Gunned down in cold blood, the mighty sage Lao-Tan refuses to die. He re-animates the body of a recently deceased girl, but discovers he is trapped inside the body of a physically challenged person with learning difficulties. There he will have to stay for the rest of his borrowed life.

Ten days later they let the father take his daughter home.

Trixie—that’s what he was called.  The father’s name took longer to discover.  He tried to read it from the man’s eyes, but they were ground down matt with suffering and no longer reflected who he really was.

They lived by themselves in a fifth-floor flat which the social services had converted into a ward, with white-enamel rails, hoists and special chairs, bath and bed.  Around this apparatus Lao-Tan’s life now revolved.

They had very few visitors, but one day a woman opened the front door with her own latchkey and called down the corridor “George…?”  

“George” had just nipped out for a packet of cigarettes (his third that day) so the door closed again.  The woman didn’t come back.

It was not as if George was ever away for long.  He had no one to cover for him.  He took his duties seriously:  far more seriously than he took his own health.  Trixie was his life—his career—his whole reason for being.  His occupation when they asked him:  paid carer for his own disabled child.  He patiently fed his “daughter” with a spoon.

Lao-Tan was distressed at how badly he was able to retain food in his mouth.  He was not sure which muscles to tighten in order to swallow.  But evidently Trixie had displayed no greater skill, for George expected little better of him.

George didn’t eat much himself.  He subsisted on cigarettes and pork pies.  And beer:  great twelve-packs of the stuff.  He’d crash into the living-room carrying them under his arm­pits, fingers dragged down by bags bulging with Dettol and bath-salts.  He’d dump them on the floor beside the never-silent television, then he’d collapse into his greasy armchair, springs going clonk, extract a can and brandish it at Lao-Tan.

“Here we are.  Here’s what makes it all bearable.  You can’t manage the stuff, you great lump of crippled flesh, so you won’t mind if I finish the lot.”

Then he’d smile, clearly anticipating some response.  Lao-Tan found it an effort to come up with the behaviour expected of him, doubtless long worked-out between Trixie and her father.  He had to keep telling himself to follow George’s face and body language, disregarding what was actually said.  All too well he knew that Trixie’s mind had not possessed the power of speech.  She would have responded, in an exagger­ated manner, to her father’s gestures only—with a frown, a grimace, a growl or a hoot.

One evening George leaned forward to change channels.  He’d lost the control box down the side of the chair.  “Never mind the news.  Let’s have a bit of sport.”

But tonight the news was of staggering importance.  Lao-Tan needed to hear it through.  For the first time he would have to take control of George’s will.  

He felt revulsion at doing so.  Like him, George was a man-of-calling, a hero, in his sad, pathetic way.  But once higher decisions are taken, the man-of-calling sees earthbound things as straw dogs for sacrifice.  His is the perspective of the sky.


Lao-Tan silently projected the wish with all the power at Trixie’s disposal.  There was in fact a fund of naked will-pow­er:  a baby’s full complement at birth.  LEAVE THE SET ALONE.

George slumped back into his armchair.  “Oh, let’s just carry on listening to the news.  Too much effort to fiddle-faddle.”

Jo Mobulu, the Lavinian president, was about to meet the rebels.  His delegation would fly out of Luton tomorrow, bound for Geneva, where talks were to take place under the auspices of the United Nations.

Lao-Tan stiffened.  This was precisely what Giacomo and his paymasters were at pains to avoid.  There was only one possible response from them.  Giacomo’s stock-in-trade:  hi­jack the aircraft and assassinate the delegation—and to do so in such a way as to incriminate the minority faction.

Such a thing would trigger an explosion of violence to stun the world with horror.  And that would only be the start.  An outright winner was something one or other onlooker would find intolerable.  So the nations of the world would scramble to send their young men in columns for sacrifice on yet another flaming altar, making ashes of their hopes for the future.  Cracked skulls grinning in the mud would mock the broken promise of growing to majority.

It must not happen.  Lao-Tan concentrated his will to a brilliant point.  IT WILL NOT HAPPEN.

The next day dawned bright and clear.  George’s shrill alarm clock woke him to another joyless round, which he commen­ced as usual with bathing his daughter.  By making sure she was washed and perfumed, he conferred one single pleasing dimension upon her.  To Lao-Tan this was the sole delight of inhabiting Trixie’s stunted body and he grimaced with glee, as he knew she would have done.

“Trixie my girl—ha-ha—they’re cutting our benefit.”  He grinned fiercely at Lao-Tan, contradicting the content of what he was saying.  “I can’t go on.  They’ll take you into a home.  I doubt they’ll have the time to do all this for you.”

He hoisted Lao-Tan onto the drying table and dabbed and coddled his daughter’s body with thick warm towels.  “I expect you’ll be happier—who knows?  The only reason you’re not there right now is because I’m looking after you.”  He carried on drying the crippled flesh in silence.  “As for me, well…  I’ll get me life back, won’t I?”

He stopped and stood in thought.  “What’ll I do with it?”  He went on with the drying.  “Haven’t the foggiest.  Mebbes I’ll just drop meself off the bridge.”  He barked with laughter to swamp any hint in his voice of the terrible thing he had said.

They sat over breakfast, which for Lao-Tan was a mash of bread, milk and Marmite, patiently spooned-in as usual.  For George it was the first beer of the day.  Winter sunlight streamed through rusty steel-framed panes onto George’s face.  He closed his eyes.


“Oh, we’ve not had a bright day like this for yonks.  But I bet it’s cold outside.  If it was summer we could spend the day up on the roof, you and I.  But I reckon I’ll just wheel you once round the block for a spot of fresh air.”


“On second thoughts, let’s go up on the roof anyway.  We might have it to ourselves.  I couldn’t face meeting anyone I know today.”

to be continued…