Thursday, 21 April 2011

Entertainment time again.

One of my jobs is freelance microbiologist/rogue scientist and the other, the one that was a hobby until someone took me seriously, is as a writer of fiction.

Writers make up stories. It's what we do. We are not journalists, we do not chase tales of fact, we typically get drunk and wait for the weird dreams. Sure, we research things - the times and dates in historical settings have to be a close match to the story, for example. You cannot have a revolver in a 15th-century sea battle. There was no way of recording a TV programme at home in 1970. Dishwashers and mobile phones were undreamed of in those days too. Tell me of an 1800's infection treated with a mouldy bread poultice and I'll read on. Tell me it was treated with penicillin and your book goes on the fire. Even though they were very likely the same thing.

I once watched an interview with a writer of Westerns who had received angry letters from fans. One of his characters had a pistol with cartridge bullets, not powder and ball, and those weren't invented until two years after the date of the story. Readers check the fine details too, so authors really need to get them right.

Clint Eastwood's Navy Colt should have been loaded with powder, ball and caps, one cylinder at a time. I have a (non-firing) replica here. Oh, and nobody filled all six cylinders because the thing had a habit of firing as you pulled it from your belt. Leaving the pin on an empty cylinder meant you'd be able to walk faster than others and you'd still be in with a chance of fatherhood.

Still, fictional stories must be made-up and while unlikely, must be at least plausible. They do not have to be based in reality, they can be based far in the future or even in another dimension, but there must be enough underlying logic to make them credible.

No fiction writer with a sane brain cell remaining in his head would have made up a story about passive-smoking fish (thanks to anonymous and to and Angry Ranting Man for the links). Nobody but the extraordinarily simple-minded would give such a tale a second glance. Looking at the comments those tales attract it seems the extraordinarily simple-minded are numerous indeed.

So now it's time to play with the sushi eaters and the prawn salad munchers. Okay. Next time I meet one I'll pass on the references that prove their healthy diet is laced with nicotine, since that is what they want. I'll explain that they can expect to feel a tightening in their chest and a cold sweat across their temples, that they might experience a little breathlessness at times and an ache in their joints, just a dull ache at first but building slowly into pins and needles when they move. That they might notice they are blinking a little faster than usual, a sure sign of imminent heart failure, and that they should attempt to make it as far as the nearest doctor's surgery as quickly as possible.

Oh, and best warn them that many doctors are in the pay of Big Tobacco and will therefore pretend there's nothing wrong with them to keep the numbers of nicotine deaths down. Hey, I don't make the rules. I just play the game. I don't even enjoy it.

Well... maybe just a little bit.

All this is making it difficult for those of us who make up stories (and admit to it). These days, Kafka would have real trouble persuading anyone that his work should be considered 'absurdist' because by modern standards, he's mainstream. He'd be turned down by most national newspapers for being too logical.

So let's see if I can push the envelope far enough to stay in the obviously-fiction range. I haven't put up a new short story in a long time and I'm fairly sure this one hasn't appeared here before. It's all new, not a prior publication, and it must surely be right out in the realms of impossibility.

At least , I hope so. It's early draft so not, as yet, perfect. Here goes...

___

The sins of past lives.



If Jeremiah Blackthorn had never found proof of the afterlife, he would be a free man and the world would be a safer place for everyone.

Today, as every day, Jerry stared at the stone walls of his cell. There were no tears. Those had dried long ago, and he had none left to cry. The scars on his fists told of his first weeks here, when he had pounded the walls until his knuckles bled. Now he sat and stared. When it was time to eat, he ate. When it was time for exercise, he stood in his isolated section of the yard and stared at the outside wall. Over and over, the same images played in his head, It was futile to dwell on the past, but he had nothing better to do. The past was painful. The future was worse.

Jerry closed his eyes and let those times come back to him. The euphoria, the medium who had helped, the accolades and the pursed lips of sceptics who could find no flaw in his results. Nobody could deny the image of Tobias Blackthorn, Jerry’s grandfather, on the photographs. When old Toby showed up in person beside Jerry on national TV, that was that. Proof. Final and absolute.

It should have set the world free. It should have given everyone hope. It should have swelled the congregations of churches all over the world. Yet no church could compete with such proof, and so religion faded. When nobody really dies, nobody needs salvation.

Nobody really dies.

Jerry snorted. The guard who accompanied him looked up from the novel in his hands.

“You okay, Jerry?”

“Okay?” Jerry balled his fists, then let them relax. “Not really.”

“Want to talk about it?” The guard placed a slip of paper into his book and closed it.

“Not really.” Jerry stared at his shoes. Every time he was assigned a new guard, they wanted to hear his story. They knew it, the whole world knew it, but everyone wanted to hear it from him. Jerry sighed. “But I might as well.”

The guard checked his watch. “Got ten more minutes before I have to put you back. Long enough?”

“Plenty.” Jerry stretched his arms. Without facing the guard, he started talking.

“I set out to show the world Paradise, but instead I showed it Hell. Fourteen years ago, I was imprisoned for a crime I knew nothing about. A crime that happened before I was born. Six years before that, I proved that we don’t die when we die. I proved the existence of ghosts.”

“I remember that.” The guard slid his book into his pocket. “I was just a kid, but that ghost on the TV was amazing.”

“I had help. A medium, a great one, who helped my grandfather materialise in that studio. His name was Adam. Adam Crowe, and I wish to God I’d never heard that name.” Jerry paused to calm his breathing. “What happened next, well, you know most of it. The death penalty came back into use all over the world. Governments reasoned that since nobody actually dies, the penalty was only a removal of physical existence. The same held for wars. They could kill civilians in what they like to call ‘collateral damage’ without a qualm. Those people live on, so bigger, deadlier bombs are now used on any target anywhere.”

In the silence of Jerry’s pause, the guard’s teeth rubbed together. Jerry smiled a tight smile at the man’s impatience before continuing.

“Science had largely ignored all paranormal study. Hocus-pocus, superstition, the sort of thing that can kill a scientific career in an instant. All that changed overnight. Oh, science took a hold of this new world and wrung it by the throat. Reincarnation was a proven and documented fact within two years. From there, it was a matter of months before they started tracking people’s previous incarnations. I was one of the first. They did mine for free.” Jerry’s voice choked off. He swallowed a few times and cleared his throat.

“Mine was free, because I was famous. Rich, too. You don’t have to guess what they found.”

The guard’s feet shuffled. “You were Tom Barratt, the Subway Slasher.”

“So they say. I can’t recall any of it. Nobody remembers previous lives. The thing was, Tom Barratt was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences. Consecutive. What idiot thought up that rule?”

“Nobody really expected…” The guard sniffed.

“No, but here it is.” Jerry nodded at the fence separating him from the other inmates. “Look at them. There are at least fifty in that crowd who have done nothing wrong, nothing but get themselves reborn. Consecutive life sentences. If you took that fence away, they’d tear me apart.” Jerry pursed his lips. “Many times I’ve hoped they would.”

“It’s my job to see nothing like that happens to you.”

“Yes it is.” Jerry turned his gaze back to the wall. “I’m on 24-hour suicide watch, too. Suicide is still illegal. It makes no sense at all.”

“Oh, it does. They explained all that to us in training. You could go out and kill a lot of people, get sentenced to life imprisonment and then kill yourself and get reborn as someone else. It’s cheating the law.”

“You believe that?” Jerry faced the guard and was, for a moment, taken aback by his youth. He must be straight out of guard school, or whatever it’s called. “So what if a convicted criminal kills himself? If he effectively opts for the death penalty himself? Wouldn’t it save the taxpayers a lot of money?”

The guard shook his head. “It’s cheating. Life imprisonment is a harsher sentence than the death penalty. We can’t have people taking the easy way out.”

Jerry’s shoulders shook. A forgotten feeling took hold of him and he laughed, loud and long. The death penalty was now the easy way out. Jerry laughed until his sides hurt. Teary-eyed, he looked into the blue sky.

“Dear God, what have I done?”

The guard checked his watch. “Only a couple of minutes left. We’d best head towards the door. They don’t like it if you’re late.”

Jerry lowered his head and followed the guard. “You know, you’ll come and go, you’ll retire one day and live somewhere quiet and restful. You’ll tend flowers in your garden and take your dog for walks.”

“I hope so. It’s something to look forward to.”

“You know what I’m looking forward to?” Jerry spat the words. “One day I’ll die. Then I’ll be reborn. They’ll test me when I’m four years old. They test everyone now. On my fourth birthday I’ll be back in here.” Jerry stepped from the warmth of the yard into the cold granite corridor. “Four years old. I won’t remember this life, or the one before. I’ll have no idea what’s going on. Imagine that.”

The guard closed and locked the door. His back was turned to his prisoner, something guard school must surely have told him was wrong. All the same, he took his time turning around. When he did, his face had lost most of its youth.

Jerry shrugged and led the way back to his cell. Guards didn’t last long in here, but the wall he stared at was permanent.

18 comments:

Shinar's Basket Case said...

Reminds me a lot of Steven King's short stories (which were his real masterpieces).





...btw that was a compliment.

Anonymous said...

True story. In the 1980's I had this German friend Bob who was an Ultra-Green Nazi before it became fashionable. I took him fishinjg with me in the Pacific Ocean off California. I smoke. This moron got pissed when I tossed a butt in the water and started passing around the same rhetoric, that I was killing off all of the fish because of the nicotine...etc. I told him if he was that concerned he could fish them out with a net, which he did all day. When we go back to shore, I landed the boat in the mud and said, "Hey Bob" as I tilted the boat over and watched all of the butts wash away with the tide. He went nuts. We still don't speak. I still catch as many fish as I used to 30 years ago.

Anonymous said...

If you are accepting tittles for the short piece, "Be Careful What You Wish For..." has a nice ring.

Mark Wadsworth said...

I thought the passive smoking fish story was a work of genius. It's not the EU fishing policy that's wiped out stocks in the North Sea, it's the bloody smokers as usual, ruining things for everybody else.

Magnetic said...

Here’s another “butt” story appearing in the prestigious (giggle) journal Tobacco Control. The lead author is Cheryl Healton of the Legacy Foundation in the USA. Legacy is funded by MSA Settlement money and its mission is to eradicate tobacco use. It even has a truth® campaign – seriously, registered “truth” (as in the Ministry of Truth).

Butts have only recently been manufactured into an “issue”. From their many international and national conferences on “smoking & health” it has obviously been determined that butts will be manufactured into a main theme in the current antismoking assault. So we need “studies”. And sure enough, who could have guessed it, the impact of butts is “catastrophic” requiring immediate action. A critical ingredient in propaganda is the use of words that warp the thinking to the required emotional [revulsion] reaction.

Some excerpts:
“making them [butts] a concern for the quality of urban life. Cigarette butts contain all the carcinogenic chemicals, pesticides, and nicotine that make tobacco use the leading cause of preventable death worldwide, yet they are commonly, unconsciously and inexcusably dumped by the trillions (5.6 trillions and counting) into the global environment each year.

“leachates—the toxic soup produced when butts are soaked in water; Slaughter shows that only one cigarette butt will kill half the fish exposed to leachates in a controlled laboratory setting”

“To grapple with toxic cigarette butt waste…..”

“Researchers should also examine the social and economic impacts of cigarette waste, including costs to localities for butt clean-up and degradation of urban environments.”

“While more research would certainly be helpful to define the scope of the problem, science-based interventions should now address what is clearly an unnecessary and preventable environmental plague in our communities.”

“Butt really, what is needed now is for tobacco control and environmental activists to work together to hold the global cigarette industry accountable for the toxic mess they've caused.”

“We challenge our friends and colleagues in tobacco control and environmental change movements to join forces and find solutions for eliminating this especially toxic form of trash.”

http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/20/Suppl_1/i1.full

Magnetic said...

Here’s another “butt” story appearing in the prestigious (giggle) journal Tobacco Control. The lead author is Cheryl Healton of the Legacy Foundation in the USA. Legacy is funded by MSA Settlement money and its mission is to eradicate tobacco use. It even has a truth® campaign – seriously, registered “truth” (as in the Ministry of Truth).

Butts have only recently been manufactured into an “issue”. From their many international and national conferences on “smoking & health” it has obviously been determined that butts will be manufactured into a main theme in the current antismoking assault. So we need “studies”. And sure enough, who could have guessed it, the impact of butts is “catastrophic” requiring immediate action. A critical ingredient in propaganda is the use of words that warp the thinking to the required emotional [revulsion] reaction.

Magnetic said...

(cont'd)
Some excerpts:
“making them [butts] a concern for the quality of urban life……. yet they are commonly, unconsciously and inexcusably dumped by the trillions (5.6 trillions and counting) into the global environment each year.

“leachates—the toxic soup produced when butts are soaked in water; Slaughter shows that only one cigarette butt will kill half the fish exposed to leachates in a controlled laboratory setting”

“To grapple with toxic cigarette butt waste…..”

“Researchers should also examine the social and economic impacts of cigarette waste, including costs to localities for butt clean-up and degradation of urban environments.”

“While more research would certainly be helpful to define the scope of the problem, science-based interventions should now address what is clearly an unnecessary and preventable environmental plague in our communities.”

“Butt really, what is needed now is for tobacco control and environmental activists to work together to hold the global cigarette industry accountable for the toxic mess they've caused.”

“We challenge our friends and colleagues in tobacco control and environmental change movements to join forces and find solutions for eliminating this especially toxic form of trash.”
http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/20/Suppl_1/i1.full

Magnetic said...

(cont'd)

What’s required is a good helping of words like “toxic”, “pollution”, “mess”, “plague”, “degradation”. Sentences should be constructed around these words. In fact the only use of sentences is as opportunities to use these words.

The study also peddles the idea that filters are another tobacco industry “conspiracy” (I think that makes about 8,509 TI “conspiracies” at last count) that should be dispensed with.

mister_choos said...

Reincarnation real?

What if a former me was a smoker?

I'm going to die Aiieeee!!!

Chalcedon said...

Enjoyed that story!

Anonymous said...

Very inventive mind, very creative story line, told very well, always excellent writing, enjoyed it very much.

For the butts, that was already played up big-time in San Francisco, "study proved" it the largest bulk of all street trash city-wide, then proceeded to add a local "trash clean-up fee" to every pack of cigs sold. They made it sound like the city was buried in cig butts 3 feet high, nothing else compared to the mountains of butts.

Cig butts was also cited as the original excuse for the outdoor smoking bans in SF parks and now all streets, because the butts were destroying the planet, outdoor smoking had to be banned.

They didn't even need the SHS Fraud to start taxing and banning outdoors, they just needed "the butts" as their first excuse.

Leg-iron said...

Anon - yes indeed, there are people who believe that a single cigarette butt can kill all the fish in the Pacific.

I've been getting more and more absurd in the things I tell such people because I want to see if I can reach the point where they say 'Nah, that's ridiculous'.

I have a long way to go, I think.

Leg-iron said...

Mark - it'll be smokers who started WWII next. They annoyed Hitler so much he invaded Poland just to get away from them!

In fact, the whole of WWII was caused by Hitler trying to find a country that wasn't full of smokers. The only reason he didn't invade the UK was because Churchill was careful to always be photographed with a big cigar.

Moral: Smoking keeps nasty people away from you.

Leg-iron said...

Magnetic - the Spaminator caught you on the way in. I've released your comments (and others) from its greasy fingers.

Leg-iron said...

Magnetic - every can that goes in recycling has a cigarette end in it now. So every bit of recycled metal will contain enough nicotine to kill an antismoker on contact. They won't dare drink beer again.

If they'll believe the fish story, this will be easy.

It's probably illegal to have this much fun.

Leg-iron said...

mister_choos - It could be worse. What if former you was a prohibitionist?

There are some things you just don't want to know.

Leg-iron said...

Nicotine has insecticidal properties, the butts are entirely biodegradable and the ash is rich in plant nutrients. So a lot of it ends up in my compost. Aside from those butts I use for fun.

Smoking in the greenhouse is compulsory. I had no problems with insects last year at all. If anyone fancies raiding my greenhouse while I'm out, there's no lock but there is an ashtray.

The valuable stuff is in the shed which is locked, alarmed and has a crossbow/tripwire combo to deter thieves. I prefer it if they stop before they get to the crossbow. They make the compost all greasy.

Also, you can scare an antismoker shitless with a loaded portable ashtray. Nukes? Who needs 'em?

Coming soon - plane hijacked by Alky Ada operatives with the threat 'Do as we say. We have cigarettes and we're not afraid to light them!'

Michael J. McFadden said...

That page on the passive smoking fish is sad. It seems to be aimed directly at kids and we now have little 8 year olds thinking that all the fish on the planet are going to die because of the evil smokers. ::sigh::

This is actually a subject I examined in some depth years and years ago when the water flea experiment was first being touted to promote beach bans in California. I think the best layout of the subject is the one I just did last month for Rich White's blog "SmokeScreens" (Rich is the author of "Smoke Screens: The Truth About Tobacco.")

My article is titled "Beach Butt Baloney" and I think it's worth a read!

http://www.smokescreens.org/pages/blog-article?r=MGWCH7QIIG&send_to=%2Fpages%2Fblog


:)

Michael J. McFadden
Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains" (with some fish on the side...)

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