Browse Tag


Dare To

by Bruce Golden

I lie here, as I have lain for so long, like a crumpled fetus, waiting for an end that will not come. I beg for it . . . I pray for it. But even as I wait for a cessation to my terrible existence, I know it is only a seductive fantasy. I imagine release, escape, blissful freedom–for imagination is all I have left. How perversely ironic that the cause of my damnation is now my sole salvation.

The air reeks of disinfectant as it does habitually, and the only sounds I hear are distant murmurings. There’s a chill in the air so I clutch futilely at the lone, coarse sheet that covers me and open my eyes to the same austere wall, the same mocking shadows that greet me in perpetuity.

This time, though, I see a slight variation. Something is there. Something I can barely discern in the feeble light. A tiny, quivering, wiggle of activity. I strain to focus and see a caterpillar laboriously weaving its cocoon. Somehow it has made the Herculean trek to where the wall and ceiling intersect, and has attached itself in the crevice there.

As I lie here, I wonder what resplendent form will emerge from that cocoon. But even this vision is eventually muted by the despair that possesses my soul. I struggle not to reason, because there is no reason. Guilt or innocence, fact or fiction–they are concepts that no longer matter. All that matters are the gray ruins of my memories–memories that play out across the desolate fields of my mind. I cling to them the way a madman clings to sanity. In truth, I’m but a single, aberrant thought from slipping into the murky, swirling abyss of madness myself. So I try to remember.

I remember the carefree excursions I took to the ocean as a child–the warm sand, the cool water, the waves lapping at my ankles. I remember the university, in the days before reformation. The camaraderie of my fellow students. The give and take of creative discourse. Soaring over the sea cliffs on a crude hang glider built by a classmate. The girl with the bright red hair for whom I secretly longed. I remember many things, but always there is one tenacious, tumultuous recollection that intrudes.      

It’s always the same. The same thunderous sound of cracking wood as my door bursts open. The same flurry of booted feet violating the sanctum of my thoughts. The same rough hands that assault and bind me.

I remember the looks of hatred and repugnance, the shouted threats of violence from unfamiliar voices. The relentless malice focused upon me was like a living thing. Time and space became a rancorous blur as I stood in the center of an imposing room, still bound, surrounded by more strangers. I was on display, the accused in a courtroom where only the degree of my guilt seemed subject to debate. 

Much of what occurred that day is lost in a haze of obscurity, but I clearly remember the prosecutor’s embittered summation.

“The facts are incontrovertible, honorable Justice,” I recall him stating with restrained assurance. “A routine intruscan of the accused’s personal files disclosed numerous writings, both prosaic and poetical in nature, which can only be described as obscene and disturbingly antisocial. Public decorum prevents me from detailing the improprieties here, though the complete volume of these degradations can be found in the articles of evidence.

“In addition to the possession of these heinous works of pornography, the accused fully admits to authoring them. I say he stands guilty of counts both actual and abstract. I request that no leniency be shown by the court, and that he be sentenced under the severest penalties allowed for such crimes.”

I distinctly remember the prosecutor, indifferent but confident, returning to his seat as the presiding justice contemplated the charges. 

Turning a stern glance towards me, the justice methodically asked, “Does the accused have any statement to make before judgment is passed?”

I remember standing there, befuddled by the ritual of it all, unable to accept the realization that it was my fate they were discussing. When it seemed I wouldn’t reply, the justice opened his mouth to issue the verdict, and I quickly stammered the only thing I could think of.

“I . . . I admit I wrote things that may be considered inappropriate by some, but they were simply meanderings of a personal nature, never meant for public dissemination. In no sense was I propagating the enforcement of my ideals upon society. They . . . they were simple fantasies, scribblings of an unfettered imagination, nothing more.”

“Surely,” boomed the justice, “throughout the course of this trial, if not previously, you have been made aware that, under our governing jurisprudence, thought is deed.”

When I failed to respond, he went on. “If you have nothing further to say in your defense, I rule, by law, your guilt has been determined within reasonable doubt. I hereby sentence you to the withering.”

I remember the clamor of hushed voices swelling like a balloon about to burst as the words were repeated throughout the courtroom.

“The withering.”

The sound reverberated inside my skull, but terror and denial colored my reality. The withering. It was something spoken of only in whispers. No one I had ever known knew the truth of it. There were only rumors, grisly tales with no substance, yet the power to invoke dismay and horror.

Much of what happened next is a void of innocuous bureaucracy, but I remember the room where it took place. I was still bound, this time by sturdy leather straps that embraced my wrists and ankles. Except for the straps I was naked. Lost in the surreality of the moment, I felt no humiliation at my nakedness, but was overwhelmed by a pervading sense of vulnerability. I remember a chill in the room. There was a draft blowing from somewhere nearby. A single bright light was positioned so that it blinded me with its glare.

Three others were in the room. One I designated the “doctor,” and two men who assisted her. They went about their business with systematic efficiency, seeming to ignore my obvious presence.

Then, without really acknowledging me with her eyes, the doctor began explaining the procedure. Paralyzed with fearful anticipation, I failed to absorb much of what she said. I remember only bits and pieces. Something about “hormonal injections” . . . “osteo and rheumatoid mutations” . . . “effects which bypass the brain.”

The technical details of her explanation became a mere backdrop when I spied the row of hypodermics. Its length extended beyond absurdity, and when she reached for the first one I braced for the pain to come. However, after a few minor stings, I felt only a pinching sensation as needles were inserted with care into my thighs, my forearms, my neck . . . and on and on until each violation of my body no longer mattered. I must have passed out at some point, because when I awoke I was in another place.

I have no idea how long I was asleep, but as I weaned myself from unconsciousness I felt a stiffness that convinced me I had been lying there for some time. I tried to move but couldn’t. I saw no restraints holding me down, so I tried again. I was successful, briefly, if you consider inducing a stabbing pain somewhere in my back a success. The pain convinced me to forego any further attempts at movement. So I shook off the vestiges of slumber and tried to recall with more clarity what had happened.

Oh, that it could only have been a horrible dream. But my reality had become a nightmare, one I hadn’t yet grasped in its fullness. I know now nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to learn.

After I lay motionless for some time, a white-coated attendant approached me and bent over to engage in some sort of interaction with my bed.

“Where am I?” I asked, my voice cracking with dryness. “What’s wrong with me?  Why can’t I move?”

The attendant made no sign he heard me. Instead he pushed my bed into a corridor that stretched on without end. The wheels churned below me as we passed cubicle after grim cubicle. In the dim light I saw other beds, beds occupied by inert bodies. The shadows and the constant jog of movement prevented me from seeing more until we came to a halt. The attendant departed, leaving me as naked and helpless as the day I was brought into this harsh world.

The alcove where I had been left was much brighter, and it took time for my eyes to adjust. Unable to turn my head without great pain, I could look in only one direction. Facing me was a metallic wall or door of some sort. The metal’s sheen was highly reflective, and in its mirrored surface I saw myself.

Rather, I saw what I had become.

I have no idea how long I screamed before my cacophonous lament attracted a swarm of attendants who quickly sedated me. But I’m sure I wasn’t the first, or the last, to wail in terror inside those somber halls.

I try not to remember what I saw in that hideous reflection. But I can’t forget that my fingers are now gnarled deformities, my arms shrunken and folded against my chest as if my tendons had shriveled. I know the slightest attempt to move my legs will cause indescribable agony that writhes up through my hips and assaults my spinal cord. I can try to forget that my once wavy hair has been shaved to a coarse stubble, but the feeling my lips are dry and cracked is ever-present, and too often my skin is aflame with a devilish itch I cannot scratch.

Warehoused like a spare part that no longer serves any purpose, my days passing into years, I suck sullen gruel through toothless gums and wait for the impersonal touch of an attendant to wipe my body clean. It is a morose whim of fate indeed, that even such routine maintenance is a welcome diversion to an otherwise monotonous subsistence.

Trapped in a useless husk, perched on the precipice of lunacy, I turn inward for deliverance. From a place deep within I rise and soar high above other lands, gliding lazily into other times. They don’t know about my journeys. They think I’m a prisoner of this room. They don’t know I become other people–bold people, curious people, people who commemorate their adventures in rhyme. I don’t tell them about the improper thoughts that creep into my head. I still dare to imagine the unimaginable, but no one knows. They won’t find me in here. In here I don’t allow myself to dwell on past transgressions. I seek no pity nor submit to reproach. And, no matter how seductive its siren call, in here I resist the longing for sweet death.

Instead, like the caterpillar, I wait to emerge from my cocoon, spread my glorious wings, and fly.



Bruce Golden’s short stories have been published more than 150 times across a score of countries and 30 anthologies. Asimov’s Science Fiction described his novel Evergreen, “If you can imagine Ursula Le Guin channelling H. Rider Haggard, you’ll have the barest conception of this stirring book, which centers around a mysterious artifact and the people in its thrall.” His latest book, Monster Town, is a satirical send-up of old hard-boiled detective stories featuring movie monsters of the black & white era. It’s currently in development for a TV series.

Philosophy Note:

This story was inspired by health problems my mother was suffering through. I wondered, what if such physical problems were a form of torture or punishment in a dystopian society instead of a medical condition.

Subject: Clickbeetle

by Ian Watson

They put a clickbeetle into Suzan’s left ear to chastise her for concentrating too much upon her own consciousness. The beetle happily feeds upon earwax packed with energetic fatty acids and cholesterol. Click click click click, it clicks continuously. This isn’t the type of beetle whose click propels it away double-quick from trouble—that kind should really be called a flick beetle. Whereas Suzan’s curious coleopter simply clicks and carries on clicking for no obvious reason. Until people found a purpose for it: punishment.

   Suzan’s punishment could have been worse: clickbeetles in both ears. Either in synch, or out of synch.

   It’s no use Suzan sticking a finger into her ear, right down the canal to the drum. This usually results in rupture of the drum or a stuck finger.

Allegedly Dr Mengele of Auschwitz ordered a little boy to be strapped immobile in a chair. Above the boy’s head was positioned a mechanised hammer such that the boy was bashed (or bumped) on the skull every few seconds. After an unspecified time, the youngster went insane.

   Allegedly this happened in a little shed behind the Doctor’s house at Auschwitz (Oświęcim) in Poland. Allegedly this was an experiment related to head injuries. According to another report, Nazi doctors in the plural committed this crime in Baranowicze. Mengele was by no means the only Nazi death doctor. Though he was infamously The One Who Got Away. This episode of human head and hun hammer requires further verification.

   A hammer constantly hitting a small human’s head until the little chap goes insane: this is undoubtedly a monstrous story. Yet what is the point of this story?

   Words fail.

   No, words do not fail. Narrators fail to find the right words. Is the boy bashed or bumped by the mechanised hammer? Is he tapped or is he thumped? What relevance has this to the head injuries of adult soldiers wearing steel helmets? (Steel helmets for soldiers replaced the traditional hardboiled leather picklebonnet topped with a spike.)

   Whence came the mechanised hammer? Why is the hammer apparently never used upon another child? What of the scientific principle of repeatability?

   The hammer blows, or hammer taps, cannot be meant to imitate shrapnel striking a steel helmet sheltering a head. Or else the hammer would immediately kill the unprotected child. The hits by the hammer must be more like the drips of the famous Chinese Water Torture, whereby water dropping upon one’s forehead will, after an unspecified period of time, dement the immobilised victim. Apparently this Water Torture never existed, least of all in China.

   Exactly which part of the unfortunate little boy’s head does the hammer hit repeatedly? We need to know this. Generalisations are futile.

   Mengele’s ‘science’ was more than dodgy. He did possess a PhD of which he was very proud, in racist anthropology, and he certainly could perform surgical operations, with or without anaesthetics. But basically his casebook, which he reported back loyally to his Alma Mater, was crap. Capricious as well, perhaps? In which case he may have ordained a one-off head-hammering.

   Concerning a murderous medical student the Beatles sang: Bang bang Maxwell’s silver hammer came down upon his head. Usually doctors use rubber hammers to test reflexes, such as by tapping a patient below the knee to make the leg kick out spontaneously. Could the Mengele Torment Hammer have been made of rubber, and could sleep deprivation have been the intention for the wretched boy?  However, Mengele’s speciality was twins, with a sideline in monstrosities. Not normal single juniors.

To what extent is Suzan’s clickbeetle experience akin to tinnitus? One in ten people endure natural tinnitus, a constant ringing or buzzing or whistling or hissing or roaring or clicking in one’s ear. Yet another example of the unintelligent design of the human body.

   Tinnitus is from the Latin tinnire (meaning ‘to ring’). Do you have tin-eary, dearie? Have you taken your water-pill yet, love? Have you done number two this morning? Thus are nurses in British hospitals trained to address their patients whose minds are damaged by decades of looking at gamma-IQ newspapers, Sun, Star, Male, Daily Moo. Some tin-ear people begin to hear music or blurred voices. Famous people diagnosed with tinnitus include Van Gogh and Goya and Michelangelo and Luther and Liza Minelli.

Suzan posted too many times on the social network You&Me about Me rather than about You. Posting a minimum of three times a day is obligatory if one wishes to be part of society and thus be networked. Only thus can you buy the best travel tickets to visit your aunt. You&Me is a way of saying YuanMei—that’s the social credit system, meaning ‘money not’. No reference to Yuan Mei, the 18th Century Chinese sage of gastro simplicity and poet of personal feelings. Suzan used the word ‘I’ far too many times in her posts. “I’m feeling cold tonight.” “I think I’m catching a cold.” “Woe is Me.”

A clickbeetle is tiny. The ear drum amplifies its click. There’s no point in asking a friend to use a flashlight and chopsticks or tweezers to pull the clickbeetle out merely because that method works with crickets and spiders which get into human ears. In their natural habitat clickbeetles flutter along at human ankle height upon the teeniest (not the most tinny) of wings, seeking empty snail shells to inhabit, wanting the shell’s conchlike power of amplification for mating reasons. Never shells previously broken against stone anvils by thrushes. Within snail shells the food is dried slime and whatever jerky protein biltong survives being nipped up by scavenger ants. Not aunts. To imply that aunts scavenge in order to eat is an insult to society. Aunts of a certain age belong in a House For Future Ancestors.

   I will confide that a clickbeeetle’s wingcase is purple. Like a very tiny aubergine also known as an eggplant. Ten or so female clickbeetles may coexist within the same snailshell together with from one to multiple males. This is known as a harem. Suzan shan’t host a harem unless she goes to sleep on a warm lawn, drugged by sunshine accompanied by cool lemonade and cucumber sandwiches, and if a wild tiny male scarabacus violates her ear, or volates her ear which seems just as valid a word.

   People can get by with tinnitus. Tin per cent of people have little choice in the matter. Likewise, accompanied by a clickbeetle clicking away within.

What of the little shed behind Doctor Mengele’s house at Auschwitz where our little chap is tormented until he becomes lunatic?

   When in August 1944 Josef’s doting wife Irene visits her hubby at Auschwitz due to her sensing the mounting melancholy afflicting her husband as the Red Army worrisomely rolls westward, she stays in the SS “barracks”—presumably together with Hubby. Irene’s planned one-month visit extends for another month due to her succumbing to diphtheria and then suffering from an inflamed heart muscle. Auschwitz isn’t a healthy place to be on holiday, even if it includes numerous hospitals of various sizes within that vast city of damnation boasting umpteen suburbs, its population akin to that of modern Düsseldorf. When Frau Mengele is discharged from hospital to convalesce she moves into a “new flat in the doctors’ barracks”, together with Herr Doktor Hubby one presumes. Brand-new kitchen and bathroom.

   This is by no means a ‘house plus garden’ such as Commander of Auschwitz Rudolf Höss enjoys (just 300 metres away from a gas chamber and a crematorium). Mengele’s flat will be in a great stucco block shared with other officers.

   That house of Höss has fourteen rooms and was built in 1937 by a Pole whom the Nazis evicted. After the Nazis fled from the Russians, the Polish chap moved back into his house and ignored the massive changes which had come over the neighbourhood during his enforced absence. Such as gas ovens and crematoria.

   So: for Mengele there’s no garden hut behind no detached house. This may mean no bound boy and no automatic hammer. By no means is this to imply that Mengele didn’t do many atrocious things to his victims, always without anesthetics. Save the Reich’s pain-killers for injured heroes of the Waffen-SS! Yet in Mengele’s deluded mind he is scientist, not sadist. Admittedly he can fly into violent rages. Yet he’s quite the elegant dandy at the selection ramp—for immediate gassing or for death by hard labour—and quite the daddy handing out sweeties to twins due to be vivisected by him later on.

Cute spotty red and black ladybirds are the nastiest bugs to get stuck in your ear. They secrete toxic shit which inflames and agonises. So much swelling may occur that no one can get the ladybird out! Not nice. You might go mad. A clickbeetle, on the other hand, will roll over and die after twelve months-ish; and thus stop clicking. And it’s small, barely 5 mills long although surprisingly audible.

Suzan works in the eye clinic of a towering House For Future Ancestors, a total-care geriatric highrise though not a hospice, certainly not, and a hundred light years distant from Mengele’s judgements regarding life and death. Most of the residents retain their wisdom, of the demotic kind. Suzan interacts with her own elderly clients less than if she were in one of the House’s several hair salons. Demotic, from demos, ‘the people’.

Suzan recently came across the automatic hammer story regarding Mengele. Seeking for information about this or that scores citizen points provided she isn’t just goggling at random while she polishes her nails.

   To research the evil deeds of social enemies is meritorious. This takes Suzan out of herself. It provides a distancing effect. This is genuine Brecht therapy. Das ist echt Brecht. So she hopes. This gives her something serious to post about on You&Me. To blag is “to gain approval through persuasive utterance” (usually fictitious)—but Suzan ain’t making any of this up, no way Hosei.

   Though on the other hand, the Brecht Effect aims to stop onlookers from being taken out of themselves (so that instead they may scrutinise a situation objectively), whilst one might argue that Suzan needs to be taken way out of herself. Less mention of ‘I’ and ‘my’ and ‘me’ and ‘miny moe’.

   Maybe due to overmuch reliance upon historical reality Suzan fails to attract more than a few handfuls of followers. Frankly, the topic is distasteful. Opportunistically she renames her blag Meng the Merciless but then she finds herself criticised editorially on account of frivolous attitude. The Great Ming Empire (1368 to 1644 Common Era) may not be mocked. During Ming times for instance: farewell to the Mongols chased beyond the Wall, tails between legs. Under the Mings the Chinese population doubles in numbers. Such is not a  joking matter.

   By now Shuxan’s in too deep (not finger in ear) to shift her speciality. Always she hears click-click-clickety-clicky neither hurrying near nor hastening away especially, neither red-shifting nor blue-shifting, merely everpresent as part of herself. If perchance that clicking should cease, might the clicks have comprised the countdown to bursting a blood vessel in the brain?

    Even her name is shifting, from Suzan to Shushan. Does this not imply progressive loss of ego? How much ego must melt until all clicks cease? Or is the clicking no type of therapy at all—but chastisement pure and simple?

Shushan’s friends are individuals whom she must prioritise beyond her own self-centered self, beyond her own individualism. How may she interest them if Meng and the hammer are offensive?

Her very own clickbeetle, randomly assigned to her, no longer sounds in the least regular. It’s as if it’s clicking in Morse code! Click click clock clock click clickety clock click clickety click. Has the clickbeetle become intoxicated by her ear wax?

   Shushan must learn Morse code! Meng and Morse and Ming all begin with M.  Dash it, Dash it.

   She will specialise her right ear for that purpose. Much concentration will be needed, and regular postings in dots and dashes. For this is First Contact with an inner world—not with the solipsistic personal world of Suzania, but rather with the microcosm within herself where a miniature nano-society exists. As above, so below. Mr Pope declared that true self-love and social are the same; self-love forsook the path it first pursued, and found the private in the public good.

This epiphany (this ‘showing forth’) is just an example of the benefits of a clickbeetle in your ear. Thank you for reading this paper of Self Criticism.

posted 10 January at 23.13 Public suzan43 Squawker for NeoIos



Born in broken Brexitland in 1943, Ian Watson graduated from Oxford in 1963, taught at universities in Tanzania and Tokyo, then at Birmingham UK School of History of Art, until becoming a full-time SF author in 1976. Author of the Screen Story for Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence after working eyeball to eyeball with Stanley Kubrick, he now lives in Asturias, Spain. His most recent novel, in collaboration with a scientist, is The Waters of Destiny—about how an Arab doctor of genius could in the 12th century, realistically within the mindset and medical technology of the time, have identified and stored the true source of the Black Death (nothing to do with rat fleas), with dire consequences in modern times.