it: we’re all worm food in the making. It’s more than literal. 99% of the
population has no artifacts left of their lives after a scant 50 years of their
death. The remaining 1%? They’ve carved out a historical legacy that can
survive for decades, centuries, or even millennia. But that’s a caricature, a
ghost in rough outline of who they were. Their genius, regardless of their
endeavors, eclipsing personality, identity, lineage. In the end, it’s their inspired
works that survive, not them.
ashes, dust to dust. Ecclesiastes and all that. Solomon coming to terms with
his limited existence.
me. I’m roughly 15 centuries old, give or take. Remember the sacking of Rome in
410 A.D. by the Goths followed by the Vandals in 455 A.D.? The beginning of the
leap year? And Arthur's victory over the Saxons?
Historians would love to interview me. I heard the tales straight from the
elders’ lips. Those that survived the fall.
Who else can
claim it? No one.
the “Highlander” movies and tv series, too. Nobody comes chasing after me with
swords looking to lop my head off. I survive as a person, but not because of
anything I’ve said or done.
Not at all.
After all this time, I’m completely ordinary. Except that I’m still alive.
I’m in Socrates’
dark cave watching shadows on the wall. What’s my purpose? Why have I been
singled out for this torment?
know dies, and dies, and dies again with each succeeding generation. All of
them succumb to the Reaper.
Except me. So,
I live in constant torment.
tell me why or kill me.
1 – The Old Sadist
gathered all the experiences contained in a 1,500-year life, not much surprises
you. But it wasn’t always that way.
Byzantine Empire was an interesting period in history. The moneylenders and
moneychangers, who had always been unpopular, earned the total contempt of the
populace. Already forbidden to hold public office, the empress Sophia in 567
A.D. summoned the moneylenders to Court and confiscated all agreements to, and
pledges of, debt—a move that was roundly applauded by the masses.
Sadist, formerly a practitioner of the aforementioned vocation, was out of
work. Fortunately, he had other talents from which to eke a living.
common, but lawful in that region until the beginning of the 7th
is still legal in
many parts of Europe. Their reputation, however, was seldom favorable. They
were part of the great underclass, the dregs of society.
to say that a slave is also a sex slave, if anyone wants a piece.
Sadist needed a new source of income; he also required obedient slaves to sell
on the auction block in the market square. Young, healthy specimens garnered
the best profits. Especially if they were pretty girls who knew how to arouse
the prurient interests of a man or woman in bed.
I was one of
his former debtors, and sometimes ran errands for him to winnow at the balance
I owed him. One day, I saw him about to auction off a new crop of slaves.
group you’ve got there,” I remarked. “They should fetch a handy profit.”
he replied. “But it’s not all peaches and cream, this business. You’ve got to
feed, clothe and house them. They’re not ready for the block ‘till they’re housetrained.
I sell mostly to heads of households.”
He winked and
said, “There’s not
much profit to be had if you don’t pare your expenses.”
A few days
later, he beckoned me to his hovel in the woods. I still ran occasional errands
for him, but was now paid in cash for my efforts.
His home consisted
of three inner rooms: a small bedroom opening up on a kitchen and dining area,
and a door presumably leading back to another compartment.
He led me to
a chair at the table and said, “I have a business proposition for you.”
similar,” he said, “to the errands you run for me.
repeated with his chin in his hands, “like an errand.”
“How is it
different from one?” I inquired.
“I need you
to bring me people,” he flatly intoned.
mused. “You live in a forest and I on the outskirts of Constantinople. I’ll
need horses for transportation. One for me and another for each of your
provide the transportation you need,” he agreed. “Deliveries will be made here
roughly every two or three days, one woman at a time.”
I shook my
head. “How do you expect to make a profit here with the brothels and bath
houses still operating in the city?”
running a brothel,” he said. “I’m breaking in houseslaves.”
you bring them home on foot after you barter for them at the marketplace?” I
asked, confused. “Isn’t that the custom with smaller lots?”
“It is,” he responded. “But I don’t get my
women from trade ships. I told you, I can only make a profit if I contain my
costs. Other traders think I do, because it’s what they do. But I don’t.”
do you get them?” Rephrasing, I said, “Where do you expect me to get
Sadist shrugged and retorted, “From the brothels and streets of the city, of
declared, “You expect them to be sold into slavery by their own choosing?”
not,” he chortled. “That’s why you’ll need rope to bind the harlots, and a horse
cart to deliver them.”
cried, “That’s not legal. I’ll be arrested!”
He shook his
head. “You won’t be accosted by the authorities. The welfare and whereabouts of
these whores are of no concern to them.”
in his chair, he continued. “Listen carefully. You will roam the seedier parts
of the city after dark searching for prostitutes. Make sure they are young, in
good condition and lusty. Do you understand?”
so,” I said, “Go on.”
opportune time you will subdue them, tie them up in ropes and bring them to me
in the cart. I crafted it myself; it will serve its purpose well. I’ll equip it
with two horses for greater speed.
of arrest is small, and your chances of being detected even smaller. I myself,
however, can’t risk it anymore. It would mean the end of my slave trade in
“I will pay
you well for your trouble.”
He named his
price and I was tempted. I could buy a good plate of meat, fresh bread, gravy
and plenty of strong mead for that price.
God help me, I decided to take him up on his offer.
alleyways of the city, I captured a young woman emerging from a brothel for an
evening stroll. I bound and gagged her, and threw her in the cart.
returning to the Old Sadist’s cabin, I carried my prize into the living area
and deposited her writhing form onto a wicker chair.
“I trust you
had no difficulties with the abduction,” the Old Sadist inquired.
struggled a bit at first, but the job was clean,” I replied.
He bent over
the woman and grabbed her roughly by the chin. “Let’s have a look.”
enough,” he appraised, prying her mouth open. “And good teeth. That’s
commence her training immediately,” he said.
Sadist snatched her out of the chair and carried her like a piece of firewood
to the door across the dining area I’d noticed during my last visit.
He took out
a key, unlocked the door and we entered. It was very dark.
dimness of the compartment, the Old Sadist found and lit a wall torch.
We stood in a
A rack and stock stood side by side. Ropes and
chains littered the floor. The thickest chain was bolted to the ceiling. A
small iron cage hung suspended from it at eye level.
Some of this
me; It has been used on me, and I had used it on others. I knew what it could
of ‘training’ is
this?” I cried, pointing to the rack.
The Old Sadist
rolled his eyes.
“In addition to good manners,” he said, “houseslaves must be docile and
compliant. It’s obedience training.”
stammered, “These devices will break her. Or worse!” I was struck by the maliciousness
of his plan.
Sadist unceremoniously dropped his captive on the rack.
not break her,” he countered. “I am skilled at causing no serious damage to my
merchandise. I can’t sell damaged goods. She will be trained for the purpose
she is intended.
he sneered, “she’s nothing more than a gutter wench. Now help me secure her to
shaking with indignation. “I will NOT! How do you know what purpose she’s
intended for? How can you countenance such cruelty?”
just get a profit out of it, you know,” he hissed.
could you possibly get out of it?”
his neck back and breathed a long sigh, as if in ecstasy.
me from sunken eye sockets he answered, “Satisfaction.”
I was raised
a Christian, and could not allow such an abomination to live under God’s sky.
carried a weapon. Before he knew what was happening, I pulled a dagger from my frock
and thrust it in his belly.
twisted the blade.
prostitute still lay on the rack, terror in her eyes.
down, I cut the ropes I’d bound her with—God be merciful!—before I delivered
her unto this monster. She tore off the gag and ran screaming into the woods.
I had to
necessary to move every few years anyway, since I don’t age anymore.
If I like a
place, I can always go back after 50 years or so. At first, I took the added
precaution of changing my name. Eventually, I realized it wasn’t important.
2 – Work Like the
London, human life
wasn’t worth much more than it had been in Medieval times. Charles Dickens
wrote vociferously concerning the plight of the laborer, the poor and the
disabled. Still, few cared or had time to.
Nearly 100 years
birth, the “Workhouse Test Act” established the mechanism for the rapid
expansion of parochial institutions. The earliest foundations were in the East
End; Limehouse and Whitechapel established houses in 1724.
decades before Dickens’ death in 1870, slavery was abolished in the British
Empire. In part, this was due to his adamant and vocal opposition to the
difference between these institutions was that debtor’s prison inmates were
paid a paltry sum for their labor. Theoretically, the wages went toward their
accumulated debts. In practice, tenants were often charged room and board, and
seldom departed in a vertical position. Naturally, the poor residents were
blamed. After all, weren’t they lazy and shiftless by nature?
I was such a
ne’er-do-well from 1827 to 1838, when I was incarcerated in King’s Bench Prison.
Living conditions hadn’t improved there since the last century I’d lived in the
city. Sentenced by the court for
delinquent debts, I lived in squalor and deprivation with hundreds of other wretched
souls, one of whom was a woman of twenty-two named Tilly Brach.
good-natured and attractive, but it was her sharp intellect that arrested my
attention. She was self-taught, but highly educated. There were a few books in
circulation at Whitechapel, and she’d read them all repeatedly. Because of her
scholastic aptitude, she was permitted to attend day school, but was also forced
to work at night. I considered myself somewhat of a writer then, but she was
better at it than I was (1,300 years old at the time).
One day I
noticed her trudging up the stairs of the North building, exhausted from the
day’s activities. I offered to carry her books for her; curt but friendly introductions
time was extremely limited, but we eventually spent almost all of it together.
Meals, short walks in the prison’s courtyard and, of course, communion. Within a
few short months, we fell in love.
did not allow fraternization, or even marriage between inmates. We determined
to escape. And on October 28th, 1838, under cover of the night and
with only the clothes on our backs, we succeeded in our attempt to break out.
away under the tarpaulin of a fishing boat and crossed the English Channel,
then traveled on foot to Hazebrouck, France, nearly freezing to death in the
process. We were married in St. Eloi's church, and temporarily relied on the
clergy’s charity by working for room and board. Within a few days we converted
from the Anglican faith to Catholicism, I secured work as a clerk at the local
newspaper and she was retained as a schoolmarm’s assistant at the parish.
We spent the
next year living in a cottage on the edge of town. Hazebrouck was then a small
market town with a population of less than 8,000. This was before it became an
important stop for the French railway systems.
the market shops, scoured the beautiful French countryside and made love when
and where we could.
1840, Tilly got pregnant. I built a cradle for the baby out of excess wood from
the parish, which also supplied us with enough second-hand clothing to keep the
infant warm in the winter months and cool in the summer.
to name the child Charles (we were sure it was a boy) after my favorite living
author…and we waited.
2nd, 1840, Tilly went into labor and I sent for the midwife. That
evening, Tilly miscarried. Little Charles was buried in St. Eloi's cemetery the
hysterical, then turned sullen. Three weeks later, I found her hanging from a
rafter over our bed. She must have stood on the bed, tightened the noose and
There was no
deafening silence of the cabin.
the death of my son that devastated me. My children don’t live forever; they
all die before me. It’s a terrible burden to carry. But this was worse. This poor
child, my baby, didn’t even make it out of the womb. I promised myself never to
have more children.
later, I was to break that vow. In a sense, I’d also come to regret it given my
choice in marital partners.
hindsight, I was partly to blame for Tilly’s death. I’d fallen into a deep
depression due to Charles’ death, and was of little solace to my dear wife in
her misery and grief. That stain doesn’t wash out with time.
funeral, I immigrated to the United States…
3 – Christmas
By 529 A.D.,
had become the official state religion of the Roman Empire, Emperor Justinian
made Christmas a civic holiday.
Now, 1,500 agonizing
later, it was December 25th, 2014.
I stood outside
my office the
day after Christmas flicking the ashes off my cigarette and ruminating over the
holiday and the influence it’s had on my life.
I realized that,
in some ways,
Christmas was the same it has always been since I was a boy. On the surface lay
the exhilaration of the holiday season in general: memorable visits from and to
loved ones, wonderful home cooked meals and plenty of lively conversation.
Concealed just beneath the surface were a variety of mixed emotions.
Despite my age
and having been
raised in a religious home, I knew I hadn’t been immune to the commercial
aspect of the occasion from the onset.
as is often the
case with family men, the gifts I gave and received became disassociated with
any enjoyment I might derive from Christmas. My days of sleeping uneasily on
Christmas eve anticipating the brief flurry of commercial self-indulgence early
the next morning, after which immediately followed a stifling sense of malaise,
were behind me. Eventually, I required only two ingredients to make the
experience a satisfying one: Getting into the spirit of things and dispensing
with the chore of buying and wrapping gifts as quickly as possible.
it was a
hit-and-miss arrangement. Each year, I struggled to extricate myself from the
anxiety that invariably jaded the holidays for me. Work related concerns,
relationship issues and the unceasing logistics of everyday living always
seemed to intrude on the peace and joy the season offered. Even when I was able
to suppress my worries by temporarily submerging them, they weren’t necessarily
displaced by warmer, more agreeable sentiments. Just as often, a void appeared
in my life and a foreboding chasm opened up under it into which all feeling
This year, I’d
been lucky. I’d
spent the holiday with my pre-teen daughter who still believed in Santa Clause,
and had responded to the child with an empathy that greatly encouraged her and,
in turn, thoroughly delighted me. Yet, the experience was not an altogether
(Last year, I
hadn’t been so
fortunate. On Christmas eve, I’d returned home early for the holiday. I could
hear the familiar *slap-slap-slap* of coitus before I reached the bedroom door.
It was wide open. There she lay with a total stranger, engaged in vigorous sex.
She looked up at me and said, “Here for a few pointers?” Then they both laughed.
I thought to
kill them, but no.
The last thing I needed was more blood on my hands.
So I turned around,
daughter and left. I never went back, nor did the shrew bother to apply for
custody of our child. She moved out of state and we haven’t seen or heard from
I pondered, comes at
the same time every year without regard for the adversities of life. It doesn’t
stop in the face of personal tragedy or disappointment to allow us to gather
our wits. Often, events are flung at us faster than we can respond to them and
feelings visit us for no apparent reason--even when the unexpected reversals
are taken into consideration.
I ruminated over
two of my
closest friends, neither of whom had had a merry Christmas. One, my daughter’s
babysitter since her infancy, had recently lost her husband of thirty years. It
was her first Christmas without him and she was terribly lonely. I resolved to
visit her again that evening. The brief company seemed to lift her spirits.
My other friend
destroying himself with alcohol abuse. In his dissipation, his health had
gradually deteriorated to such an extent he could only work at odd jobs. He had
been waiting several months for the Social Security Administration to approve
his application for disability. In the interim, the mortgage company began
foreclosure proceedings on his house.
I rubbed my chin
and shook my
head. I knew life wasn’t fair. I’d outgrown that childish notion centuries ago.
It was the law of unintended consequences that perplexed me. Every human
interchange, I mused, has mixed and uncertain results. In our limited capacity
to understand, we are compelled to make choices whose outcomes are unknown to
us. But choose we must, if we wish to live.
the choosing, in the
living, we unwittingly inflict pain on others. How many times, I thought, had I
inadvertently hurt or slighted someone? Even a person of the most amiable
nature can’t unerringly predict whose sensibilities he or she might offend.
Moreover, it seemed to me it was my own friends and family (those I loved the
most) who suffered the most. I did not exclude myself; I knew all too well the
similar injuries others had inflicted on me. This saddened me.
concluded, we hurt
the people we love, the same poor souls who cherish us in return. I could not
say whether this was reciprocation or recrimination. There was an inherent
baseness in it that appalled me, and I could not understand why such a thing
But there were
many questions I
couldn’t answer, and still more with each passing day. I sighed, ground my
cigarette butt under my heel and returned to my labors. There was a certain
comfort and solace in work. At least there was the illusion of passing the time
industriously, of performing a service of alleged value to society. Although,
if pressed, I couldn’t have identified precisely who or what was better off on
account of it. If it was all a high-minded delusion, a product of 21st
century megalomania, it was still a very predictable one. Predictability, after
all, has its advantages.
I’m the quintessential coward. The horror of living isn’t as dreadful as the
fear of death. It’s not dying that terrifies me; that’s only the last stage of
life. But as Hamlet explained in his soliloquy, what comes after?
Is it nothing?
Of that I could
bear foreknowledge. My life is like a shallow sea: vast but without depth. What
does it mean?
Is the afterlife
a paradise? Isn’t
this our fondest hope? But is it fiction? A mere daydream without form or substance?
Ah, but what
keeps Shakespeare, Hamlet
and I up nights is the last and final possibility. Could eternal torment await
us? I don’t mean in a retributive sense as Shakespeare did. But what if the
afterworld is an indifferent underworld even more treacherous and visceral than
As bad as life’s
been for me, it
could be worse.
Even so, I can’t
anymore. I want to die. To exercise the only option I have left. To end this
meaningless farce even if it’s to endure an even worse fate in the hereafter.
kill me? A person
doesn’t live this long without accumulating property and assets. I’ll pay you
handsomely. Consider it a favor. Come unexpectedly, in the middle of the night.
Make it quick.
Says Michael Dority: "In my defense: I'm guilty as
charged; but innocent by way of insanity. The sheer madness of it all--using
a colon and semicolon in the same sentence!"
(Sorry, but my life's not very exciting or remarkable.)