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January 23, 2023

From the End of the World: Four Scenes after Henri Michaux, III

By Terence Kuch

III: "One more corpse ..."

Tronn and Lonn board a train in town A. It is an old-fashioned train with compartments each holding six passengers, three facing three. If all six are present, they must jam up against each other to avoid spilling out through the compartment door into the aisle, or up into one of two luggage racks. The train's configuration is ideally suited to short tempers, furtive sex, or murder.

The train is scheduled to make additional stops before it reaches the city. The stops are known as B and C, because the towns are diffident about being called by their names.

Tronn and Lonn enter a compartment where two other men are already seated. Even though there is sufficient room for all four, Tronn and Lonn soon complain of a lack of space. The other two men are silent. Tronn suggests to Lonn a way to have more room, in fact, all the room in the compartment. The suggestion involves inserting knives into the intestines of the other two men, twisting them until there is no further objection, then shoving their bodies out the train window. Although well within earshot, the other two men do not seem to be aware of the developing scheme. Perhaps they speak only an inferior language.

Tronn pulls out a long knife and offers the two men a compromise: if they will leap out the window of the moving train, he will not stab them to death. They remain silent. Tronn tries again: if even one of them will leave the compartment by way of the window, he may be talked into sparing the other's life. But the two remain silent. Tronn and Lonn cast meaningful looks at each other. Lonn nods. Tronn inserts the blade of his long knife into the intestines of the man next to him, who breathes deeply, then bleeds. Tronn passes the knife to Lonn with the words "Your turn, Lonn." Lonn inserts the knife into the second man, who in turn breathes deeply and bleeds.

We can now conveniently refer to the two men as Corpse One and Corpse Two; as 'it's,' rather than 'him's.' Corpses One and Two slowly collapse onto the floor of the compartment.

Lonn hears the conductor approaching down the aisle of the car. He is concerned that the conductor will enter their compartment and be displeased at the scene of recent events. He says to Tronn, "Quickly! We must prop up Corpses One and Two in their seats." Tronn nods. Lonn raises Corpse Two to a seated position, shoves it against the window, keeps it upright in the seat by wedging his own body against him. Tronn does the same, on his side of the compartment, with Corpse One.

The conductor sticks his head inside the door but doesn't notice that anything is amiss. He merely says "We will soon arrive at station B. Since the train is crowded, I need to put two ladies into the compartment with you." He un-sticks his head and continues down the aisle.

Tronn and Lonn are unhappy to be crowded again, just when they had solved their previous problem. But they are consoled by the thought that the females may be of more interest to them than two men severely lacking in the ability to carry on a polite conversation.

The train stops. Two young women enter the compartment and sit down, one next to Tronn who is next to Corpse One, and the other next to Lonn who is next to Corpse Two. It becomes apparent that the two women are not acquainted with each other. Each regards the other with jealousy and suspicion, owing to a profusion about each of elegant attire and expensive jewelry. In reality, although neither woman knows this, both are engaged to be married to the same man. This man is waiting for them at the city station, unsure of how he will handle such a delicate matter. He hopes the women will be civilized about it and not do anything unseemly. Of course, Tronn and Lonn are unaware of this plot complication. If they had been, they might have found it amusing. And the women, for their part, are unaware that the two silent figures in their compartment are not merely sleeping, but dead. They think the floor is sticky because some child has spilled a sugary drink, and the railroad people have not yet cleaned it up. They find this disgusting, especially as the drink smells like blood and what is the world coming to when children are offered sweets that smell like blood? But they say nothing. Each regards the other with mounting dislike.

We can conveniently refer to the two women as 'Flo' and 'Fla,' respectively. Flo is seated on Tronn's side of the compartment. Fla is seated on Lonn's side. Flo and Fla can be referred to, when a pronoun is required, as 'she.' Later, it may be more appropriate to call one or both of the women 'it.' Or perhaps not. This will critically depend upon actions that may be taken by Tronn or Lonn somewhere on the way between towns B and C, or perhaps between C and the city of everyone's destination. If the women survive, they may continue to be 'she's, at least until they meet their common fiancé and someone is moved to take remedial action.

The compartment is now very crowded and warm. Tronn is concerned that his and Lonn's misdeeds may soon be discovered. The bodies are beginning to lose muscle tone, and it is continually more difficult to maintain them, by means of shoving and wiggling, in tableaux more appropriate to the vivant.

Tronn has an idea. "Good heavens!" he says, sitting up with a start. "I have just recalled that my traveling companion, here," (indicating Corpse One) "desires to disembark at the little town of C-Prime, where this line does not stop. We will have to help him exit when we arrive at C-Prime, which should be in about five minutes." Lonn, catching on, makes the same statement about Corpse Two. Then Tronn says "If you ladies will just lend a hand, I believe that Lonn and I can push our friends out the window at just the right time to land precisely in the center of the presently deserted platform of the little town of C-Prime."

As he expected, both women excuse themselves from this duty, but volunteer to wait in the dining car so that Tronn and Lonn will have room to maneuver their friends out the window. The women exit, wafting veiled looks of distain at each other.

We will not describe the efforts of Tronn and Lonn to eject the numbered Corpses except to say that, not caring if the bodies land on the platform of C-Prime or not, they succeed. More important is the scene in the dining car, where Flo and Fla, in the course of idle chatter, are about to discover that both are engaged to the same lucky man. Therefore, our attention will now shift to that car, and then to another place where the consequences of that conversation will become apparent.

Flo and Fla enter the dining car, are seated. They chatter idly, in the course of which Flo reveals that she is traveling to the city to meet her fiancé. Fla says that she is on the same errand. Flo mentions that her fiancé is named 'Chuck,' nick-named 'Chuckles.'

"What a coincidence!" exclaims Fla, "That is my fiancé's Christian name too, and he has the same nick-name also! -- But I am sure, my dear, that your Chuck has not a degree in business-management, nor a senior position with Morgen and Blumen, Ltd., a leading entrepreneur of trade to the Dutiful Republic."

"Indeed he has," responds Flo, "but my Chuck is also a great star at table-tennis, and has won the cup at Sheepy Parva three times in the past five years."

Fla does not immediately reply to this boast. Instead, she ponders the oddity that two men could so resemble each other in name, position, and sporting accomplishment. She is about to say something she might later regret, but there dawns upon her a different plan. She looks at Flo and smiles.

"But enough of this idle chatter, my dear. I'm sure that Mr. Tronn and Mr. Lonn have by now assisted their quiet companions in reaching their destination without misadventure."

"Yes, surely."

"Therefore," continued Fla, "we are at liberty to return to our compartment."

"Yes, surely."

"Then, shall we do so?"

"Yes, indeed."

The two women rise and head back toward their compartment. They are helped through a door along the way by an older gentleman whom they do not recognize, but who is in fact the famous detective Moxley Pewter. Pewter, immersed in his own thoughts, does not recognize the aura of incipient murder surrounding the women. He passes on to his own compartment, from which he will later exit, having completely missed the remainder of this story.

Courteously, Flo permits Fla to enter the compartment ahead of her. Fla smiles at Tronn and Lonn. As Fla is preparing to seat herself, Flo reaches up to one of the overhead luggage racks and pulls toward her a small but heavy leather valise having sharp metallic corners. This convenient device might have been the property of Corpse One, or perhaps of Corpse Two.

But Fla, having realized Flo's designs as early as that moment of silence in the dining car, quickly extracts a long hat-pin from the tiny veil on her head, turns, and stabs Flo directly in the chest, exactly equidistant, the reader may surmise, from each breast. Observing this event, Tronn and Lonn utter miscellaneous exclamations such as "Ladies, Please!," and "See Here!," and "For Shame!" Flo grasps her breasts dramatically and falls to the floor, where she moans and twitches, heavy leather valise to one side.

In her agitation, Fla hasn't planned what to do next. She now turns to Tronn and Lonn with a gesture of helplessness, explains the situation regarding Chuckles, solicits their aid. Tronn and Lonn look at each other, then Lonn returns to Fla. "We could," he says, "defenestrate her as we did the others. However, we are rapidly approaching the city of our common destination, and the proposed activity might be noticed, and reported to the authorities, by those simple peasants who are in the habit of standing beside the tracks and waving at passing trains." He pauses to think.

"I observe," ventures Tronn while Lonn is thinking, "that Flo, here, is still moaning and twitching; in her death throes, I believe. If Lonn and I were to depart the train supporting it between us, we could deliver it to Chuckles and then rapidly disappear into the crowd."

"An excellent example of poetic justice," enthuses Fla. "And I shall be watching, unobserved, from a safe distance, and derive extreme pleasure from the sight of that son of a bitch in despair at the sight of his beloved Flo, twitching and dying in his double-crossing arms."

And so it happened.

Part Three of Four


From the End of the World: Four Scenes After Henri Michaux, Part Three, was first published in Symphonie's Gift in 2010.

Article © Terence Kuch. All rights reserved.
Published on 2011-08-01
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