaced by the tribe – of which more anon. But the home will always be with us. There was once a time when homes did not have windows. It is difficult for those of us who do not live in caves or tents to imagine such a state of affairs. Yet within a single generation the home in the more developed countries has acquired a new window of incredible magical power – the TV set. What once seemed one of the most expensive luxuries became, in what is historically a twinkling of an eye, one of the basic necessities of life. The television antenna swaying precariously above the slum dweller’s shack is a true sign of our times. What the book was to a tiny minority in earlier ages, the television set has now come to be for all the world. It is true that, all too often, it is no more than a drug like its poorer relative, the transistor radio seen pressed to the ears of the blank-faced noiseaddicts one sees walking entranced through the city streets. But, of course, it is infinitely more than this, as was so well-expressed by Professor Buckminster Fuller when he remarked that ours is the first generation to be reared by three parents. All future generations will be reared by three parents. As René Maheu, Director-General of UNESCO, remarked recently, this may be one of the real reasons for the generation gap. We now have a discontinuity in human history. For the first time there is a generation that knows more than its parents, and television is at least partly responsible for this state of affairs. Anything we can imagine in the way of educational TV and radio can be done. As I have already remarked, the limitations are not technical, but economic and political. As for economic limitations, the cost of a truly global satellite educational system, broadcasting into all countries, would be quite trivial compared with the long-term benefits it could bring. Let me indulge in a little fantasy. Some of the studies of educational comsat broadcasts — let us call them EDSATS — to developing countries indicate that the cost of the hardware may be of the order of $1 per pupil per year. I suppose there are about a thousand million children of school age on this planet, but the number of people who require education must be much higher than this, perhaps two thousand million. As I am only concerned with establishing orders of magnitude, the precise figures don’t matter. But the point is that, for the cost of a few thousand million dollars a year, a few per cent of the monies spent on armaments could provide a global EDSAT system which could drag this whole planet out of ignorance. Such a project would seem ideally suited for UNESCO supervision, because there are great areas of basic education in which there are no serious disagreements. The beauty of television, of course, is that to a considerable extent it transcends the language problem. I would like to see the development, by the Walt Disney studios or some similar organization, of visual educational programmes which do not depend on language, but only upon sight, plus sound effects. I feel certain that a great deal can be done in this direction, and it is essential that such research be initiated as soon as possible, because it may take much longer to develop appropriate programmes than the equipment to transmit and receive them. Even the addition of language, of course, does not pose too great a problem since this requires only a fraction of the band-width of the vision signal. And sooner or later we must achieve a world in which every human being can communicate directly with every other, because everyone will speak, or at least understand, a handful of basic languages. The children of the future are going to learn several languages from that third parent in the corner of the living room. Perhaps looking further ahead, a time is going to come when any student or scholar anywhere on Earth will be able to tune in to a course in any subject that interests them, at any level of difficulty they desire. Thousands of educational programmes will be broadcast simultaneously on different frequencies, so that any individual will be able to proceed at his own rate, and at his own convenience, through the subject of his choice. This could result in an enormous increase in the efficiency of the educational process. Today, every student is geared to a relatively inflexible curriculum. He has to attend classes at fixed times, which very often may not be convenient. The opening up of the electromagnetic spectrum made possible by comsats will represent as great a boon to scholars and students as did the advent of the printing press itself. The great challenge of the decade to come is freedom from hunger. Yet starvation of the mind will one day be regarded as an evil no less great than starvation of the body. All men deserve to be educated to the limit of their capabilities. If this opportunity is denied them, basic human rights are violated. This is why the forthcoming experimental use of direct broadcast EDSATS in India in 1972 is of such interest and importance. We should wish it every success, for even if it is only a primitive prototype, it may herald the global educational system of the future. It is obvious that one of the results of the developments we have been discussing will be a breakdown of the barrier between home and school, or home and university, for in a sense the whole world may become one academy of learning. But this is only one aspect of an even wider revolution because results of the new communications devices will also break down the barrier between home and place of work. During the next decade we will see coming into the home a general purpose communications console comprising TV screen, camera, microphone, computer keyboard and hardcopy readout device. Through this, anyone will be able to be in touch with any other person similarly equipped. As a result, for an ever increasing number of people in fact, virtually everyone of the executive level and above, almost all travel for business will become unnecessary. Recently, a limited number of the executives of the Westinghouse Corporation in the United States who were provided with primitive forerunners of this device, promptly found that their travelling decreased by 20 per cent. This, I am convinced, is how we are going to solve the traffic problem and thus, indirectly, the problem of air pollution. More and more, the slogan of the future will be, “Don’t Commute – Communicate”. Moreover, this development will make possible and even accelerate another fundamental trend of the future. It usually takes a genius to see the obvious, and once again I am indebted to Professor Buckminster Fuller for the following ideas. One of the most important consequences of today’s space research will be the development of life-support, and above all, food regeneration systems for long duration voyages and for the establishment of bases on the moon and planets. It is going to cost thousands of millions of dollars to develop these techniques, but when they are perfected they will be available to everyone. This means that we will be able to establish self-contained communities quite independent of agriculture, anywhere on this planet that we wish; perhaps one day even individual homes may become autonomous closed ecological systems producing all their food and other basic requirements indefinitely. This development, coupled with the communications explosion, means a total change in the structure of society. But because of the inertia of human institutions, and the gigantic capital investments involved, it may take a century or more for the trend to come to its inevitable conclusion. That conclusion is the death of the city. We all know that our cities are obsolete, and much effort is now going into patching them up so that they work after some fashion, like thirtyyear-old automobiles held together with string and wire. But we must recognize that in the age that is coming. The city – except for certain limited applications – is no longer necessary. The nightmare of overcrowding and traffic jams which we now endure is going to get worse, perhaps for our lifetimes. But beyond that is a vision of a world in which man is once again what he should be, a fairly rare animal, though in instant communication with all other members of his species. Marshall McLuhan has coined the evocative phrase “the global village” to describe the coming society. I hope “the global village” does not really mean a global suburb, covering the planet from pole to pole. Luckily, there will be far more space in the world of the future, because the land liberated at the end of the agricultural age now coming to a close after ten thousand years will become available for living purposes. I trust that much of it will be allowed to revert to wilderness, and that through this new wilderness will wander the electronic nomads of the centuries ahead. It is perfectly obvious that the communications revolution will have the most profound influence upon that fairly recent invention, the nation-state. I am fond of reminding American audiences that their country was created only a century ago by two inventions. Before those inventions existed it was impossible to have a United States of America. Afterwards, it was impossible not to have it. Those inventions, of course, were the railroad and the electric telegraph. USSR, China – in fact all modern states could not possibly exist without them. Whether we like it or not, and certainly many people won’t like it, we are seeing the next step in this process. History is repeating itself one turn higher on the spiral. What the railroad and the telegraph did to continental areas a hundred years ago, the jet plane and the communications satellite will soon be doing to the whole world. Despite the rise of nationalism and the surprising resurgence of minority, political and linguistic groups, this process may already have gone further than is generally imagined. We see particularly among the young, cults and movements which transcend all geographical borders. The so-called “jet set” is perhaps the most obvious example of this transnational culture, but that involves only a small minority. In Europe at least, the Volkswagen and Vespa sets are far more numerous and perhaps far more significant. The young Germans, French, and Italians are already linked together by a common communications network, and are impatient with the naive and simple-minded nationalism of their parents which has brought so much misery to the world. What we are now doing – whether we like it or not – indeed whether we wish to or not – is laying the foundation of the first global society. Whether the final planetary authority will be an analogue of the federal systems now existing in the US or the USSR I do not know. I suspect that, without any deliberate planning, such organizations as the world meteorological and earth resources satellite system, and the world communications satellite system (of which INTELSAT is the precursor) will eventually transcend their individual components. At some time during the next century they will discover, to their great surprise, that they are really running the world. There are many who will regard these possibilities with alarm or distaste, and may even attempt to prevent their fulfilment. I would remind them of the story of the wise English king, Canute, who had his throne set upon the sea-shore so he could demonstrate to his foolish courtiers that even the king could not command the incoming tide. The wave of the future is now rising before us. Let us not attempt to hold it back. Wisdom lies in recognizing the inevitable – and cooperating with it. In the world that is coming, the great powers are not great enough. Let us look at our whole world – as we have already done through the eyes of our moonbound cameras. I have made it obvious that it will be essentially one world – though I am not foolish or optimistic enough to imagine that it will be free from violence and even war. But more and more it will be recognized that all terrestrial violence is the concern of the police – and of no one else. And there is another factor which will accelerate the unification of the world. Within another lifetime, this will not be the only world, and that fact will have profound psychological impact upon all humanity. We have seen in the annus mirabilis of 1969 the imprint of man’s first footstep on the moon. Before the end of this century, we will experience the only other event of comparable significance in the foreseeable future. Before I tell you what it is, ask yourselves what you would have thought of the moon landing, thirty years ago. Well, before another thirty have passed, we will see its inevitable successor – the birth of the first human child on another world, and the beginning of the real colonization of space. When there are men who do not look on Earth as home, then the men of Earth will find themselves drawing closer together. In countless ways this process has already begun. The vast outpouring of pride, transcending all frontiers, during the flight of Apollo 11 was an outstanding indication of this process. Whether or not one takes it literally, the myth of the Tower of Babel has an extraordinary relevance for our age. Before that time, according to the book of Genesis (and indeed according to some anthropologists) the human race spoke with a single tongue. That time may never come again, but the time will come, and through the impact of comsats, when there will be two or three world languages which everyone will share. Far higher than the misguided architects of the Tower of Babel ever could have imagined – 36,000 kilometres above the equator – the rocket and communications engineers are about to undo the curse that was then inflicted upon our ancestors. So let me end by quoting the relevant passage from the 11th chapter of Genesis, which I think could be a motto for our hopes of the future: And the Lord said: “Behold they are one people and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do, and nothing that they propose to do now will be impossible for them.” A 1970 text by Arthur C. Clarke from The UNESCO Courier, originally published online at the UNESCO website under a creative commons license: CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literature“Real Life”, by Lewis Shiner It’s dinner time, but I can’t get my wife’s attention. She’s killing Ants. Not little black ones out in the garden, but six-foot high Ants with space ships and photon torpedoes. So I pop a cup of alphabet soup in the micro and sit down with the evening paper. Here’s President Quayle on the front page, shaking hands with John F. Kennedy. What? Dinner’s ready. I pour it into a bowl and the letters spin queasily. They’re forming words. The words say, EAT ULTRAVIOLET DEATH, TERRAN SCUM. Days like this, you wonder what the hell ever happened to reality. My wife has her answer. For her it’s a glove studded with wires and sensors and a helmet with built-in goggles and headphones. For the Associated Press it’s digitized wire photos that they can change with a stroke of the light-pen. But that still doesn’t explain what’s going on in my soup. Life here in the nineties is weird and getting weirder. Me, I like to seek solace in literature. Back in the eighties I used to be into William S. Burroughs. Wasn’t everybody? I mean, the guy was practically a pop star, with everybody from the Soft Machine to Steely Dan to Thin White Rope ripping their names off from his books. It was hip to be paranoid, random, ironic, perverse. To be literate and still get to toy with all that slightly tacky genre stuff–private eyes, heavy-metal addict aliens, pornographic sex. Not just hip, it was downright postmodern. Burroughs’ vision started losing it when Bush went to war on drugs. It was no longer cool to enjoy being stoned or even to talk about it–especially if you wanted to keep your job. Reality was turning into serious business, government business, multinational business. Do not try this at home. Then technology got away from the guys with pocket protectors and suddenly there was Computer Aided Design and digital audio and hand-held video-games. Reality changed. In fact reality was getting harder to pin down every day. If the eighties were William S. Burroughs, then the nineties are Philip K. Dick. You remember Phil Dick. He’s the guy they took Blade Runner and Total Recall from. Now all of sudden everybody is asking the same questions that Dick started asking back in the fifties, and kept on asking right up until he died. How do you tell robots from human beings? How do you know that’s really your memory, and not some construct that’s been planted in your head? Are we fighting a real war, or are we being manipulated by politicians and corporations to keep spending money–money that is itself just electromagnetic data? Only Dick was no William S. Burroughs-style rock star. He was overweight and dipped snuff and cruised mental wards for dates. Where Burroughs was a literary darling, Dick was stuck in the SF trash/pulp ghetto and never got out. He mixed up high and low culture, like Burroughs did, everything from Heraclitus to pulp sf to the Holy Bible, but for Dick there was no irony involved. If there was such a thing as the “information virus” that Burroughs talked about, Dick believed it was benign. He wanted answers for the weird shit in his life and he didn’t care where he got them. Now everybody’s life is a little like that. There’s information everywhere and “high” and “low” doesn’t mean much anymore. The science fiction stuff from Dick’s books is now physically out there. And there’s more weird shit than most of us can handle. Those moments when the whole facade starts to break down and the word “reality” no longer means anything at all. Like that nasty moment when the helmet comes off and the “virtual” reality just goes away. Okay, okay, we all know what reality really is. Reality is smog alerts, crowded freeways, famine in Africa, AIDS and drug wars and the homeless. Ozone holes and global warming and disappearing rain forests. But who wants to live in a world like that? When we can have infinite mental playgrounds that range from the geometries of Tron to the virgin planets and blazing space of Star Wars? After all, if we didn’t believe in the power of illusion, why would we have elected Reagan and Bush and now Quayle? In books like Time Out Of Joint and The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch, Phil Dick told us, over and over, that Things Are Not What They Seem. He said that the measure of humanity is kindness–caritas–not the ability to look good on TV. He said that no matter how much you believe you’re in sunny Southern California, sooner or later you’re going to wake up to a lipstick scrawl on the bathroom mirror that says we’re all wasting away in an underground hovel on Mars. It’s the same feeling you get when your air-conditioned, cellular-phone and CD-stereo equipped town car breaks down and you have to climb out into the heat of the ghetto. There’s another world out there, and it’s just dying to meet you face to face. It’s the feeling you get when the power goes out in the middle of the Cosby Show. When that wino wanders into your restaurant and ruins your New American Cuisine. When a computer virus takes you down right in the middle of your spreadsheet. When you’ve been talking to a salesman on the telephone for two minutes before you realize it’s a computerized recording, or, here in the nineties, a full-fledged expert system that can bother a thousand people at once. And in the time in between, when life seems to glide happily along, you may find yourself asking more and more questions. Is it live, or is it maybe Memorex after all? Is that Schwarzenegger blowing up pretend villains or is that news footage from El Salvador? Is Coke, in fact, the Real Thing? And what is that in my soup? The text above was retrieved from Shiner’s own website, where it was published under a creative commons license. Below you can read Robert Crumb’s comic book about Philip K. Dick from > Like this:Like Loading... 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short storyby Michael Henrik Wynn Before king Harald began the unification of Norway, the country consisted of many smaller kingdoms, often fighting among themselves. Bands of violent thugs roamed the countryside demanding protection money from peasants, blacksmiths, carpenters and traders. And many made a claim to divinity. In one such kingdom, located in a long and narrow valley, there was a hamlet in which there lived an ugly and childless woman in her mid fourties. Her loneliness was such that she frequented neighbors at all hours making a nuisance of herself. But she was intelligent, and read the minds of her hosts with just one glance. Therefore, she never stayed long out of fear of outwearing her welcome, and eventually became known as “wandering Hilde”. It was with a certain sadness that locals observed her walking down solitary paths in the evenings, her lamp was visible from great distance in clear weather. They would see it climb the side of the valley to her farm. At least, it was a comfort that her piece of land even though it was small, was the most fertile in the valley. So, she was never short of food, only a person with whom to share it. One winter there came news from afar that a great battle was brewing. The local king was in a bitter struggle for his life with the neighboring kingdom. Men and boys gathered what weapons they possessed, kissed their wives and mothers before they rode or walked off, and were never heard of again. It was said that the neighboring king was an extremely evil man, who enjoyed seeing his enemies suffer. He would engage in the most grotesque torture with a crooked smile upon his face. It was his right as king to hold lives in the palm of his hand, and to do with them as he pleased. At one point the cruel ruler came riding down the valley with his hord of savages, his long hair streaming like some torn grey banner in the wind as he rushed forward with his lifted, blood-soaked sword. They saw the fires spread from house to house. Screams echoed far through the valley unto the plains below. Who had died? What had happened to the children? But the fate of a king is never certain. He eventually miscalculated, underestimated the hatred he had stirred up, and in a flash a crowd had ambushed him, torn him from his proud black stallion, and stabbed him hundreds of times, before placing his decapitated head on a pole. The mob then did to their enemies what they had experienced themselves. New flames flickered under the starry sky, and many young died needlessly for the wrongs of their parents. It so happened that wandering Hilde stood at the top of the enemy’s valley one morning as dawn revealed columns of drifting thick smoke, and fields of golden wheat. She observed the sacking with the distance of an outsider. What did it matter what people did, their petty arguments, she was not part of their world. She knew that the law demanded revenge and that the Gods craved it. But she did not understand it. One of these murdered children could have warmed her heart, stoked her homely fires until her ship eventually sailed for the halls of Hell. She turned with her usual melancholy, and began on her solitary trek home. She crossed the creek, navigated the rutted tracks to the mountain pass. As she was passing the treeline, she heard the neighing of a horse. She stopped, looked in all directions, but could not, at first, understand where the noise was coming from. She heard it again, and walked towards a mighty pine with thick green branches that overhung a path. Underneath it she found a small mare, and by its feet a tiny red-haired child, a girl, five winters or so that seemed to have fallen off. The child did not cry, perhaps because she had been cushioned by the soft ground, or because she was still confused from her ordeal. For a moment wandering Hilde did not know what to do. If there was a child, there was most certainly a mother. But where? “Hello, little one, where is your mother?” The girl did not speak, but pointed towards a column of smoke that rose from treetops four hundred meters away. The child then drew her hand over her throat, as if to indicate that something had been cut. Hilde did not have time to reflect on the macrabre display, for in the very next instant male shouts were not far away, and hooves trampled. Instinctively, she drew the child towards her bossom, slapped the horse on its back, sending it off riderless. She then placed herself and the child as close to the trunk as she could. They were hidden by the low branches, invisible to the panting horses that moments laters raged by. She then realized that she had forgotten to place her hand over the child’s mouth. But, as she looked down she saw that she had no need to worry. The child had buried her face against her thigh, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. So it was that wandering Hilde’s heart melted, and that she brought home an enemy offspring to her own house, fed it and treated it as if it were flesh off her own flesh. But a child can never be invisible to any neighbor. Even if she managed to hide the secret for six moons, the seventh the game was up, and the whole village debated intensly who the child might be, what linage it might have, and whether it was right to feed the blood of an enemy. The average villager, of course, would never get beyond speculation, but there was a traveling merchant, who sometimes also collected taxes. He was by no means rich, but maintained halfway houses, where the earls and their men sometimes made stops. He was obliged to wait on these, and present them with such food and drink as they demanded. But he was handsomely rewarded, even if he almost never raised his voice, or offered any comments beyond those required by his function. He was a man of fifty winters, and the locals thought him wise, and often sought his councel on matters relating to the wider world. The child and her clothes were brought before him. Grey-bearded, bushy-browed and weathered, he sat quietly on a stone in front of a flickering fire, and examined the items in silence. He could find no mark on the child’s limbs that would give any clue. But he noticed that she was well fed, and that all her skins were of fine quality and had regular stitching. Still many men with large farms had daughters, but they were seldom lavished with jewels at that age. Finally, he found a little pouch, and in it a small medallion with an emblem. If anyone had seen his grey eyes at that moment, they would have noticed his schock. But the others had grown impatient, and were looking at the landscape and walking about. They had concluded that nothing out of the ordinary would be uncovered. He slipped the pouch into his pocket without anyone noticing, smiled and schook his head. “As far as I can tell, she is of wealthy kin, but I can say nothing more.” The others sighed, and they all rode to the house of wandering Hilde the very next morning. Four horses with the elders of the village climbed the paths to her farm. They found fires burning, food cooked, clothes hanging out to dry. When they saw the child stumble towards a smiling Hilde, they all sighed and shook their heads in dismay. A few evenings later Thor’s wagon thundered above the mountain, his lighetning split the sky over the valley below. Then there was heavy rain, which dripped from leaves and made stones and paths slippery. But then there was quiet, total silence as a slow fog drifted in from all sides. In that fog there was suddenly the sound of a horse, and solitary cloaked rider made his was to the merchant’s house over the mountain pass. In Norway, sea gulls – the white emissaries – drift in from the endless ocean on summer breezes. As the autumn chill and darkness descend from the mountains, however, they vannish. In their place murders of crows settle upon moist fences and thatched roof tops, greeting visitors with black blinking eyes. When the rider reached the merchant’s house, the gates and shutters were therefore secured and only distant caws were heard. The traveler dismounted, knocked on the door, which creaked open releasing a slit of light. The old merchant then appeared, and bid the stranger enter. Having dispatched the child’s pouch with a messenger some days earlier, the merchant was expecting somone to come. But when he saw the rider remove his clothes his heart froze and his eyes filled with tears. Before him stood Frey, the king’s beautiful sister – and his most feared assassin. “Your highness!” he exclaimed, and immediately went to fetch his best food and drink. Frey, although fourty winters, was a rank darkhaired woman with gleaming eyes. His hands shook as he served her. The story of Frey was well known among those who travel. She had been married three times, and each time she had failed to produce offspring – and blamed her husband. Every time she had sought the help of her brother the king, who each time lured the men to their deaths so that she might marry again. The third time, however, the king had told his sister: “Frey, three good men have met their end because you are barren. Three old mothers have wept not knowing why their son had perished. Honor now demands that you pay me back.” So it was the Frey, in the service of her brother, wielded her charm, exploited her good looks and made men lower their guards, only to plunge her long dagger in their hearts while they were sleeping. “You have guessed why I have come?” she said looking at the merchant. He lowered his gaze and sighed. “Yes” “Now, tell me the story of how the pouch was found” “There is a local woman called wandering Hilde who now mothers the child…” “Wandering Hilde? Does this name have any significance? Is she not a local woman?” A sudden thought came upon the old merchant, a weak glimmer of hope. He excused himself, complained about a bad back and took a seat on the other side of the table. “It is important, Your Highness, that you know all that there is to know” “Yes, naturally” The old merchant then told the legend of wandering Hilde, and in as many strong words as he could elaborated on her character. He described her lantern climbing the hillside in the evening, and how her shadow moved from door to door after dusk. But, he had no hope that anything would make any sort of difference. The woman before him, gorgeous and black-haired as he was, was known as the coldest and most calculating creature ever seen. So, he finished his story, got up and pointed out the window. “The light you see up there, Your Highness, marks the house where wandering Hilde now lives.” He felt Frey approaching him from behind, her cold breath streamed over his shoulder as her gaze followed the direction of his finger. She then whispered: “Thanks for the story, old man” And then she opened the door and melted into the night. Frey was not in a hurry. She walked her horse slowly along the path under the light of a bleak crescent. She made sure that not many people saw her. But it would have made no difference if they did. At foot of the hillside, she dismounted and then climbed on foot untill she stood hidden behind trees at the edge of wandering Hilde’s farm. There she stood for a while, and saw a fire flicker through an open window. A young girl giggled. A long silvery dagger was then unsheathed, and human form slipped quietly to the outside wall. One of the oak shutters had been closed, and in it there was a hole. Frey then placed her eye to the opening and peered inside. Wandering Hilde, an unusually plain woman, was standing in front of a bucket of water cleaning some cloth. In the background there was a loom, and in the corner of the cramped room stood a straw padded bed. That is where the child sat smiling, and dangling her feet. Wandering Hilde was very preoccupied. At one point she realized that she she needed more water, and reached for her bucket. She made her way towards the door, which slowly swung open releasing a warm and damp stream of light into the night. Wandering Hilde did not see Frey in the shadows behind her, with her dagger raised. Frey was about to enter the room, and kill the child when something unexpected happened. Hilde sang. A very slow lullaby to calm the child. She did not look back, but the sudden voice caught Frey by surprise and she withdrew back into the dark. There she stood for a moment, sweating and shivering, not knowing why. Moments later Hilde returned, closed and locked the door, and Frey felt the tremendous solitude of the universe suddenly fall upon her shoulders as it slammed shut. She felt dizzy, and looking up at the stars, that enormous multitude of distant lights were all staring at her. The icemaid fled. First to the trees, then to her black stallion and finally to the merchant’s house. There she demanded a room and left orders not to be disturbed. A volva had once told Frey that when a woman of a certain age climbs to a high mountain pond, and looks down upon her reflection in the water under the northern light, she can see herself the way she could have been. That night, as many other nights, the Arora Borealis twisted and turned like a celestial serpent above. Frey saw this from her window, and immediately asked the merchant whether there was a mountain pond nearby as she needed to brew a magical potion. The old man then told her that four hundred meters up the road, just above the treeline, not far from the mountain pass, there was such a pond. Frey then proceeded in the direction she was given. After walking quietly through the night, her lantern swinging back and forth, her thick cloak sometimes pulled by sudden gusts, she arrived at her destination. It was dark, and the opposite bank of the pond lay shrouded in mist. But on her side, the water shimmered quietly by the moss. This was indeed mirror enough to consult the Gods! As she peered into the water she was at first releaved. There was nothing there, only her own familiar face. She smiled, shook her head. She had been needlessly worried. But then she heard a rustle in the trees. She grabbed her dagger fearing an ambush. Then she spotted a black bird against the night sky, and heard the omnious cry of a raven. Her heart froze, the dizziness returned. She noticed that her feet were soaked, and as she again looked into the water her vision seemed blurred. Who was the shadow in her reflection? For a brief moment she thought she made out wandering Hilde in the ripples. It was just a brief sensation, a palpitation in the surface, but it was overwhelming enough to make her walk back to the old merchant.There she asked for provisions, saddled up her horse and returned to her brother, the king. Ten moons later, ten riders crossed the mountain pass. A herald preceded them summoning the villagers to the hall. Eight strong and grim warriors, all wearing long swords and crossbows, then surrounded the building, and two cloaked nobles entered to consult with the elders. There was murmur inside, the men looked at each other with questioning eyes and there was much speculation about what was about to happen. As the two visitors emerged into the light falling from a shaft into the center of the room, they saw that Frey and her brother, the king, stood before them. Then the brother raised his hand, ordered silence and spoke thus: “Villagers, I am your lawfull king, and I have come among you tell you that I have heard the story of wandering Hilde from my sister. I thought long and hard about it, but did not know what to do. I then fell asleep, and in my dream I saw the many mothers who have cried during our long war. A voice then came upon me saying “Enough!”. I woke from my delirium in a pool of sweat, and walked over to my window for air. I then found a raven purching on my sill.” At this news of this omen, there was much alarm. The villagers were anxious. “It is therefore my decision as king that no harm should ever befall the child while wandering Hilde lives, and that this outsider be treated as one of your own for that period. I have come to you in person to ask you to pay allegiance and swear this to me upon one-eyed Odin himself.” The men of village were obliged to do as any lord demanded. But they needed little persuasion because the king before them was missing an eye himself. The villagers gave their oaths and made their promises, and the king then told them of the orphan’s true linage and what had become of her family. Then the king and his sister left, and they never saw either of them again. Some years later, news reached the village that he had perished when his horse fell through the ice one winter when he was crossing the fjord. His son, Harold the fair-haired, was also a just man. But the son’s mind and ambition were always focused elsewhere, and the little cluster of houses in the remote valley was forgotten. There is moss on the old gathering hall in the village. It has been there throughout living memory. The cracked log walls, slimy in rain, were dry, brown and crisp in summer evenings. On such days, the smell of pine, the crackling of fires and the clanking of a hammer on anvils sounded from the nearby houses. Children laughed – as much as children then were allowed to laugh. Wandering Hilde was not a strict woman, and when she commanded Gudrun, as she had named her adopted daughter, she made sure that her voice was always accompanied by a twinkling eye and a smile. The elders of the village sometimes arrived at the hall robed in sheepskin, looking grey and solumn. It was clear that whatever they were up to, it merrited the raising of voices and the shutting of doors. Only rarely was there an envoy from afar. Then, of course, there was music, mead and minstrels reciting long poems. Occasionally, young Gudrun tried to peer through a crack when the door was open. But she was short of height and never saw much. The heavy wooden door always creaked on its rusty hinges and closed that world from her. Eventually, she gave up, and started doing what other young girls did, learning her womanly chores, preparing herself for that day when a man might arrive to take her away. When she had experienced six winters with her new mother, one of the men appeared in the doorway of the great hall one humid afternoon in autumn and invited her in. She could hardly believe it. As she entered, she saw walls draped with red and blue cloth, and small divinities of carved oak, and barrels of drink. At the summit of the room sat a stern elderly man, and around him children gathered. He told stories of a horrific king, who had murdered his three sons. The stories were full of drama, and all the boys smiled. She realized that the man often looked at her as he recounted his tales. And somehow she did not get a friendly impression of him. His pupils were cold. The stories, however, involved many things she did not know about the village, about the kingdom, and the world beyond the crest of the great mountain. It was not her place to ask impertinent questions. Like all the other children her imagination was captivated by sea voyages, armies and battles in far flung places. This seance became a monthly feature in the calender of the village young. And on all occasions, it would end the same way. “Do you see the golden amulet on that wall?” the man would say and point at what seemed like a holy relic on a shelf. “Who does that belong to?” he would ask. “The Beast King!” the children would shout in unison. And then they would all get up, and return to their chores. Gudrun would be full of excitement, and run her mother’s side to share her new stories. But mother would always ignore her, and declared that those lies were unfit for women, and suited only for boys, and that the best thing she could do was to avoid the evil geezer and his yarns alltogether. Her mother was so in earnest about this that eventually Gudrun stopped sharing her fantasies. In stead, she would sit quietly on a mossy stone, and look down upon the valley below, her thoughts soaring over the landscape like a seagull yearning for an ocean. Stories would always stir her soul, and she began dreaming of a life of her own – the great adventure that would come with independence. But no suitors appeared on Gudrun’s doorstep, and no local boy ever showed an interest in her, and the seasons passed as she flourished into a tall and rank red-haired woman – strong, intelligent and soft-hearted. Often she would bring food for the elderly, and she would clean and do things, as if she were a servant. And she would share of her food with passing strangers, and she would try to follow the example of her mother who had saved her all those years ago. In fact, so many years had passed that whatever preceded the life she now had – whatever it might have been – had vanished into a haze. And there was no way to get it back once it had gone. Old Hilde herself had found the company that was missing from her former years, her evening fires were indeed continously stoked, but age and new worries quickly colored her brows white, and the faint sun and the northern breeze left lines on her forehead. And her steps slowed with each winter, until she moved about like a wise hag with a cane. “Dear Gudrun”, Hilde stammered from her bed one day. The shifting lights from the fire made her dying eyes shine almost magically. “Come to my side, daughter!” Gudrun got up and moved next to her mother. She lifted a skin and placed it over her mothers feet. “Gudrun, I am soon departing this world”. “No, mother, do not give up” “I am old, I feel it coming. The winters weigh heavily on my bones, I cannot carry water. That is when my own mother died.” “Yes, mother.” “I am worried about what will become of you.” “Do not worry about me, mother. I have friends, and I have work at our neighbor’s farm.” “No, child. You do not have friends. When my body is cold, you must leave me unburied, and sneak out of the valley before anyone notices” “What do you mean?” At that very moment, there was a knock on the door, and her mother waved the daughter to the side. Gudrun immediately understood that private matters would be discussed, and went for a stroll along the valley in which she had grown up. She strolled by the clear river, and climbed to the shimmering pond. She even made her way to a crest above the pass, and studied her village from a high vantage point. And she spied passed distant white peaks, and imagined an endless expanse of water. She returned in the evening mist, and noticed a throng of neighbors by the well outside her house. Her brows dropped and eyes teared up as she approached. What she had dreaded had now come to pass. The men seemed to block her, and she found it difficult to penetrate the crowd. Eventually, she fought her way in, and saw her mother lifeless in her bed, her grey gleaming eyes open, staring skywards. Gudrun looked away, and placed her face in her palms. When she glanced up, she noticed the familiar face of wise Astrid. At first she was relieved. But then she saw that wise Astrid’s wrinkles seemed petrified. Her wool-covered figure, normally so crooked, seemed strangely erect, and there was an uncompromising determination in her narrow chin. “Be gone, spawn of Loke!”, wise Astrid whispered and spat before Gudrun’s feet. Gudrun ran out the door, only to feel a man’s fist in her face. She tumbled to ground and got up, and fled into the stable to Alas, her white mare. She mounted as quickly as she could and gallopped down the road in a cloud of dust. After a few minutes she glanced back and saw her childhood home vanish behind the pines. She pulled her reigns, and her horse neighed as she halted. She then dismounted and sat down in the grass to cry. But no tears came. There was simply too much at the same time, and she had no idea what had come over her old friends. But, a life may change with the snap of fingers, only a cold stone will move with the ages. Whether this was fear, sorrow or confusion did not matter, for soon there was trampling of hooves and angry male voices. She decided to mount her horse in a futile dash for the mountain pass. Even in a that humid evening, dark-green branches drooped over her path, casting distinct shadows. And she thought she heard the distant cries of many ravens, one over the other, until they combined into a primordial laughter. And thus it was that Gudrun was ambushed by a crowd of former friends at the mountain pass, torn from her old white mare, stabbed hundreds of times, and her decapitated head placed on a pole. This was done because she was the youngest daughter of the worst man that had ever lived – even if her lineage had been kept from her until the day of her death. In olden times, the word of a king was all that prevented a smiling neighbor from ending your life. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyBy Margie Harris, Racketeer Stories, February 1931 (Courtesy of John Locke. His collection of her stories is available from Amazon) It’s a hell of a thing to be waiting for the rubber hose in your B.V.D.’s and suddenly see yourself looking into your cell at you, with blood all over your face! horty Breen, get-away driver for the Bull Coleman gang, was keenly alive to the trouble hunch which had been riding him all afternoon. So it needed but the touch of heavy fingers on his shoulder to send him jerking, leaping, twisting through the crowd on Fourteenth Street. His first spring carried him through a group of chattering women. In a few seconds more he was clattering down the steps of the subway. Behind him was the usual chorus of “Stop, thief!” but over all resounded the bull-like roar of Police Captain McGrehan. An express train was standing in the station. Shorty dropped a nickel in the turnstile, dashed aboard as the doors closed. Damn McGrehan anyway. Two nights before he’d caught Shorty in a dark corner and given him purple hell for playing with Bull’s gang. “Damn ol’ goat,” Shorty growled. “Where’s he get ‘at stuff? You’d think he was me ol’ man, instead of him being just a guy ‘at wanted to marry Mom w’en she was a goil!” At Thirty-fourth Street he slipped from the train and cast a furtive eye over the crowd. Hell’s fire! There he was, getting out of the last car! There was no mistaking the blue uniform with its captain’s bars and stripes in gold, nor the heavy, squared jaw above it. Shorty dashed up the stairs two at a time, made the first half block at a rapid walk. Then he slowed, but no police uniform showed behind him. At Eighth Avenue he turned south, stopping for a final survey of his back trail. He was safe. McGrehan had lost him. Heaving a sigh of relief, Shorty started to stroll along toward Finnegan’s café and Bull’s headquarters above it. For the moment his underworld guardian angel was not on the job. He stopped at the curb to light a cigarette in the lee of a parked Checker cab. He gave the cab and driver no attention until he sensed a flurry of movement. He started to turn but it was too late. A blue clad arm shot forth, clamped iron fingers on his shoulder, dragged him, struggling, into the cab. A split second later he heard the order. “Down to Center Street, lad; drive right intuh the garage.” Shorty didn’t need to see his captor’s—McGrehan’s—face. He couldn’t, had he wanted to. His face was jammed into a corner of the seat, his knees were on the floor. The pressure relaxed; Shorty heaved himself erect, only to suffer the shame of being shoved back, slowly, relentlessly into his former position. “You’re a tough guy, Clyde!”—Jeez! how he hated that pansy name Mom had given him—“But I’m tougher than all of you gaycats. Now sit you down and listen to me.” The big hands heaved again, slammed him back onto the seat. Captain McGrehan’s eyes were blazing; steely fingers were digging into Shorty’s shoulder muscles. Shorty tried to out stare the cop; his eyes fell first. “What th’ hell?” he growled. “This a pinch?” “What does it feel like—a swimmin’ lesson?” “Aw, what have I done? You got nothin’ on me.” The old formula between cop and crook the world over. “I have me hand on you, which’ll do for the present,” McGrehan responded with heavy wit. “It looks like a tough night for you, Clydie.” Shorty winced again at the hated name. “Clyde!” for the speedball who drove the chopper car last week when Bull Coleman’s rodmen shot it out with The Yid’s organ grinders, hijacked two trucks of alky. Uh-huh. Two cops had been killed, but that was their hard luck. “You don’t take kindly to th’ name a good mother gave you, Clyde.” There was contempt in the Captain’s sarcastic drawl. “Well, it’s a hell of a name for a gangster—and it’s a hell of a gangster you’ll be after this night.” Shorty stirred uneasily. Jeez! Suppose some of Bully’s scouts saw him riding with McGrehan. They’d be calling him “Canary” and tomorrow taking him for a ride. Yet he hated a “chirper” worse than anyone, almost. “Lissen, Cap,” he pleaded. “Lemme go. Jess because you’n Mom went to school together’s no reason fer youse to get me put on the spot.” “The spot, is it now?” The reply was a bellow of derision. “You’ll be wishin’ for the spot before tonight’s over. It’s the Third we’re fixin’ up for you.” Shorty’s blood turned cold within him. The dreaded “third.” And at the hands of this ramping, raging old Mick on whom he’d always looked, though from a distance, as a family friend! “Yuh can’t give me no hosin’,” he said. “Whaddyuh think you got on me?” McGrehan’s lips didn’t move; his hand did. It slid down to a point on Shorty’s arm between elbow and shoulder. The fingers tightened, dug into the nerve center under the biceps. Shorty tried to jerk loose. The movement brought a howl of pain from his lips. McGrehan was pitiless. Slowly the grasp tightened. Horrible searing pains flashed down the arm to the finger tips, up over the shoulder. “Enough?” The Captain growled the word. Shorty nodded in mute agony. “Listen to me, then. Don’t you start tellin’ me what I can or cannot do this night. In five days more I retire on pension. Nobody can change that. Them five days is to be given to runnin’ down some rats that killed two brave men recent—and to makin’ a man out of Mary Ann Breen’s lousy brat—or killin’ him.” Shorty sunk down in his corner. Suddenly he felt terribly alone. McGrehan he knew was tough, iron hard. It was said he preferred a billy to a rubber hose—and followed his liking. “Yes, Clyde,” the Captain’s tones were silky now. “It’ll be a tough night, and here we are ready for it to start.” The cab swung across the curb, into a big room filled with riot cars, prowl cars, the fast buses of the strong arm squad; the big racers in which the Commissioners and Brass Collars buzzed to danger points. McGrehan handed the driver a bill, pointed over his shoulder with a big thumb. “Out,” he growled. As the automatic doors closed, he spun Shorty about, crossed his pile-driver right to the button with a snap. Shorty went limp. McGrehan caught him, did not let him fall. “Poor, dumb lad,” he half whispered. “Spoiled as he is, I wish he was mine.” Two plainclothes men came from the shadows, took the drooping form, carried it to the silent cells where there is only silence. While Shorty still was unconscious, the detectives stripped him of coat, hat, shoes, collar, trousers, hat and tie. “Cap said to leave him his cigarettes and matches,” one of the searchers said. “Yeh?” his mate replied. “The ol’ boy’s gettin’ soft. Wouldn’t be surprised to come down here in a day or two an’ find he’s been getting drinkin’ water.” II Doubling for Shorty “McGrehan speaking, sir. I have the lad. May I come up?” “In five minutes, Captain. I’ll ring.” The Commissioner’s voice was curt but friendly. “Any trouble?” “For him, not for me, sir.” McGrehan sensed the beginning of a chuckle as his superior hung up the receiver. Commissioner Van Voort turned back to the stockily built, severe faced man opposite him, Captain Michaelson, Chief of New York’s Secret Police. “That was McGrehan,” Van Voort said. “Reporting he’s turned in the Breen boy. Dammit, Michaelson, I don’t like the thought of Springer and Haddon taking such chances.” “Nor do I.” Michaelson’s face was granite hard. “McGrehan’s plan to save this little Breen rat is apt to spoil it all. But we’re ready—checked and rechecked on the plan.” “Yes, we’re too deep in now to change,” Van Voort replied. He drew a map toward him. “We’ll go over it once again; then you can get your crew together. Here’s the district, with the route marked in red arrows. “The point marked ‘J’ is where the truck will be, with tools, tear bombs, extra ammunition; whatever’s required. When Bull’s third car passes, the boy who’s been trying to start the engine will slip around the corner and signal Lieutenant Henry. The signal to close in will be a burst of blank cartridge machine gun fire. Right? All clear?” “Perfectly, Mr. Commissioner. And in the meantime the other group will surround Bull’s headquarters over Finnegan’s. When the word is passed that the warehouse raiders have been mopped up, we’ll hit Bull from all sides and the roof.” “Good, Captain. Goodnight and good luck.” A touch on the button brought McGrehan from downstairs. “Good work,” the Commissioner said. “Anyone see you get him?” “Not a chance, sir. I snatched him offen the sidewalk before he could squawk. He was goin’ to Bull’s; thought he’d ditched me in Thirty-fourth Street. I hopped a cab, beat it the other way and copped him on Eighth Avenue.” The Commissioner stared for a moment at the stubborn old face before him. “See here,” he said. “It’s a devil of a thing you’ve made me ask of Springer—to gamble his life for a crook like that.” “Wait ‘til you’ve seen Springer in his clothes. They’re enough alike to be twins, except their eyes is different. Springer has painted a couple of fine blue bruises on his lamps to take care of that. You’d swear he’d been in a pip of a fight.” “It’s a terrible chance—” The Commissioner paused. “No worser’n any other man of the Secret Squad’s takin’ every day, sir. No more than the other boy we shoved in on Bull’s gang. It’s all risky; that’s how we’re cleanin’ up on the tips they get.” “I hope you’re right, McGrehan. Anyway, after tonight there’ll be no more cop killings by the Coleman gang.” “Which’ll be a blessin’ in a wicked world, Mr. Commissioner.” McGrehan saluted, about faced and departed. Thirty minutes later the lookout at Bull Coleman’s headquarters opened the peep panel, recognized Shorty Breen and admitted him. “Where th’ hell youse been, punk?” the lookout demanded. “Bull’s been askin’ for youse.” “Aw hell! I had a fight wit’ a guy over a pool game,” Shorty replied out of the corner of his mouth. “I got a pair uh shiners.” “Damn if you ain’t—an’ maybe Bull won’t slap youse down fer that.” Shorty did not reply. Instead he shambled across the room and, dropping into a chair commanding a view of both the office and entrance doors, he seemed to doze. III The Stage Is Set Sharp at 10 o’clock Bull Coleman opened the door of his private office to crook his fingers at four of the loungers. Shorty followed Ginger Olsen, Chopper Allen and Sid Haddon into the room. “Shut the door, kid,” Bull growled. “All of youse set down and hang out an ear. Everything’s set. Sid’ll drive the lead car wit’ two roddies an’ Chopper wit’ his grinder. Shorty’s to drive the guard car. He’ll take two more rods, an’ Ginger wit’ his Tommy. “On th’ way youse’ll pick up the third car, which’ll run between lead an’ guard. That one’ll back into th’ shippin’ alley beside the warehouse. Shorty pulls down th’ street half way of th’ block, headin’ east. Sid heads back west and pulls near to the corner. That way, if they’s a ruckus, they won’t burn each other down. “Now lissen. That gives a guard car headed whichever the dope buggy heads when it comes outta the alley. The other one’ll swing an’ follow. Get me?” All nodded, but Bull, himself a strategist, duplicated the scene of a few moments before in the Commissioner’s office, when he produced a rough map of the route to show the course to be taken. To one man in the room the scene had its element of humor. It was his second view of the maps—one down in Center Street, the other in Bull’s office. For Sid Haddon was the “other fellow” mentioned by McGrehan—a member of the Secret Police, planted on Bull’s gang through clever plotting. Something warned Haddon. He looked up, caught the burning eyes of Chopper Allen studying him intently. Instantly he let his face go blank, gazing back almost stupidly at the other. This simply wouldn’t do. Allen never had been friendly. Just now it is possible the man had caught the half grin on his face. Bull’s bellowing voice brought the duel of glances to an end. “Everybody out now,” he said. “But stick around. Youse know th’ rules. I’ll tell youse when it’s time.” That was Bull’s method. At the last moment he outlined his plans in detail. After that no one was allowed to leave the hangout or to telephone. Even then the exact hour was kept secret until the moment of departure. At the door, Chopper turned back. “See you a moment, Bull?” “Yeh. What youse got on your chest?” Chopper saw to it that the door was closed. He returned to the desk and leaned forward. “It’s that guy, Haddon,” he half whispered. “Lemme knock him off, chief; he’s poison. Don’t ask me how I know. I just feel it. I’ve seen him in my dreams putting the cuffs on me. Every time he comes near me I smell the cops.” “Aw cripes, Chopper, you’re nuts,” Bull answered. “He was sent to me by Mickey the Harp from Chicago after he got into a jam there. I had him watched plenty, and I know he’s all right. Just because you’re a damned old woman’s no reason for me to lose a guy with th’ kinda guts he’s got. He’ll go down intuh hell if I send him—’n come back wit’ a bottle of pre-war in each hand.” Chopper shrugged, started for the door; turned back. “Lissen, chief—” He was bitterly, insanely angry now. “When this guy sends you to the Big Squirm up in Sing Sing just remember that I told you to get rid of him.” Bull’s heavy face crimsoned, turned purple. “Get th’ hell outta here, you damned croaking louse,” he shouted. “When anybody sends me to the Hot Seat it’ll be some rat like youse, afraid of his own shadow. Mebbe you’re th’ one ‘at needs his horns knocked off—” Chopper shivered involuntarily. “Forget it, chief,” he said placatingly. “It’s you I’m worryin’ about; not me. When do we start?” “When I send you, rat,” Bull snarled. “That good enough for youse?” Chopper slouched to the door, white-faced, humiliated. The stage was set for the third act of the drama of Secret Police versus the Coleman dusters. IV The Attack Zero hour was 1:30. Bull strode into the main room, followed by Ginger and Chopper, each carrying his favorite sub-machine gun. “Smitty and Shuffle!” he barked. “Get your rods and go wit’ Ginger. Dutch and Ike, you go wit’ Chopper. He’ll tell youse what to do.” “Come on, punk; get your driving eye alive,” he snapped, halting before Shorty’s slouched form. He stopped and peered under the boy’s hat brim. “Jeez, you would pick a night like this to get slapped up,” he snarled. “One slip-up from you, gaycat, and I’ll knock youse off myself. Kin you see well enough to drive?” Shorty spat nonchalantly. “Sure!” he responded. “What’s a shiner got to do wit’ steppin’ on th’ gas?” “Hell! Get goin’,” Bull demanded. “Ginger’s grinder in your car. If he tells you to drive offen a dock—do it.” Quietly the four slipped through the outer room, down the rear stairs to the alley garage where waited a stolen Packard touring car. Shorty wriggled under the wheel, touched the starter, listened for a moment to the motor’s purr. He cut the switch, looked about him tranquilly. The outer door opened. Sid Haddon entered, followed by Chopper and the two rodmen. Beside the opposite wall stood a Buick. Half way there, Haddon whirled and said to Shorty: “Slip us a pill, kid, I’m all out.” Shorty obligingly extended a package of cigarettes to Haddon. Before returning it, the other snapped his pocket lighter and set the fag going. Stepping close to the side of the Packard he handed the package back to Shorty with his right hand. At the same time, with a deft twist of his left, he tucked a squat automatic between the padding of the front seat and Shorty’s leg. “Thanks, kid—see you in church,” he said nonchalantly, turning back to the other car. Shorty’s eyes flashed to the rear vision mirror. Had Ginger or the other two seen Haddon slip him the rod? It was Coleman’s rule that drivers of get-away cars must not be armed. Thus, if they started any treachery, they’d be at the mercy of the other gunmen. Seemingly Haddon’s sleight-of-hand had gone unnoticed. Dutch Schmaltz, who had been standing at the right of the car, slipped in beside Shorty. He inspected his automatic, lighted a cigarette and wriggled to a comfortable position. “All right—let’s go,” Ginger said in a moment. “Follow Chopper half a block behind, When we pick up the other car on Eleventh Avenue slide back a little further; don’t want it to look like a parade.” The garage doors swung open on oiled hinges. In another moment they closed behind the two dark cars. The side curtains were up on both, but a touch on the bottom buttons would open them for the death-spewing choppers. Otherwise there was nothing to distinguish them from the other motor-cars of the night. Shorty kept a watchful eye on the red tail light of the Buick. He speeded up when the other driver found a hole in traffic; slowed when the lights caused a temporary jam. On Eleventh Avenue, where traffic was light in the early morning hours, a dark shape curved out of an intersecting street, buzzed up alongside the Buick, then dropped into line. It was the raiders’ car. Shorty slowed down to give it room behind the lead car. “All set now,” Ginger barked. “Remember, when we get to the warehouse, you pull east and stop about fifty feet past where Sid turns and heads west. Let the engine run and be ready for a quick lam.” “Gotcha!” Shorty grunted. “Second corner, ain’t it?” “Yeh. What th’ hell’s that ahead of us?” At the curb ahead the lights had picked up an unlighted black shape. As Ginger spoke he saw the twinkle of a flashlight and lifted the grinder from the floor. Shorty gave the engine more gas, swung so that his lights also lit up the scene. By the curb stood an ancient Model T Ford, seemingly broken down. The hood was up and an elderly man, overall clad, was looking on as a youth tinkered with the engine. “Breakdown,” Shorty called over his shoulder. “ ‘Sall right.” “It is—like hell,” Ginger growled “It’s punks and old apple knockers like that who’ll remember seein’ three cars come along and turn the corner.” Grumbling, he glared back through the rear window. Shorty swung his car on the trail of the other two. He cut his lights as he saw the first car turn west. The second was backing into the loading area. Fifty feet farther on he drifted to a silent stop, jazzed his engine to blow out the last vestige of carbon, then let it purr sweetly while they waited. In the rear vision mirror he could see the outlines of the Buick at the opposite curb behind them. He grunted as he reached for a cigarette and remembered the orders were: “No smoking.” As he sat there in the darkness, he felt his nerve tauten as he visioned dark forms creeping through the warehouse, stalking the watchmen, ready to hijack the trunkful of cocaine and hyoscine Snuffles Thornton had stored there three days previously. Wriggling about as though he tried to see farther up the street behind him, Shorty succeeded in getting the automatic under his coat and thence to the holster under his armpit. Ten minutes passed, fifteen, twenty. Still there was no sound from the warehouse, no movement in the street. “Looks like a pipe,” Ginger whispered. “They’ve got the watchman by now, an’ if there’s any dingdongs, they’ve beat ‘em. Pink Tiernan’s the best man in the world on alarm systems.” Another five minutes dragged by. Suddenly three bird notes sounded shrilly. It was the “Get Ready” signal—a special whistle carried only by lieutenants in charge of a job. It meant that the raid had succeeded, that the others were coming out. In a minute or so the trunk would be tossed into the rear of the raiding car. In thirty minutes it would all be over. “Hold ‘er, Shorty,” Ginger warned raspingly. “See which way they turn. Only one man knows. That’s Bull’s system.” With the last word every man in the car stiffened to attention. From somewhere in the distance came the muffled tac-tac-tac of a machine gun—a sustained burst which ended as suddenly as it had begun. “W’at th’ hell?” Ginger growled. Shorty unlatched the door and looked back up the street. When he resumed his seat he saw to it that the latch did not catch. “Sounded like a grinder to me,” he said. “Long ways off, though.” He let his eyes probe the darkness ahead. There were shadows, he thought, shadows in the heart of shadows out there; flitting forms, or did his eyes play him tricks? He turned his head, spoke over his shoulder to the others. “Prob’ly somebody else turnin’ a trick,” he said. “This’ll be a damn good part of town to get away from quick.” Ginger grunted assent, moved uneasily. A shot crashed somewhere near at hand. Then it seemed that the whole world went mad. Orange and blue streamers of flame sprang out of the night everywhere. Ginger howled curses, thrust his weapon out through the curtains. “Now or never,” Shorty whispered to himself. He gathered his body into a compact ball, slid the door open another inch; fell against it and to the ground. As he struck, instead of leaping to his feet, he rolled under the body of the car, lay there quiet. Fifty-feet distant Sid Haddon was executing a similar maneuver, warned by the crash of the first shots. Now the two cars were driverless, helpless until one or another of the rodmen took the wheel. Heavy feet scraped the pavement in the darkness nearer and nearer at hand. From doorways service guns were belching streams of death. Ginger, still howling curses, shifted his grinder to the left door, sprayed the shadows with red-hot bursts of fire. Somewhere in the darkness a moan told of a stricken man’s agony. A pistol fell to the pavement, followed by the thud of a falling body. Over the staccato barking of the rods and the deeper growl of the Tommy guns, grew a new sound. Motors were dashing up from every hand. It was but the second minute of the attack but already scores of blue-clad cops were out of hiding, converging to add their share to the death din. Bullets were thudding now into the body of the car above Shorty. Something wet flowed along and soaked his coatsleeve as he lay hugging the pavement. A strong odor assailed his senses. Gasoline! A cop’s bullet had punctured the gas tank. Shorty dragged himself a bit to one side. It wouldn’t do to soak up a lot of that stuff and then get in the way of a pistol flash. The body of the car above him swayed and groaned. Someone put his weight on the running board, dragged something from the tonneau, pattered across the sidewalk. A moment later Ginger’s chopper began chattering from a recessed doorway where he had taken up his position. The value of his strategy was proved instantly. Entrenched as he was, he could hose death at the compact group of police across the street. Wounded men shouted, fell. The group melted, tried to re-form; melted again. Viciously Ginger swept the muzzle of the chopper right and left. Bullets from service guns slithered off the brick walls of the entryway, ricocheted. Ginger stopped only to change clips, then resumed his firing. “Dammit—get that guy!” The command was bellowed from somewhere near at hand. Shorty swung crosswise under the car, lifted the muzzle of his rod; tried to peer back of the spitting flashes to get a bead on Ginger. It was no use. Another agonized shriek came from the ranks of the attackers. Shorty loosed two shots from his rod at a point beside the spitting muzzle of the chopper. His answer was a burst of slugs which spun from the pavement near his head. Ginger was not to be caught that way. Shorty raised his hand to rub his dust-filled eyes. The odor of gas was strong again. That was the way! He lay for a moment, trying to think clearly. Yes, he could do it—provided the cops did not kill him the first second or two after he had acted. Rolling out from under the car he came to hands and knees. Overhead was the sound of the passage of swarms of giant bees. The smashing impact of slugs against the car’s riddled sides was nearly deafening. The roll of pistol fire was thunderous. Shorty snapped his gat back into its holster. His right hand felt for and brought out his pocket lighter. Holding it within his cap, he spun the wheel. The first spark failed—and the second. Then the wick caught. Deftly he skidded the metal box across the pavement, then dropped flat, rolling rapidly toward the opposite curb. Almost there he collided with someone’s legs. A great weight descended on him; throttling hands caught at his throat. “Springer—headquarters!” he gasped. The hands still held for a split second. The flame from the lighter snatched at a drop of gasoline. Instantly the opposite curb for a distance of twenty feet burst into flames which eddied and danced, making the scene light as day. Whoever was holding Shorty loosed his grasp. A tongue of fire ran along the pool, under the tank, leaped up and enveloped the container. The force of the outpouring liquid was too great as yet to permit the fire to enter. With the lift of the blaze an exultant shout rang out. “There he is—that doorway! Get him, men!” Shorty stared across the way. Ginger and his chopper were outlined as on a motion picture screen. For a second he squatted there, staring dully at the blaze. Police guns barked. Ginger instantly fell prone, sending his stream of death back full in the faces of the attackers. It was a moment of intense drama. Outnumbered, knowing that he could not escape—that the infuriated police would stop shooting only when he was dead, Ginger lay there coolly, firing methodically into the shadowy groups across the street. The car’s body was burning now. Flames burst from underneath the hood and chassis, climbed up the sides, caught at curtains and top. One of the rodmen, badly wounded, pitched out through the flaming curtains, his clothes smoking. Police guns rattled. Dust spots billowed from his clothing in a score of places. He twitched, died. As the curtains burned away, another huddled form could be seen in the tonneau. Death had been merciful to one gunman. Ginger was still in action, but he was firing jerkily now. A passing gust of breeze made the light lift, grow stronger. It showed a hate-twisted, bloody mask, little resembling a human face. A dozen police pistols crashed simultaneously. No one possibly could live through that storm of lead. Expectantly the cops held their fire. There was a moment’s pause, then an unbelievable burst of shots from the doorway. “Tac-tac-tac-tac-tac!” Twenty-five, thirty times the grim chopper sang its song of menace. Silence at last. The police guns roared again. One man, braver than the rest, charged into the doorway, firing as he ran. In a moment he was out, waving his hands excitedly. Others rushed to him. “He’s dead!” they shouted after a moment. “Croaked with his finger on the trigger.” They dragged the body into the light, marveled that one so torn and mutilated could have the spirit to continue fighting. “All right, men.” It was a captain calling. “That mops up this bunch. The others are inside yet. We’ve got ‘em from above and from all sides. Get in there. Don’t let one get away.” Shorty turned dazedly, walked a few steps toward the Buick. He realized now that the firing there had stopped long before. In the darkness he collided with someone in civilian clothes. “You, kid?” the other asked. “Haddon!” There was joy in the tone. “You got through all right, too!” “Yeh—just a few scratches. Better duck now. You know the orders—under cover with cops as well as civilians. They’ll mop up this mess, and anyway I want to be in on the raid on Bull.” Together the two Secret Police melted into the darkness, caught a nighthawk cab and speeded back to the vicinity of Finnegan’s. “I had to tell a flattie I was from headquarters after I’d touched off the gas,” Shorty said after awhile, “but he didn’t get a good look at me. Everything’s jake.” “Nice party,” Haddon said reflectively. “Wonder what the real Shorty’d have done in your place!” “That fuzz-tail!” Springer’s voice was hard. “He’d be dead back there with the rest of ‘em. Wonder why McGrehan wanted to save him?” “Damfino! Hell with that. If you want something to fret about, figure what the newspapers are goin’ to say about half the department layin’ for a bunch of thugs and knockin’ ‘em off. Them and the reformers. Hooey!” “I can see ‘em now,” Springer answered. “And I’m damn glad I’m on the Secret Police instead of the regulars.” The taxi rounded the last corner, skidded to a stop. Uniformed police blocked the way. “Broadway or Tenth,” they chanted monotonously. “Don’t turn up Seventh or Ninth.” The trap was being sprung at Finnegan’s then, according to plan. Haddon and Springer, ex-Shorty, dropped out and paid the driver. For two blocks the avenue was free of moving traffic. At the corner nearest the hangout stood several armored motorcycles, police prowl cars, and two of the big armored trucks used by the riot squad. One of the flatties came over to them. “What’re youse guys hangin’ ‘round here for?” he demanded truculently. “Sixty-six,” Haddon replied, giving the code word which in the department on that particular night meant “on special duty.” The word changed nightly. Only men within the department could know it. It was whispered to each relief on leaving the station. “Oh, yeh?” the policeman said. “Well, youse guys better crawl intuh th’ ol’ tin vests if youse’re gonna stick aroun’ here. Know what’s doin’?” He leered at them craftily, with the curiosity of the harness bull as to what the plainclothes men were doing. “No, handsome; what is it?” Haddon’s reply was like a slap in the face. “Ahrrr, nuts!” the cop replied. “Kiddin’ somebody, aintcha?” Turning, the two scurried along the darkened store fronts. A rhythmic pounding, somewhere ahead, came to their ears. “Smashing down Bull’s steel door in the middle of the stairway,” Haddon said. “That’s a tough spot,” Springer replied. “Be plenty hell when they finally get through.” His words were prophetic. Guns were in action now, their spatting sound curiously muffled by the building’s walls. From higher up came a crashing, rending sound. The roof detail was smashing a way through to the upper floor. Across the street someone opened a window on a fire escape. Two cops with a machine gun stepped out onto the landing, trained the weapon on the windows opposite. The armored motorcycles made a crescent before the open doorway. Each carried a passenger in its protected tub; each passenger carried a Tommy gun. The men in the saddles crouched forward behind their shields, automatics ready for business. The shooting, which had died down after the first few shots, crashed forth again. A policeman, his right arm dangling loosely, blood dripping in a stream from his fingers, staggered from the doorway. “They’re givin’ us hell in there,” he said through set lips. “Door’s down but they’re hosin’ the stairs with a rapid fire from back of a steel shield set on the second flight. Never get ‘em this way.” Springer turned on Haddon, jerked his head. Haddon nodded. “Try it, anyway,” he said. They raced toward the front of the place but were stopped by a captain. “Sixty-six,” Springer whispered. “My friend thinks he knows a way in through Finnegan’s. There’s a half balcony there and a doorway that’s been boarded up. We’ll signal through the window.” “Good! The other way’s suicide. See what you can do, boys.” In the rear of the hallway, under the old-fashioned stairway, was a descending stairway leading to the Finnegan half of the basement. Haddon clicked on a pencil flashlight; inspected the lock. Springer flicked out a bunch of skeleton keys, turned the lock with the second. In a moment they stood in the cellarway. A heavy partition divided the two halves of the basement from left to right. Along this stood a table where peelers prepared the vegetables. At the left, at the wall, was a narrow stair—hardly more than a ladder. Springer led, tried the door at the top. It was held by a bolt on the other side. “Hold my feet so I don’t slip,” he said. Swinging as far back as he dared, he launched his wiry shoulder against the barrier. It creaked but did not give. A second thrust splintered a panel. Three or four driving blows with his palm made a hole big enough to admit his arm. The bolt clicked back. They were in the café now. Outside the Captain stood shading his eyes, peering into the window. Springer seized a bill of fare, wrote on it; ran lightly to the front. “hallway. through cellar and back up here,” the Captain read by beam of his hand torch. He nodded, ran to the doorway, beckoning others to follow. Springer looked about. Haddon was at his side. “Boost,” he demanded. “Right, kid,” the big fellow said, catching the smaller man by the cloth at his hips; boosting him straight up as one might raise a chair. Springer’s hands caught the cross-piece; pulled him up. “Go up the stairs,” he whispered. “Feel along the wall from the stair head toward me. I’ll work back. There’s a boarded up door somewhere.” They met, but without result. “It’s farther back,” Haddon said. “I remember now.” It was almost at the back corner. They ripped away the light deal casing. “This won’t get us anywhere,” Haddon whispered. “They’re still on the floor above us.” “Old building,” Springer grunted. “I’m gambling the stairs are built all the way up on a scaffolding. You know the old system. Four-by-fours, with two-by-four supports; like a grandstand. Get under there—shoot hell out of the choppers from underneath.” “Sure’s hell something there, or there’d be no door,” Haddon replied. “Cripes, listen to those flatties stumble up the stairs!” Springer said. “Good thing everybody’s shooting.” He flashed his torch to outline the way to the stairs. Three men accompanied the captain. One carried a chopper. The other had a sawed-off shotgun and a net of tear bombs. The third attacked the door slit with a jimmy. The old wood gave readily. Back of it, as Springer had surmised, was a dark passage which led toward the rear of the building under the stair supports. One of the flatties produced a long-beam flashlight, disclosing twenty feet back, the outlines of the second floor landing. “I’m going up,” Springer said quietly. “When I find which step they’re on we can shoot ‘em loose in two seconds.” He dropped his coat, set the pencil flash upright in his vest pocket; shinned up to the first cross support. From there he swung like a monkey, up and back to a point a score of feet above the others’ heads. Their flashes revealed him as he balanced on a two-by-four, clinging with knees and one hand. With the other he felt of the risers and treads until vibration told him where the gunmen rested for their shooting down the stairway. Still clinging precariously, he took out his flash and counted the stairs. It was the seventh. A moment later he dropped to the floor, dripping with sweat, his palms bleeding from a score of sliver wounds. “The seventh stair,” he said, “but there’s no use shooting them out of there until the cops are set for a rush. Get word out to be ready.” “That’s the dope,” the Captain replied. “I’ll send word for the boys to be ready. Here, Wilkins, get out and tell ‘em what we’re doing. When they’re ready to rush, wig wag me with a light and when you hear my whistle, you other boys blow them rats to hell outta there.” The police machine gunner took up his place back in the darkness, found a rest; set his weapon with the rays of a flash so he could spray his death hail through the rotting wood of the stairway. It was stifling in the narrow passage. The minutes dragged terribly. At intervals firing was resumed in the stairway. Also there was firing at some distant point; probably the roof crew fighting their way downward. Below, in the rear, were other smashing sounds as the basement was occupied. Haddon, his nerves ragged from waiting, started toward the balcony. Before he had taken three steps, a shrill note cut through the medley of other noises. Springer and the harness cop threw their flashes upward. The gunner’s finger compressed on the trip and the Tommy-gun began its death chatter. Its barking roar smashed on their ears like the turmoil of a boiler shop. Orange flames spurted in a continuous stream from its blunt muzzle. The tread of the seventh stair seemed to lift under its smashing blows. Men bellowed in agony and a heavy object clattered downward. The stairway creaked. The tread flew apart; became a mass of splinters. Springer touched the flattie’s shoulder; mentioned for him to sweep the remaining six steps to blot out any lurking thugs. He obeyed. Other yells of pain or anger burst out in answer. He hosed every nook and corner where a gunman might be hiding. “Hold it!” Springer barked the word. Heavy footed men were pounding up the stairway from the ground floor. It wouldn’t do to shoot down any of the attackers. The cops had gained the hallway now, but were being fired on from within the gang’s assembly room. From farther back came the chatter of guns as well. “Bull’s holed up in the office,” Haddon muttered. “He’s cornered, but it’ll take a hell of a lot of lead to get him out. He’s shooting from behind the big safe; that’s a bet.” Springer shrugged. “Let’s get going,” he said. They slipped back through the café and cellar, into the hallway. The heavy fumes of cordite made it almost impossible to breathe. The stairs were heavy, slippery with broken plaster, pools of blood. At the top the cops stood massed out of range of the death hail from inside. As they watched, Springer and Haddon saw three men raise the steel shield from behind which the defenders had held the stairway. Others fell in behind it, pushed it through the open doorway of the clubroom. The others thrust forward. Springer nudged Haddon, pointing. Three dead men lay at the foot of the second flight of stairs. Another sprawled grotesquely over the splintered tread. “Must have got them with the first burst,” he said. “Wonder if we can drive Bull out the same way?” “Nope. Safe’s on a steel plate about seven by four feet. It stands across the corner. Anyone behind it, with the doors open might as well be shooting from a battleship.” “I’ve got it through the wall.” Springer rushed back along the stairway, returned in a moment, cursing. “Hall only goes part way back; they’ve built a partition there,” he said. “Above then,” it was Haddon’s turn now. “There’s some way for us to get at that rat.” They ran up the stairs, shoving the body of the dead gangster aside as they went. Springer leaped to the door at the head of the stairs, opened it, slammed it again—dragged Haddon down flat on the floor. Lead smashed in a stream through the panels at the height of a man’s chest. More of the defenders were in there, holding back the crew attacking from the roof. A battered broom stood in one corner. Springer tiptoed over to it, tore loose the cord of a droplight and wound it about the handle, leaving one end free. “We’ll pen ‘em in there,” he said. “Door opens inward. When it comes time for them to smash us from the rear, they can’t get out.” Silently he slipped to the door-casing, laid the broom across horizontally, motioned for Haddon to hold it level. He wound the wire several times about the doorknob, then about the broom, tied a granny-knot. Purposely he jiggled the handle. More slugs crashed through, then someone tried to pull the door open from the inside. It held. “That’ll keep ‘em off our backs. Come on,” Springer barked. They ran to the rear of the hallway. The attic scuttle stood open. Back in the shadows he could make out the outlines of a face. “Up with them—I’ve got you covered,” a voice commanded. “Sixty-six,” Springer replied. “Drop a couple of men down here into the hallway to help smash into them from the rear. I’ve got the door barred from this side.” “How’ll that help,” the other demanded suspiciously. “Easy. They figure they can hold us off, while Bull stands your fellows off from back of the safe in his office. We’ve got to smash this bunch and then get Bull through the floor from above.” Long, blue clad legs appeared in the opening. The cop swung for a moment by his hands, fell to his knees. Another followed with drawn gun. “All right, Bob,” the first said. “Headquarters, special service men with the password.” “Get a grinder,” Springer interrupted. “We’ll never get anywhere with hand guns.” The second cop was still suspicious. “Say,” he demanded. “Who in hell are you anyhow, young fellow? You look a helluva lot to me like a punk that hangs ‘round with this gang.” “Yeh!” Springer snapped. “And if it means anything to you, I look a lot like my father too. Come on! Get busy. Introductions can wait.” Still surly, the copper went back and called to someone above through the scuttle. In a moment a third policeman swung down, holding by one hand while he passed over a Tommy gun. “How many in there?” Haddon asked. The policeman rubbed his nose reflectively. “Half a dozen anyway. We got into the attic all right, but they pumped so many holes around our feet that we couldn’t break through. Four of our boys are up there, shot up. They burned the hell out of us every time we started.” “What’s the layout?” “Two big rooms with a door in the center of the partition. Two rooms on this floor, three in the same space on Bull’s floor.” Springer pointed to the door with its broom-and-wire lashing. “By now they’ve found its barricaded,” he said. “That gives us a chance to surprise ‘em. Put the guy with the grinder on the stairs, with just the tip of the gun showing over the landing. You others plant back in the dark and knock over the ones he don’t get. I’ll loosen the bar and kick the door open.” The firing within was intermittent. It seemed that the gangsters were satisfied with a stalemate; glad to hold the raiders from the roof on the attic floor. Springer’s hands were working now at the wire lashing. Silently he released the broom but retained his hold on the doorknob. Flattening himself against the wall he waited for another burst of firing. When it came he nodded to the others, turned the knob and sent the door sweeping back against the inner wall. Someone inside loosed a scattering spray of shots from an automatic through the opening. The copper on the stairs withheld his fire for a second, while the others, waiting for his first burst, stood silent. Springer looked over his shoulder and unconsciously flinched aside from the doorway as the Tommy-gun went into action. He could feel the death-draught of the flying lead. A medley of cries came from within. A bullet or two buzzed through the opening, smashed harmlessly into the plastering. Haddon and his two supporting cops leaped forward, but Springer was first into the room. Four men were prone on the floor. A fifth, his legs shot from under him, was trying to crawl into the second room. Springer’s gun belched twice. The crawling gunny squirmed; lay still. Feet were thudding on the floor inside as the cops dropped from the low attic opening. Springer turned and ordered the man with the Tommy-gun to keep on firing erratic bursts so Bull and his group could not know that the cops finally had occupied the floor above him. “Give me a jimmy,” he gritted. “I want to tear up the floor in this corner.” He cast his eyes about the two rooms. Roughly they approximated the three of the gang headquarters below. Therefore the southeast corner would be directly above the spot where Bull was holding out against his attackers. One of the cops disappeared; returned almost immediately with a jimmy big enough to wreck the City Hall. Springer snatched at it hungrily; turned to the corner baseboard. His agile shoulders twisted. The baseboard came loose. Another wrench. The inside flooring board flipped back in splinters. Another. Another. Haddon slipped to his knees beside Springer. “Easy does it,” he warned. “You’re tipping your mitt. Can’t you hear? They’ve stopped shooting downstairs.” Springer stared at him, wiped the sweat from his forehead. “Who the hell cares?” he snarled. “I’m going to get Bull.” “Be smart,” Haddon said and caught at his wrist. “Don’t be a sap. We’ve got all night—but we’ve got to put this thing over or the Commish is sunk.” Springer nodded in understanding. He slipped the jimmy under the next board and levered it up carefully. It ripped loose at one end. Haddon slipped his fingers beneath the edge and wrenched quietly. Another board gave. Springer arose, wiped the sweat from his eyes. “Enough?” he said, indicating the opening. Haddon shook his head. “More,” he said. “At least three feet. Safe stands across the corner, you know.” Springer loosened two more boards, then a third. Haddon levered them out, keeping the nails from creaking. Then the firing started up again on the floor below, Springer motioned to the copper with the Tommy. “Lie down,” he directed. “Listen carefully and see if you can tell from the sound just about where he’s standing.” The cop complied, laid there a matter of moments, then arose, grinning. “Bet I knock a hole in his skull first thing,” he boasted. “Then get at it,” Springer snapped, passing the gun to the man’s waiting hands. “There’s a big safe across the corner that he’s using for a shield. Sponge out every inch behind it.” The cop up-ended the weapon, stopped to kick loose a sliver of board from a cross beam. He grinned over his shoulders at the others. “Watch this,” he said. He brought the trigger back; drew a jagged line of holes straight from the corner back almost to his feet. The slugs tore through the plastering as a knife cuts whey. He moved the muzzle patiently from left to right and back again, probing into every possible corner. Suddenly there was a dull crash followed by a white dust cloud. A square yard of the ceiling had fallen. Several slugs from automatics buzzed through the opening and crashed into the attic flooring but Haddon, unmindful, leaned forward to peer down. Springer shouldered him aside roughly. The top of the safe was heaped with fallen plaster, as was the floor beside it. Two huddled forms were slumped against the wall. Springer detected sudden movement and dragged Haddon back as one of the two fallen men jerked half erect and emptied a clip from his rod at the faces above him. Feet dashed across the floor below. Rods spoke their death word and the gangster, riddled anew, pitched forward; lay there quietly. “Come on—it’s the finish.” Springer snatched at Haddon’s arm and raced to the stairhead. In the club-rooms below they came upon a scene none of the living participants forgot for days. Five wounded or dead police lay in a corner where they had been dragged by their comrades out of the line of Bull’s murderous fire. The door and partition between the two rooms were splintered wrecks. The steel shield, used first by the defenders and then by the attackers, lay overturned near the doorway. Hardly an inch of its surface had escaped a scoring by flying lead and steel. Back of it lay one of the police, one side of his face shot away by a long burst of fire. Within the inner room the walls and furnishings had been torn to fragments by the hail of bullets. Bull had left open the big doors of the safe as an added protection against police guns. The drawers and pigeonholes were wrecked, their contents smashed and torn until they were mere heaps of waste paper and rubbish. Three dead gangsters lay in a corner back of a heavy oak table which they had up-ended to use as a shield. Another lay beside the safe, at the left. A policeman caught at a pair of feet protruding from behind the safe and dragged out a wounded man. His head was smashed, but he still breathed—horribly, bubblingly. Springer wriggled through the press and caught Bull’s inert form by the collar. The gang leader was badly slashed about the head, either by grazing bullets or falling plaster. Blood gushed, fountain-like, from a wound in his left shoulder. One wrist was smashed. The hand hung, grotesquely, like a wet glove. The movement roused the gangster to consciousness. He gazed, dazedly at first, at Springer. For a moment hope leaped into his eyes. Then he saw the police uniforms and realization came to him. Hate distorted his blood smeared features; his hand clawed at his trousers band for the spare rod he carried there. “You damned, stinking, lousy rat!” he whispered. “Turned stoolie—gave me up to the bulls, damn you! I’m goin’ out—but I’m takin’ you with me.” Bull’s great body surged forward, his right hand clutching at Springer’s throat. Then, forgetful of his wounds, he tried to put his weight on the smashed wrist. The bones grated against the floor; sent him crashing back onto his face. The others were gathering up the injured policemen, only Haddon standing by. Springer jerked Bull erect into a sitting posture again. The gangster’s eyes shifted to Haddon’s face. “Another—rat!” he whispered. “Stool! Snitch! And I—I was warned. You—Shorty—lice, both of you!” Springer leaned forward until his face was within inches of that of Bull. Hatred blazed in his eyes. “No, not Shorty, Bull,” he snarled. “His double. Eddie Springer, son of one of the cops you and your rods knocked off two weeks ago. Take that down to hell with you—and see how it tastes for a kid to make things square for his old man.” Bull’s eyes widened in utter unbelief. “Liar!” he mumbled. “You’re Shorty—and a stool.” He sagged back hopelessly. Springer shook him viciously. “Your mob’s gone,” he gritted. “Every one at the warehouse, everybody here. They’re all finished—like you’ll be in a minute.” Bull sighed. Suddenly his body went limp. The Bull Coleman gang was wiped from the roll of “men wanted for major crime.” V Shorty’s Awakening Daylight! Shorty Breen awoke, shivering in his underclothing in the silent cell. Slowly his mind grasped his predicament. He was A.W.O.L. with Bull. That meant he’d have to duck the town or take a one-way ride with some of his former pals. Damn old McGrehan! Just like a thick-headed cop to get a fellow into a jam like this. Feet resounded eerily down the corridor. Shorty strained his ears to hear. Then he leaped upright, gibbering with fear. His senses told him that he was sitting erect on the hard board in the cell, yet there he stood outside the locked door, dressed in his everyday suit, peering in through the bars at himself! For the first time in years, Shorty made the sign of the cross. The figure outside stood leering at him, wordlessly. Shorty tried to mouth a question—ended with a shrill scream. The words would not form in his mouth. His throat was a frozen waste. With the sound the other Shorty moved soundlessly aside, disappeared. Long minutes passed. Never ending minutes. Once Shorty thought he heard whispering in the distance. The boy fought to still the trembling which shook his every nerve and muscle. He lay back, eyeing the steel grating above him. It was a trick, a dream; something they were doing to crack his nerve. Well, damn them, he’d fool them. Then, while he promised himself they wouldn’t frighten him again, there was a loud click. He snapped erect, gazing in wide-eyed horror; burst into a shrill torrent of screams. The other Shorty—his counterpart—was back, unlocking the door—coming in after him. He covered his eyes with his arms, cowered back against the cold steel wall of the cell. The other was inside now; probably come to take him down into hell. A heavy hand clutched his shoulder, dragged him up, and out, and into the corridor. It was more than even gangster flesh and blood could stand. Convulsively, squirming like an eel, Shorty broke the hold, ran down the corridor at a shambling pace, rounded the cell block—smashed full into the burly form of Captain McGrehan. Clyde Breen, ex-speedball and gangster, burst into tears. He forced himself to look into the eyes of the double who now stood at his side. His face was bloody, his hands gory and torn. “Get goin’; the Commissioner’s waitin’.” Captain McGrehan was speaking for the first time. “Here he is, Mr. Commissioner,” said McGrehan, thrusting the half clad Shorty opposite the official. For a long moment the Commissioner stared appraisingly into Shorty’s eyes. Finally he spoke. “Of all the Coleman gang, Breen, you only are alive today.” Shorty stared at him, unbelievingly. The toneless voice continued: “We trapped them in the warehouse raid, surrounded Bull and the others over Finnegan’s in the hangout; killed every one of them. Captain McGrehan saved you—for your mother’s sake.” “Why? How?” The words were whispered. Shorty’s world had come tumbling about his ears. “Why did we clean them out?” The Commissioner’s tone was savage. “Well, you know why. You drove the chopper car on the raid on The Yid’s trucks. That night two policemen were killed. One of them was the father of Springer here—this boy who wore your clothes, pretended to be you tonight—and drove one of the cars to the warehouse.” Shorty turned and stared wonderingly at Springer. Within his mind he said one word. It was “Guts!” The Commissioner’s dead voice continued tonelessly. “Better men than you’ll ever be, died tonight, Breen. They’ll lie and mold in their graves while you go on living, breathing, maybe loving. “Captain McGrehan convinced me we should save you for two reasons. The first is to keep your mother’s heart from breaking. The other is that you’re going to sit down now and tell a stenographer about everything you know that the Coleman gang did in a criminal way, including the death of the two policemen. You hear me?” “I hope he says ‘no,’ Mr. Commissioner. I want a chance to slap him down until he’s only two feet high.” Captain McGrehan, fists clenched, was advancing from the doorway. “Get square, kid; start all over again—we’ll all help.” It was Springer who drove the clinching nail. “I’ll do it,” he said. Shorty saw the Commissioner but once more. That was the day when Mom and Captain McGrehan went before the good Father O’Grady and rectified the mistakes of their younger years. The Commissioner was best man. Shorty gave the bride away. At the end of the ceremony, the Commissioner said good-bye to Shorty last of all. “Keep your head up, boy,” he said earnestly. “You’ll make it all right.” “An’ damn well you know it,” his new father growled. “He’s ji’nin’ th’ Navy tomorruh.” “Uh—uh—why, sure!” Shorty replied. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyIf you look at the statistics, Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time. Her books have sold  billions of copies, and some of the movie-versions have won academy awards. That Christie was a genius, I think is undisputed. The numbers speak for themselves. But I think the nature of her genius has been misrepresented. If you look at her characters, they are not very original. Some say: “Well you cannot show me the exact source in which Christie says that she was inspired by others?” But that is besides the point. Even if she was not, the characters are still not original. In 1920, Christie published The Mysterious Affair at Styles, her first novel and her first Poirot story. Poirot was a Belgian first world war refugee detective with a Watson-like side-kick, Captain Hastings. In 1910, however, a major writer at the time, A.E.W. Mason(1865-1948), a man whom everybody knew, published the novel At the Villa Rose, a novel featuring the French immigrant detective, Inspector Hannaud. There are huge similarties between the two, but also some differences. In addition to this, another famous female writer at the time, Marie Belloc Lowndes (1868 – 1947), created the detective inspector Popeau and Frank Howell Evans(1867–1931), a minor Welsh writer, created Monsieur Jules Poiret (yes, you read correctly). All of these detectives were french speaking refugee detectives, some even with similar names as Poirot. Let us now move on to Miss Marple, Agatha Christie’s second iconic character. In the US they have a now forgotten crime fiction queen, Anna Katharine Green (1846-1935). In 1878, a decade before Christie was born, she published the novel The Leavenworth Case in which she introduced her spinster detective Miss Amelia Butterworth. She was then featured in several novels and stories, and Green was a best-selling writer in her own day, writing 40 novels and many short stories (only few with Amelia Butterworth) Like Christie she was a great plotter. In some ways, Miss Marple is Amelia Butterworth solving Chestertonian crime puzzles in a rural idyll.  I could mention similar precursors to Tommy & Tuppence. But why is Agatha Christie then not exposed as a plagiarist? It is because her talent is undisputed, and lay elsewhere. She composed stories brilliantly. And it is actually the composition of the stories that make them so great. Her characters were sometimes a little flat. It is the puzzle and the way it is presented throughout the narrative that captivates the reader, not her analyses of motives. The motives for crimes are in fact bizarre sometimes, even contrived. Psychological complexity was almost sacrificed at the alter of these other elements. When you read an Agatha Christie crime story, you are rarely left with any feelings of disillusionment or misgivings about the world. Even if it is a piece of crime fiction. So, can any writer who just took elements from his or her contemporary age and molded them into best-selling dramas be a genius? Yes. Just look at the other name at the top of the list of the best-selling writers of all time: William Shakespeare. In fact, almost every writer does this to some extent. by Michael Henrik Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short storyAn anonymous translation of the story “Le Hanneton” by J.-H. Rosny. The original was published in La Revue De Paris Et De Saint-Petersbourg, and this translation appeared in The Omaha Daily Bee, 30. September 1888. burst of shrill laughter rang through the court-yard. A girl’s face looked from the barred window of a cell. It was beautiful face – set in a glory of golden hair- the parted lips were like the petals of a young rose! But the laughter was the wild, terrible laughter of the mad. “I have it?’ she screamed, exultantly. “What?” asked the keeper. The keeper was made of gross material. He had a loose skin, full of large, dirty pores like an old sponge – a thick, brutal nose, pierced by narrow nostrils and a wide mouth – red-lipped and cruel. His eyes were small, hard, brilliant and singularly opaque. They looked like little bits of blue china. The girl’s eyes were blue also, but with the tender blue of turquoise, yet full of clear, liquid, changing lights like the sapphire. She was pale, delicate, exquisite! A beautiful casket bereft of its precious treasure – the mind. “What?” asked the keeper. “The May Bug!” Tho keeper grinned and winked his blue china eyes. He had heard before of this May Bug – a chimerical insect which troubled him little. He was not a bad man – taking him altogether – a trifle over-fond of turning the cold shower on the poor wretches intrusted to his tender care – not averse to using a stout leather strap in the interest and welfare of the more refractory – and he often exercised a little judicious economy at their expense, in setting before his family the bread intended for his patients. Not a nerve lodged amidst the bone and brawn of his gigantic body! The most frantic struggles of the maniacs filled him with amusement. The most furious ravings brought a smile to his great lips. Oh! He was very good-natured! He approached the window. “”Where is it?” he asked, curiously and idly. “It is here! here!’’ cried the girl, full of excitement. And she pointed to a hole in the wall of her cell. A hole in the wall! The excellent keeper was annoyed. He frowned blackly. He entered the cell and struck the woman on the face. “See that thou makest no more holes in the wall!” he said roughly. She trembled violently. Her eyes darted strange lights but she said nothing. She did not even cry out, although the blow was a cruel one. She only watched, with jealous, angry eyes, as the keeper thrust three fingers into the hole. There was no insect there. He stood ruminating a moment, after the manner of beasts. Presently he began slowly to scratch his head. The woman made a sudden movement toward him. “Give it to me!” she cried imperatively. “It is mine! I will have it! You shall not put it in your head! Give it to me! Give it to me!” “Hush, fool’ he said, and he raised his hand threateningly. She cowered away from him and crouching in the corner of the cell, began to cry bitterly, wiping her eyes, now and then on a strand of the long yellow hair that lay on her shoulders. As the keeper opened the door to go out a ray of sun light fell on his rough hair which curled thickly over his temples. The girl bounded suddenly after hin like a tiger. “Is it there!” she shrieked, shrilly. “Ah! the pretty thing! Do not crush it!” for the man raised his hand involuntarily to the spot she indicated with her outstretched fingers; then, recollecting himself, he turned on her fiercely, and advancing deliberately, as she retreated from him, until he had driven her again to her corner, he stood a moment quelling her with the cold power of his eyes. It was an instant’s silent struggle! The force of reason prevailed. She sank shuddering – conquered – -in the angle of the smooth stone wall. “Good!” he said, gruffly. “And no more of holes in the wall, Dost thou hear? I shall look tomorrow and see if the hole grows larger in the night. Tomorrow – aye! and again the next day and the next!” He thrust his ugly face down to hers. She shivered and shrank nearer the wall. “”Good!” he said again. His tone was fatherly. It was pleasant to him to see his power. Ah! they feared him -these poor, helpless, hopeless, miserable creatures. He left the cell, turning his face toward her as he closed the door. At last, trembling ray from the setting sun died on the matted hair above his left temple. A tremor shook the delicate body huddled in the corner. More than two hours passed, and still the girl crouched there. Her little white fingers worked nervously. Her eyes were never still. Her brow was drawn in deep, painful lines, as though the poor disordered brain beneath made some great physical effort to form thought. And so the darkness fell. With morning came the keeper. “Is there a hole in the wall?” He laughed maliciously. “Then we can have no bread to day,” and the excellent man passed on well satisfied. Had ho not inflicted punishment when punishment was due? And, moreover, his family lived on the bread which cost him nothing. June passed and July – long summer days when the sun lay in the court-yard and there was always a warm corner in cell No. 80, where the beautiful insane girl was kept. The keeper liked to go there and lounge in the afternoons. She was afraid of him, and he found her terror diverting. It pleased him to see her standing with downcast eyes sending out those strange gleams from under the deep-fringed lids – with heaving breast from which the breath labored heavily – with trembling fingers locked so tightly together that the little nails grew white with the cruel pressure. It was a tribute to his power. A more observant person might have seen something here to suspect – might have analyzed this fear and found in it a trace of danger – might have declared this attitude to be that of a person detected – or in fear of detection in wrong-doing. But the keeper, good man, was not one to analyze. He examined all the cells daily. It may be that his examination was sometimes clumsy. But why should he suspect this child? Or suspecting, why should he fear her? A slender, white-faced cowering thing who could only pick a hole in the wall to hunt for an imaginary May Bug! A poor, weak imbecile creature who shook at the sound of his voice! The keeper would have called your analyst a fool for his pains! There were times when the girl did not shrink from him, but, instead, greeted him with her charming, childish smile. Then, were he in a good humor, he would talk with her. Truly a strange duet, this, between the man without intellect and the woman without reason. An interesting study of chiaroscuro, where the ideal subtlety of the maniac stood out intensely against the brutish, unimaginative stolidity of the keeper. Often his rough voice, like the bellowing of a bull, frightened her, but she listened to him with her adorable smile, and only when he turned his eyes away did that strange expression leap into her, the greedy, jealous light burn in the eyes which, stealthily, she raised to the ragged clumps of hair which lay upon his temples. Once he surprised the glance. He laughed loudly, derisively. He had not altogether forgotten the May Bug. “Aha!” he laughed, “dost seek thy treasure? Oh! Oh! the fool! the idiot! the lunatic! Oh! I have it! Here” tapping his forehead suggestively, and blinking his blue, china eyes, “here: I keep it safely!” The girl made a sudden, uncontrollable movement as if she would spring upon him, and the strange look deepened in her eyes – the look of passionate desire now mingled with rage and hatred of the man who kept from her what she coveted. The keeper was enchanted at the success of his pleasantry. Still laughing, he rose, stretched his leg comfortably, and lounged over to the window. Outside the court lay flooded in the sunlight, a gray fowl minced across the flagging, pecking at the tufts of grass which forced themselves between the stones of the walk. The flowers in the square garden-plot in the center of the court gave up their sweetness languidly to the caress of tho warm air. The keeper gazed stolidly through the crating. His hard little eyes rested unblinkingly on a great metal ball on which the dazzling sunlight sported bravely. Softly she came – softly, lightly! With cheeks aflame with the strength of her desire! With gleaming sapphire eyes! With quivering nostrils and parted lips through which the breath fluttered tremulously! Softly she came, with her lithe young body swaying, and her little, trembling hands before her! In an instant her dainty fingers had twisted themselves in the man’s rough hair, jerked the great head backwards, and began a furious scratching in the grizzled mop over the left temple. The keeper flung himself around with an imprecation and sent the woman spinning against the wall. “Insolence!” he roared, rushing upon her. “Dost thou dare, indeed” In the name of Reason – of which thou knowst naught – take this – and this!”’ He struck her a crushing blow with his clenched fist. She smothered a cry and crouched, still with dangerous look in her eyes – crouched as if to spring at his great brutal throat. “Have a care!” he muttered, threateningly, rushing upon her again. Slowly her expression changed. The corners of her pretty mouth trembled. She put out one fist faintly. Then with more assurance, and moving gently forward, she looked up, shyly, into his scowling face as one who would implore forgiveness. It was the keeper. How ready she was to confess his power! How eager to sue his pardon! He was mollified. “There!” said he, “no more of thy stupid tricks, fool!” And he went away. The summer waned. No. 80 seemed dull and sober. She slept little, grew weak and thin, and, from out the pallor of her face, her great blue eyes shone unnaturally. She was silent for long hours at a time. She no longer talked of the lost May Bug. She looked like a student who seeks to solve great problems, and who loses his health and strength in long vigils. She left her bed at night and strange sounds were heard in her cell. “She sleeps too warm, perhaps,” said the keeper: “give her a cooling shower!” And this merry follow bade them hold her under the icy douche until she fell, chilled and exhausted, to the ground. This occurred twice. After that there were no more nocturnal disturbances. The keeper chuckled. “I know their tricks,” said he. The girl became very quiet and circumspect. She began to manifest interest in objects about her. She was strangely observant, and occupied herself for hours in examining the scanty appointment of her cell. Once the keeper fancied he saw her fumbling with the bars of her grated window. He went in and examined the place. She watched him with stealthy eyes. When he turned she spoke to him pleasantly. She was always gay with him now. The brave man never detected a false note in the clear, crystal tones of her laughter – his ear, like his eye, made no fine distinctions. After this episode, however, she was more prudent and gave no cause for suspicion. She was thoughtful – oh! very thoughtful at times preoccupied but patient, good-tempered and obedient. Soon she began to talk rationally, and answered all questions with sense and judgment. One day, in, the late fall, the keeper summoned the doctor. “If Monsieur the Doctor would call and see No. 80, who seems quite recovered?” Monsieur the Doctor called. But Monsieur the Doctor was, as it happened, an old and skillful practitioner, who for many years had studied every form of insanity under the light of his own interests. Monsieur the Doctor had no intention of speedily ridding the asylum of any patient who materially increased his income. “H’m:” said the doctor, “wait a while longer! It is best to be Prudent” “The girl is harmless?” “Perfectly so!” “She can be given a little liberty?” “Assuredly, yes! She is quite harmless!” and the worthy physician smiled and rubbed his hands softly together, and, thinking of the clear, quiet eyes which met his own so steadily, the cool hand which rested obediently in his, the girl’s normal, composed manner, repeated to himself, “Oh, certainly! Quite harmless!” It was after this that the keeper made himself easy. The examination of cell No. 80 was no longer considered necessary. No. 80 herself grow paler and ate but little. This could scarcely be said to distress the keeper, whose family profited thereby. Winter came, and from her grated window the poor young creature watched the year grow grey. A few withered leaves fluttered in through the casement and she treasured them – poor dead things! They were redolent of the free life beyond cruel bars. The swallows in the courtyard complained shrilly of hunger, and beneath the eaves they huddled, pluming themselves and giving piteous little cries. She would have liked to have fed them, but the family of the keeper could use even the crumbs, and, harshly, he forbade her to waste good bread. She was now very thin and her eyes were brilliant with fever – that consuming mental fever which burns in the eyes of all great toilers who fancy they see near them the desired end for which they have striven long and patiently. Now came the long winter nights, when the white moonlight lay on the floor of the cell. The girl hated the moon. It was a great Eye, she thought. Calm, impartial, all-seeing, why did it watch and watch, and wait and wait, the night through to see what she would do? And it was so cold – ah! so cold! And she turned her back to the window and crept to her bed, drawing the covers up over her head to shut out the hateful Eye. And at last it went away, and there were long dark hours when its silver face was hidden, and at last she could move stealthily about her cell at night, could go on, silently and swiftly, with the great work she had been planning, without feeling continually spying upon her the cold stare of this mysterious enemy. By this time she had won the entire confidence of the keeper. She was so patient and docile. Ah? more patient than this good man guessed, and more cautious, too, and more furtive! And; at last, it happened on a cold, black night when the heavens were overcast by threatening clouds, and all earth’s creatures sought shelter from the bitter touch of Winter’s hand, a light figure crept between the loosened bars of a cell window and dropped noiselessly to the ground. Swift and straight it took its way across the court, never swerving, never hesitating in spite of the impenetrable darkness; for in the slow elaboration of this mighty idea, all had been calculated – recalculated – with the triple patience which comes of madness, of solitude and of imprisonment. Veiled in the darkness, No. 80 took her silent way past the square garden-plot. She moved with the noiselessness and the certainty of a cat. She never stopped, but as she moved rapidly she lifted her face to the free night air as if she loved it and had longed for it. Her face was like a moon beam against the shadows of the night. Its peculiar pallor seemed to radiate a faint, unearthly light. Almost as if she wore conscious of this, she bent her head and quickly covered her face with her long hair. She passed on in the shadow of the asylum walls and paused before the keeper’s quarters. Here there was a small door. Well she knew it! Long and patiently had she waited to hear from some one through which door she must pass to accomplish her grand purpose. She stood hero listening for an instant, then thrust into the keyhole something she held tightly in her hand. There was a faint clicking sound – then a sharp squeak, which might have been made by a mouse, and a little rectangle of darkness opened before her. Silence! The clouds gathered thickly over the mournful walls of the asylum. A wild night-wind sobbed in the gaunt arms of the leafless trees in the court-yard. A single star trembled for an instant in the black mass of moving clouds and was gone. Suddenly a woman’s sharp cry smote the night air. It seemed to come from the keeper’s quarters, but one could scarcely tell whence it began, for it was instantly caught up by the startled creatures in the asylum and passed on from one to another with varying and terrible modulations of fear, of anger, of insensate joy! The night was soon hideous with their cries! The panic spread! From every cell came curses, shrieks, groans, wailings and sobbings: the sickening sound of human bodies beating against the invincible bars which held the captive; despairing cries mingled with snatches of obscene song. Tho sonorous voice of some frenzied orator delivering his theories; the heartbreaking prayers of maniacs begging to be delivered from imaginary tortures, all the horrors of the bestial scene, indescribable as it is awful, enacted in these living hells where men and women live the lives of caged brutes, forsaken by Reason, and, seemingly, by God. The doors opened, and the director of the asylum made his appearance among the keepers. His face was pale. This was unusually bad, he thought, even for the violent wards. Awakened from a deep sleep by the horrible uproar, he had feared a general riot among the patients. Suddenly a woman appeared at the end of the passage. She was in her night robe. She held a candle in her hand, and two children clung to her skirts. “Here! Monsieur the Director! Here! And oh! come quickly!” The director moved toward her. He recognized tho wife of the keeper, Desambre. Well?” he questioned briefly. The woman began a mournful litany, broken by fitful sobbing. Alas! She could hardly tell! She had been sleeping! There had been something – she knew not what! Her husband had bounded up in the bed, had given a heavy groan, had fallen back on his pillow! Then a dark thing had sprung from the bed right by her side, glided across the room down tho stairs, perhaps – who knows? She had been unable to rouse her good man! Would not Monsieur the Director come to him? Alas! Alas! And again – alas! Tho director followed the woman to a room in the keeper’s quarters. On the bed lay the body of the man Desambre. Tho face was hideous. The eyes squinted horribly. The mouth was open. The teeth had closed upon the tongue. “Alas! Alas!” wailed the woman. The director examined the body. A small brad had been driven through the left temple, obliquely into the skull. There was no blood. The clumps of grizzled hair nearly concealed the wound. The nail was a slender thing, without a head, but it had been driven home with deadly force. A fine scratch extended to the eyebrow. It looked as if something had been picked from the wound and drawn sharply across the knotty forehead. “The man is dead – quite dead,” said tho director, gravely. He left the woman howling over the corpse. and notified the keeper. “We will make the rounds immediately.” The procession of lights moving up and down tho corridors was a grand festival for the maniacs. They had grown quieter under the forcible measures employed by the keepers, and now they gave fierce cries of pleasure. Only a few were enraged, and a few were sullen. Number 80 was asleep. The director bent over her bed with the lamp in his hand. The light awakened her. She rubbed her eyes with one little hand. Then she smiled her adorable smile. The beautiful eyes were clear and serene – her face was joyous. She pushed back her glorious hair and raised herself a little from the pillow. Then she held out the other hand. It was tightly closed, as if something of great value. Slowly she extended the fingers that the director might see what she held. The little pink palm was empty. But she saw something there. She was quite satisfied. “I have it,” she whispered, triumphantly. The director patted her hand kindly. You are dreaming!”’ He gave a cursory glance at the grating as he passed. He touched the bars at the window. “Nothing wrong here,” said this wise and experienced man. “The girl has slept well.” Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history  Long before Bob Dylan, the 18’th century Scottish poet and song-writer Robert Burns published an anti-war anthem. Surprisingly modern sounding (video below), the song rejects contemporary war mongering and focuses on the human suffering caused by conflict. However, in order to understand the historical context of the song, we do need an expert. We asked George Mcclellan, a director of the Robert Burns Association of North America, to set the scene. Why was “Ye Jacobites by Name” written”? Originally to condemn the Jacobite cause. It’s necessary to understand the period following the Reformation when Great Britain became firmly anti-Catholic after years of conflict. There were two periods of Catholic rebellion, The Jacobite risings, or the Jacobite rebellions or the War of the British Succession, 1688 thru 1748, the intent of which was to return Catholic, James Stuart II and VII, to the British throne and, their last attempt with “Bonnie Prince Charlie’s (Charles Edward Stuart) ending with his loss at Culloden in 1746. Jacobite is Latin for “James.” Do we know who wrote it? I believe the original tune was written by Hector Macneill titled: My Love’s in Germany. He was probably referring to the German House of Hanover who became the sovereigns of Great Britain following the reign of William and Mary. Robert Burns re-wrote the song as an anti-war anthem? What sort of changes did he make? Actually, Burns borrowed extensively from other authors, as well as fill in fragments long lost of many old songs. He did not plagiarize but rewrote or reframed ideas expressed by others to fit tunes from traditional Scottish folk songs, before they became lost forever. Burns borrowed only the first verse from the original version of Ye Jacobites By Name that attacked Catholics from the political point of view of the conservative (and Protestant) British government, aka: the Whigs. Burns rewrote his version in 1791 with an anti-war outlook. His is the version that most people know today. The tune for the lyrics was from a song titled Captain Kid (one ‘d’) and may have been a version of Put in All in ‘Pills’ written after The Battle of Falkirk Garland in 1746. Before Burns was born. Many tunes were written and published comforting the failed Catholic efforts and most were published in Ewan MacColl’s collection titled Personal Choice. Burns wrote for two publishers, Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum and James Hogg. Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum, with Burn’s version was published in 1793. How was the song received when it was published by Burns, with the tune added? Little remark has been recorded as to the songs first appearance. Enough Catholics still existed as neighbors to have been offended when publicly sang. The pro-monarchy pub crowd probably liked it, as they did most things Burns did. The song has a pretty strong political message, at what sort of events would it be performed? Except it be in a pub or ale house, it would not be performed like we understand performers do today. In your face songs would have been punished not glorified. Politics of the time could be deadly if one stood against the Crown. So, public demonstrations of the tune, outside of pubs, etc. ,simply didn’t occur. Burns wrote it. It was published in Johnson’s Scots Museum and received little notoriety except to confirm Britain’s religious conversion from Catholicism to Protestantism. In Scotland in Burns time, it was the Calvinism of the people vs. Anglicanism (Church of Scotland) of the Govt. Would you say the song has had any influence on Scottish history? The song, No! Culloden (Protestant government forces vs Catholic pretender) had the greater influence on Scottish History by killing all pretense that a Catholic Stuart would return to the throne of Great Britain. It also killed the Highland Clan system, mostly Catholic, forever. Clarifying why such a song should be important is to understand the Jacobite cause. Charles Stuart’s Jacobite army, largely composed of Catholics and Episcopalians, but mostly Highland Clans, with a small detachment of Catholic Englishmen from the Manchester Regiment, plus some Irish, represented a return to old feudalism. Charlie’s effort was supported by France, with some Irish and Catholic Scots military units in French service, to support the Stuart claim. The British Governments Hanoverian forces were Protestants, English with a significant number of Scottish Lowlanders and some non-Catholic Highlanders. The results of that complete and disastrous rout are well known, but it ended the Clan system and took Scotland out of the past and pointed it into the future. But deeper economic motives however, lie hidden as causal effects. England and the Scottish Lowlanders were moving into an industrial age of unprecedented prosperity and growth. A return of the Stuarts would mean a return to feudalism and they weren’t having any of that. Advances in agricultural production and world trade was enriching even the crofters in the Lowlands and the Industrial Revolution was just around the corner. No, a return to feudalism would have ended all that. Culloden’s aftermath did arouse strong feelings for a long time and the original song contributed to that so Burns rewrote the lyrics to temper down ill feelings because he recognized all Scots as kinsmen, “Brothers be for a’ that,” not enemies because of religion. Remember too, Burns had his own private religious war (with words) against the Scottish Kirk too. Too, Burns was more than emphatic to the lost Jacobite cause as revealed in several pieces he wrote on his first tour to the Highlands. Burns understood his own family’s history in the religious conflicts that preceded him, and was proud that his ancestors sided with the persecuted rebels of the Covenanters on his mum’s side and the Jacobites on his fathers side. Burns was particularly aware that the final results of the Scottish religious wars, and the collapse of Catholicism, rendered his fathers family near the poverty level. Burns referred to it as Jacobite “Ruin”and, it did adversely affect his fathers course through life. Burns was also proud that his father recovered, gained an occupation (Gardner) and survived. It was an awful period of time for the people of Scotland. Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history / literatureIn the second week of February 1949, 3 men were charged with provoking the death of over ten people in Ecuador. The method of their crime: creating a radio play based on H.G. Wells and then letting it loose on an unsuspecting public. It was an incident far more sinister than the panics that followed the 1938 broadcast in America when Orson Welles had first dramatised H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds on radio. Not even the effect of a similar 1944 radio broadcast in Chile could compare when it came to the number of deaths and the level of devestation. On the fateful night of February 12’th, writers for Associated Press and Reuters reported back to the US and Britain: «The mob attacked and burned the building of the newspaper, El Comercio, which housed the radio station and killed fifteen persons and injured 15 others.» Fake news The radio broadcast was the brain child of Leonardo Paez (top photo), director of art at Radio Quito and Eduardo Alcaraz, the station’s dramatic director. The two had become familiar with the 1938 incident in America and the 1944 incident in Chile, which both caused widespread panic, but which also exposed the power of radio. In both those cases, it was announced ahead of schedule that the broadcast would be a fictional dramatisation. Leonardo Paez, a native of Quito, was not only a journalist, but also a singer, composer, poet and producer of radio. In an interview with El Dia, Alcaraz later said that he begged Paez to announce at the beginning of the broadcast that what followed was a dramatisation, but that Paez had dismissed him. Even so, someone had planted bogus UFO reports in the newspaper El Comercio in the weeks before the broadcast. At 21.00 the night of February 12’th, the normal musical broadcast began. Halfway into a song, the news team interupted without warning stating that an attack on Ecuador was underway. Panic erupted in the streets and police were dispatched to the alleged location of a martian invasion, the town of Cotocollao. The imaginary invasion was gradually to proceed from the town of Latacunga, 20 miles south of the capital Quito, where a poisonous gas cloud was reported to kill everything in its path. Actors immitating well known authority figueres then appeared on radio confirming the crisis. Appology not accepted When the station realised that chaos was breaking out, they announced the hoax on radio. The crowd then gathered outside the radio station throwing stones and setting fire to the building. According to the Associated Press there were over a hundred people in the building. Some escaped through the back door. Others sought refuge in the top floors, where some of them jumped from the roof to escape the flames. The army was then called in with teargas and tanks to disperse the crowd and allow the firemen to do their work. At the end of the evening, bodies lay silent in the street, and the injured were shipped off to hospital. The station managers protested their innocence saying they had been unaware of the planned hoax, and the minister of defense himself was called in to investigate the incidence. Punishment Ten people were detained the night of the riot, and several were later charged, among these Leonardo Paez, Eduardo Alcaraz and the actor Eduardo Palace. Eduardo Alcaraz had fled Quito, but was arrested later in the town of Ambato. Paez, however, had escaped that night from the burning building. Seeing that his route of retreat was cut off by an angry mob and the police, he found a way of escaping via an old conservatory. A truck then took him a property near Ibarra, and he laid low until his legal difficulties were solved. 6 years later he left Ecuador and made his way to Venezuela. Paez lost his girlfriend and his nephew to the chaos created by his own radioplay. They died in the riots. He would never return to Ecuador or be convicted of anything, but in 1982 he published his account of the radio play he broadcast on that Saturday evening in 1949. His book is called Los que siembran viento (Those who sow the wind). How could it happen? There has been much speculation about the causes of the panic that erupted after so many broadcasts of War of the Worlds, in the US, in Chile and in Ecuador. Just a year after the Welles broadcast the psychologist Hadley Cantril conducted a study of the effects of the radioshow in which he claimed that the cause of the confusion following the broadcast was the standards of judgment that people applied to the information they heard on radio. They simply trusted the new media of radio, and couldn’t believe that someone would deliberately lie to them. Seing the effectiveness of the broadcast as perhaps being too calculated, the writer Daniel Hopsicker even speculated that the 1938 broadcast was a psychological experiment funded by The Rockefeller Foundation, a conspiracy theory which was dismissed by Orson Welles. Michael Wynn Like this:Like Loading... [...]
literature / moviesIt is 1956, the height of the Cold War, only a few years after the alleged UFO incident at Roswell. Don Siegel’s movie adaptation of an obscure serialized novel about an alien invasion shows a raving doctor running down a dark highway shouting “They’re already here! YOU’RE NEXT” . The warning stabs into the paranoia of the age. But what does it really mean? What did the writer, Jack Finney, want it to mean? I contacted Jack Seabrook, one of the few specialists on Finney in order to find out more.  Was Jack Finney making some sort of personal statement in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, either politically or psychologically? Jack Seabrook: I can answer this two ways: by telling you what Finney said and by telling you what I think. Finney’s novel was called The Body Snatchers—they added “Invasion of” for the movie, surely because there was a boom in science fiction movies at that time. In Danse Macabre, Stephen King quoted Finney as saying: “I have read explanations of the ‘meaning’ of this story, which amuse me, because there is no meaning at all; it was just a story meant to entertain, and with no more meaning than that . . .” Having studied all of Finney’s writing, from his earliest short stories in the 1940s to his last novel in the 1990s, I think that The Body Snatchers fits neatly into a theme that he explored over and over, and that is the belief that something has gone wrong in small-town America and the present is not as good as the past. The fact that readers on both sides of the political spectrum have seen aspects of the novel that support their points of view suggests to me that it is simply a well-written book, one that allows readers to see in it what they want to see.  When and how did he come up with the idea for the novel? Jack Seabrook: I don’t know how he came up with the idea for the novel, but it was most likely written in 1954, since it was serialized in three issues of Collier’s magazine in November and December 1954. The novel, which has some important differences from the serial, was published in 1955.  I know he was born in Wisconsin, and then moved to California. What sort of life did he live on the west coast? Did he become part of any literary movement? Jack Seabrook: Finney was a very private man who rarely gave interviews and who shunned publicity. He moved to Mill Valley, California, in the late 1940s and lived there for the rest of his life with his second wife, Marguerite. They had a daughter around 1951 and a son, who was born around the time The Body Snatchers was serialized.  He had some sort of background in advertisement. Did that influence his writing or his career in any way? Jack Seabrook: Finney worked as a copywriter for advertising agencies in the 1930s and 1940s, first in Chicago and then in New York City. As of 1946, he was 35 years old, working in New York City, and had been an ad copywriter for 12 years, so it was probably his first job out of college. His time in the advertising business was a major influence on his writing. Many of his stories and novels satirize the world of advertising; for example, Good Neighbor Sam (1963) is the story of a man who works for an ad agency and is caught up in a hilarious mix-up involving his wife and the beautiful woman who lives next door. One of his most famous and suspenseful short stories, “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket” (1956), tells of a young man whose obsession with his work nearly costs him his life.  Did he experience any financial success in the aftermath of the first film version? Jack Seabrook: Finney had been financially successful as a writer by the time the film came out, but the film certainly made him more famous and wealthy. The rights to the serial, on which the film was based, were sold for $7500, so I don’t think that was much of a windfall for Finney, but the film made him more well-known than he was before it opened in theaters. In a 2000 article on Finney, J. Sydney Jones wrote that Invasion of the Body Snatchers “changed everything for the forty-three-year-old writer and . . . allowed him to support his family solely on his writing.”  Do we know anything about the relationship between Finney and Don Siegel? When did they meet? Jack Seabrook: In early January 1955, producer Walter Wanger, screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring, and director Don Siegel went to visit Jack Finney at his home in Mill Valley, California, to talk about the story and to scout filming locations. However, Finney was not involved in writing the screenplay.  There are differences between Finney’s novel and Siegel’s movie. Finney actually communicates hope at the end of his work, while the movie ends in a nightmare. Are there other differences? Jack Seabrook: There are differences between the two, yet the film is faithful to the novel. The famous framing sequence is not in the book. A major character, Jack Belicec, is taken over by aliens in the film but this does not happen in the novel. Most important is the transformation of Becky into a pod-person near the end of the film; this is also absent from the book. As you note, the book ends happily while the film concludes with a much more ominous message, though it does leave open the possibility of salvation.  There isn’t much information about Finney online. What sort of man was he? He seems to have lived an uneventful life. Tell us something interesting about him? Jack Seabrook: Finney was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1911 and named John Finney. He was nicknamed Jack as a baby and the nickname stuck. His father died when Jack was just two years old and the boy was renamed Walter Braden Finney, in memory of his father, but always went by Jack. In the 1920s, as a child, he visited Galesburg, Illinois, in the summers, and many years later he wrote a famous story called “I Love Galesburg in the Springtime” (1960). He also attended Knox College in Galesburg. In the late 1940s, he and his first wife were divorced in Reno, Nevada, and he met his second wife while he was there. He later wrote stories set in that town, such as “Stopover in Reno” (1952). He died in 1995, less than a year after the publication of his last novel, From Time to Time, a sequel to his classic novel, Time and Again (1970).  The Invasion of The Body Snatchers was by some condescendingly regarded as a mere «serialized novel». However, numerous masterpieces have emerged from the pens of «pulp writers». Why do you think that is? Jack Seabrook: Finney never wrote for the pulp magazines, which paid much less than the so-called “slick” magazines, where most of his short stories were published. Both the pulps and the slicks were home for writers of popular fiction, such as Finney, and I think that the middle part of the twentieth century in America saw an explosion of talent among American writers. There were so many markets, so many places to sell one’s fiction, that it was not surprising to see some excellent work come out of non-literary publications. The more literary writers of the time, at least in America, were increasingly writing fiction that did not appeal to the common reader, so a gulf between popular and serious fiction began to grow. Still, many writers whom we today consider literary, such as William Faulkner or John Steinbeck, were looked down upon for years as writers of popular fiction. I think that sometimes a period of time is necessary to be able to see what is really quality fiction.  A lot of famous stories have been serialized. Oliver Twist and Conan the Barbarian come to mind. The Body Snatchers was originally a serial in Collier’s Magazine. What was Finney relationship with that magazine? Did he write for other magazines? Jack Seabrook: Collier’s was one of the slick magazines that published many of Jack Finney’s short stories. Collier’s was founded in 1888 and, by World War Two, it had a weekly circulation of 2,500,000! Imagine that! One of Finney’s first short stories was published in Collier’s in 1947 and he had twenty-nine stories published in that magazine between 1947 and 1956, when it ceased publication. He also had stories published in other magazines, including Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, The Saturday Evening Post, and Playboy. From 1947 to 1965, he was a prolific short story writer; after 1965, his fiction was confined to novels.  When the pod people take over, they copy everything about the original person, except for their feelings. The world slowly becomes populated by emotionless clones? Why is this so frightening, do you think? Jack Seabrook: Your adjective “emotionless” sums up the problem. Without love for each other, what is the point of living? When people have no emotion, when they don’t care about themselves or others, they began to lose interest in everything around them. I think this was Finney’s point in the novel—the decline in small town living in America in the post-World War Two period seemed, to him, to be a symptom of a greater problem in society. People did not take care of themselves or their homes and towns began to get run down. This led to more crime, juvenile delinquency, etc. I think that a life without emotion, without feelings, is no life at all.   Jack Seabrook is the author of Stealing Through Time: On the Writings of Jack Finney (2006), published by McFarland & Co. He is an independent scholar residing in New Jersey. Read a tribute to The Invasion of the Body Snatchers below, courtesy of author Mike San Giacomo, artist Mike Williams,  inker Tom Scholendorn and Tyrone McCarthy. The full graphic novel is called Tales of the Starlight Drive-In (Image Comics), and includes many other stories. You can buy it here   Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyIn 2016, China’s submission to the Academy awards followed a 7th century monk on his journey of exploration to India. The record of Hiuen-Tsiang’s (b. 602– dec. 664) travel has had an enormous impact on Chinese culture, inspiring one of the country’s age-old novels. The manuscript also contains one of the most detailed descriptions of the old Nalanada monastery in India, an intellectual powerhouse that dominated the world for a thousand years, before being reduced to ruins. In this text from 1911, a prominent sinologist comments. “Centuries before biography became a business, before the peccadilloes of royal mistresses and forgotten courtesans obtained a “market value’ the writing of the Master’s life by some cherished disciple was both an act of love and piety in the far East. The very footprints of the famous dead became luminous, and their shadows shone in dark caves that once withheld them from the world. Memory looking back viewed them through a golden haze; they were merged at last in ancient sunlight; they were shafts of God rayed in the tangled forests of time. In this spirit, then, the man of compassionate feeling, the Shaman Hwui Li took up his tablets and wrote the life of Hiuen-Tsiang. The Master had already written his immortal Great Tang Records on the Western Regions (published 646 AD), yet the sixteen years of that wonderful quest in far-off India, of cities seen and shrines visited, of strange peoples and stranger customs, cannot be crowded into one brief record. And so we watch the patient disciple waiting on those intervals of leisure when the task of translation from Sanskrit into Chinese is laid aside, when the long routine of a Buddhist day is ended, waiting for the impressions of a wandering soul in the birthplace of its faith. The Life is supplement to the record. What is obscure or half told in the one is made clear in the other. Hwui-Li begins in the true Chinese manner with a grand pedigree of his hero, tracing his descent from the Emperor Hwang Ti, the mythical Heavenly Emperor. This zeal for following the remotest ancestors over the borders of history into the regions of fable may be largely ascribed to a very human desire to connect the stream of life with its divine source. We are chiefly concerned to know that he came of a family which had already given notable men to the State, and was launched in the troublous whirl of birth and death but a little distance from the town of Kou-Shih, in the province of Honan, in the year 6oo A.D. Here and there biography leaves us a glimpse of his outward appearance as boy and man. We are told that at his opening life he was rosy as the evening vapours and round as the rising moon. As a boy he was “sweet as the odor of cinnamon or the vanilla tree.” A soberer style does justice to his prime, and again he comes before us, “a tall handsome man with beautiful eyes and a good complexion. He had a serious but benevolent expression and a sedate, rather stately manner.” The call of the West came early to Hiuen-Tsiang. From a child he had easily outstripped his fellows in the pursuit of knowledge, and with the passing of the years he stepped beyond the narrow limits of Chinese Buddhism and found the deserts of Turkestan between him and the land of his dreams. Imperfect translations from the Sanskrit, the limited intelligence of the Chinese priesthood, the sense of vast truths dimly perceived obscurely set forth, the leaven of his first Confucian training—all contributed to the making of a Buddhist pilgrim. The period of his departure, 629 A.D., was an eventful one for China. Taizong (b.598- d.649), the most powerful figure of the brilliant Tang dynasty, sat on the throne of his father Kaotsu, the founder of the line. The nomad Tartars, so long the terror of former dynasties, succumbed to his military genius, and Kashgaria was made a province of the Empire. Already the kingdom of Tibet was tottering to its fall, and Corea was to know the devastation of war within her boundaries. Ch’ang-an was now the capital, a city of floating pavilions and secluded gardens, destined to become the center of a literary movement that would leave its mark for all time. But the days were not yet when the terraces of Teng-hiang-ting would see the butterflies alight on the flower-crowned locks of Yang-kuei-fei, or the green vistas re-echo to the voices of poet and emperor joined in praise of her. Only two wandering monks emerge furtively through the outer gates of the city’s triple walls, and one of them looks back for a glimpse of Ch’ang-an, the last for sixteen eventful years of exile. Others had crossed the frontier before him, notably Fa-hian and Sung Yun in the fourth and the fifth centuries AD, others in due course would come and go, leaving to posterity their impressions of a changing world, but this man stands alone, a prince of pilgrims, a very Bayard of Buddhist enthusiasm, fearless and without reproach. As we read on through the pages of Hwui-li the fascination of the Master of the Law becomes clear to us, not suddenly, but with the long, arduous miles that mark the way to India and the journey home. Take the Master’s tattered robes, let the winds of Gobi whistle through your sleeve and cut you to the bone, mount his rusty red nag and set your face to the West. In the night you will see ‘ “fire-lights as many as stars” raised by the demons and goblins; travelling at dawn you will behold ‘ “soldiers clad in fur and felt and the appearance of camels and horsemen and the glittering of standards and lances; fresh forms and figures changing into a thousand shapes, sometimes at an immense distance, then close at hand, then vanished into the void.” The time comes when even the old red steed avails not, the Great Ice Mountains loom in front of you, and you crawl like an ant and cling like a fly to the roof of the world. Then on the topmost summit, still far away from the promised land, you realize two things—the littleness of human life, the greatness of one indomitable soul. But the superman is also very human. With the vast bulk of his encyclopedic knowledge he falls on the pretentious monk Mokshagupta in the Kingdom of Agni, he flattens him and treads a stately if heavy measure on his prostrate body. And withal clear-sighted and intolerant of shams, he is still a child of his age and religion. With childish curiosity he tempts a bone to foretell the future, and with childish delight obtains the answer he most desires. In the town of Hiddha is Buddha’s skull bone, one foot long, two inches round. “If anyone wishes to know the indications of his guilt or his religious merit he mixes some powdered incense into a paste, which he spreads upon a piece of silken stuff, and tlien presses it on the top of the bone according to the resulting indications the good fortune or ill fortune of the man is determined” Hiuen obtains the impression of a Bodhi and is overjoyed, for, as the guardian Brahman of the bone explains, “it is a sure sign of your having a portion of true wisdom (Bodhi).” At another time he plays a kind of religious quoits by flinging garlands of flowers on the sacred image of Buddha, which, being caught on its hands and arms, show that his desires will be fulfilled. In simple faith he tells Hwui-li how Buddha once cleaned his teeth and flung the fragments of the wood with which he performed the act on the ground ; how they took root forthwith, and how a tree seventy feet high was the consequence. And Hiuen saw that tree, therefore the story must be true. But it is not with the pardonable superstitions of a human soul of long ago that we need concern ourselves. The immense latent reserve, the calm strength to persist, is the appeal. It comes to us with no note of triumph for the thing accomplished or the obstacle removed, but rather underlies some simple statement of fact and is summed up in these few trite words: “We advanced guided by observing the bones left on the way.” The little incidents of life and death are as nothing to one who looks on all men as ghosts haunted by reality. And so the Master of the Law resigns himself to the prospect of a violent end at the hands of the river pirates of the Ganges, to the miraculous interposition of a timely storm, with the same serenity with which he meets the long procession streaming out of Nalanda in his honor, with its two hundred priests and some thousand lay patrons who surround him to his entry, recounting his praises, and carrying standards, umbrellas, flowers, and perfumes. “The tradition of the old people is this: To the south of the convent, in the middle of an Amra garden, is a pool. In this pool is a Naga called Nalanda, and the convent built by the side of the pool is therefore called after his name. Again there is a saying that Tathagata whilst a Bodhisattva was the king of a great country and built his capital in this place. He was deeply affected towards the orphans and destitute, and, ever moved by this principle, gave away all he had for their good. In memory of this goodness they named the place ”doing charitable acts without intermission,” The place was originally the garden of the lord Amra. Five hundred merchants bought it for ten lacs of gold pieces, and presented it to Buddha. Here Buddha preached the law for three months, and most of the merchants obtained the fruit of Arhatship, in consequence. After the Nirvana of Buddha an old king of this country called Sakraditya, from a principle of loving obedience to Buddha, built this convent. After his decease his son seized the throne, and continued the vast undertaking; he built, towards the south, another temple. Then his son built a temple to the eastward. Next, his son built a temple to the north-east. Afterwards the king, seeing some priests who came from the country of China to receive his religious offerings, was filled with gladness, and he gave up his royal estate and became a recluse. His son succeeded and built another temple to the north. After him a king of Mid-India built by the side of this another temple. Thus six kings in connected succession added to these structures. Moreover, the whole establishment is surrounded by a brick wall, which encloses the entire convent from without. One gate opens into the great college, from which are separated eight other halls, standing in the middle. The richly adorned towers, and the fairy -like turrets, like pointed hill- tops, are congregated together. The observatories seem to be lost in the vapours of the morning, and the upper rooms tower above the clouds. From the windows one may see how the winds and the clouds produce new forms, and above the soaring eaves the conjunctions of the sun and moon may be observed.” There are moments of sheer delight when scenes of physical beauty are fair enough to draw even a Buddhist monk from his philosophic calm, when even Hiuen-Tsiang must have become lyrical in the presence of his recording disciple. Who would not be the guest of the abbot of Nalanda monastery with its six wings, each built by a king, all enclosed in the privacy of solid brick? “And then we may add how the deep, translucent ponds, bear on their surface the blue lotus, intermingled with the Kie-ni flower, of deep red color, and at intervals the Amra groves spread over all, their shade. All the outside courts, in which are the priests’ chambers, are of four stages. The stages have dragonprojections and colored eaves, the pearl-red pillars, carved and ornamented, the richly adorned balustrades, and the roofs covered with tiles that reflect the light in a thousand shades, these things add to the beauty of the scene.” Here ten thousand priests sought refuge from the world of passing phenomena and the lure of the senses. Wherever our pilgrim goes he finds traces of a worship far older than Buddhism. He does not tell us so in so many words, yet underneath the many allusions to Bodhitrees and Nagas we may discover the traces of that primitive tree and serpent worship that still exists in remote corners of India, as, for instance, among the Naga tribes of Manipur who worship the python they have killed. In Hiuen’s time every lake and fountain had its Naga-raja or serpent-king, Buddha himself, as we learn from both the Si-yu-hi and the Life, spent much time converting or subduing these ancient gods. There were Nagas both good and evil. When Buddha first sought enlightenment he sat for seven days in a state of contemplation by the waters of a little woodland lake. Then this good Naga “kept guard over Tathagata ; with his folds seven times round the body of the Buddha, he caused many heads to appear, which overshadowed him as a parasol ; therefore to the east of this lake is the dwelling of the Naga.”…. The Buddha sat for seven days contemplating this tree ; “he did not remove his gaze from it during this period, desiring thereby to indicate his grateful feelings towards the tree by so looking at it with fixed eyes.” Hiuen Tsiang himself and his companions contributed to the universal adoration of the tree, for, as that impeccable Buddhist the Shaman Hwui-li rather baldly states, “they paid worship to the Bodhi-tree.” How did Buddhism come to be connected in any way with tree and serpent worship? The answer is, through its connection with Bralimanism. As Buddhism was Brahmanism reformed, so Brahmanism in its turn was the progressive stage of tree and serpent worship. Siva the destroyer is also Nag Bhushan, “he who wears snakes as his ornaments.”… But Hiuen-Tsiang was born into a world that beheld the tree of Buddhism slowly dying from the top. He bore witness, if unconsciously, to a time of transition and a noble faith in decay, and the swift, silent growth of jungle mythology around the crumbling temples of Buddha. His record of these sixteen years of travel is a priceless one, for through it we are able to reconstruct the world and ways of Buddhist India of the centuries that have passed. Yet far more priceless still is that record, read between the lines, of a human soul dauntless in disaster, unmoved in the hour of triumph, counting the perils of the bone-strewn plain and the unconquered hills as nothing to the ideal that lay before him, the life-work, the call of the Holy Himalayas and the long toil of his closing years. It is difficult to over-estimate his services to Buddhist literature. He returned to his own country with no less than 657 volumes of the sacred books, seventy-four of which he translated into Chinese, while 150 relics of the Buddha, borne by twenty horses, formed the spoil reverently gathered from the many lands we call India. And so we leave him to his rest upon Mount Sumeru, where once his venturous soul alighted in the dreams of youth, with the serpents coiled beneath its base, with its seven circling hills of gold and the seven seas between, and the great salt ocean encompassing them all. May 6th, 1911″ by sinologist Launcelot Alfred Cranmer-Byng (1872-1945).   Like this:Like Loading... [...]
history  In a story by Edgar Rice Burroughs an explorer chops his way with a machete through the Cambodian jungle to a lost world – a remnant of ancient Angkor still thriving. The tale of “The Land of Hidden Men” may be an entertaining yarn, but Angkor Wat – one of the greatest cultures of the medieval world- was swallowed by the jungle, and then rediscovered in the nineteenth century. The ancient kingdom boasted 102 public hospitals. Only one first-hand account of its capital exists, from the pen of Zhou Daguan, a contemporary Chinese diplomat who later published a book entitled “The Customs of Cambodia”. Zhou Daguan was born Zhou Dake, in a small town in a coastal region of China. For some reason, he changed his name after he returned from Cambodia. Some speculate that the Chinese emperor planned to attack Cambodia, and that that might be the reasons for the many details in Daguan’s book. His text only caught the attention of the world after it was translated into French by Paul Pelliot in 1902. The following are excerpts:   “This Tche-la is also called Tchan-la. The native name is Kan-po-tche. The current dynasty, based on Tibetan religious books, calls this country Kan-p’ou-tche, phonetically close to Kan-potche. The royal palace, as well as official buildings and noble residences, all face east. The royal palace lies north of the Golden Tower and the Golden Bridge. Where the sovereign conducts his affairs, there is a golden window; to the right and left of the frame, on square pillars, there are mirrors, about forty to fifty, arranged on the sides of the window. The sill of the sovereign’s window is shaped like an elephant. Everyone, starting with the sovereign, both men and women, wear their hair in a bun and have bare shoulders. They simply wrap a piece of cloth around their waist. There are many rules regarding the fabrics based on each person’s rank. Only the prince can wear continuous patterned fabrics. He wears a golden diadem, similar to those on the heads of vajradharas. Sometimes, he does not wear a diadem and simply wraps a garland of fragrant flowers reminiscent of jasmine in his bun. Among common people, only women can dye the soles of their feet and the palms of their hands; men would not dare to. High officials and princes can wear fabrics with widely spaced patterns. Only officials may wear fabrics with two groups of patterns. Among common people, only women are allowed to wear such special types of cloth. But even if a newly arrived Chinese wears a fabric with two groups of patterns, it is not considered a crime because he is “ngan-ting-pa-cha”, a person who does not know the rules. When officials go out, their emblems and their entourage are arranged according to their rank. The highest dignitaries use a golden palanquin and four parasols with golden handles; the following have a golden palanquin and two parasols with golden handles, then a golden palanquin and one parasol with a golden handle, and finally a simple parasol with a silver handle.” “Both regular writings and official documents are always written on deer or deer skin and similar materials, dyed black. Each person cuts the skins to their liking, depending on their dimensions in length and width. People use a kind of powder that resembles Chinese chalk and shape it into sticks, which they call “so.” Holding this stick in hand, they write characters on pieces of skin, these do not fade. When they finish, they place the stick behind their ear. They can also recognize a writer by his characters. The characters will fade, however, if you rub them with something wet. All documents are written from left to right, not from top to bottom. These people always make the tenth Chinese lunar month the first month of their year. In front of the royal palace, a large platform is assembled that can accommodate more than a thousand people, and it is entirely adorned with lanterns and flowers. In front, at a distance of twenty paces, using pieces of wood placed end to end, a high platform is assembled, similar in shape to scaffolding for the construction of the Buddhist mounds we now call “stupas”. Each night, three, four, five, or six of these platforms are constructed. Fireworks and firecrackers are placed at the top. These expenses are borne by the provinces and noble houses. When night falls, the sovereign is invited to witness the spectacle. Rockets are launched, and firecrackers are lit. The rockets can be seen from over a hundred miles away, and the firecrackers are as large as boulders, and their explosion shakes the entire city. Mandarins and nobles contribute with candles and areca nuts. The sovereign also invites foreign ambassadors to the spectacle. This continues for fifteen days, and then everything stops. Every month, there is a festival. In the fourth month, they play ball. In the ninth, they enumerate. Enumerating means gathering the population from all over the kingdom and reviewing them in front of the royal palace. In the fifth month, they fetch water for the Buddhas. They gather the Buddhas from all over the kingdom, bring water, and, in the company of the sovereign, wash them. In the sixth month, they navigate boats on dry land. The prince climbs a belvedere to watch the festival. In the seventh month, they burn rice. At this time, the new rice is ripe, and they fetch it outside the South Gate and burn it as an offering to the Buddha. Countless women go to this ceremony by cart or on elephants, but the sovereign stays at home. In the eighth month, there is dancing. The term “ngai-lan” means “to dance.” They designate actors and musicians who come to the royal palace every day to perform “ngai-lan.” There are also pig and elephant fights. The sovereign also invites foreign ambassadors to attend. The sovereign holds court twice a day for government affairs. There is no schedule. Officials or people who wish an audience wait on the ground outside. After a while, distant music is heard in the palace. Then the sound of conch shells outside announces his arrival. I have heard that the sovereign travels in a golden palanquin to these meetings; he does not come from far away. A moment later, two palace maidens raise the curtain with their delicate fingers, and the sovereign, holding a sword, appears standing at the golden window. Ministers and people fold their hands and touch their foreheads to the ground. When the sound of the conch shells ceases, they can raise their heads. It is at this moment that the sovereign takes his seat, and on such occasions, he is always seated on his lion’s skin, a royal heirloom. As soon as the matters to be handled are completed, the prince turns around, the palace maidens lower the curtain, and everyone stands up.”   The excerpts come from Paul Pelliot’s French translation, first published in 1902 (then revised before his death and published in 1951). Below is Monash University’s youtube reconstruction of medieval Angkor, from 2017.     Like this:Like Loading... [...]
short story1. From the village “Kosisochukwu my son!” Ozioma called repeatedly as she ran along a slightly dangling narrow bamboo bridge towards a building at the fringe of Udi village. It was a small building constructed on the top of a creek that had been rendered lifeless by oil spillage; nearby rivers and streams where they once drank from were equally useless. There were other similar buildings above the creek and they were all constructed with split tree trunks, old planks, and bamboo trees. Important men, of course, did not have roofs of raffia leaves, for they could afford old corrugated sheets to roof their houses. It didn’t matter whether there were perforations in the metal left by nails from the original buildings. These buildings were linked to one another by bamboo bridges. The people were careful to rebuild them at least once a year after harmattan seasons, which dried up and made brittle the wild creepers with which the bamboo logs were bound. These bridges were not stable, and there had been occasions when someone had slipped off and landed into the water. But such occasions only provoked hearty laughter instead of pity. In fact, the villagers considered themselves fish ‘that can never be drowned’, for as far as they could remember, only a toddler had succumbed to such a fate. It had been her mother’s fault, though. She had forgotten to close the opening where they pass out feces, urine and other rubbish into the water, and left to check what she was cooking in the kitchen. When she returned to the room, the child was missing. The mother realised she had not only left the hole open but also the door to the restroom. The lifeless child was picked from the bed of the black creek. “Kosisochukwu my son please leave immediately before they get here!” Kosi heard her mother’s voice and rushed out of the building to the veranda. He was bare-chested with only a very tight short on, his India hemp sticking out and smoking between his dark lips. “Mama, what is the problem!” he called. By now Aisosa was standing at the door post, leaning lazily on the left frame. “Run! Run! Police. Your brother has been…” A gunshot was heard and Ozioma dropped dead on the bridge. Aisosa yelled and wanted to rush to Ozioma’s aid, but Kosi caught her wrist just in time and dragged her into the building. Before long, three heavily armed police men were running towards the house. One stopped by Ozioma’s corpse and pushed it into the creek with his boot. “Level the house. Fire!” shouted one of them, obviously their leader. Bullets perforated the building until it caught fire and burned to the ground. “Any need to check for their corpses?” asked the policeman who had pushed Ozioma into the creek. “No,” the police chief replied. “They’re obviously dead.” Kosi had dropped into the creek with Aisosa through the building’s shithole before the shooting began. It was a narrow escape though, for a bullet had nearly hit his head. He had tilted his head to peep through a crack when the first shot sounded. The bullet smashed a mirror behind him. They vanished undetected in the water under cover of noise and commotion; Aisosa had even let out a loud cry when her ankle hit one of the poles that supported the building. They escaped through a trench which Kosi had deliberately dug and hidden in between hedges for occasions such as these, gunshots echoing in their minds. He covered Aisosa’s mouth with his right palm and then lowered her into the trench. A week earlier, a white man who worked with one of the oil companies in that region had been kidnapped, and the kidnappers demanded a hundred million naira ransom which the company was unable to pay because government had recently criminalized ransom payment. The militia group gave a one day ultimatum which elapsed without the company or the government doing anything to that effect. Mr Richard Anderson was promptly executed. To spite the government, the militia group filmed the atrocity and released the video. The militia leader was heard in the video saying: “You cannot deny us food and expect us to let you eat in peace. You have killed our fish and our fishermen can no longer survive. You have turned our waters into poison with your oil and rendered our farmland barren. You have deliberately starved our children for generations, and you tell us to go to hell when we protest with placards and helpless songs and chants. This time we will protest with guns and bullets and knives and monstrosity, and nothing will stop us. So go ahead and criminalize ransom and watch us answer you with more blood and death and vandalism.” As expected, the government responded by sending heavily armed police to the village with a special order to kill on sight. They arrived at the village with saboteurs and collaborators, those who feed fat off the misfortune of others. Names of militant leaders were mentioned, and Kosi was one of them. Although Kosi was a leader of a militant group, he was not part of the group that killed Mr Richard Anderson. In fact, he learned about this after the attack on his house. His only brother was shot in the head by the police that humid morning when they had reached his home. When the police discovered their mistake, they pursued Ozioma, whom they saw escaping through the back door. Later, Kosi’s second-in-command calmly laid the facts before him, and in addition added the name of the chief betrayer. His name was Chief Amayenabor. Chief Amayenabor lived in a luxury mansion in the best part of the town, two or three miles from the creek. Kosi puffed his weed, and listened to his second-in-command in their hideout. It was a bunker, squeezed between the trench that led to his house on one side and a mosquito-infested swamp on the other. Air and rays of light entered the tunnel through a square opening in the roof. There was silence as the story was told, and puff after puff rose through the dim air. In the end Kosi stood up abruptly, dipped his left hand into his trouser’s left pocket and brought out a pill, a tramadol tablet. Two 500mg pills were placed on Kosi’s tongue. He dipped his right hand in the other pocket and brought out a small bottle of codein, a cough syrup, opened it, filled his mouth and swallowed. “Target!” he shouted as though the startled Target wasn’t sitting at his left side. “Chairman!” Target answered, leaping to his feet. “I dey your side chairman,” he added, drawing heavily from his smoldering weed. “Correct!” Kosi replied. “E no go better for chief!” he added. “E no go better for chief!” said Target, as Kosi extended the pack of pills to him. ” Ready the confirms, put plenty groundnut seed for inside and carry others follow body,” Kosi instructed. “Confirm. At your command Chairman,” Target said. “Government!” Kosi yelled, and the Second-in-Command rose to his feet. “Chairman,” he answered, his weed hanging from his lips, smoke oozing from his nostrils. “I be your loyal boy. Command me.” “Chief go fall today.” “I hear you, Chairman.” “Get the other boys ready at once! We’re out of here,” Kosi said and marched into the jungle. They went by boat in the night. Before dawn Chief Amayenabor was missing and three of his personal security personnel were confirmed dead. Two days later, his head was found hanging on a stake before government house, and three days after this his headless body floated down the creek. The killing of a high government official like chief Amayenabor was an assault on the government, an unpardonable offence, according to the 9:00pm Newscaster on NTA. The government was determined to crush the riff-raff and have normalcy in the region. That day, the Inspector General of Police deployed twenty-four police officers from the dreaded Special Anti-Crime Squad unit to the village. This time they were to intensify their operations. Unfortunately, these men were met with a kind of fierce resistance they never envisaged, and during one of the gun battles which had lasted for the whole night, twenty-one out of the twenty-four police men were killed. The three who made it out of the village that night didn’t do so unharmed, for one of them later died in a general hospital at Abuja where they were all hospitalized. The militants counted only lesser casualties, and this infuriated the authorities even more. For three weeks, there was a news blackout, nothing was mentioned publicly. It was as though normalcy had truly returned, and the militants halted their operations. Then one night, the whole village was awoken by the sound of jets piercing the heavens. A sudden blast from one dead end of the village shook buildings, and brought others to the ground. The village was under siege, and screams and cries of women and children rose to the moonlit sky. Beneath the bombs, helter-skelter through a hail of bullets, villagers ran in all directions. Some made their way over the bamboo bridges to nearby bushes, and were cut down with machetes by soldiers. That night, two thousand five hundred villagers died. Kosi, Aisosa and his militant group were in their bunker when the noise reached them. From their position of safety, Kosi escaped to Benin City where he met Omos and Efe, and planned to travel out of Nigeria. He was a wanted man in Nigeria, and had to flee for his life. Omos, on the other hand, wanted to leave the country because there were no jobs for him, not even with his university degree, ten years of training as a mechanical engineer. Efe’s reason for leaving was not clear.   2. Across the sea “Omos!” Kosi shouted from the sinking edge of the deflating balloon boat. There were over a hundred of them stuffed in this bloating object and that was probably why it deflated too soon, and it happened far from shore. “If you survive this please don’t tell Aisosa that I am dead! Tell her that I shall return to marry her! Tell her to name our child Ozoemela!” That was Kosi’s last words before the next wave knocked him off the balloon. In his Igbo ethnic group, name must be significant, for it was beyond a mere means of identification. Names to the Igbos were marks that followed children from the spirit world, and most times the living knew about them even before the children were birthed. So a name must represent at least an event, and it didn’t matter whether it was good or bad- as long as it highlighted and emphasized something; if he must be called Bush, then his mother must birth him in the bush. Ozoemela is a name with a deep meaning, filled with pity and grief. It pleads for another, Ozo, not to happen again. Some things should never be repeated. Many in this makeshift boat ended their journey on the sea bed, those who could not swim, or those who were caught up by rolling waves as the boat capsized, and currents drove them apart. Those born near rivers and creeks kept themselves afloat for a very long time, and were for the first time in their lives grateful for having been exposed to the dangers and hardships of unknown waters while growing up. Efe was the most grateful, for all he could remember when he regained conscioussness was that he had let out a muffled shrill with his last strength and then began to sink. Omos was as much grateful even though he could not remember anything beyond drinking a lot of the salt water when his arms became numb and could no longer move to keep him afloat. He lay face-up on the shore, his eyes wide-open yet, not fully alive. The Libyans who found them on the beach walked about. From time to time, they bent over their motionless bodies for a closer look. Omos thought they were shadows, nameless creatures pulling him down towards the depths of the ocean. A half dream, from which he struggled to escape. “He is stirring,” one of the Libyan rescuers yelled and signaled his colleagues, “this one is still alive.” “Mop up the water running from his nustrils,” the other said. And as the man lowered his face a little closer and was about touching Omos’ nose with a piece of cloth, Omos jerked fully awake, throwing up on his face and all over his body, brown water that smelled like urine. “Let me be!” Omos yelled in a panting fright. “You black piece of shit!” the man said and hit his mouth so hard that it bled. Efe was lying beside him still unconscious. “What’s the problem?” a voice asked in Arabic. The man responded in Arabic too and then fixed an irritated gaze at Omos as he gradually stood up. “Come on black ass; your mates are eating inside!” The voice came again, but this time in English. But the accent was a caricature; a mockery of the English language. When the man left, Omos sat up properly and tapped Efe on the shoulder. Efe didn’t stir, then he tapped him again and again until he sneezed and blinked his eyes open. Omos helped him sit properly. Efe gently surveyed his surroundings and asked where they were. He, too, would occasionally cough up brown water. ” Thank God we’re alive, ” Omos said in almost a whisper. “Where are we?’ “On a shore in Libya. “ “Where is Kosi?” Omos turned his head, “Maybe in that metal house?” Efe yawned and stretched his hands above his head. “Hungry?” Omos asked. “No, famished.” “Let’s hurry into the house, I think some of us are already eating there.” “Some of us?” “Yes. We aren’t the only survivors.” Halfway to the metal house, a few yards from the sea, a heavily-bearded Libyan with a perfectly round face and an AK47 rifle hanging from his left shoulder threw the door open. With a broad smile he beckoned them to move faster. He cursed them in Arabic and introduced himself. “Come inside and eat, you black idiots. I am Ahmed Abdulahi, the head of the rescue team. Thank Allah, you’re alive!” He patted them on their shoulders and stepped aside to let them enter. Omos sensed something sinister in his eyes. The man’s handshake was too loose. There was an impenetrable darkness waiting inside the metal house. “It would have been a great loss for us if you hadn’t made it to the shore alive,” Ahmed added. Omos stared at his brown teeth and a long scar that ran from the corner of his left eye and crossed his nose bridge to the corner of his mouth. Omos thought of a gunshot, but finally concluded it was a slash by a very sharp-edged weapon. Ahmed must have noticed their hesitation and said, “Now let’s go in”, and led the way. Omos was relectuant, but there was no choice. He was the last to enter, and the door was shut with a metallic clang that startled them both. They heard a chain dragged across the lock behind them. “Are they inside?” a voice asked from one end of the darkness. Loud and ominous, the statement ended with a few Arabic mutterings. Then a switch was pulled and there was light. Not very bright, but at least there was relief. What then revealed itself to Omos was very unexpected. Where were the meals and his mates? Where was Kosi? Five men stood in that vast room. Ahmed Abdulahi was by the door with his rifle, by his side a man whom Omos remembered from the beach. One rifle leaned against the wall. At the far end Omos saw a man seated in front of a table. On the table, another rifle. He saw the aging hands of a black man in a grey hood resting on the table by the door as he was leaning forward. As soon as the light came on, he turned quickly to another Libyan that was standing behind him. “Are they your cargo?” the man in front of the table asked. “Yes, they are,” the black man responded. The accent was Nigerian, Edo precisely. “Here is the check,” the Libyan said, handing the sheet to the black man, who took it, frowned and grumbled. “You know this is the first time this has happened. That’s all I can pay for the two. We lost so many of them at sea,” the man added. “Well, I understand,” the Nigerian said. “Another boat is on the way.” “Let’s hope they arrive safely. It’s a pleasure doing business with you.” The two shook hands, and the black man turned and made towards the door, his eyes fixed to the floor. As he approached, Omos and Efe gave way for him to pass. Ahmed Abdulahi opened the door and light from outside shone bright on his face, and just then Omos recognized him. “Uncle Irobosa!” he shouted, hurrying towards him. But it was too late by then, for the rays of light vanished and the door shut with a heavy bang. In the dark, Omos crashed his head against the damp metal wall. Suddenly he was unconscious on the floor. The last he heard was a muffled scream from Efe. Within seconds, Efe too was knocked down from behind and unconscious. When Omos opened his eyes, he was naked on a narrow bed in a very small room. He could see and hear, but his body was unable to move. This bed was almost a solitary piece of furniture positioned very close to the window. There were voices, not far off beyond the glass pane. By the foot side of the bed he suddenly noticed low stool with a silver tray containing surgical equipment. There was a pair of bloodstained rubber gloves. A gown hung on a pole close by. He wanted to shift his gaze when someone shouted. It was the voice of the man he had seen in front of the table in the dark room. “This is not what we bargained on the phone! A kidney costs more than this and you know that! Do you how much I pay to get them here? “ “Well, gentlemen, I don’t think it has come to this. I am only but a middle man in this business,” another voice said. “If I…” “Then tell your master what the market price is. Don’t come here with few dollars and expect to go back to Saudi with this!” the harsher voice said. “Get him on the phone right now!” “Erh…he wouldn’t want to be disturbed, and moreover I, we have…” “Get him now or I drill your skull with a bullet! I pay that doctor over there, or you think he’s doing this job for free? I want to speak to the big man directly.” “You can’t speak directly to my master. He is a busy man, but you can talk to his doctor in Saudi.” “Then get me the damn doctor!” Somebody was speaking Arabic on a phone. When he was done, he switched back to English. “Well, he has agreed to pay thirty thousand. He’s also interested in the second kidney at the same price. But we can’t do that without ending him. “ “In that case, we shall wait until Mr Chin Lu arrives for the heart.” Omos tried to lift his head towards the window, but his neck was stiff and firm. He rolled his eyes to his left hand and discovered that he was not only on a drip, but also restrained. His hands and legs were chained to the bedframes. Suddenly, he felt moisture in his right abdomen. Blood was dripping out, he was cut. There was a sharp pain and an urge to scream, but his voice was long gone. By Ify Iroakazi Like this:Like Loading... [...]
historyThe ruins of Angkor were long hidden by the Cambodian jungle. Early explorers  such as the French artist Louis Delaporte (1842-1925) sketched the glory of what they found. Little did they know that the past was even more magnificent than they imagined. Just over a hundred years later, new laser technology, or lidar, is able to strip away the overgrowth of centuries, and bring to light a clearer outline of  that lost civilization. Now we can finally begin to understand what Angkor was and why the empire faded. Much still remains a mystery, but we were able to get some preliminary answers from dr. Damian Evans of the French Institute of Asian Studies (EFEO).  In what way does your new Lidar findings expand or confirm the view of Angkor presented by Zhou Daguan in his 12’ century travel narrative? Damian Evans: There has always been a degree of uncertainty about the urban context of the temples, because it was made of perishable materials which have rotted away. However Zhou Daguan mentioned a system of residence in which multiple households were arrayed around communal ponds. Using the lidar we have identified patterns in the ground surface that we can identify as remnant traces of ponds, and earthen occupation mounds on top of which people built their houses. We’ve mapped a vast network of these features, several thousand of them, which essentially confirms the account of Zhou Daguan as it relates to residential patterning. Marco Polo speaks of a great empire in Asia (not China), is there any chance he might have mentioned Angkor? Damian Evans: There’s no evidence for that unfortunately. The Khmer Empire was one of many large political entities which flourished in the region at that time, so it’s not necessarily the case.  What was the population of an average city in the Angkor Empire and what was the total population? Damian Evans: For population estimates we need to know two things: the spatial layout of the settlements, and the density of the neighborhoods. We have only just recently come to terms with the layout of the cities using lidar and other mapping techniques, and figuring out the density of inhabitants per hectare is the domain of household archaeology, which has really only just begun at Angkor. So we haven’t yet had the opportunity to sit down and make precise calculations, and we are still missing some crucial information. We can say though that figures in the one million rage for a population of Angkor are probably way too high, and I would say that there are several hundred thousand people at the capital, and some tens of thousands of people at each of the major regional centres.  What was the most surprising thing that you discovered? Damian Evans: There are still quite a few features that we discovered that we don’t understand. There are large grids of mounds covering several hectares, and strange geometric shapes carved into the surface of the landscape. They don’t seem to have had any agricultural or residential function, and when we excavate them there is nothing inside, so they are not burial sites. They may have some larger symbolic meaning as geoglyphs or something, we don’t know. Work on that is ongoing, as they have turned up everywhere and were obviously an important component of the built environment, and perhaps also of a kind of sacred geography whose meaning is obscure to us.  Has this form of archaeology uncovered anything new about the lives of ordinary people in Angkor? Damian Evans: Not directly, no, aside from confirming the residential patterning. One of the great values of lidar though is that it provides a very detailed and comprehensive picture of the built environment that allows field archaeologists to target excavations very precisely on areas that we know will deliver the most useful information. That work will now begin to deliver a wealth if information about the everyday life of the people. The insights from lidar are more orientated towards large-scale factors such as water management, landscape change, the structure of the urban environment, that kind of thing. One thing we can say is that people were living in a very densely inhabited space in the downtown area of Angkor, and with a lack of sanitation disease must have been an extremely serious issue. Why are there so few traces of this empire in the historical sources? Damian Evans: There is a local tradition of carving inscriptions in stone, and there is a corpus of around 1300 of those inscriptions. It is a rich historical record that informs most of what we know about the Khmer. In terms of accounts from outsiders, early sources are very few and far between so there are huge gaps in our knowledge. Later historical sources in the medieval period are very trade-centric, and are dominated by European accounts. Societies heavily engaged in commerce and/or located in coastal areas to take advantage of maritime trade are heavily privileged in these accounts. Angkor was engaged in trade to a certain extent, but it was most of all an inland agrarian empire and not of great interest to traders and trade emissaries, with the exception of Zhou Daguan.  Why and when did Angkor disappear? Damian Evans: It’s a complex question, there are many theories to do with war, overextension of the empire and so on, but none of the theories really stand alone as sufficient explanations. Increasingly we are seeing that their water management system evolved over centuries in a way that was problematic and ultimately unsustainable; because it was crucial for the success and maintenance of Angkor as the capital region, when the water management system ultimately failed – perhaps in the face of extreme climatic events – the royal court decided to relocate towards the coast and re-orient the economy towards commerce.  If Angkor had such extensive building complexes, canals and waterways, isn’t it natural to assume that they were advanced in the fields of science, mathematics and engineering? Do we know the names of any prominent scientists from the Angkor period? Damian Evans: Not really, no, although there are mentions of some specific professions like architects who seemed to be quite prominent within the royal court. The inscriptions in stone that are our main historical sources are not really informative on such kinds of issues, as they are mostly poetic dedications to the gods which glorify the rulers and list donations to the temples. So we know very little of the mechanics of how things were built and why, and by who. Looking at the extremely precise way that the temples were built however there would have been a cohort of professionals who were very skilled in these fields, and who had the benefit of thousands of years of technical knowledge inherited from China and India and beyond.  What sort of language did the ancient Khmer have, and are there any remains of their literature, either in their own language or in translations in other languages? If not, why not? After all ancient Greek sources often survived in Arabic translations? Damian Evans: They had their own language which is the ancestral language of modern Khmer, although they had no indigenous script and expressed it in writing in a script that was borrowed from India. The language is intelligible to scholars. The high language of religion and the royal court was also borrowed from the Indian tradition – it was Sanskrit, which of course can also be translated easily enough. The corpus of 1300 or so inscriptions has been mostly translated into French.  The lidar technology that you used has been applied most recently on the ancient Maya. Is there any room for improvements in the technology? What will be possible in the near future? Damian Evans: At the moment the technology is still very expensive. In the future, as lidar instruments become miniaturised and as UAV technology develops, we should start to be able to cover wide areas with that combination. For now though it is not practical to cover wide areas on the scale of Angkor for example with UAV technology. But that will come soon I think in the next few years. Unfortunately there are technical limitations which prevent high-resolution space-based lidars. But in a decade or two we might achieve that as well, which will provide cheap global coverage. The amount of archaeological material that will be uncovered then will be extraordinary. Like this:Like Loading... [...]