Alive? Dead? Who Cares?

There was this also, said the Calibrator. We had camped on the outskirts of Upland City, a small and mean fonda whose owner lounged about in an open vest showing the large scar on his stomach. 

This, I mean, said the Calibrator. He helped himself to another jug of wine. 

Many years ago, in a similar time to the one I told you of, I knew a woman whose daughter had run off with a young man of dubious morals. The woman in question was an upright citizen, a devout Atheist and a self-congratulatory blood hag of the first water and unto the fifth power.

I was a police officer, said the Calibrator. The momma had called me complaining that her offspring had run off with a gentleman of colour, someone who was known slightly to the forces of law and order and pictured this as in the most lurid and horrifying terms, to wit: that the fellow in question had a bad drug habit, not only using but selling also, which I knew about; a tendency to murder, which also although a raw amateur in truth; a ninety-centimetre membrum virilis, which I thought a slight exaggeration; the likelihood of getting her little girl up the duff, which he already had, to my certain knowledge, unbeknownst to Mumsy-Wumsy; and asi de seguida. Mummy-Wummy did not, as it happens, believe that a nice upstanding white girl like her Belinda could have consensual sex with a brute bestial buck negro. Personally I found the concept rather stirring. 

I suggested to her that I did not, frankly, give a monkey's damn cuss about her daughter buggering off with this gentleman - that was the daughter's lookout, being as she was an adult and quite capable of working this out for her self. I suggested that she might forgive her daughter and show a little bit of what the greeks call agape.

And so, the Calibrator went on, she screamed, You should have been a Christian! and I said, 

But I am not.

I then crucified her against the back door A hand nailed to each upright. I also gagged her so that she could not spit at anybody rather than particularly caring that she might scream the place down.

She was trying to say something from behind the gag so I said,

Well, I wouldn't worry about it, eh?

Then I went to the pub for the afternoon. 

I returned later, rather the better for wear and full of righteous merriment at my actions. As to whether she was still alive when I got back, well, as I said at the time,

Alive? Dead? Who cares?

As it happened she had not quite expired and so I took off and torched the house from across the road with the use of a home-made flamethrower.

He looked up and at the far wall, as if imagining the world beyond it, a world where the good ol' frontier traditions held sway, including minding your own goddamn business. Some say, he said, that you must be strong, very strong, to live with such acts. I do not really think so. They also speak of the need for integrity in the face of humiliation and violence. I believe that there is only humiliation and violence and that the only truth is to maintain integrity and dignity within those acts themselves.

Everyone dies, said the Calibrator, if you hit them hard enough. This is the other truth.

And the Calibrator set to colouring in the drawings he had made during the day. I wondered if his love of colouring came from some childlike part of himself, but suspected it was purely because he relished the possibility of beating someone to an oozing pulp for declaring his hobbies unmanly. It was, in its divinest essence, provocation.

I don't see any dignity at all, sir, said Catferret.

At once the Calibrator was on his feet, pulled out his gun in a motion that was surely of superhuman quickness, and blasted a hole in the wall to the right of Catferret's right ear, so close that the lughole in question received a powder burn.

What did you say? said the Calibrator.

I said nothing, said Catferret, raising his hands by his ears as if to protect them.

The Calibrator put another bullet in the wall this time to the left hand side of Catferret's left arm. 

Don't ever call me Sir, the Calibrator said. You ever call me Sir again I will kill you where you stand. Do you comprehend?

Yes, said Catferret.

Good, said the Calibrator and went back to his colouring.

I knew several men who collected ears, he said, nose down to his pad. Dried them out and kept them on strings around their necks. Look, he said to me, is that not pleasant?

And he showed me a drawing of a young woman in a buttercup-yellow frock, walking among bushes which he had coloured in many shades of green and flowers in purple and violet and orange. The very normality of it was close to unnerving.

Very nice, I said. The Calibrator smiled.

Thank you, he said. It will not be long now. We have to retrieve Blue Markinsson and then we can go home, although I suspect adventures along the way.

Then the owner of the Fonda came in, brandishing a kitchen knife. The Calibrator shot him in the head. A large red hole appeared on his forehead and a gush of blood and brains jetted out behind him and coated the wall as he fell backwards against it. 

Catferret looked paralysed with fear. I probably had a similar look about me. 

Alive, said the Calibrator, dead, who cares? Although in this case, I suspect, dead. Self defence, you saw that, didn't you.

I did indeed, I said.


Nobody else was coming. We finished the food and drink and retired for the night. In the night I heard something howling, out towards the forests, I thought, the birch forest we had passed on the way in after the badlands gave way to the upland vegetation that gave the country its name. Later in the night, a dog barked, woof woof, every so often. Something out there was stalking the dark. I wondered what; and then I slept, to wake in a dawn that was turning from grey to blue and gold.

The End

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