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   Volume IX, Issue I

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Poetry


Paper Cuts from Peace Treaties
Darrin Albert

 

I watched as my sister watched, and the bearers of pall and pain marched my father along, not only to the beats of funeral drums, but also to the beats of the hearts of the living. I offered her the idle commiserations of how much better it was this way than if it were a parent burying a child, as if the natural order of things were an ointment that somehow soothed. She retaliated and spoke of how equally sordid it was for a father to proclaim 'uncle' to his very own child in an admission of defeat. Being remiss in my ability to edify her broken spirit, I learned to abstain from riding the bull only to ride the fence. I beat around the bush until it became my beaten path.

-Non-sentience note #1 from Floyd Spindler, personality profile o-c-e-a-N, from "Predicting the Weathered with the W-H-Y Ray," page 73, Death Row Digest, November, 1989.

Part 1: The Etiology of Madness

Two undisclosed phone booths in Scape City, April 10, 1989

 

"Wasn't it curiosity that killed the cat?" asked Scape City Prison research director Floyd Spindler from a Scape City phone booth.

"Cats are supposed to always land on their feet and they have nine lives!" said Hiram from a phone booth across town. "Save your philosopher's stone for stone soup." He checked his watch. "Your call is exactly 23 minutes late. What did you expect me to do in the meantime, twiddle my thumbs?"

Floyd smiled. "Frequent thumb-twiddling can make you a better thumb wrestler, hitchhiker, or video gamer. Now, I seek your approval on the verbiage of the ad I am working on for Death Row Digest's annual research gala."

"Okay." Hiram shook his head. "But let's get on with it. Knowing the crowds you hang out with, it wouldn't surprise me if I was assassinated in this very phone booth you asked me to call you from."

Floyd chuckled. "Rest assured, you are not important enough to be assassinated. You would merely be murdered."

"Well, that sure makes me feel a whole lot better. Perhaps you should grow up and get a normal job?"

"People are only excited to grow up when they graduate from diapers, turn 21, or acquire their driver's license. Curious how this enthusiasm to mature dies quickly when the elderly graduate to adult diapers whilst dreaming about a misspent youth. I have better things to do than step in line for the overrated stint with the 9 to 5 Poison-Ivy League or the daily bread machine."

"Fiddlesticks, Floyd, it isn't just your Peter Pan Complex." Hiram shook his head. "You have been so secretive about your new top-secret research project for that pleasure dome you call a prison. Doesn't it bother you to be around such dangerous people? Everyone knows what happens to those who ride with horse thieves."

Floyd pulled out a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket and read aloud, "We are taking applications for test subjects to be assessed live at the Scape City Death Row Digest Science Gala, October 5, 1989, at Theater Z. Like most employers, I'll do a background check, but unlike most employers, I seek the most deviant and criminal among you! Your RAP sheet is your resume! I NEED YOU to be my teacher's pet, gift horse, and guinea pig. In the interests of confidentiality and science, keep the details of this project a secret."

He put the paper back in his pocket. "How is that for spilling my guts and exposing the skeletons in my closet, or rather, phone booth?"

"Good enough." Hiram tapped on the window. "But a solicitation for test subjects from Scape City Prison with no fine print?"

"The print is fine the way it is. Less is more, more or less."

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I put the poison, or should I say medicine, up to his lips until he swallowed. He winced from the horrifying taste. As he was gagging, I wrapped my lips around his poison-laced mouth to prevent the loss of residual poison, or cure as it were, by making a seal. I worked my tongue to push the saliva mixture down his throat until I became ill and he was dead.

Partial statement from first interview with Lissie Wanak conducted by Floyd Spindler (i.e. Hospice Hospitality), personality profile O-c-e-a-n, preferred death by lethal injection, Death Row Digest, October, 1982.

 

Part 2: Capital and Punishment
Class A private cell quarters, May 17, 1989

Scape City was a city divided when it came to capital punishment. As a compromise, the city council had decided to keep the death penalty as long as the prison showed utmost benevolence towards inmates on death row (such as allowing the inmates to choose their preferred method of execution). The in-house publication, Death Row Digest, displayed news that ended with a long list of scheduled entertainments including the upcoming Science gala.

Lissie, a prisoner standing tall at over six feet, strode to her dresser and removed a fresh stick of sandalwood incense. She placed it into the holder on the coffee table in front of the fainting couch. She glanced around at the posters of her favorite rock bands, cello, antique furniture, and foreign VHS films as she lit it. She poured herself a glass of cognac before throwing herself down on the sofa. "Here I am, thirty-five years old, sitting on death row for the eleventh straight year. Is my number ever going to come up?"

Less than a week ago, Lissie discovered a crinkled up advertisement thrown into her cell. The writing on the back requested a taped audition, to be sent to none other than Floyd Spindler. With her criminal RAP sheet already in tow, she was ready to record her well-rehearsed speech and submit it all to Death Row Digest, care of Floyd. Standing naked, except for a men's tie, and holding an unlit candle, she hit record and returned to her original spot.

"Today is May 17, 1989, and this is my audition video for Floyd Spindler. Let's hope it holds a candle to the other applicants." Lissie held up her candle. "My parents died when I was young so I lived with my aunt and uncle. Then 1970 came along and I suddenly found myself a dying patient at Hospice with a rare terminal illness at only 16 years old. I didn't want to die at the time. I still remember the terror of realizing I would be joining ol' dead people like Winston Churchill or George Washington as if everything that had happened since then meant sod all in the end." She walked to her dresser and obtained several Scape City Prison credits and returned to her spot. She held the blue bills up in front of the camera. "I not only need the money, but I need you, Floyd, to fulfill your claim that your invention can prove that I hold the truth." She flung the bills in the air like confetti. "There's a lot I can still accomplish in prison!"

She skipped to her night stand and gathered an award she received at Hospice entitled "Brave Little Trooper." She held it in front of the camera. "Over time, I realized that it wasn't death I was afraid of, but rather the loss of the pampered care from the Hospice staff." She hustled to the side of her cell, put the award back in its original holder, and returned. "When I recovered to full health, I tried hard to stay confined there. The staff told me Hospice was a place only for the dying, so I lifted prescription pills to give myself the side effects symptomatic of a relapse. This worked for only about a fortnight until the staff caught on." She pouted.

"I went straight from my death bed at Hospice to a stay at the Nut Cracker Suite." She seized the opportunity to reach for a peanut she spotted on her fainting couch and held it up. "You are what you eat, right? By then I was obsessed with the mystery of death and I needed to surround myself with the dying again. I acted like a good little lassie until I was released from the asylum with a clean bill of mental health. I then wormed my way back to become a volunteer staff member at a different Hospice." She folded her arms. "When staff wasn't present I would ask clients what it was like, I mean, what it was really like, knowing they were actually going to die. This curiosity only grew until I realized that it didn't seem so bad, at least judging from the countless patients that died under my care. Some of the ol' geezers and young alike seemed impatient to get it all over and done with."

She slipped on a large smoking jacket she had on the bed before moving a chair in front of the camera. Grabbing a champagne flute, she sat down and crossed her legs. "It didn't take too long before I started to expedite an end to their lives, regardless of their current pain. I took a second job at an old person's home and did the same. Eventually, I got caught putting poison in the produce at grocery stores." She opened her jacket and exposed her breasts. "You know, tit for tat and all that." She sipped from her champagne flute before taking off the jacket and tie altogether. She tilted the camera downward and sat down cross legged on the cold stone floor of the cell. "I am no longer allowed to socialize with other inmates. The staff views death row as not that different from the Hospice where I worked. Thus I am a threat, especially after I convinced a few inmates to commit suicide. How I long to fast-forward the inevitable in their time of thanatopia! Death is superior to life!"

Shivering, Lissie stood up and turned off her air conditioner. She glared at the camera. "Their so-called good guys save the whales. I want to relieve them from a cruel world. Their good guys say it is only the strong that survive. I say survival is for the weak."

She went to her dresser and came back with a razor blade. She dragged it across her left breast just under the nipple. "Think about it. The world has already ended many times. Every hundred and twenty years the entire planet is replaced with an entirely new set of people. This slow genocide goes unnoticed, as newspapers display weddings and obituaries simultaneously." She held up her breast and licked the blood around her nipple. She leaned forward and kissed the camera lens leaving an imprint of blood. "And besides, the very word live itself spells evil backwards."

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Man-O-catfish, what can't I say about Floyd Spindler? I still consider him my best friend. But it really ground my gears when he started taping our conversations for his damned research studies. I had no idea that Scape City would even sanction this kind of unethical research.

- interview of city librarian Hiram Atkinson, personality profile o-C-e-a-n, Death Row Digest, November, 1989

 

Part 3: If You Can't Beat City Hall, Join It
Scape City Library Office of Periodical Literature, April 2, 1989

If knowledge is power, one might expect the city librarian to be some sort of modern-day philosopher. But librarians are only messengers of knowledge. Wearing his usual plaid shirt and blue jeans, Hiram sat at his office desk starting his lunch break and doing the daily crossword puzzle. He looked up as he heard the familiar gait of a certain inventor. Floyd Spindler, wearing a wine-red silk shirt, black blazer, and leather ankle boots, entered the library office.

"So you show up to my castle after all," said Hiram. "I have that old crime information you asked for regarding that crazy woman who killed those patients in the Hospice center some odd years ago."

"I suspect you still suffer fools as gladly as acid off a duck's back," said Floyd. "But who among us is endowed with the jurisdiction to be the arbiter of fools?"

Hiram shook his head and stood up. He motioned Floyd to follow him as he walked down the hall. Hiram led the way to the only available microfiche machine. It sat at the far end of the reference section. In front of the machine there was a cleverly placed placard reading 'Out of Order' written in Hiram's own handwriting. Hiram sat down, adjusted the focus, and peered into the lens. "This woman causes me to plum worry myself sick. So Floyd, are you the type that likes to hear the good or bad news first?"

"To answer your question," Floyd said as he sat down on a chair to the right of Hiram, "people who want the good news first are procrastinators who put off the inevitable. Those who want the bad news first are like the kids who stand in front of the line to get their inoculations over with. Both camps have to face the music. Me? I prefer to avoid the news altogether."

"Avoid the news?" Hiram looked up from the microfiche. "Now that's news to me. So why then did you ask me to research old news about some crook? I do wish you would tell me more about these secrets of yours."

Floyd leaned back in his chair. "That woman was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's a shame Murphy's Law is not enforced by a governing body."

Hiram shifted his gaze back to the article and chewed a nearby pencil. "As I gander over this it sounds like this nut is more of a drama queen than your typical good-for-nothing crook. It says here that she views murder and death as acts of mercy in a world longing for mass extinction." He leaned back in his chair and placed his hands atop his head. "Yep, another poor child who didn't get the hickory stick. If only her parents taught her that life is fair because life is equally unfair to all of us. By rights we shouldn't even give her the attention of reading about her at this very moment." He stood up, rubbed his eyes, and put the microfiche neatly away. He placed his "Out of Order" placard neatly on the machine, and led the way back to his office. He pulled two root beers out of the compact fridge under his desk and handed one to Floyd.

"You know," Hiram said as they both sat down, "I fibbed on my resume to get hired." He pointed at the shelves of books outside the door. "I never even read a single book out there. Truth is, I hate reading. I don't even read a magazine at the doctor's office."

Floyd grinned. "You can't judge a librarian by his cover letter. I suspect that you wrote that you were well-read when you should have written that you can simply read well."

Hiram gulped his soda. "That woman sounds like she would make paper airplanes, hats, and origami out of suicide notes if she had the chance. Hard to believe judging from the picture. She's as cute as a button.

"Yeah, the big red kind that launches nuclear warheads." Floyd placed his can of soda in his briefcase. "You can't always outrun a fat man or a little boy."

Hiram leaned back in his chair. "This is why I hate the newspaper. She's definitely bad news."

"Word to the wise," Floyd continued, "never befriend a masochist who follows the Golden Rule." He turned his gaze to the endless shelves of books outside the door. "You know, I used to envy authors, but when you think about how many millions of books there are in existence, each author no longer seems bigger than life."

"At least you know how to throw a book at someone better than a surly judge," Floyd said. "Librarians know that the heaviest books are not only in the reference sections but also the philosophy and graphic novel areas."

Hiram arched an eyebrow. "Graphic novels?"

Floyd laughed. "Because pictures are worth a thousand words, of course." His grin dissipated. "But it all does make me wonder if any of those books I read in grade-school still show the stamp of my name and date when I checked them out." He grinned at Hiram. "Knowing your pragmatic mind I suspect you would have me spend more time waxing my car than waxing nostalgic. Leave it to Lego to put maximum age limits on their boxes. Your kind must think you will kick the bucket if you dare kick the can."

Hiram threw his arms up in the air. "Someday you'll outsmart yourself Floyd."

Floyd checked his watch and headed briskly to the library's exit. Hiram leaned back in his chair before he jumped up to catch up with him at the door.

"I forgot to mention the good news I was going to tell you," panted Hiram. "The weather is supposed to be perfect all week."

"Curious how we saved the weather for the end portion of our discourse," said Floyd. But it does make me wonder what weathermen save for small talk."

Hiram shrugged his shoulders.

Under an amber blanket laid out by the setting sun, Floyd stepped into the night. "Perhaps they talk about world peace."

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The downtrodden don't give a damn about their lowly status in life in the nether regions of Scape City where I cut my teeth. Fools would have you believe that the ugly emotions like anger, jealousy, or sadness are bad things. I was handicapped and empathized with all breeds of underdogs, especially the mongrels.... I ran my car into a myriad of able-bodied students protesting tuition hikes for more ramps on campus... I felt my car slow down about 10 mph with each person I dispatched. I felt all the disability I had caused adding to my monstrous abilities as the legs I had taken became my legs and the blood on my hands was not blood at all but the disappearing ink of all the hate mail ever written condemning the disabled, mentally ill, homeless, or ass ugly.

-Partial quotes from Jasper Munson (i.e. "The Disabler"), personality profile o-c-E-a-n, preferred means of death by electric chair, Death Row Digest, June 1987

 

Part 4: The Disabler
City Laundromat and Cleaners, Scape City, July 11, 1989

Having had a limp since birth, the 40 year-old Jasper Munson stood at just over five feet tall. He had brown eyes to match his dyed brown hair and, at least today, brown jeans. By now Jasper had amassed certain privileges in the Scape City prison system over the course of fifteen years. As part of the prison work program, he currently manned the day shift at the prison Laundromat.

Strolling into the laundry wing of the prison with a prison escort close behind, Floyd Spindler discreetly hit record on his micro tape recorder as he approached Jasper. He was adorned in an authentic replica of a 19th century frock coat and beret. The guard took his place by the door. Although it was drab and stony like most of the quarters in the prison, the laundry machines, floors, and walls were clean and well-kept. There was a bulletin board in the corner with various flyers and news bulletins. The room smelled of detergent.

"At ease Laundromat-keep," Floyd said, "if that is the right title for someone of your stature. I work for the prison's research division. You handle laundry while a barkeep handles booze, but I suspect you both spend a lot of time cleaning vomit stains, eh?"

"With all due disrespect, who the hell are you?" Jasper said, turning away from a nearby Ms. Pac Man machine he was dusting.

Floyd bowed. "Floyd Spindler, at your service."

Jasper hobbled over to his place behind the counter. "What do you want?"

"You can trust me," Floyd said as he removed his beret. "I can't take you to the cleaners, because you are already there."

"Cut to the chase," Jasper said.

"No need to fret," Floyd said. "Laundromat humor is less dirty than toilet humor and has a dry wit."

"So you want to strip naked and have me wash the clothes off your back?"

"A strip-tease request?" asked Floyd. "But it's not my laundry that is dirty. It is yours."

"What are you getting at?" asked Jasper.

"Suffice it to say that coffins and closets have more than tight spaces in common. Closets often contain skeletons and coffins contain plenty of dirty laundry."

Jasper scowled. "Now I'm more confused. But I think I resent that!"

"I'm not here to judge." Floyd said. "I've never met anyone who deserved to be buried under the moral high ground."

Jasper took a swig of fine wine from the bottle while smoking a cigarette at the same time. "Cut to the chase mister, what's your agenda with me?"

Floyd glanced at the guard before whispering in Hiram's ear, "I am here to get you off death row."

The guard glanced over suspiciously.

Jasper slammed down the wine bottle. "Talk is cheap."

Floyd winked at Jasper. "Don't be afraid. Many forget that in the coffin we are all gutless, lack balls, and yet somehow manage to show spine. Come now; spill your guts a little early, just for me."

Jasper took a large drink. "For starters, I just got dumped from my woman on the outside. I swamped her with love letters. Love is nothing but blood, sweat, tears, and cum."

Floyd rested his elbow on a washing machine. "It is curious that there are laws against harassing people but not against rejecting people. Love is like tic-tac-toe. You either win, lose, or have a draw. And both are played with X's and O's."

Jasper gave a ten yard stare out the window. "I killed a lot of people Floyd. Don't bother trying to get me out. The only way out of here is through evidence proving you were framed, innocent to begin with, or by hopelessly pleading insane."

Floyd clapped his hands together. "So you would say your laundry contains permanent stains?"

Jasper turned away from the window. "What are you up to?"

Floyd approached Jasper. He glanced at the guard who was staring at the garbage can. He reached into his pocket and exposed one of his crinkled up adverts. He stuffed it into Jasper's shirt pocket and straightened his tie. "What I'm about to offer you is the sanity defense."

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Part 5: Sheep of the Herd are Sheep in Sheep's Clothing
The laboratory of Floyd Spindler, July 25, 12:00 a.m., 1989

"That about does it," Floyd said aloud into his portable tape recorder while walking towards his lab. "I have reviewed the personality profiles of on-the-run fugitives, yesterday's-news troublemakers, career criminals, or self-appointed superheroes who failed to change a world that failed to change for them."

A prison guard was up ahead standing in front of the laboratory door. "Remember," Floyd said as he approached him, "My subjects are to get extra compensation credits for their time."

The prison guard grumbled, "Only for the prison shopping center."

"You mustn't forget fringe benefits for the fringes of society."

"Yeah, yeah, Floyd," the guard said. "You have an answer for everything."

Floyd, wearing his usual red silk shirt and beret, entered the lab with the security guard. He looked around and noticed that Jasper, wearing tattered sweats, was sitting at the desk in the far corner. Lissie, wearing a long black velvet dress, warmed a seat near the bulletproof window.

Floyd motioned them to take their seat on a worn out sofa in the middle of the laboratory. Jasper and Lissie did as they were told. He escorted the escort out of the room. In each corner of the square room were electrical devices, microscopes, X-ray machines, computers, sinks, and shiny file cabinets. Unlike the stereotypical mad scientist, he had a passion for organization.

Floyd removed his beret and took a bow towards the guests. "Greetings. I am Floyd Spindler, the harborer of criminals, rider with horse thieves, and stage conductor of the chorus of train conductors."

Jasper glared at Floyd. "And we're your guinea pigs. Just like the ad said, your gift horses, soon to be put down for foot and mouth disease."

"Horses cannot get foot and mouth," laughed Floyd. "But humans have been known to get foot in mouth disease. The symptoms involve rosy red cheeks, butterflies in stomach, sweaty palms, and egg on your face." He stepped toward Jasper. "Might I recommend that you acquire a St. Bernard complete with a rum-drum for your personal service animal to quell your nerves?"

Jasper grumbled. Lissie smiled. Floyd walked to a nearby magazine rack and grasped a copy of Death Row Digest. He stepped to the front of the room. "No worries Jasper. I too have always chosen to see the shot glass as half full. "Say Ms. Wanak, why did the chicken cross the road?"

Lissie jumped. "Ah, to get to the other side?"

"Quite correct," said Floyd. "At least it's our best guess." Lissie smiled as if her answer were the stuff of rocket science. "While this answer is known to be a poor punch line for a poor joke, it begs more questions. Was the chicken a coward running away from danger or an intrepid creature running towards something? I posit that the chicken never crossed the road at all."

Jasper and Lissie looked at each other.

Floyd turned to Jasper. "Here's one for you Jasper. "What scares the scarecrow?"

Jasper slammed his cane down. "I could care less about chickens and scarecrows. I'd rather be out feeding the homeless instead of sitting here feeding your soapbox fund. Now, get me off death row!"

Floyd ran his fingers over his three day stubble. "Those who are overtly intrepid are often covertly quite afraid. Perhaps the lion should have left his quest for courage to the scarecrow."

Lissie ran her fingers over several holes in the sofa. "I'm just here to prove my theory right and exclaim to the world a big, fat 'told you so!"

Floyd shot a glance at Lissie. "Share your theory with the class."

"Death is the ultimate truth and that the world craves mass extinction. It's the only real cure for life's endless suffering. Life itself knew this and planned ahead. That is why it created two forms of bribery to coerce the human race to live on. The first bribe is nature's use of nerve endings, coaxing us to stay alive to avoid pain. The second bribe is sexual pleasure. It tricks the living into reproducing, which keeps the vicious circle of life going and going."

Floyd raised his finger. "So you are saying that Cupid and the Grim Reaper tricked the living with their arrows and scythes?"

Lissie grinned. "Yes. And those weapons are now outdated."

Floyd picked up a yardstick and pointed it at his two guests. "Now, I invented something spectacular. It is called the Y-Ray. It will show the court that Jasper is not guilty. But like Lissie implied, it can do so much more. It will show us the ultimate truth, including if her truth is correct. But the danger of the Y Ray is that it runs counterclockwise to those famous three little words."

"I love you?" asked Lissie bewildered.

"Thanks Lissie, but we've only just met," said Floyd, seizing the moment. Lissie blushed. "No, Miss Wanak. I was referring to those other three little words, ignorance is bliss! How can ignorance be bliss if knowledge is power?" Jasper slumped in his seat. "Real work gets done in the trenches and not in the ivory tower. Actions speak louder than words."

"Alright Jasper," Floyd said. "If actions speak louder than words, how can the pen be mightier than the sword? But the pen can be used to put someone's eye out and the sword can also write in the sand."

Jasper sighed and slumped even lower.

Floyd checked his watch. "Take the tin man from the Wizard of Oz. Why did he seek a heart?"

Lissie perked up. "When I was at Hospice, some people donated their hearts to people who needed them. Perhaps your tin man should have considered a donor."

Floyd smiled. "Thank you Lissie. What beautiful irony it is that heartless people can still have heart."

Lissie put her hands behind her head. "I know what you are getting at Spindler, and I don't like it. You're saying that the chicken didn't cross the road because it was outside forces that pushed him forward. You're a science man. You think it all comes down to nature and nurture, right?"

Floyd stared downward. "Precisely. Ask yourself Lissie, what motivates your grand mission? Do you really want to save mankind, or is it that you are selfishly motivated by self-importance? A die need not always fall on the same side to be loaded."

"You're wrong," Lissie stammered. "I'm a humanitarian. My mission is to save mankind."

Floyd leaned against the wall. "Almost every province is governed by competition. Even the concept of fairness itself. Take checks and balances. The three branches of government are not olive branches. They are adversarial. They use paper, rock, and scissors as the method of conflict resolution. The same goes for Freud's Id, Ego, and Superego. Drawn straws have more in common with drawn weapons. You cannot have winners without losers."

Jasper shook his cane in the air. "What do you propose?"

Floyd smiled. "I recommend using the rock as a paperweight and the paper as a peace treaty."

"And what about the scissors?" asked Jasper.

Floyd arched an eyebrow. "All I know is that you are not supposed to run with them."

Floyd grinned. "Tell me Jasper, what is your story?"

Jasper sat up straight. "Both of you know me by my political stunt years ago driving my sixty-seven Mustang into that crowd of campus protesters. You hear about how a pretty lady can stop traffic. In my case the last person I ran over was a fat lady who ultimately stopped my car."

Lissie turned and stared directly in Jasper's eyes. "Now just what is your point?"

Jasper cracked his knuckles. "Fat people remind me of all that is unfair in the world. Saying that life isn't fair or that we all have it tough just keeps us from trying to change and improve things. I finally decided that since I failed to bring myself up to someone else's standard of living, I would bring others down to mine. Jealousy is empowering. It is the natural route to fairness and justice."

Lissie put her finger in Jasper's face. "What do you know about fairness when nobody gets to consent to being born in the first place?"

Floyd clapped his hands and laughed. "Ms. Wanak, I am amused by the intensity of your spotlight, if not the focus of your beam." He checked his watch. "Time's up. And just as I suspected, I managed to get you two to fight out your philosophies to no resolution."

Jasper stood up. "But I need a brain scan to prove my case, right? My appeal hearing is in a week!"

Floyd continued in a soothing voice. "The Y-Ray has nothing to do with MRI, CT, or PET technology, or the fingerprints of the brain marked by the workings of serotonin, dopamine, amygdala, or hypothalamus. Not only will you receive your clemency but Lissie and I will find out if our posits are correct. The Y-Ray will allow us to predict future human behavior with the same accuracy and alacrity as predicting the weather. We can see a war veteran's phantom limb. We will know what scares the scarecrow and why the chicken crossed the road." Floyd snapped his briefcase shut. "We will see a broken heart as if it were a broken bone."

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Part 6: Guilty Bystanders of the Y-Ray Spectacle
August 8, 1989, 8:25 pm, stage of Death Row Digest's 10th annual R & D Gala, Theater Z, Scape City

Prison Theater Z was not a large auditorium. It contained over five hundred seats filled to capacity by university alumni, government human service workers, professors, academic stakeholders, scientists, and prison staffers. Floyd, again wearing a silk shirt and beret, placed his briefcase atop a large demonstration table at center stage near the microphone. He placed a transparency on the projector which revealed the painting Soldier in Insane Asylum by Conrad Felixmueller on the wall behind him at stage right.

Meanwhile, Lissie stood nearby wearing a black blouse with black slacks, while Jasper sported a suit and tie. Two guards stood backstage wearing pistols.

Like a circus ringmaster, Floyd removed the microphone and walked to stage left and faced the crowd. "Ladies and gentlemen, prepare to witness the fairest science fair ever presented in this fair city!" The audience applauded. One prison guard looked at the other one and shrugged his shoulders.

Floyd walked to center stage. "The Y-ray is an instrument of mass construction. It is based on a premise that human beings are actually more sentient while asleep than awake. Are we in charge of our actions? Or are we puppets acting out parts of a scripted play? The Y-Ray will expose the ever shy playwright. We will see the strings between puppet and puppeteer. The string may be as helpful as floss or as painful as the kind betwixt the tooth and the door. Either way, the Y Ray will answer the old question, why."

The first guard squinted into his copy of Death Row Digest. "Wasn't tonight's research about the prison's new supported employment program?"

Floyd walked back behind the table. He gripped his briefcase and held it high. "In this briefcase is essentially my brief case. It contains not only the schematics, but the Y-Ray itself!" The crowd cheered.

The second guard leaned towards the first, "I get the feeling this guy sanctioned funds for his own benefit."

Floyd turned to Jasper. "Our friend on death row might be pleased to note that the Y Ray will find out if he committed his crimes out of poor judgment, or if it all comes down to the simple combination of nature, nurture, and determinism."

Floyd walked to the front of the stage and rocked on his heels. "Now we need a lovely volunteer. How about... the honorable Scape City Prison judge Keith Meyers!" A chorus of murmurs emanated from the crowd as a spotlight shone on the judge. He lacked his usual black robe. He looked around.

"Our lovely assistant will not only play truth or dare, but do both, as he dares to see the truth!" Keith Meyers hopped onto the stage.

"I'm only here to watch," whispered Keith. "Jasper's hearing isn't for a week!"

Floyd snatched a decorative wooden box from his briefcase and held it high in the air. "May I present to you... the Y Ray!"

Floyd opened the box and revealed a pair of glasses with a small radio transmitter protruding from the top of the left frame. The audience gasped. He turned them in the air. "The modules above the lenses expel Y rays which permeate the visual field and return to the lenses. He swayed the Y-Ray for several moments as if allowing it to breathe like a fine wine.

"You work for us," Keith said, "not the criminals." Floyd reached to put the frames onto the judge's head. "The truth shall set you free. And hopefully Jasper here as well." Laughter ensued from the audience as the judge acquiesced.

"The longer they are worn," Floyd said, "the more of the truth you will see." He hit a switch on the frames. "Tell me, Judge Meyers. Is Jasper Munson innocent, despite that he alone drove his car into that crowd of bystanders?"

The judge lumbered around as he stared at Jasper. "His whole life is flashing before my eyes. Although Jasper's hearing is in a week, I regret to admit that Jasper Munson is innocent. Anybody would have acted in the same way, if he or she experienced Jasper's exact circumstances."

"Hear that folks," Floyd said. "With the Y-Ray, there is no more need to establish reasonable doubt. Everyone is innocent!"

The Judge shrieked and proceeded to pull out his hair. "I now see Earth as a tiny speck! Nothing that we thought we knew matches up. The whole truth is opening up to me!"

Floyd reached for the Y-Ray. "And it's Lassie's job to behold it!"

"Don't you get it?" the judge shouted as he pushed Floyd to the floor. "None of us are innocent!" He reached towards the closest guard and grabbed his side arm. He waved it around. "We're all guilty!"

Floyd crawled behind a wooden prop from backstage. With Jasper in custody, the guards took cover behind the table to monitor the judge's next move. Lissie merely stood still and smiled. Meanwhile, the audience screamed and scrambled towards the exits.

The judge staggered around in a daze and vomited on the stage floor.

"Drop the gun, Keith!" shouted the guard from behind the table. The judge pressed the gun against the Y Ray on his face.

"Stop!" Jasper shouted as he sprinted towards the judge. "You haven't signed my pardon yet!" The judge pulled the trigger. He fell dead on the wooden stage floor. After a pause, another thud sounded. It was Jasper.

Lissie bolted towards the judge's body while a guard pursued her. Lissie grabbed the judge's gun from the floor. The guards and Floyd stopped in their tracks.

Lissie ran over to Jasper's bleeding body. "Don't move. The bullet passed through the judge's head and into your chest." She knelt down and gazed at the scattering crowd. "It seems we've rekindled the Dancing Plague of 1518."

Jasper coughed. "Is it bad?" Lissie squeezed Jasper's hand tightly. "You know that old saying, 'I would rather die than speak in public'? The good news is that your public speech has been cancelled."

Tears formed in Jasper's eyes. "And the bad news?"

Lissie placed her finger on Jasper's blood-stained mouth.

Jasper forced a smile. "I never thought that I'd end up your Hospice patient." He nodded towards the judge's body. "I wasted my time fighting for fairness in life, when in death, we're all equal. You must have rubbed off on me." He gasped for air.

Lissie pulled Jasper's shaking body onto her lap and cradled him. She whispered the last two stanzas of William Cullen Bryant's Thanatopsis until he eventually stopped breathing.

Lissie gently laid Jasper's body down as medics showed up. She aimed her gun at them and the guards as she walked to the judge's body. She kicked his head to the side and grabbed the Y-Ray.

"Everyone," Lissie said, "take a seat in the audience." She glanced backstage. "Same goes for you, Floyd." With her gun trained on her hostages, she picked up the microphone and put it on its stand. All the rest of the seats in the house were now empty. "Sorry Jasper," she thought to herself, "I need to know." She lifted the Y-Ray to her face. They were smashed and bent. She threw them down and screamed. Floyd grinned.

She pressed her lips against the mic and looked at the guard. "You won after all, Scape City Prison. Jasper is dead and I will rot here without the proof I need to save the world by inciting mass suicide. You were right Floyd. The world can go back to playing paper, rock, and scissors with their empty causes."

"Now is a good a time to tell you, Lissie," the guard shouted. "You're next in line to be executed."

She dropped to her knees and threw down the gun. The unarmed guard took back his gun as the others approached her with cuffs.

As the medics huddled to collect the bodies, a custodian approached the Y-Ray with a broom.

As she was led towards the death chamber, she glanced at the empty auditorium.

Floyd joined her at her side. "It looks like you will get what you want after all."

"What do you mean?" Lissie scowled at Floyd. "I'm going to be executed! The Y-Ray proved nothing!"

"For you," Floyd said with a wry smile, "the world will cease to exist. And isn't that what you always wanted?"

Part 7: Carts before horses can stop stampedes?
Same undisclosed phone booth, August 8, 9:05 PM, Scape City

Under a bright blue sky, Floyd left the prison and walked until he made it back to the phone booth. It was after business hours at the library. He dialed and heard Hiram's voice on the answering machine. Floyd spoke after the beep: "It is August 8, about 9:00 PM, and this recording will constitute non-sentience note number three. There are few things that are black and white in this world, save for the bleak news in newsprint. The Y-Ray is destroyed. Who knows what the judge saw before he died? I cannot say if he saw some kind of ultimate truth or if he discovered that free will is a myth. But I lack the courage to make another device. This is not because I am afraid of seeing the ultimate truth; it is because I'm afraid of not seeing it. The idea of my invention not working would surly destroy my fragile ego."

He held the phone tightly to his ear and continued with a shaky voice. "However, I don't need the Y-Ray to show me the truth. Jasper was acquitted but still died in the end. Justice really is blind after all. Ignorance is bliss, Hiram. I admire the way you think. But I will take it further. I offer commiserations in advance. Can open caskets truly provide closure?"

He placed the receiver on the hook. He kicked a beer can aside on the floor and sat down with his back against the window. Reaching in his briefcase, he cast a bottle of Thorazine to the side and pulled out a sheet of paper, pen, and a single postage stamp. With careful strokes, he wrote a note onto the page and placed it at the bottom of the briefcase. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the can of root beer Hiram had given him. He opened the soda and dropped the stamp in and allowed the LSD to disperse. Floyd raised the can like a champagne flute and tapped it against the window. "To all the lovely trees that fell without a sound." He pressed the can to his lips and consumed every drop. He perused the abundant graffiti on the walls until he read one that said "smile." His eyelids opened and closed like stubborn shades as his overdose gently quelled the noise of the world.

Moments later, a police car drove by. "Look," the driver said. "Somebody's feet are sticking out of the phone booth." After turning the car against the curb, two officers rushed to the scene.

"He looks like the Wicked Witch of the East with his feet sticking out like that," said the police chief.

His partner pulled him out of the booth still clutching the briefcase. "We found him. It's Spindler."

"He's alive, Gary," the chief said, "but I have a feeling that from now on, this guy will be eating from a straw." He phoned an ambulance.

"Hey look," Gary said as he picked up the briefcase. "Should we open it?"

The police chief opened it and rifled through the papers. "There are some blueprints and an article entitled "Predicting the Weathered with the WHY Ray." Next he pulled out a page with a crude sketch of a human heart, brain, and spine at each corner of a triangle. The page was entitled "Paper, Rock, & Scissors."

"Check this out," Gary said as the officers huddled together.

"That is the woman from the gala," the chief said pointing. "Her face is pasted next to the heart."

Gary squinted. "And glued next to the spine is that Munson fella's face. But who's face is that glued next to the brain?"

The chief snapped his finger. "It's that simpleton Hiram from the library." He scratched his head.

"Well," Gary said, "that Wanak woman could sure use a heart. And that cowardly Munson fella could use a spine. And it goes without say that Hiram could use a new brain."

"Nah," said the chief, "knowing Floyd these people aren't in need of these organs. They are representing these organs."

"Wait," the partner said. "There's also a note here." He held it in the sunlight and read aloud:

 

-Non-Sentient note # 2. This is not a suicide note, but rest assured I will be assured rest. I have decided to ride the fence between life, which Jasper devoted his life to, and death, which Lissie devoted hers to. You will find me a vegetable enjoying the fruits of my labors as I enter a state of blissful ignorance. Enclosed are the Y-Ray's blueprints, in case there is a need to create it again. Serenity, they say, is achieved through the correct ratio of Control, Acceptance, and Wisdom. But something must also be said for the blind acceptance of denial that comes from ignorance. Nothing is free, not even free thought. The only plot in life is the one you are buried in.

The End

 

 

//   Advance   //