I had to take a break from a longer short story to write this shorter and more silly one, in part to make sure I still remembered how to finish writing a story. Admittedly, it’s not that good, but sometimes you’ve gotta write shitty stories in order to write the good ones.
Last month, Oxfam reported that the world’s 85 richest people have as much wealth ($110 trillion) as the bottom 3.5 billion people. Interrelatedly, last year’s Wall Street bonuses exceed $91 billion. This comes at a time when hundreds of millions of people across the world are suffering for want of basic goods and services, and many are dying simply because they are deprived of the means of survival which could easily be provided by those who have profited from human and environmental exploitation. As the burgeoning world rolls forward into the 21st century, there’s less and less room for insatiable avarice, there’s less and less time to behave like a greedy piece a shit. Alas, Greed is the game on Wall Street, so fuck those banker swine. This short story is dedicated to them.
Preface to readers: sorry for all the violence, but in the spirit of Capote, “You can’t blame a writer for what the characters say.”
The Beasts of Genesis
Tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.
Upon which lands doth lie the beast? The beast doth lie in thee.
-Walter Lloyd Waterson
Harry and Harriet Paulson stepped out from the snow and into the verdant foyer of the Genesis Spa in upstate New York. Soothing ambient music coupled with the audio of tropical insects and amphibians resounded from speakers as the husband and wife, both middle-age big city investments bankers, were greeted by a young woman at a desk.
“Happy New Year, Mr. and Mrs. Paulson. Welcome back.”
“It’s lovely to be back, darling,” said Harriet, “The city can be so unforgiving and savage during the holidays.” She reconsidered, “What am I saying? It’s a jungle year round.”
“That’s why we come here,” said Harry, “There are no barbarians in paradise, no untamed beasts in Eden.”
“Harry,” said his wife, “How poetic.” They smiled and kissed.
The woman at the desk billed their credit card. “You’re all set. Have a relaxing stay.”
The couple walked down the marble hall and stood before the separate doors of the men and women’s locker rooms.
“What a wonderful way to spend our bonuses, Francis.”
“A mere fraction at that. We could buy this entire place if we were to spend a tenth of what we made.”
“What a lovely idea, Harry. We could work here!”
“Work? Ha! I forgot how to do that!”
They both laughed.
“Harry,” said Harriet, “I want to ask you in something in earnest.”
“Do you think we should donate some of our bonuses? You know, in order to help those across the world who are poor and starving?”
Puzzled, Harry stared at his wife, incredulous of her serious demeanor. She couldn’t hold it and cracked a smile and they both burst into laughter.
“Good one,” said Harry, “Good one…”
They passed into their respective locker rooms, removed their clothes, put on fluffy bathrobes, and met in the bathhouse where they were greeted by a flamboyant male masseuse.
“Hello there, Mr. and Mrs. P. Welcome back!”
“Hello Francis, how delightful to see you.”
“We have some very special and innovative treatment regiments to pamper you with today.”
“Well by all means, pamper away, Francis,” said Harry, “I’ve been a very good boy this year.”
“Oh, I bet you have, Mr. P., I bet you have.”
“What do you plan to start us off with today, Francis?” asked Harriet.
“Well, I’m going to first facilitate the loosening of your muscles by having you submerge your bodies in hot mud baths. During the tension alleviation process, you’ll undergo an exotic, facial exfoliating experience.”
“How adventurous!” said Harriet.
“Exotic you say?”
“Yes. It’s an ancient method originating from the land of Africa, the cradle of civilization. I’ll be right back. You two just ease into your tubs and relax.”
“Africa…” Harry said, “sounds dangerous.”
“I’ve heard that it’s an absolutely filthy country overflowing with minorities.”
Harry and Harriet disrobed and slowly entered the hot mud baths.
“Wooo, this is hot, Harry. I can feel my silicone heating up!”
“Wait til’ the guys at the office hear about how daring and free spirited I’m being today.”
“You’re the bravest, boldest banker on Wall Street, Harry, and I love you for that.”
With their bodies submerged, Harry and Harriet were but two heads sprouting from separate mud baths when Francis returned and approached with a box.
“Here they are,” said Francis, “The hottest new facial exfoliates on the market.” He opened the box and pulled out a Giant African land snail.
“Oh heavens!” cried Harriet.
“Holy shit,” said Harry, shifting back in the tub.
“These bad boys will eliminate all the dead skin cells on the surface of your face, and their mucus contains a highly proactive anti-aging agent. Your face will be tauter and look younger after this miraculous treatment.”
“Well,” said Harriet, “that does sound nice…”
“I think I remember reading something about this in How to Spend It.”
“Well then it’s got to be good,” said Harriet.
Harry had in fact read about it, but it was not in the Financial Times magazine. There was a passing blurb in the New York Times about invasive Giant African land snails that would eat the droppings of rats and thereby contract an infectious disease called rat lungworm, which could be transmitted by snails to humans through skin contact and induce meningitis. Harry and Harriet closed their eyes and Francis step forward with the box of snails and placed several on the faces of his clients.
“Hey,” said Harry, “it kind of tickles.”
“I can already feel my face getting tauter.”
“They’ll work wonders,” said Francis. “I’ll be back in half an hour.”
The snails explored the exposed surface of their hosts, whose faces were soon sealed in a slimly film of viral mucus. Once accustom to the snails, Harry and Harriet relaxed and slipped away into an ethereal realm of abstractions and fanciful daydreams.
Harry pondered aloud, “Honey, if a house forecloses and the family is put on the streets, does anybody care?”
“That’s a very philosophical question, Harry, very philosophical, indeed… You know, I was wondering if slavery in America will ever make a comeback. Do you think it may?”
“One can only hope.”
Francis returned to attend to the couple, first plucking the snails off their faces and then assisting them out of the tubs.
“Well that was marvelous, Francis. I feel so rejuvenated,” said Harriet, her face covered in slime.
“I feel like a million bucks,” said Harry, “Well, twenty point six million to be exact.”
“Oh Harry,” laughed his wife, “Stop it.”
“I can’t,” he chuckled, “I have an addictive personality, I’m incapable of empathy, and I’m probably insane!”
“That’s terrific, Mr. P. But, oh goodness me, look how fabulously muddy you both are. It’s time for a skinny dip in the tropical pool, where you’ll receive your next exotic treatment.”
Francis led them out of the bathhouse and into a humid courtyard containing an indoor saltwater pool which sparkled in the winter sunlight that flowed in through the windows. The pool was designed to resemble a beach, and was complete with a sandy floor, aquarium boulders, and shoals of small fish jetting through the water.
“The water’s perfect,” said Francis, “Indulge yourselves.”
Harry and Harriet sank into the heated pool and clouds of mud dissipated from off their bodies. They moaned and stretched as they floated in the water. As they relaxed Francis was putting on a wet suit.
“How utterly blissful,” said Harriet.
“Hey, what are all these little fish?” asked Harry, “I think they’re going to bite me.”
“That’s exactly right, Mr. P,” said Francis. “They are going to bite you. They’re nibble fish, and will eat away at all the dead and decomposing bacteria on your epidermis.”
“They’re nibbling at my testicles, is that okay?”
“That’s because that’s where men like you carry the most diseases.”
Floating on her back, Harriet said, “First snails from the land down under, now exotic fish that eat STDs – I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven! I absolutely can’t wait to see what surprises you have in store for us next, Francis.”
Francis mumbled something as he walked along the side of the pool and picked up a metal bucket. “In here,” he said, “is your next full body treatment.”
Harry and Harriet were floating in the center of the pool, the dozens of nibble fish pecking away at their submerged bodies.
“What’s in there?”
“These,” said Francis as he dumped the contents of the bucket in the water, “are lionfish.” Three large lionfish plopped and splashed into the pool. They checked and oriented themselves in the water, and with their striped pectoral fins splayed out like fans, they swam toward the nibble fish.
“Oh fuck!” cried Harry, “Those look dangerous!”
“Stay clam, Mr. and Mrs. P, these are the latest form of tension alleviation. They’re about to feed on the nibble fish, and their delicate spines with graze your skin. When this happens, you’ll feel a slight pinprick and a moderate burning sensation and…”
“Oww!” yelled Harry
“Oh my goodness!” Harriet shrieked.
The lionfish devoured the nibble fish in a frenzy, and with their venomous dorsal fin spines erect and protruding, they inadvertently dealt toxic and extremely painful stings to the couple whom were screaming and failing madly in water.
“Oh my God, oh my God!” they cried, “Get us out of here!”
With his wetsuit on, Francis hopped into the water. “Stay calm everyone,” he said, “This is all part of the treatment procedure.”
“It hurts, Francis, it hurts!”
“Of course they do, Mrs. P, they are lionfish.”
“Fuck you!” yelled Harry between his hollering, “I’m going to sue you!”
“Well that’s not very nice. You’re overreacting, Mr. P. Grab my hands.”
Harry and Harriet seized Francis’s hands and clung on as he pulled them to the side of the pool. He pushed them up onto the tile where they rolled around writhing and moaning in severe pain; blood dripping from the scrapes on their legs.
“Why did you do that?!” cried Harriet.
“They did it,” said Francis, pointing to the lionfish.
“You’re a sadist!” yelled Harry.
“I’m a certified health practitioner. Now let me get you to the massage table so we can relieve some of that pressure in your legs.”
“It burns, it burns…” said Harry.
Francis splashed some water on Harry’s legs and said, “Just wait for the neurotoxins to kick in, silly. You’ll soon lose most of the feeling in your lower extremities and should experience mild hallucinations.”
“Hallucinations? Francis, have you lost mind?” said Harriet as she cringed her teeth, her face bright red from the surfeit of blood rushing to her head.
“That’s gonna be my defense, Mrs. P. In a moment you’ll be feeling nice and queasy, and then we’ll roll you onto the massage mats.”
Francis removed his wetsuit and stood aside as Harry and Harriet clutched their legs and squirmed in agony, trying desperately to tolerate the throbbing pain. As the venom worked its way though their bloodstreams and up to their brains, the Paulsons grew nauseous and weak on the poolside tile where they sat, leaning on each other for support. The intense burning sensation in their legs gave way to general bodily numbness and mental delirium in which their minds wandered into a sea of daffy intoxication. Harry’s lips were twitching slightly and his wife was drooling on herself as she mindlessly gazed out the window and saw the snow falling upon the field outside.
“Harry,” his wife said, “it’s getting hard to breath.”
“Just take big breaths, honey… Goddamn, my penis feels numb.”
“Well, it’s not like you use it anyway.”
“Oh, that’s not true. “ His words word heavy and his breathing labored. “I don’t use it on you, but you know, at the office downtown, me and my team, we have sex with a lot of hookers.”
“Oh…I figured you were getting it somewhere once in a while, hunny bunny, I --“
“No, I mean a lot, it’s crazy.”
“It’s okay. I’m only in this relationship for the money and status. When I take business trips, I take off my wedding ring.”
Francis interjected as he unfurled two massage mats beside the pool. “Ready for the massage of your lives?” he asked.
“Oh sure,” said Harry in a daze.
“Let’s move you onto these comfy mats so we can get to work on those legs.”
Francis placed his forearms under Harriet’s armpits and she giggled as he dragged her onto a mat and set her down. He then went back for Harry and rolled him across the tile and positioned him face-down on an adjacent mat. The Paulsons watched Francis leave the room and when he returned they were shocked to see him handling an accipiter goshawk – a large bird of prey – which stirred about blindfolded on the leather falconer’s glove that he wore on his arm.
“What is that?” asked Harriet.
“This here is Ronald, he’s a northern goshawk from Austria, and he’s part of our latest therapeutic massage installment. You see that blood on your legs?”
Harry was on his stomach was not able to get a view of the bird, “What’s happening?” he asked.
Francis united the blindfold from the hawk and said, “Prepare to experience one of the most hardcore massages you’ve ever endured.”
“Wait a second,” said Harry, “Is this going to be dangerous?”
“It probably will be, Mr. P. This is the fist time it’s been done to my knowledge. Let’s find out what happens.” Francis removed the blindfold and revealed the majestic head of giant hawk, which sharpened its fierce gaze on the leg wounds, stretched its wings, and screeched as it flew across the room.
“Oh God,” said Harriet, “It’s coming!”
“What’s coming? The masseuse?”
The bird first went for Harry’s legs. “Hey!” he cried as the hawk landed on his back, sinking its talons into his skin. It goose-stepped across Harry’s rear and tore into the wounds that had been caused by the lionfish. What were but slight scrapes were shredded open by the bird into major gashes and lacerations, yet due to the anesthesia of his legs, the bites went largely unfelt.
“Oh boy,” Francis said, “Look at him devour your flesh, isn’t that crazy?”
Harriet yelled at the hawk, “Stop it, stop it!” She was sitting upright and attempted to swat it off her husband’s legs. The hawk responded by defensively pecking at her hand and then offensively leaping onto her legs and digging it’s beak into her wounds, pulling out meat and skin. She howled in fear and the hawk screeched back at her. It took several more bites out of her leg and then Francis called the hawk back, saying, “Ronald, return! I don’t want them to bleed out.”
The hawk flew back to its master and Francis blindfolded it. The couple was distressed and moaning on the ground. They wanted to go home, they want to go back to Wall Street, back to their steady lives involving computers and televisions and other appliances and amenities, but Francis had other plans for them.
“Okay boys and girls,” said Francis, “it’s time for the finale.”
Francis set the bird on a perch, picked up a tubberware container, and walked over to his clients. He stood above them as they glared back in hapless confusion and scorn. They were exasperated. Their pupils were dilated, their legs were bleeding, and they had lost most of their motor skills. They couldn’t think straight – were things going on here awry, or was this all just part of the usual spa package?
“Look at those boo-boos,” said Francis, exhibiting a pouty face.
“Francis, what’s happening? Why are you doing this?” asked Harriet.
“Because Mrs. P, you need to relax.” Francis held and turned the container before her. “Now, what I have here is a fantastic, never-before-tried massage oil, which is actually just bacon grease.” He put on a pair of gloves. “I’m going to gently lather this elixir into your legs and patch up all those nasty wounds for you.” He applied the grease and said, “I’m gonna get you all ready to go outside...”
“Francis, damn you,” said Harry, “Get us out of here!”
“You betchca, Mr. P. A huge part or your relaxation experience is your comparative temperature. How can you know fuzzy without knowing sharp? So, what I’m proposing next is a highly advanced climate immersion shift. That means I’m gonna take you outside, where there’s snow on the ground and where it’s also falling from out of the sky – isn’t that crazy? That’s fucking crazy right?”
“What?!” said Harry, “No. Francis we’re done. I demand a refund!”
“Okay, we’ll just do this one last thing.”
“Oh God Francis, we can’t go outside, we can’t walk!” said Harriet.
“I’ve got a sled.”
Francis walked over the courtyard doors and opened them. The cold air swept in and the couple began to shiver. They protested and swatted at Francis as he dragged their massage mats across the room and out the door onto the edge of the snow-covered field. The spa was surrounded by pine trees and white hills and the winter sky was grey and cold.
“Francis, you bastard!”
“Let’s go for ride,” he said, rolling them onto a large sled.
Snow flakes fell and upon them as Francis hauled his clients out the middle of field. The snow crunched beneath his feet, and bright drops of blood trickled out from the sled and melted into the pure snow. Once in the middle of the field, Francis stopped and assessed the serenity of their surroundings. “Alrighty,” he said, “You two don’t go anywhere. I’ll get the final part of your treatment program started.”
“I don’t understand, Francis, how is this supposed to be healing us?”
“Well, Mrs. P,” he said, dumping them off the sled, “This next exercise will be more psychologically consoling than physically enjoyable. Have you ever heard of primal scream therapy?”
“It’s not important. I’ll go unleash the beasts.”
“What?!” yelled Harry. “Francis, if you don’t take us back right now, you’re a dead man!”
“That’s nice, Mr. P. I’ll see you two in Hell.”
Francis turned and walked away with the sled. The Paulsons sat back-to-back in the middle of the field, they yelled toward Francis but he continued to walk away and eventually disappeared into the snowy ether in the direction of the spa.
“Well, I suppose this is almost over,” said Harriet, “thank goodness.”
Harry said, “When I get back home, I’m gonna put a price on his head, I’m going to send a hitman out here to kill him.”
“That’s nice, Harry. That’s nice.”
Sleepy-eyed, the couple sat in the snow. They stared at their greasy and blood-smeared legs and gazed into the white oblivion, thinking of their home and their money.
Back at the spa, Francis emerged outside holding dual leashes attached to two muzzled and snarling hyenas. They were incredible beasts whose formidable muscles were visible through their spotted fur. The hyenas were yelping wildly and sniffing the drops blood in the snow, the smell of bacon in the air. The thick fur on their ridged backs stood up and they growled in thirst for flesh and blood. Francis could contain them no longer so he removed their muzzles and the hyenas ran off into to the field, crazed and laughing manically, loping through the snow in great and drunken strides – hairy beasts salivating wildly like demonic minotaurs. From the courtyard the screams of their victims could be heard as the hyenas feasted upon them, and Francis shut the door.