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Sunday, 2017-10-22, 10:00 AM
Abraham's Hill Part II
A Hissing World
A body is lying at my feet. The police will be arriving soon to arrest me. I can already hear their sirens. I am desperately trying to remember how I came to be here. What on earth turned me into an assassin? Something has happened to me…something unbelievable.
I remember receiving an odd package from India for my twenty-first birthday. Was it really only yesterday? I didn’t even know I had a friend in India. The package contained several items, including a few photographs. There were pictures of me standing outside the Taj Mahal…but I’ve never been there. In fact I’ve never been to India. In the pictures, I was standing in the middle of a group of approximately twenty smiling men, all of them extremely athletic. I seemed to be the best of friends with them. But I couldn’t recognise a single one of them. What was happening to me?
There was a letter in the package, the strangest letter I’d ever received. ’Snake charmers aren’t what they seem,’ it said enigmatically. ‘People believe that the snakes are beguiled by the music. But snakes are deaf. It’s the movement of the tip of the fakir’s flute that entrances them. You see, nothing is ever as it seems.
‘The time has come for the sloughing of the old skin. Life must be born anew: stronger, nobler, more vital. The old must perish. Kill the old. Kill the old. Kill the old…’
That last line was repeated one hundred times, like a mantra, a hypnotic injunction going right to the heart of my subconscious. It was a command that bade me return to the box to accept its final gift: a phial of snake venom.
‘Kill the old: drink the new, ‘the attached prescription read.
I didn’t know what to do. I had an extraordinarily powerful urge to drink the poison, but every particle of my instinct for self-preservation told me to destroy it. Bewildered, I took out an ordinary pack of playing cards and began dealing myself a hand. I felt ill. As I looked at the designs on the cards, the room seemed to swim around me. I saw real hearts and diamonds emerging from the playing cards and swirling around my head. Echelons of clubs and spades marched towards me like a Chinese army. Eventually, all of the images formed into the likeness of a man, a very old man. He stared at me as though he were my father.
‘The time has come, ‘he said in a voice as old as the universe. ‘You know your duty. I am the Old Man of the Mountain. You have been to my home and enjoyed my paradise. You drank from my hashish fountains, you took your pleasure with seventy-eight of my beautiful virgins. We trained you, just as we trained twenty others. Remember you task. Kill the old order so that there is room for the new. Transform yourself. Redeem the world, my son.’
My mind went blank. I don’t know for how long. Now I am here and I know I am a programmed assassin. I was in India. I was there for ten years with twenty companions while the Old Man of the Mountain moulded our minds. Subliminal triggers were implanted in our minds. It was necessary that we should not have to think about what we did. The perfect killer is the man who is unaware he is going to kill.
Images are flooding back into my mind. I can see myself dressed in black, wearing a mask, like a mask of Greek tragedy. Now I am standing above the body of the man I was born to kill – the Prime Minster of the UK. I am aware that at this moment all the world’s leaders lie dead, slain by me and my fellow bringers of death, the lethal marionettes of the Old Man. I am also aware that I have no idea how to escape.
It is now that the police enter the room. Almost reflexively, I start repeating one word over and over again. It is the word which best describes me. It is what I have been all my life. I say the word slowly. I say it again and again. Each time I say it I realise it sounds slightly different.
Finally, only s’s are emerging from my mouth. The police are appalled. I can see the terror in their eyes. It is only now that I realise the horrific truth. I have become something no longer human. I am something ancient, and utterly terrible.
I have become, God help me, a snake!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The Key to the Wrong Door
She shouldn’t have come in. How many times had she been told? – every room in the castle bar this one. Was that too much to ask? Everyone needs their private space. I respected hers. Why had she disobeyed?
I stared at her, as I had stared at the seven before her. I could see that same odd mixture of curiosity, revulsion, incomprehension. Why did they all react in exactly the same way? It annoyed me, that did. It was bound to count against them. Couldn’t they see that?
I had loved each of them with the same fervour. Or, rather, I had loved that part of their character that pleased me. The rest I had chosen to ignore. It was the only way to allow love to flourish. Love is selective blindness. I thought everyone knew that. Those who want to see everything are not lovers, but pathologists. They want to dissect, to cut everything out until what they are examining is no longer recognisable as what they began with.
Each of them treated my love for them as some kind of exercise in autopsy. They kept carrying out their incisions, their sutures. They drained fluid from this part, dismembered that part, subjected this part to the microscope. Why? How many times must I repeat it: the very process of examination kills what is being examined.
When my wives had destroyed the loving part of me with their infernal curiosity, I felt nothing for them. It was inevitable. Why couldn’t they have worked that out? Why couldn’t they simply enjoy what they had? Why did they have to ruin everything? They became little more than incorporeal vapours. They were all around me, but they no longer communicated with my soul. All possibility of that had gone.
The last one did not scream. I suppose she should be given some credit for that. She simply kept staring at the stuffed bodies of her predecessors as they swung so gently from the chandeliers. Personally, I thought they looked rather fetching in their pristine white wedding dresses. It was more than they deserved. Moreover, the blue light I had carefully set up in the room flattered their rather pallid features, concealed the unfortunate areas where the taxidermy hadn’t worked quite so well. Perhaps I need more practice.
I slammed the door behind her, just as I had done all those times before. She knew precisely what fate was in store for her: it was staring her in the face, so to speak. Maybe the next one will know better. Surely I can’t be asking too much. Everyone needs privacy.
Even Captain Bluebeard needs to be alone some time.
Dreaming of Jupiter
She was crying, but she wouldn’t take her eyes off me. She kept doing that thing with her hair. I have to confess I found it quite amusing. I suppose you would call this theinitial shock – Phase 1. I had seen it on my own world many times, and just as many here on earth. I preferred it when it ended in termination – the self-inflicted ending of the unit’s life – but that was regrettably rarely the case.
Ah, she’s making the cup of hot liquid now, a sure sign that we’ve moved onto Phase 2 of the study. This ceremony will be repeated at least twenty times, having as an inevitable consequence the creation of a well-worn path to the liquid release facility. I understand they call it ‘toilet’ on this planetoid.
I’ll self-deactivate for a while since I do find this phase rather wearisome. Phase 3, due in about two hours, offers greater promise.
Oops, nearly ignored my reactivation signal. Must be getting old. Maybe it’s all the strain of having to maintain this ridiculous shape. I don’t know why I bother. Who on earth wants to study humans? It’s not as if they’re interesting. The entertainment quotient here is on a par with waiting for a proton in the Crab Nebula to decay. Not to be recommended, I can assure you. But a job’s a job, I suppose. Or so they keep telling me. Well, at least it pays for my time-share condo on Jupiter. It’s in a prime location, right in the centre of the Red Spot. Ah, to hang-glide when the hurricanes are at their fiercest, to feel those blistering radiation storms, to smell those delightful free radical gases, all of them reassuringly entirely poisonous to these crass humans. No chance of bumping into one of them as I stroll down to the radioactive cinder beach to soak up a few choice gamma rays.
Now, observe: Phase 3 commences. She’s phoning all of her friends…seeking sympathy, support, endorsement of her sense of utter outrage. She’ll invite them round, luring them with talk of alcoholic beverages and sugar-laden confectionaries. Just you wait and see. Things are definitely livening up.
Oh, here we go: one’s agreed to come round straight away. This should be good for a test of my amusement facilities. It will be the all males of this species are illegitimate offspring of lesser creatures on the phylogenetic scale routine. All the rest of the tedious speech will pour out: oh, we lavish all of our higher emotional states on these backwardly evolving invertebrates and they repay us by substantially raising the level of depressants in our cerebral cortex. Wretched are we. The carriers of the Y chromosome abnormality render life most unpleasant. How we wish they could be subjected to a catastrophic and overwhelming viral infection at the cellular level. How we wish they’d be plunged into a primal soup of virulent bacterial contagion. Ah, yes, the same tired litany is heard on every planet.
Then will come the ancient ceremony of the ripping up of the male’s most expensive body-concealment garments, the throwing of his most cherished auditory possessions, and associated visual paraphernalia, out of the window. Vows of undying hatred will be taken, punctuated by consumptions of glasses of gin displaying a pronounced and alarming pink colouration.
I wonder why I subject myself to this dull chore. It’s not as if I ever learn anything new. The reactions are always the same. I’ve played this part over one hundred times now and the outcome has been the same almost every time.
Maybe I should try a different tack. Perhaps playing the part of an unexpected child-maintenance letter from the CSA to a married man with no children by his loving wife is not a dignified role for a visiting alien to be playing.