Friday, January 16, 2009


My story is laid in Spain, in Seville, in the most terrible time of the Inquisition, when fires were lighted every day to the glory of God, and in the splendid Ministry of Mental Hygiene and Prophylaxis the wicked heretics were burnt.

Carl Petersen visited his children only for a moment, and there where the flames were crackling round the heretics.

Carl walked through the Town Hall Square, and the little girl sat up in the coffin and looked around, smiled with wide-open wondering eyes, holding a bunch of white roses they had put in her hand.

Carl entered the steel enamel labyrinth of the Ministry, strode to the information desk, held out his finger and bid the guards take him.

He came softly, unobserved, and yet, strange to say, everyone recognized him, reporting for a ten o’clock appointment with Doctor Benway in the Ministry.
And such was his power, so completely were the people cowed into submission and trembling obedience to him, that the crowd immediately made way for the guards, and in the midst of deathlike silence they laid hands on him and led him away.

“Fifth floor…Room twenty-six…”

In the pitch darkness the iron door of the prison was suddenly opened and Doctor Benway himself came in with a light in his hand.

“As if he had nothing to do but wait for me,” thought Carl…

“Hurumph,” he said finally…”Your name is Carl Peterson, I believe…”

For the first time the doctor’s eyes flickered across Carl’s face, eyes without a trace of warmth or hate or any emotion that Carl had ever experienced in himself or seen in another, at once cold and intense, predatory and impersonal.

He pushed his glasses back into place with one finger and opened a file on the white enameled desk.

“Mmmmmmm. Carl Peterson,” he repeated the name caressingly, pursed his lips and nodded several times. He spoke again abruptly: “You know of course that we are trying. We are all trying. Sometimes of course we don’t succeed.

“But let me tell you that now, today, people are more persuaded than ever that they have perfect freedom, yet they have brought their freedom to us and laid it humbly at our feet.

“Do you know that the ages will pass and humanity will proclaim by the lips of their sages that there is no crime, and therefore no sin; there is only hunger? ‘Nothing is true; everything is permitted’, as the saying goes.” His voice trailed off thin and tenuous. He put a hand to his forehead.

“In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet and say to us, ‘make us your slaves, but feed us’.”

His voice boomed out so unexpectedly deep and loud that Carl started. “That is the only function of the state as we see it. Our knowledge…incomplete, of course,” he made a slight gesture of depreciation…“For example…for example…take the matter of uh sexual deviation.”

The doctor rocked back and forth in his chair. His glasses slid down his nose. Carl felt suddenly uncomfortable.

“No, we care for the weak too. They are sinful and rebellious but in the end they too will become obedient. They will marvel at us and look on us as gods, because we are ready to endure the freedom which they have found so dreadful and to rule over them – so awful it will seem to them to be free.”

Carl suddenly felt trapped in this silent underwater cave of a room, cut off from all sources of warmth and certainty. The doctor was suddenly motionless. “So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship.”

The doctor was studying the file in front of him. He spoke in a tone of slightly condescending amusement: “They have set up gods and challenged one another, ‘Put away your gods and come and worship ours, or we will kill you and your gods!’”

The doctor suddenly threw himself back in his chair and burst into peals of metallic laughter. Carl watched him appalled…“The man is insane,” he thought.

“Don’t look so frightened, young man. Just a professional joke. The secret of man’s being is not only to live but to have something to live for. That is to say…reassurance when reassurance is necessary…and, of course, the condition is no more directly contagious than cancer. Cancer, my first love,” the doctor’s voice receded.

Carl was in a room filled with green light. There was a stained wood double bed, a black wardrobe with full length mirror. Someone was sitting in a black hotel chair. He was wearing a stiff bosomed white shirt and a dirty paper tie. The face swollen, skull-less, eyes like burning pus.

The doctor’s voice was barely audible. “Why don’t you make the Grand Inquisitor a proposition?” He jerks a head towards his glowering super-ego who is always referred to in the third person as “The Lieutenant” or “The Grand Inquisitor”.

“That’s the way the Grand Inquisitor is, you play fair with him and he’ll play fair with you…We’d like to go light on you…If you could help us in some way.” His words open out into a desolate waste of cafeterias and street corners and lunch rooms. Junkies look the other way munching pound cake.

“For having begun to build their tower of Babel without us, they will end, of course, with cannibalism. But then the beast will crawl to us and lick our feet and spatter them with tears of blood.”

A green flare exploded in Carl’s brain.

“We shall show them that they are weak, that they are only pitiful children, but that childlike happiness is the sweetest of all.”

The flare went out. Some huge insect was squirming in his hand. Carl’s whole being jerked away in an electric spasm of revulsion.

The doctor raised a coy admonishing finger. “Oh, we shall allow them even sin, they are weak and helpless, and they will love us like children because we allow them to sin.”

He tapped the file and flashed a hideous leer. Carl noticed that the file was six inches thick. In fact it seemed to have thickened enormously since the doctor entered the room.

“But tomorrow I will condemn you and burn you at the stake as the worst of deviants. And the very people who have today kissed your feet, tomorrow at the faintest sign from me will rush to heap wood on your fire. Do you know that? Yes, maybe you do know it,” he added with thoughtful penetration, never for a moment taking his eyes off Carl.

The old man longed for him to say something, however bitter and terrible. “Where can you go, Carl?”

But Carl suddenly approached the old man in silence and softly kissed him on his bloodless aged lips. That was all his answer. The whole room was exploding out into space.

Doctor Benway shuddered. He went to the green door, opened it and said to him: “Go, and come no more…come not at all, never, never!”

And he let him out into the dark alleys of the town. Carl Peterson went away.