Tales of the Asp: Lesser Evils, by Aidan Butler

     Not all of the Asp's machinations were rooted in some grand vision of the transformative power of Evil. Months went by in which he was overcome with an almost paralyzing laziness; no darkly shimmering schemes penetrated his infertile mind during these phases of torpor, and really all he could do to increase the pain and suffering in people's lives was wander around in fashionable shopping malls with a shopping bag filled with finely smashed bottles, and scoop fragments of broken glass into the change-return slots in public pay-phones and vending machines. He imagined unsuspecting shoppers plunging their fingers into the dark little compartments and jumping back with sudden pain, their fingertips glistening beautifully with tiny shards of glass and droplets of blood. He admitted to himself it was really a very thoughtless scheme, quite barren of any creative spark. Well, whatever. It was better than nothing.

     Equally uninspired, the Asp printed out several hundred rather poorly worded, artless, visually dull fliers advertising a new brothel specializing in under-aged, developmentally challenged, methamphetamine-addicted prostitutes. The rates for some, the flier boasted, were as low as twelve-cents a minute -- far less, he pointed out, than some recorded phone-sex messages. The address of the brothel provided on the fliers was actually the address of one of the most prominent members of the City Council.

     Also at the shopping mall, the Asp carried a large plastic soft drink bottle filled with ammonia into the pet store, and, glancing around to make sure no one was looking, he poured the ammonia into one of the aquariums. The Asp stood back and watched with modest ripples of joy rising in his breast as the dense school of multi-colored, gem-like fish lost its smoothly undulating rhythm and became chaotic. Fish darted about frantically, their fragile bodies struggling against the powerful chemical, their inflamed gills pumping, their elegant fins flapping erratically, their eyes clouding over with blood. Within moments a new stillness pervaded the water of the aquarium.

     There was a two-week stretch -- he considered it the low-point of his career of malevolence -- when all the Asp did for Evil was walk up and down the isles of supermarkets and drugstores playfully tampering with boxed goods in hopes of elevating his sour mood. He'd remove a small pen knife, make vertical slashes in the thick paper boxes of aspirin, cough syrups, and feminine hygeine products. Wary consumers would avoid all of these products and leave them on the shelves; less observant shoppers would take them home and find them suspiciously damaged. Sometimes instead of slashing the packaging, the Asp stuck strong-adhesive stickers to the boxes which depicted a skull and cross-bones underscored with the word "TOXIC." He put these on boxes of tea, crackers, breakfast cereals, and so on. To his delight, the Asp found it was impossible for store employees to remove the stickers without peeling away bits of print from the labels.

     The most he hoped to achieve was embarrassing the stores, and drilling into shoppers the uncomfortable sense that someone, somewhere, was out to get them. The only beauty he perceived in this was that the consumers would be reminded how utterly random much violence is, and how unavoidable; for no matter how ethically and charitably the shoppers had lived, they could still fall victim to sick-hearted, arbitrarily cruel fiends like him.

     Perhaps the Asp was unduly self-flattering when he assured himself that this could have major consequences in people's lives. For a single frightening experience shopping could lead a person to view even innocent people around him or her with increased distrust, thus heightening the usual paranoia between strangers. Maybe, just maybe, the Asp told himself, his lesser evils could foster an atmosphere in which greater evils could be born.

Tales of the Asp
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