Tuesday, 20 August 2013


A favourite short story from William S. Burroughs' quite incredible 'Exterminator' (1973). It's brimming with really good science.


hillside over the sea. man sitting there on a cane seat . . .he is dressed in old-fashioned puttees green sport coat of English cut he has a sandy mustache stained with tobacco pale blue eyes . . .near him we now see several convulsed forms, the closest a few feet away outstretched hand clutching a handful of grass . . . the camera pans out convulsed corpses to the sky back to the man sitting there on his cane seat . . .the man takes a chicken sandwich out of a wicker lunch basket . . . "safe at last" he says and starts eating his sandwich . . .the man you see here is Doctor Lee . . . Doctor John Lee . . . he was a sensitive man and it lacerated him to walk streets and enter restaurants where he encountered living organisms manifesting wills different from and in some cases flatly antagonistic to his own . . . "the situation is little short of intolerable" . . . Rock Ape waiter there with the wrong wine . . . he was a timid man in a way you see and not able to fix the waiter with Mandrill eyes and ugly American snarl . . . "bring me red wine you hairy assed Rock Ape or I drink it from your throat!" . . . now the doctor was a man of independent means and could usually avoid such disturbing incidents but the possibility was always there . . . this disturbed him and he was a man who did not like to be disturbed . . . he decided to end the whole distasteful thing once and for all by turning everyone into himself . . . this he proposed to do by a virus an image concentrate of himself that would spread waves of tranquility in all directions until the world was a fit place for him to live . . . he called it the "beautiful disease" . . .his first attempts to activate the image meal failed . . . he realized of course that to administer a dead or weakened strain of the beautiful Lee virus would invite the disaster of mass inoculation . . . he had to be quite sure you understand . . . some of his "canine preparations" as he called test cases died in quite unpleasant ways that disturbed him for he was a humane man and did not like to be disturbed so these unworthy vessels only increased his resolve to make a better world . . . 

one day it occurred to him if perhaps the image meal were radioactive . . . he painted a culture of image meal with radium paint and put it in an iron box covered on the outside with layers of human skin and now he chuckled "let it steep" and made himself a cup of tea . . . he finished his tea and opened the box . . . "ladies and gentlemen of planet earth introducing 'Johnny 23'" . . . his cat hissed made an abortive attempt to walk on its hind legs and fell in convulsions . . . in its dying eyes he read an almost human hatred . . . he attributed the death of his cat to a short circuit of overburdened synapses occasioned by a too rapid conversion to the human condition . . . "now we must find a worthy vessel" . . . remember the good doctor was a humane man who did not like to harm anyone because it disturbed him to do so and he was a man who did not like to be disturbed . . . he had convinced himself that "Johnny 23" would simply remove from the planet hostile alien forces manifesting themselves through other people that this would come about through peaceful penetration in the course of which no lives would be lost . . . "Johnny 23" would simply make friends of everyone . . . the doctor was not a man who argued with himself . . . the first public appearance of "Johnny 23" demonstrated a miscalculation . . . worthy vessels clutched at an often imaginary mustache and fell in convulsions looking at some invisible presence black hate from dying eyes . . . "Johnny 23" was one hundred percent fatal . . . the good doctor had a spot of bother a narrow escape in fact when the worthy vessels found out who "Johnny 23" is . . . fortunately the epidemic was well advanced by that time and "Johnny 23" finished the job . . . he finishes his sandwich and licks the grease off his fingers . . . he puts a cigarette in a stained bone holder . . . he sits there smoking . . . it is very peaceful there on the hillside nothing to disturb him as far as the eyes can see he gets up folds his cane seat and walks down a path toward the sea . . . his boat is moored by the pier . . . it is a small boat and he can handle it alone . . . last awning flaps on the pier . . . last man here now.


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