Tales of the Asp: Dr. Asp, by Aidan Butler

     The Asp bought the practice of a retiring physician in a small town in Idaho. The older physician had established a large number of regular patients -- many whole families -- through his loving dedication to the community and his close social relationships with many local residents. Most of the citizens in the small town came to see him for all of their problems, and only drove the two-hour distance to the nearest hospital when he advised them to. The Asp, claiming to be a recent graduate from Yale Medical School, said that he had often visited his grandparents in the area when he was a small child, and had fond, vivid memories of the town. "It's like I finally have an opportunity to return to the only home I knew as a child" -- thus his willingness to far out-bid his competitors for the doctor's practice. The Asp assured his aging predecessor that he would continue the medical practice with the same zeal, conscientiousness, and generosity that his patients had grown to trust him for. The deal was sealed, and the older doctor retired to Southern Florida, where he spent countless afternoons slowly descending into senility on the rides of Disneyworld.

     Dr. Asp was challenged with many unfortunate medical emergencies during the year of his practice. Late in the fall, a group of young men went hiking on a nearby mountain, and were trapped for several days in an unexpected, ruthlessly cold snowstorm. Dr. Asp was saddened to inform them that they would each have to suffer amputations: two of them had their arms permanently destroyed from frostbite; one had a hand stricken by the same awful condition, and one would have to lose his entire left leg and purchase an artificial replacement.

     "Don't worry about the leg, my friend," Dr. Asp said soothingly. "Some of the new ones are truly amazing; not only do they respond to brain impulses with ultra-sensitive micro-computers, some models also have built in can-openers, quartz heaters, snake-bite kits, and little storage compartments for you to keep stuff in. I think you'll find them very helpful for future hiking trips."

     The Asp's heart was indeed as susceptible to feeling other people's pain as the older doctor's was; he allowed all of the young men to make mercifully small monthly payments for their amputations in exchange for letting the Asp keep the frost-bitten limbs to do "medical experiments on."

     The winter, tragically, was an extremely harsh one, and many more amputations were necessary. Most were required by severe frostbite, but some were due to poisonous spider bites; some were necessitated by automobile accidents; some even to a particularly nasty flu.

     "You see, hon, your throat got so sore because of the build-up of deadly flu-cells, and lots of those life-devouring cells have migrated through your shoulders down to your arms. The nerves in your arms are almost completely dead. Here, can you feel this? Close your eyes and concentrate."

     When the girl closed her eyes, the Asp waited briefly without touching her.

     "Did you feel that?"


     "Well, there you go. Now unfortunately, darling, the deadness in your arm's nerves will spread to your spine, and ultimately to your brain. Once your brain begins to go soft, you won't be able to do anything with your life but watch T.V. and breathe."

     "That sounds okay," the twelve-year-old girl objected. "That's basically all my Grandma does."

     "No, child, you don't get it. You won't be able to feed yourself; you won't be able to crap without the aid of a small robot or a specially trained dog. You won't be able to tell the people on T.V. apart; you won't be able to talk without stuttering so much it'll take you fifteen minutes to say your own name. Your arms have got to come off."

     The Asp collected the body parts he amputated, and used the cleansed, bleached human bones for various projects. With the medium-sized bones he made a xylophone, which he played with soft rubber mallets. The bones emitted rather percussive yet faintly melodic tones that were particularly suited to rhythmic African-inspired folk-tunes. When the Asp played quick series of notes on the bones, he thought the overtones resembled human voices calling out in profound, wordless joy at being freed from an existence of mere utility.

     The Asp assembled a tiny hut inside his bedroom with the larger bones of his patients. He crawled into the hut every so often and meditated peacefully; it felt to him that the psychic traces of his patients emanated from the bones, and merged with his spirit, lofting his soul up to a misty plane of shimmering tranquility.

     The Asp crafted the smaller bones, such as the ones from feet and hands, into dining utensils, keychains, and jewelry. Some of these he sold as souvenirs to patients who became ill driving through town. At a diner in a nearby town he gave away a human-bone necklace to a group of hippies. He found a biker bar in Idaho Falls where he sold a knife that had a polished human-bone handle. This led to a delightful irony; some months later the biker used the knife in an altercation with the very same one-handed patient the Asp had hacked away the bones from. The stab-wounds to the patient's shoulder required the Asp to amputate the entire arm.

     When springtime came, the Asp dismantled his meditation chamber and used the larger bones to make croquet mallets. He polished the bones to a dull shine, sanded away irregularities, and wrapped the handles with strips of leather. He then invited all of his former amputees to a therapeutic gathering at his house, where he fed them lunch, listened to their descriptions of life without whole bodies, and taught them to play croquet with their old body-parts.

     The Asp envisioned the medical miracles he could perform if he continued his practice: he could invent a form of "vitamin" for pregnant women which would accelerate the growth of the foetus, while causing the mother's body to progressively shrink, until finally, after nine months, the tiny mother's womb would burst open. The well-nourished infant would lie smiling, alert, in the wet shreds of its mother's exploded body. There would be no need for the complicated and potentially dangerous traditional birth methods.

     Dr. Asp dreamed of a kind of chemically charged cast that would dramatically change the limbs encased in it. A man who had broken his arm would saw away his cast after wearing it for a few months to discover a semi-formed eyeball nestled in the cup of his elbow. The misplaced eye might perceive only bright colors, sending odd, ambiguous visual messages to the patient's brain.

     Another type of cast could leak fertilizing chemicals into the nerves beneath the shell, increasing their capacity to store electricity like an electric eel, so that the owner of the mutated limb would periodically shock people, or flail about in violent, burning seizures.

     The Asp's ambitiously philanthropic aims were never realized, however. Perhaps his fierce yearning for medical innovation got the best of him. One afternoon the Asp insisted to the mother of a six-year-old boy that her child would have to be "wholly amputated."

     "What do you mean, wholly amputated?"

     "He has to be amputated from your life. He is thoroughly diseased; his problems, his infantilism, his hyperactivity, his tendency to chatter aimlessly and distort the truth to conceal his naughtiness -- these traits will spread to other parts of human society unless we amputate him completely. I'm afraid he cannot be allowed to leave my office. We'll have to put him in a storage jar."

     The mother seemed baffled.

     "Oh, don't worry," Dr. Asp assured her, "You can keep him, if you can afford to pay cash for the amputation. You can place your son's jar in the living room, perhaps -- keep him close to the family. Maybe use him as a lawn decoration."

     Struck with the impression that this treatment seemed rather drastic, the mother consulted a doctor in Boise for a second opinion. Alerted that "whole amputation" was medically unheard of, she notified the police, who telephoned Dr. Asp for his side of the story.

     Before rushing out of town, before abandoning his medical practice and leaving the people of the town without any doctor at all, the Asp hurriedly gathered up all of the bones he had not sold or given away as gifts. Consulting his records when necessary, the Asp tagged each of the bones with the names of the people he had taken them from, then dumped them all at the elementary school playground.

     Gripping the wheel as he raced to the nearest airport, the Asp imagined the little children bringing the bones home from school to their family members who had lost them. The Asp smiled, charmed at his own kindness.

Tales of the Asp
1  | 2  | 3  | 4  | 5  | 6  | 7  | 8  | 9  | 10  | 11  
12  | 13  | 14  | 15  | 16  | 17  | 18  | 19  | 20  | 21  | 22  

Swagazine Special Number One
Copyright 1998, All Rights Reserved.