Clark Nida

A hundred milligrams of fulminate of mercury packed in a hand-cast slug sprayed Lao-Tan’s brains all round the lavatory walls.  It just so happened that Lao-Tan was out-of-body at the time, seeking the whereabouts of Giacomo the Clown.  But his quarry found him first, seated in the lotus-position, indifferent to his surroundings.  He came back to find his useless body crumpled on the tiles in a puddle of blood.

A moment’s inattention is rarely of consequence to ordinary people.  But if you are a chen-jen, a Great Soul, it is invariably disastrous.

How easy it would have been to melt away forever.  But poised on the threshold of non-existence, Lao-Tan turned back. The consequences were to be appalling.  But to have conceded victory to Giacomo would have vitiated the achieve­ments of a hundred lives.  

He fled through the window, across the hospital car-park, to an unmarked side-door.  Without stopping he passed through it as if it were immaterial.

It was a fire door at the bottom of a flight of stairs.  Up these he glided.  At the top, behind another door, a dimly-lit ward stretched back into shadows.  Sleepers lay in silent ranks, each garlanded with tubes and coloured wires.

No sign of breathing broke the graveyard calm.  Nor was there a nurse in sight.  Forget the idea that an Intensive Care Unit is patrolled unceasingly by Florence Nightingales in wool­len cloaks and soft shoes.  But the whining of an alarm on some vital instrument brings one, sooner or later.

An instrument was whining now.  A disembodied soul, con­fused and terrified, stood trembling next to a bed.  Straight­away Lao-Tan was by her side.  Embracing the soul, he kissed her passionately and, whirling round with her, he flung her towards the sky.  Then, glancing round to see if anyone was watching him, he slipped inside the cast-off body.

The soul sped upwards in delirious bliss.  In a thousand years she would fall back to earth and be reborn.  Lovely, intelligent and resourceful, she would spend her life roaming the earth in search of Lao-Tan, but without the slightest chance of ever finding him.

“Check the records, Dr Masrur, for any patient resuscitated between nine o’clock last night and six this morning.  Inject them with this.  If anyone gets suspicious, we’ll make it all right for you.”

“Your wish is my command.”

“Oh—and all babies born in the same period too.  No hurry with those.  Just get them recalled to hospital for a routine examination.  I’ll give you a fungal preparation that doesn’t act for a week or two.  It’ll look like a cot death.”

The third man shrugged.  “Hey Boss!  I saw you blow that chink’s head off.  Why all the fuss?”

Giacomo sighed, as if the question lay heavy on his chest.  “Some people, Stefan, are not that easily got rid of.”

A heart fibrillating like a bowl of worms.  Blood draining down to the dorsal region and congealing.  A liver digesting itself in its own bile.  In life the yang of anabolism balances the catabol­ic yin.  But at death yang ceases, leaving yin to continue and so return the body to the earth.  Lao-Tan exerted his yang to the utmost, sending out the message that once more some­one was in command.  Gradually proteins untwisted, muscles started to twitch and nerves to flicker.  Traces reappeared on the screens cluttering a nearby trolley.

Lao-Tan bellowed into the space between sky and earth, though no sound escaped from his stolen lips.  But the result­ant cosmic jolt started the heart beating once more.  Like a spark-struck flame upon a stormy heath, Lao-Tan cupped it and nursed it, pouring into it his astronomical reserves of crea­tive love.

A nurse came in haste.  Where had she been when the alarm went off?  On the other hand, what could she have done ex­cept interfere?  Guiltily she felt the patient’s pulse, listened to the breathing, checked the instruments and silenced the alarm.  There had been a crisis, but it had passed.  Maybe it had just been a feint:  the real death-blow to be delivered in the next hour or two.  But for now the patient seemed in a stable cond­ition and she hurried off again.  The incident was not record­ed, which was why it didn’t come to the attention of Dr Mas­rur.

Lao-Tan sighed with his unfamiliar lungs and cautiously extended his astral limbs into the resurrected body.  He felt the agony of pneumonia, the stabbing pain of restored circulation, the vicious headache of breakdown products in the blood­stream.  In all these he luxuriated, knowing that they signified he was alive.  To respond as they demanded, he writhed and groaned.

It was now that he discovered the crushing disabilities the dead girl had endured in life.  Quadriplegia.  Down’s Synd­rome.  The intelligence of a two-year-old.  On top of that the heart was degenerate, the liver part-necrosed and there was only one functioning kidney.

It takes a fortune of energy for the mind to break free of the physical body, to construct an avatar on the astral plane and inhabit it.  Energy which this damaged brain would have much difficulty channelling.  He was trapped inside this cripp­led body, as much a prisoner as its late owner had been.

But he made good progress and they transferred him to his own side-room in the Female Medical Ward.  There he would grunt to indicate that he needed to perform some bodily funct­ion, but without anyone getting the message.  As it happened, the staff found it more convenient to let him lie in his own mess until they could get round to mopping him up.

Two days later he had a visitor.  A man came and stared down at him.  Gazing back into those despairing eyes, he knew he was face-to-face with the dead girl’s father.

What could he see in those eyes?  Loathing?  Yes. The man had never got over the loathing of having fathered a deformed child.  Resentment?  Yes, at the chains which shackled his life.  And over all, a shroud of grief.  Silent, intractable grief at the loss of his wife, who had died giving birth to this monster.

What about hatred?  No, no hatred.  Here was a man born with little natural virtue, who by sheer effort of will had steeled himself to accept the burden of a retarded daughter as his only child.  Here was the man Lao-Tan was going to be totally dep­endent on.

“Wouldn’t it have been kinder just to let her die?”

The nurse, taking blood-pressure, replied “We can’t just switch her off, you know.  She’s not on life-support now.”

“Yes but why go to all the effort of resuscitating her when she was obviously dying of pneumonia?”

“My sister-in-law was on Intensive Care that night.  She said she didn’t intervene.  Trixie had a crisis, yes, but she pulled through all by herself.  We can’t take the blame for that—I mean the credit.”


to be continued.