Category Archives: Fiction

Excerpt from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo ~~Chimes~~

And if you wish to receive of the ancient city an impression with which the modern one can no longer furnish you, climb—on the morning of some grand festival, beneath the rising sun of Easter or of Pentecost—climb upon some elevated point, whence you command the entire capital; and be present at the wakening of the chimes. Behold, at a signal given from heaven, for it is the sun which gives it, all those churches quiver simultaneously. First come scattered strokes, running from one church to another, as when musicians give warning that they are about to begin. Then, all at once, behold!—for it seems at times, as though the ear also possessed a sight of its own,—behold, rising from each bell tower, something like a column of sound, a cloud of harmony. First, the vibration of each bell mounts straight upwards, pure and, so to speak, isolated from the others, into the splendid morning sky; then, little by little, as they swell they melt together, mingle, are lost in each other, and amalgamate in a magnificent concert. It is no longer anything but a mass of sonorous vibrations incessantly sent forth from the numerous belfries; floats, undulates, bounds, whirls over the city, and prolongs far beyond the horizon the deafening circle of its oscillations.

Nevertheless, this sea of harmony is not a chaos; great and profound as it is, it has not lost its transparency; you behold the windings of each group of notes which escapes from the belfries. You can follow the dialogue, by turns grave and shrill, of the treble and the bass; you can see the octaves leap from one tower to another; you watch them spring forth, winged, light, and whistling, from the silver bell, to fall, broken and limping from the bell of wood; you admire in their midst the rich gamut which incessantly ascends and re-ascends the seven bells of Saint-Eustache; you see light and rapid notes running across it, executing three or four luminous zigzags, and vanishing like flashes of lightning. Yonder is the Abbey of Saint-Martin, a shrill, cracked singer; here the gruff and gloomy voice of the Bastille; at the other end, the great tower of the Louvre, with its bass. The royal chime of the palace scatters on all sides, and without relaxation, resplendent trills, upon which fall, at regular intervals, the heavy strokes from the belfry of Notre-Dame, which makes them sparkle like the anvil under the hammer. At intervals you behold the passage of sounds of all forms which come from the triple peal of Saint-Germaine des Prés. Then, again, from time to time, this mass of sublime noises opens and gives passage to the beats of the Ave Maria, which bursts forth and sparkles like an aigrette of stars. Below, in the very depths of the concert, you confusedly distinguish the interior chanting of the churches, which exhales through the vibrating pores of their vaulted roofs.

Assuredly, this is an opera which it is worth the trouble of listening to. Ordinarily, the noise which escapes from Paris by day is the city speaking; by night, it is the city breathing; in this case, it is the city singing. Lend an ear, then, to this concert of bell towers; spread over all the murmur of half a million men, the eternal plaint of the river, the infinite breathings of the wind, the grave and distant quartette of the four forests arranged upon the hills, on the horizon, like immense stacks of organ pipes; extinguish, as in a half shade, all that is too hoarse and too shrill about the central chime, and say whether you know anything in the world more rich and joyful, more golden, more dazzling, than this tumult of bells and chimes;—than this furnace of music,—than these ten thousand brazen voices chanting simultaneously in the flutes of stone, three hundred feet high,—than this city which is no longer anything but an orchestra,—than this symphony which produces the noise of a tempest.

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“The Fourth Hand” by John Irving “Vito”

‘Thank you, Angie.’ He kissed her goodbye. She tasted so good, he almost didn’t go. What was wrong with sexual anarchy, anyway?
The phone rang as he was leaving. He heard Vito’s voice on the answering machine. ‘Hey listen up, Mista One Hand . . . Mista No Prick,’ Vittorio was saying. There was a mechanical whirring, a terrifying sound.
‘It’s just a stupid blenda. Go on – don’t miss your plane!’ Angie told him. Wallingford was closing the door as she was picking up the phone.
‘Hey, Vito,’ he heard Angie say. ‘Listen up, limp dick.’ Patrick paused on the landing by the stairs; there was a brief but pointed silence. ‘That’s the sound your prick would make in the blenda, Vito – no sound, ‘cause ya got nothin’ there!’
Wallingford’s nearest neighbour was on the landing – a sleepless-looking man from the adjacent apartment, getting ready to walk his dog. Even the dog looked sleepless as it waited, shivering slightly, at the top of the stairs.
‘I’m going to Wisconsin,’ Patrick said hopefully.
The man, who had a silver-gray goatee, looked dazed with general indifference and self-loathing.
‘Why don’tcha get a fuckin’ magnifyin’ glass so ya can beat off? Angie was screaming. The dog pricked up its ears. ‘Ya know whatcha do with a prick as small as yours, Vito?’ Wallingford and his neighbour just stared at the dog. ‘Ya go to a pet shop. Ya buy a mouse. Ya beg it for a blow job.’
The dog, with grave solemnity, seemed to be considering all this. It was some kind of miniature schnauzer with a silver-gray beard, like its master’s.
‘Have a safe trip,’ Wallingford’s neighbour told him.
‘Thank you,’ Patrick said.

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“Being Invisible” by Thomas Berger ~~Disappearing~~

How could India-Indian fakirs walk on red-hot rocks? By telling themselves they can. I wish I were invisible, said one Wagner to the other in the looking glass, who was not exactly himself, for the parting of the hair was on the wrong side, as was the scar on the knee, the arched eyebrow, and the longer half of the scrotum. His real feet were quite different from the other, but that fact was not evident at the moment, for his right foot, the left one in the mirror, could not be seen. He was standing on air on that side, his leg ending at the ankle . . . no, at about mid-shank . . . but soon the entire calf was gone, as was most of the other leg, which suddenly had caught up and passed its twin.
Wagner was inexorably disappearing before his own eyes. However, as soon as he recognized that fact and reacted to it with an access of emotion in which fear was predominant, the process was promptly arrested and he stayed visible from waist to head. As yet he had looked at himself only in the mirror: it might well be (and he was praying for that state of affairs) that what he saw, or rather did not see, was some trick of or flaw in the silvered glass: this effect was surely of the fun-house kind, though how and why the mirror had been altered was inexplicable.
He bent now and stared at his actual feet, that is, where they had been, where indeed they certainly must still be planted, else he would not be standing. Despite that truth of physical law, when he could not see his feet or legs he immediately lost his balance and fell to the bedroom floor.
He lay there for a while, breathing as though he had been doing heavy labour, then, ingeniously, this half a man pulled himself by clawed hands and digging elbows near enough to the bedroom door to swing it open to the point at which the mirror went back into its own dark corner against the wall.
With his reflection no longer before him, Wagner had no trouble in rising to his feet. Yet he would not look down for a while. First he went to the liquor cabinet, in the living room, and took a draught of the only bottle left therein: a half pint of kirsch, which Babe had purchased as long as nine or ten months before in response to a newspaper food-page suggestion as to how to transform a mélange of frozen fruit into a grand luxe dessert. Kirsch taken neat was sufficiently revolting to make him fell less unworldly. He drank some more, grimaced not as violently as the first time, for his tolerance was already building, found the courage to look towards the floor, and saw both his old familiar feet. Even the persistent corn on the left little toe was now a friend.

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The Good Deed – a short short story

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28 February 2019 · 7:02 pm

“Bambi” by Felix Salten, Disney version ~~Flee~~

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Excerpt from “Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis ~~Road to Hell~~

You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked”. The Christians describe the Enemy as one “without whom Nothing is strong”. And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.

You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,

Your affectionate uncle
Screwtape

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Excerpt from “The Adventures of Monkey” by Arthur Waley ~~Monkey~~

The hunter and Tripitaka were still wondering who had spoken, when again they heard the voice saying, ‘The Master has come.’ The hunter’s servants said, ‘That is the voice of the old monkey who is shut up in the stone casket of the mountain side.’ ‘Why, to be sure it is!’ said the hunter. ‘What old monkey is that?’ asked Tripitaka. ‘This mountain,’ said the hunter, ‘was once called the Mountain of the Five Elements. But after our great T’ang dynasty had carried out its campaigns to the West, its name was changed to Mountain of the Two Frontiers. Years ago a very old man told me that at the time when Wang Mang overthrew the First Han Dynasty, Heaven dropped this mountain in order to imprison a magic monkey under it. He has local spirits as his gaolers, who, when he is hungry give him iron pills to eat, and when he is thirsty give him copper-juice to drink, so that despite cold and short commons he is still alive. That cry certainly comes from him. You need not be uneasy. We’ll go down and have a look.’
After going downhill for some way they came to the stone box, in which there was really a monkey. Only his head was visible, and one paw, which he waved violently through the opening, saying, ‘Welcome, Master! Welcome! Get me out of here, and I will protect you on your journey to the West.’ The hunter stepped boldly up, and removing the grasses from Monkey’s hair and brushing away the grit from under his chin, ‘What have you got to say for yourself?’ he asked. ‘To you, nothing,’ said Monkey. ‘But I have something to ask of that priest. Tell him to come here.’ ‘What do you want to ask me?’ said Tripitaka. ‘Were you sent by the Emperor T’ang to look for Scriptures in India?’ asked Monkey. ‘I was,’ said Tripitaka, ‘And what of that?’ ‘I am the Great Sage Equal of Heaven,’ said Monkey. ‘Five hundred years ago I made trouble in the Halls of Heaven, and Buddha clamped me down in this place. Not long ago the Bodhisattva Kuan-yin, whom Buddha had ordered to look around for someone to fetch Scriptures from India, came here and promised me that if I would amend my ways and faithfully protect the pilgrim on his way, I was to be released, and afterwards would find salvation. Ever since then I have been waiting impatiently night and day for you to come and let me out. I will protect you while you are going to get Scriptures and follow you as your disciple.’
Tripitaka was delighted. ‘The only trouble is,’ he said, ‘that I have no axe or chisel, so how am I to get you out?’ ‘There is no need for axe or chisel,’ said Monkey. ‘You have only to want me to be out, and I shall be out.’ ‘How can that be?’ asked Tripitaka. ‘On the top of the mountain,’ said Monkey, ‘is a seal stamped with golden letters by Buddha himself. Take it away, and I shall be out.’

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