CuiousPages - fiction and nonfiction
CuriousPages - fiction and nonfiction
At the start of the third week (before his application forms developed suicidal tendencies), a curious sequence of events began. Daniel was walking across an office that opened onto the Council’s reception area, when he heard a sound that filled him with dread. It was a short scraping sound followed by a creak, which then repeated—scrape, creak, scrape, creak—and each repetition further drained the colour from his face. In his mind he saw his crippled father walking—scrape, creak, scrape, creak. The sound stopped, Daniel looked up, and across the office he saw his father stood at the enquiry desk, collecting an application form. Daniel made a rapid exit and sought ten minutes refuge in the toilet before returning to his desk, and when he next attempted to speak, his own emotional disability surfaced in the form of his childhood stammer.
Daniel’s childhood memories were dominated by his parents’ disabilities. From as early as he could remember, his father had worn a hollow, steel left leg, whose chime Daniel was at first entertained by but later his memory of that sound came to haunt him. His father transported himself in an outdated “invalid carriage”, as they were called in those days, and in Daniel’s later school years, he came to hate the sight of that carriage, which, in his eyes, only served to broadcast the fact that his father was a cripple and thereby amplified his torment at school, as if his father were colluding with his tormentors. And Daniel’s mother had been equally blessed with ripe pickings for the schoolboy satirists. From birth, one half of her face had been adorned with a port-wine stain whose shape seemed to map some desert island unvisited by humanity.
At school, two of his best friends mined all this material mercilessly, producing satirical gems that openly delighted the idle crowds of break-time schoolchildren and, despite themselves, secretly amused a handful of the less sensitive teachers. Their most popular routine was to act out a particular scene, which became ever more exaggerated the more they repeated it, where Daniel’s father would limp into view carrying a glass of red wine. He would then trip and spill the wine over his wife’s face and her anger would cause the wind to suddenly change direction, leaving her face stained for life.
It was throughout this period that Daniel developed his stammer, which grew in severity as each school term progressed, as if each lesson he learnt added weight to every word in his mind which he found harder and harder to shift. His growing discomfort was not without its benefits though, as—on days when it seemed the satirists had wrung every snigger of life from their sketches—Daniel’s stammer could always be relied upon to inspire a walk-on role for his satirized self; and month after month their performances would stir up a storm of delight which would eventually drive Daniel into complete isolation. He broke off his friendship with the satirists and also with every member of their audience, and in his solitude he became the brightest pupil in the school and escaped to university where he continued his conquest of academia. When asked about his family, he did not mind telling his new friends he was an orphan, for he knew how hard they would need to study and he wanted to spare them the effort of inventing sketch after sketch depicting the comical spectacle of his upbringing. He spared them that effort and his speech became clear and fluent, as though some great weight had been lifted from his heart. He graduated with first class honours and some six months later was working in his first job, which happened to be back in his home town.
He took lodgings within walking distance of the Town Hall, which was miles away from his parents’ home and, he supposed, beyond the range of the satirists’ barbs. For the first two days of his work, his veins seemed to pump a mix of excitement and foreboding, but after the third morning his speech was still clear and fluent and he felt only the excitement, which lasted until the start of the third week when he heard that familiar scrape, creak, scrape, creak, and he began drowning in the foreboding.
Daniel returned to his desk accompanied by a cloud of horror, as though an impish child had draped over him a cloak woven from fear.
Forty-two years ago in a town called Perception, a spree of twenty-three murders were allegedly committed by Able Carver. During that summer, of 1944, the town was rampant with speculative tongue-wagging while, day by day, the trial of Carver progressed. At the point when the community’s tongues were at their most athletic, an opinion poll was published in The Perception Daily Chronicle. It reported that twenty percent of the people questioned had a sneaky feeling (and when asked to quantify the degree of their sneaky feeling, they said it was an extremely strong sneaky feeling) that urban stress was the sole cause of mass murder. Five people were questioned and the margin of error in the poll’s results was absolutely gigantic. Nevertheless, as a result of this poll, the Urban Stress Faculty was set up in the town’s university, and Marjory Cogitation was appointed its professor. Her task was to study stress in the community.
Her first breakthrough occurred while conducting experiments on six residents. Stressful states were clinically induced in the group, and vital signs monitored. Nothing unexpected was recorded. But then she accidentally administered an overdose of an hallucinatory drug and the group experienced fatally stressful hallucinations, emitting the most horrendous screams imaginable, followed by a rapid succession of alarmingly violent convulsions, and every member of the group then—mercifully—passed on into death and the immediate onset of rigor mortis. The professor noted that this produced an unusually high level of bowel activity in the laboratory mascot, Percy the goldfish.
After two years of further research, Professor Cogitation published her full findings in a scholarly (and impressively thick) paper. Here’s the concluding section:
Two factors are involved in the production of stress—the Comprehension Factor and the Grumble Factor.
A fall in one factor always leads to a rise in the other. Grumbles are therefore created in a person by a sudden lowering of his Comprehension Factor.
Once created, a Grumble cannot usually be destroyed—a person may only lower his own Grumble Factor by passing on the Grumble to somebody else. The recipient then experiences a rapid drop in his level of Comprehension Factor in order to accommodate his increased Grumble Factor.
Because of this, the level of Grumble Factor in the community (the collective Grumbliness of the population) can only usually increase. But there is one known method of reducing it:
When a Grumble is expressed near to a goldfish, it passes from the person to the fish, undergoes a chemical change within the fish’s gut, induces bowel activity, is then passed out of the fish and decomposes, slowly emitting Comprehension Factor back into the atmosphere.
I conclude that the large-scale deployment of goldfish in any community would reduce the level of Grumble Factor, and thus the urban stress. And since urban stress (as shown by The Perception Daily Chronicle’s opinion poll of two years ago) is the sole cause of mass murder, then it is predicted that this scheme would dramatically reduce the instances of murder in that community. QED.

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