Extreme Cruelty
a short story by Norman Lock

With the murder of the Bishop, I entered my final and most heroic phase of cruelty. I plumed myself in the brilliant feathers of spite, robed myself in a magisterial iconoclasm. I beheaded the public monuments and ravaged the Governor’s flowerbeds. I stormed the citadels of virtue and muddied the waters of morality. I stooped by the ditch in which the murdered wayfarers had been thrown and withheld my tears. My perversions were various, their satisfaction immediate and inventive. In short, I became the most anathematized man in Africa.

The Bishop’s successor inveighed against me, calling on God to smite me in my body’s sensitive places.

The governments of Africa issued dire warnings against those who would give me succor.

The constabulary featured me on handbills, promising inflationary rewards for my capture.

The Nairobi Opera Company, whose performance I had mocked and shambled, gave benefit concerts for those pledged to my destruction.

My mother was persuaded to denounce me to the newspapers on five continents. And Anna—Anna, whom I loved with the cruelty of a hopeless passion—refused to visit me in my dreams.

“You should ask their forgiveness,” said the jackal, whose mouth was occupied with dripping wildebeest haunch. “Humble yourself, seek absolution, expiate your crimes by good works, and pray for mercy.”

I was incredulous!

“The life of a haunted animal is no life at all,” the jackal continued. “Believe me, I know what I’m talking about: I was with Rimbaud in Harar in ‘91.”

I doubted jackals had so long a life expectancy but decided against a challenge, knowing well their savagery when crossed.

“Rimbaud lived in a state of nature,” I said instead. “His life, like his poetry, was cruel.”

“You are not of the same stuff!” he sneered.

Offended, I rose up and killed the jackal. I trampled his body underfoot and flung it into the ravine.

“Rimbaud’s cruelty is nothing next to mine!” I gloated as I walked towards the horizon that was writhing in the terrible heat at mid-day.

Shortly after three o’clock, I entered the alabaster city and stood among its trembling houses.

A missionary leaped out of a church door and thrust a devotional tract into my hands.

“Profit by the Word or reap the Whirlwind!” she brayed.

I folded her into a pamphlet in which I wrote a polemic of my own in favor of Cruelty.

A soldier flew at me, lance glinting in a sun whose only purpose is to engender maggots.

“Hooligan!” he shouted, hoarse with indignation.

Laughing, I wrapped a python round his ankles so that he fell on his lance.  Then, for good measure, I twisted it.

“Oh, you are a cruel bastard!” he said with his dying breath.

An avenging angel swooped down from the roof. Gathering his iron skirts, he clattered towards me, his ancient face rouged with rust.

I disliked him immediately and toppled him with sharp words.

To punish my impieties, God caused Himself to be lowered from the empyrean by an ingenious system of ropes and pulleys.

“I don’t give that”—I snapped my fingers theatrically—“for such a clumsy and old-hat ex machina!”

Nature shuddered, but what was Nature to me? I rolled up my sleeves and prepared to do violence to the Almighty, Ancient of Days.

I shredded Him.

And He repaired Himself.

I crumbled Him.

And He restored Himself.

I dispersed Him.

And He reconstituted Himself.

I blew Him to bits with everlasting sticks of dynamite.

And He reassembled Himself.

I sundered Him, and He rejoined Himself. I interrupted Him, and He resumed Himself. I adjourned Him, and He reconvened Himself. I perforated Him, and He performed holy acts of closure. I peeled Him, but He only laughed—the old fox!—and could not be tricked into repealing Himself in order to end up sitting among the superannuated gods.

And now God went on the offensive.

He beat me with trees and stony crags of mountains. With millstones and fluted columns did He beat me, and also with small Rhenish castles. (He drubbed me and dashed me—don’t for a moment imagine otherwise! And He dunked me in oceans as well!) Afterwards we grappled, and there was an uncomfortable entanglement of molecules—ignoble and divine—that was disentangled only with great difficulty.

I was, however, unimpressed: He hardly made a dent in me.

“Ha!” I scoffed.

And though He opened the ground and showed me the running fire, the fuse, and the unraveling cable that binds together all things—I scorned Him.

Disheartened, He climbed back into the machine and made His slow and creaking ascent—an old man, never to set foot on earth again.

Nature groaned and shook dust into the air, covering the sun.

I traveled on, to a country untenanted by man, and stood before a mirror in an otherwise empty room.

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall—who’s the cruelest of them all?” I asked.

“You,” said the mirror.

And so, having become the epitome of cruelty, I renounced it at last, and took up goodness with all the relentlessness that is in my nature.

But what a fine wallow I had in the days of extreme cruelty!


© 2000 Norman Lock

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