Tales of the Asp: Wealth, by Aidan Butler

     The Asp believed that his enormous wealth was a sign that god loved him more than He loved most people, and that his wealth, most of which was actually inherited or stolen, was proof of his superior talent and intelligence. The Asp's money and his opulent lifestyle set him apart from most people, and this feeling of being above other people economically produced in him the sense that he had rights beyond those of ordinary people.

     The Asp felt no guilt at having so much money even when he witnessed the abject poverty, the near starvation, of so many people around him every day. In fact, rather than concealing his wealth, he flaunted it as boldly and as often as possible. He knew that if he exhibited his nearly limitless wealth to other people, they would flock to him as sycophants, prostitutes, and obedient parasites.

     One of the ways the Asp flaunted his wealth was by creating a lavish dance-garden in the backyard of his Beverly Hills estate. Instead of trees, sculpted topiary hedges, and flowers, the Asp hired a group of dancers to dress up as vegetation and perform a never-ending, choreographed dance routine. The dancers would perform in several-hour shifts, trading off so that there were dancers performing in his yard perpetually, even when no one was around to watch them.

     After a few weeks, after a few free public performances for media and neighbors, the Asp stopped paying attention to his dance-garden. The dancers lost their excitement since there was no longer an audience to perform for. The Asp, on the other hand, relished the thought that his dancers were performing constantly; whenever he chose, whatever the time of day, he could walk into his garden, or glance out one of the windows overlooking it, and see artists performing in his honor.

     But the dancers felt neglected; they were annoyed at being ignored, and they soon lost their inspiration. They began taking unauthorized breaks in which they rested, had conversations, ate snacks, gave each other massages, and so on. The dancers' breaks became longer and longer. They started going off in pairs to secluded spots in the garden to have sex. Some brought small portable television sets to the garden to keep themselves amused. Some brought their children to avoid having to pay for babysitters.

     One evening, just before midnight, the Asp walked unannounced into his garden. He saw the dancers, some of whom had not even bothered donning their costumes and make-up, loitering aimlessly in his backyard, picnicking with their families, cooking vegetable kabobs on a barbecue, and so on. The Asp exploded, screamed hatefully at the dancers, and threatened to not pay them for the past few weeks. He fired three dancers who he caught performing intercourse, and punished the others by ordering them to imitate trees by standing utterly motionless in strange, painfully contorted postures. He threatened to "prune" them with a pair of shears if they so much as sneezed.

     After that, the Asp would sometimes see people loitering in places other than his backyard -- winos standing around in front of liquor stores, children waiting for their parents in front of stores -- and brutally scold them for not dancing, then threaten to fire them for not keeping their part of the bargain.

     The Asp was an aficionado of great architecture, but many of the buildings that he wished to purchase -- such as the Taj Mahal, Egypt's Great Pyramid, and the Pentagon -- were not for sale. He expressed his appreciation for these and other famous edifices by having minutely detailed scale replicas of them built in the bathrooms of his home, each one a fully functional toilet. The Asp would relieve himself squatting over exact models of St. Peter's Cathedral, the White House, Aztec pyramids, and so on.

     The Asp was also fond of beautiful fur garments, but went a step further than most fur owners: he had coats made of live minks, live foxes, and live ermins. The animals would be sewn by their paws to the undercloth of his coats, and would writhe, snarling, on his back. This was far more efficient, the Asp thought, since the heat of the animals' living bodies insulated him against the cold. This was also more visually striking to him, since all furs seemed to lose some of their beauty upon the animal's death.

     The live furs reminded the Asp of old helium balloons, struggling weakly to rise off of him. Also like balloons, the animals could be "popped"; when he was bored sitting in his limousine, or nodding off during some tedious dinner conversation, the Asp would remove a long needle from his jacket pocket and torture or kill the animals he was wearing. Sometimes he would inflict minor blood-letting wounds on one animal and, to his delight, this would trigger the uninjured animals into a murderous frenzy. The unpoked animals would rip the already injured one apart, as if instinctively attempting to protect themselves from contagiously receiving the wounded animal's disability. Sometimes during these fights the animals the Asp had not injured would get hurt, and then they, too, would be attacked and killed by the others. Occasionally this would continue until there was only one living animal left, leaving the Asp to walk around draped in an array of fresh carcasses.

     For the Asp's thirty-second birthday, he reserved an entire banquet room at the Ritz Carlton, furnished with a spectacular buffet table. He invited no one, and demanded that the waiters and busboys not intrude on his celebration. Isolated in the huge, lavishly decorated room, the Asp nibbled on delicious foods laid out resplendently on the gilt buffet table -- fresh strawberries dipped in various types of chocolate, tiny roasted birds, semi-translucent shrimp lined up on the rim of a gigantic crystal bowl filled with cocktail sauce, as if about to dive into a bloody tidepool, exotic fruits imported from more than thirty countries, dozens of pies and cakes, magnums of champagne, and on and on. Chatting with himself about how dazzling the food looked, the Asp soon could not resist the urge to mess it up: he began tossing apples into the cocktail sauce, throwing slabs of roast beef into the punch, whipping cornish game hens at the chandelier, tipping pies onto the floor. Finally, he began having a full-on food fight with himself, smashing strawberries against his cheeks, dunking his head into the bowl of ice cream, swatting himself with crisp baguettes, and finally climing onto the dessert tray and rolling back and forth on top of the many pies and cakes, gurgling and moaning sensually in between barking insults at himself.

     After about two hours, the Asp, naked and smeared with holandaise sauce, gravy, frosting and pie-fillings, walked into the lobby and informed the guests and wait-persons that his celebration was complete.

     "You can dine upon the leftovers, if you so choose. It is my birthday gift to you."

     The Asp was thrilled at the degree of control that he could exert over other people with his money. He found that if people were desperately poor enough, they would willingly transgress their own heart-felt principles if someone paid them to. He also found that even in cases where people were not particularly desperate, larger sums of money could still motivate them to do things they would very likely despise themselves for. In once instance, the Asp paid a retired police officer to defecate on the grass at the base of his mother's gravestone. Seemingly more concerned with whether anyone would see him than with how could reconcile the sick misdeed with his love for his deceased mother, the man crouched behind the headstone, glancing around him nervously, urging the Asp to tell him if anyone appeared.

     After pulling up his pants, the man tried to dismiss the horrible symbolic meaning of his act, and tried to minimize the emotional struggle he went through performing it.

     "Hell, she doesn't care; she's dead anyway."

      The Asp employed one man in writing letters threatening rape to his own fifteen-year-old daughter. The anonymously written letters were brutally explicit in describing what the man envisioned doing with her, and after the girl received three such letters the man's wife went to the police in terror, unknowingly to file a police report against her husband. The police, regrettably, could not trace the letters, which were mailed from different letter boxes around the city, and which were seemingly free of identifying marks such as fingerprints, or saliva, which can usually be found on postal stamps. The Asp succeeded in getting the man to begin negotiating a price for actually performing the rape, but the bargaining broke down over the details of the disguise and the location. Interestingly, the man insisted that he not act incognito, and that he be allowed to perform the rape in his daughter's bedroom. The Asp disagreed with this plan, and demanded that the man dress up as his wife and attack his daughter during one of her track-meets at school.

     The Asp saw photographs in National Geographic of bays in Puerto Rico where small phosphourescent plankton made the bodies of swimmers glow and shimmer as they plunged through the water in the night. Dazzled by the sheer beauty of the images, the Asp had a pipe installed in one of his bathrooms leading from his large crystal tub to one of these special bays in Puerto Rico. The pipe sucked salt water and luminous planktons from the bay into his tub so that he could revel in the natural wonder without leaving his home.

     Sometimes after leaving his tub the Asp would forget that he left the pipe on, and so the plankton from the bay would begin to leak into the emergency drains of his tub, gallon after gallon washing away into the city sewer. The merchants who had restaurants and hotels around the bay were upset at this, because the supply of wonderful plankton in their bay was substantially reduced, leaving tourists disappointed at the lack of luminesence. One particularly outraged restauranteur located the mouth of the Asp's pipe and made a habit of lifting it from the water and urinating into it, even urging his sons and his patrons to do the same.

     In retaliation, the Asp reversed the flow of his pipe and began channeling battery acid, motor oil, and gasoline into it. Soon, all of the life in the Puerto Rico bay began dying. Yet the glow of the plankton was soon replaced by the reeking glow of hazardous wastes. The Asp pointed out that this was a much more enduring sort of glow -- in fact, it would take decades to restore the ecosystem to its former state -- so really the people of Puerto Rico were indebted to him.

     The Asp owned a spectacular car with a large video screen on the ceiling of the passenger compartment that showed the image of a clear, tranquil sky with puffy, suggestively shaped clouds drifting past. Thus it provided the view of a convertible while blocking out the noise and pollution of other cars: air filters maintained an internal atmosphere of carefully monitored temperature and humidity. The car was equipped with special tilting headlights, some which turned inward during the night and rained soft, warm, complimentary light on his profile in the back seat so that other drivers could see just who the fabulously wealthy owner of the car was. Small security cameras on the bumpers constantly videotaped the traffic around the car to provide photographic evidence in case of a collision.

     The Asp was irritated that, at the speed of traffic, people did not get enough of a chance to envy him for his car. With that in mind he had a mechanic rig the engine to malfunction every thirty miles and completely break down. The traffic would stall, and the Asp, feigning controlled outrage, would rise from the antique chaise lounge implanted in the back of the car and stride over to the open hood. There, the driver would stand gazing at the sterling silver engine parts, sweating nervously.

     The Asp would mutter, "Goddamn these dainty Prussian engines," then spit on the driver's shoe. He would promptly fire the driver, cursing him and his family venemously. Then, climbing back into the passenger compartment to pour himself some cognac, he would whistle loudly.

     This was the signal for the mechanic to come out and fix the engine. The mechanic was a midget who lived in the spacious trunk of the car. Dressed in a fancy uniform with strange cloth badges, gold epaulets, and a visor, the midget mechanic would rush to the engine and reset the breakdown mechanism, taking his time to allow the Asp to soak up the attention of the other drivers. After servicing the engine, the homunculous mechanic would bow before the Asp's door. Slowly, with dignified luskishness, the Asp would roll down the window and toss the man a chocolate, a clump of opium, or a souvenir from some exotic country.

     The Asp was fond of pedigree racing dogs. The most successful racing dog in American history, which was named Jane's Eyes, died in 1978, and was taxidermied and put on display at the Austin Racing Museum. The Asp purchased Jane's Eyes and had engineers construct a motor in the dog's body. The motor enabled the dog to walk with smooth, life-like motions. A small tape player was installed in its head which enabled it to bark or, alternatively upon command, emit the mating calls of various species of African parrot. The Asp also had his engineers implant defecation and urination mechanisms in the dog, so that when he pressed small buttons inside the dog's ears, it would perform these natural functions.

     Naturally, the smells of dog feces and urine were displeasing to the Asp, so instead of filling the robot dog with the real wastes of other dogs, he had the artificial bladder filled with chilled chardonnay and the false intestines loaded with goose liver pate`. He would take the dog on picnics, and once in a while, guiding the dog by remote control, made it bite small children or other dogs. Once an unforgiving Saint Bernard tried to bite Jane's Eyes back, and was electrocuted.

     After a few months the Asp became bored with Jane's Eyes, so he programmed the dog to run into his neighbors driveway. The dog was flattened by his neighbor's Lambourghini, and the Asp sued his neighbor for negligence.

Tales of the Asp
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