Tales of the Asp: Pain, by Aidan Butler

     Periodically Governor Walsh's drug supply was temporarily cut off. During these periods he had to endure withdrawal syndrome, an agonizing physiological dissonance which brought together two contrasting experiences: At once sensory data became louder, brighter, sharper, and poisonously strong. Yet mentally everything became shadow-like and vague, ashen, unreal. The world seemed reduced to faint mirages in his mind, while his body reeled from its vicious clarity. His soul screamed through every constricting cell in his body; his eyes absorbed light and magnified it in their prison-like spheres, spraying white-hot liquid back into his brain, which retreated like a frightened animal down his spinal column, its warm grey mass stopping to enwrap and strangle the throbbing muscles of his heart.

     While the experience was physically painful and mentally imbalancing, Governor Walsh realized that emotionally he became much more sensitive during drug withdrawal. Interruptions triggered more anger than usual; delays more frustration. Yet also his sadness was more intense, even when triggered by other people's misfortune. He realized that his emotional empathy with his constituents was more complete while he was suffering from withdrawal. Moreover, his ability to emotionally grasp the disappointments and joys of his children, the frustrations and occasional pleasures of his wife, was enhanced. In many ways, he recognized, he was emotionally enlivened by withdrawal; it made him a better person.

     But withdrawal would only last a few of days at most, while the periods of drug use had to stretch out for weeks in order to secure truly intense withdrawal. Walsh found himself counting the hours and minutes of his heroin highs, his cocaine rushes -- eagerly awaiting the darker emotional and sensory extremities of withdrawal. Highs became boring, and began to annoy him. Withdrawal, conversely, became lofty, exciting, and oddly pleasurable.

     Walsh began to look for drugs that delivered only the slightest high in exchange for the most grueling, soul-battering withdrawal symptoms. He began consuming huge quantities of powdered mace, which provided a brief euphoric dreaminess followed by days of insomnia, shaking, and nausea. During the euphoric daze he would isolate himself in the safe environment of his twelve-year-old daughter's bedroom and stare down teddy bears, watch reruns of eighties' sitcoms, writhe in the drug's blissful, tickling high among mounds of cuddly pillows on her quilted bed. Then, during the agonizing wake of the high, he would hold press conferences, stuttering and drooling into the microphone, and make public appearances in which he would clutch desperately at the hands of his constituents, occasionally throwing up on them.

     The genuineness of his empathy did not go unnoticed.

     "Here's a man," one homeless veteran commented, "Who really knows my pain. No, no: he knows even more pain than I do."

     Walsh realized that there were ways he could do away with the annoyingly pleasant and distracting experience of drug highs while still suffering quite intensely. He began drinking mixtures of buttermilk and rat poison, nailing his fingers to plywood planks then ripping them out, dropping hot coals into his boxer shorts, and whacking the bridge of his nose with a tack hammer.

     His commendable vulnerability to pain, both emotional and physical, increased, and his body became spotted with innumerable scabs. He peeled the scabs away every morning while showering in a mixture of lemon juice and sulfuric acid before jumping into a large tub filled with nearly boiling water. Increasingly, Governor Walsh began to look like a single large ambulatory scab, signing budget proposals, vetoing legislation, tearfully pardoning death-row inmates.

     Governor Walsh was a modest man, yet it slowly dawned on him that if all of his constituents shared his amazing hunger for grief and discomfort, they -- the citizens of his state -- would be able to connect with each other's fears, sorrows, and tribulations more wholly. Thus he began to encourage the citizens of his state to inflict what he called "training pain" on themselves and their families.

     In his annual state of the state address, Governor Walsh adjured his listeners, "The burden of this task falls primarily on fathers, since they are physically stronger than their wives and children, and thus have a greater capacity to inflict physical pain. I guarantee you, proud papas, that if you begin a regular, carefully monitored program of wife-beating and child abuse, there will be fewer dysfunctional families in our state. It is a goal that we must aspire to with diligence and discipline."

     The reluctance of his constituents to follow his intrepid example gravely disappointed Governor Walsh. People seemed to find it counter-intuitive to physically abuse themselves and torture their friends and families. Convinced that a stern and swift demonstration would sway them to his way of thinking, Governor Walsh ordered police in the urban centers of his state to begin bludgeoning people at random. Astonishingly, Walsh's approval rating fell to almost record lows when it was revealed in the press that his express orders were behind the barbaric police beatings. Yet Governor Walsh did not deny that he authored the plan.

     "God damn it, people, don't you see?" Walsh murmurred, his words barely distinguishable since he had extracted his teeth with rusty wire cutters. "I'm tenderizing you! Tenderizing you like flaps of raw beef!"

     The citizens of the state were not persuaded. But as the public's resistance to institutionalized sensitivity training solidified, Walsh's own passion for pain treatment only grew stronger. He began diving off staircases without padding, banging his head against fire hydrants -- occasionally dislodging metal valves, causing white-water to spray fiercely into his ears. Walsh laughed mirthfully as the high-pressure gush drowned his brains. It is rumored that days before his death, Walsh confessed to relatives that while his sensitivity to other people's pain only deepened, his ability to sense his own physical pain diminished. This, apparently, is what compelled him to begin jumping in front of moving cars.

     Entrenched politicians in other states and at other levels of government commented darkly on his death. "You see," Senator J. Montague Miller of Georgia observed, "This is incontrovertible proof that too much sensitivity can be a bad, even dangerous thing."

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.