Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Short Story: The Dead Man by Fritz Leiber

Another short story from The Frankenstein Omnibus edited by Peter Haining, The Dead Man by Fritz Leiber blows off ones mind. It is not scary in the sense of the word. Yet it speaks of an evil which is possible if we let it to.

A very famous doctor Max Redford calls one of his science writer friend, Fred Alexander to his clinic to show him something. There on the examination table lays a man who is very sick. Fred when asked says that person is suffering from TB. However, when he looks at the patient again, he seems to have bloated up and now suffers from heart disease or something like that. Yet, third time, he turns out to be a healthy specimen with no disease. That person turns out to be John Fearing, a neighbour of Max. John is one such person who can create all sorts of tangible symptoms of any disease, without the disease being present in any way. Not ordinary ailments but very serious ones. John's subconscious created all these. He had suffered becos of it. Max had recognised it and could get him out of it by hypnotism. He had a signal for John. Only using that John could snap out of it. Suddenly Max asks John to play dead and then after he goes into that death state, Max does not get him out of it and despite best efforts by other doctors, who do not know anything about John, he is presumed dead and is buried.

After a very long time Fred is again called by Max, this time to his home, where he meets a vey listless Velda. Fred had known John was in love with Velda, Max's beautiful wife. John is buried somewhere near their house. Velda goes away to bed. Max and Fred keep on talking. And Max raps the same signal he had used to get John out of Hypnotism. Everything happens so sudden. Velda screams from somewhere outsie. Both run out. When the police arrive, Max is dead, and Velda is found inside the vault where John is buried. Body of John is on top of Max, his hands clawing at Max's throat.

The question here is who is the monster? Max? John? Evil is all the more deadly, if it is done so clinically, with cool precision. And how dead are we when we die? What is death?