The Basilisk

I began the day by visiting my brother Borton. We were to discuss his business partner, Morton and what preparations they had made concerning their lawsuit against Horton, a formidable competitor. I arrived and found Borton on his par three course behind his commodious estate. I called out, "Hello Borton, it is I, Statecraft. Your brother." Borton lifted his chipping iron from his bag then lowered his mellow head, I mean his melon head, and geared up for his chip shot. After a heaving motion, he sent the ball sailing past the green and mumbled some dejected words to himself, them made is way to my acquaintance.

"Hello, Failure Statecraft," my brother Borton said.

"Hello, Brother Borton," I returned.

"Let's get some lemonade," Borton suggested. A staff member arrived promptly as if he could read Borton's mind and served us on the veranda.

I raised my glass and proclaimed, "Borton, here's to you and Morton defeating Horton in your upcoming lawsuit!"

"Cheers!" said my brother as we clinked glasses, then drank healthy swallows. Borton took command of the conversation and railed against Horton and explained how bad Morton felt. I nodded in sympathy since I was there to once again ask for a sizable loan. After a fierce diatribe, Borton halted his speech and said he felt nauseous.

I reached over, held his shoulder and inquired, "Are you all right, Brother Borton?" Borton grimaced, appeared ill, then coughed up some phlegm.

"Why are you here, Failure Statecraft?" You see, I had acquired the unaffectionate title of ‘Failure' as sort of an unbaptized surname. I cleared my throat and let it be known that I had a few ideas concerning their upcoming suit against Horton.

"Failure Statecraft, you are a failure, always have been, always will be…" Borton reminded me before he broke into a sweat, then looked at me and demanded, "Why am I always sick when you come around?"

"I see no connection," said I. Suddenly, Borton let out a fowl cry and collapsed. I checked for a pulse like a sensible person would and called the staff having being the first to pronounce Borton dead. Borton's funeral was immense. He was a well-respected man.

I felt a bit nervous with Brother Borton gone as he had always had the most compassion on me as well as being the most affluent with a net worth in the several billions. Feeling pressure financially, socially, and emotionally, I decided to visit my Aunt Alice who I had chummed with at Borton's funeral. I arrived at Alice's massive Victorian on fifty acres and she escorted into her parlor. She entered with a defiant look, moving deliberate, yet with the aid of a cane, and seated herself.

"Ah, Auntie Alice, my dear, how are you?" I clamored with a preponderance of deceit with which she quickly detected.

"Failure Statecraft, first born who amounted to nothing, how much do you need today?" she demanded. I feigned a look of disappointment, but before it could flourish, she deducted its intended affect. "Knock it off and get to the point."

"Well Auntie Alice, I was involved with Brother Borton in his lawsuit with Morton against Horton and now that he's gone…" Aunt Alice rolled her eyes and covered her face as I could discern that she suspected that I had little impact in the life of the late Borton. While waiting for a nonverbal cue to continue, I noticed Aunt Alice wasn't lifting her pious head to weigh my case with the required grandeur. I paused and folded my arms to appear reticent. After receiving no reproof, I broke the silence.

"Auntie Alice, are you all right?" I repeated the question thrice, then reached for her shoulder when she fell off her rocker and collapsed to the floor dead. She was dead at the age of eighty-six. My aunt was a Daughter of Job and I a Freemason. I had planned to apply this commonfold experience in so far as to influence her to part with a million or two so I may continue my munificent lifestyle. Unfortunately, she had made arrangements to donate her body to science and so no funeral service would be held. This left me vanquished for kindling any familial compassion. With ado about nothing, I strove to visit my sister, Sting. I arrived at Sting's who stung like a bee.

"Failure Statecraft, firstborn who amounted to nothing, what's on your mind?" I shifted my weight in my chair to make myself appear more commanding than I was, but devilish Sting saw through me. "Failure Statecraft, are you shifting your weight in your chair to make yourself appear more commanding than you are?" I blushed like a fluorescent cosmetic and denied such a charge. I, stilted, nor easily liked, proceeded to detail the bewitching which my business ventures had suffered. Sting, stung quickly.

"How much you need?" Puzzled, perplexed that people read me so easily, I tried to cogitate an amount that made me appear more keen than I was, but before I could spew forth a rightful reply, Sting clutched her chest, gasped, and came crashing down on the floor. My sister was wearing a silk dress, along with monuments of jewelry, which I netted before leaving. Sting was divorced, and left her inheritance valued at fifteen million to her two children.

Feeling more pressure than ever, I paid a visit to my investment advisor. Ingersoll Hand who had little time for me it seemed. Taking calls while I was there would have been unthinkable if my father were still alive. After shuffling through some statements, calling up a few positions on his screen, he issued a verdict of six months.

"Six months?" I questioned incredulously.

"Six months," he repeated leaving me with the impression our meeting was finished. I adjusted my frame intimating that I had more to say, but Ingersoll headed off any such thoughts. "I'll let you know if anything changes." I rose to my feet slowly, and sighed. Ingersoll looked up at me, then opened his mouth and furrowed his brow.

"Oh no, no, I feel nauseous," he confessed.

"What's wrong, Ingersoll?" I inquired. He was now perspiring and unloosened his tie.

"Just leave me alone!" he growled before crashing to the floor. I came around his desk and saw that my investment advisor Ingersoll Hand was dead. Upon leaving it had occurred to me that I had witnessed four people die in the past week. Was there a connection here? I decided to visit our laypreacher, Leigh Priestly.

Leigh had always been cheerful toward me and enjoyed my rather cumbersome presence. Conservatives in our congregation scorned Leigh, but I, although an archconservative, got along famously with her. I arrived at the rectory and found Leigh ministering to a fellow affluent fellow who it seemed had taken a tumble, as had I. I waited twenty minutes when Leigh waved me in.

"How are you Statecraft?" she wondered and hugged me. It was so nice not being addressed as Failure Statecraft, despite her knowing well that I was a failure indeed.

"Fine Pastor Leigh," I returned, feeling mellifluous as in the days when I had full privileges at the club when father was alive. Leigh the laypreacher motioned for me to have a seat then pulled up a chair next to me and asked what was on my mind.

"Well, Pastor Leigh, I have witnessed some strange things as of late," said I.

Leigh reached for my hand and asked, "What kind of strange things as of late, Statecraft?"

"I have witnessed four people die," said I. Leigh's eyes widened in disbelief, but I could see she believed me. Quite abruptly, she reached for her throat, her eyes rolled back as she fell backward and onto the floor. "Leigh, are you all right?" I pointlessly asked. Laypreacher Leigh lie lost. I found myself in a conundrum and decided to call my in-law, Ignatius. Ignatius was loyal, soldierly, and took it upon himself to omit calling me, "Failure Statecraft" in front of the rest of the family. I called and wheedled a time to stop by his office.

"Ah, Failure Statecraft," he greeted me. I let my chagrin switch gears to inform him how much I disapproved of being addressed as ‘Failure Statecraft, but before I could utter my objection, he continued, "You may recall I never used to call you ‘Failure Statecraft' in front of your family, but since there's nobody left it seems, I thought I'd keep up the tradition." He then let out a jovial laugh at my expense. My self-esteem tumbled some more, but knew I needed to remain composed.

"Ignatius," I announced trying to take the initiative, you may recall my brother Borton and his partner Morton are suing Horton."

"Know all about it," he cut in and said, "The law firm of Norton & Norton was handling things and Morton has just settled with Horton." Ignatius winked at me when he finished filling me in and let a smirk emerge right in my face. I was at a loss as to how to continue, when suddenly, Ignatius, let out a cough, held his stomach and began moaning as he went down to the floor.

Perplexed, I stood up and asked, "Ignatius, are you all right?"

"Get away from me! Get out!" Those were my in-law Ignatius' final words as he lay there dead. I had no idea what to do. I left once more giving thought to having watched six people die. What was it about me? Where was I to go? Within six months, my opulent front would split apart and I'd be forced to earn a living. I chose to call my step uncle, Sanders. I scheduled a time to pay him a visit. Sanders told me bluntly he wasn't particularly interested in seeing me, but I pretended he was joking and pressed for an interview regardless.

Sanders was tall, white haired, frosty when irritated and certainly not in a frame of mind to spend more than a few moments with me. My step uncle wore a navy blazer, and ushered me into his study. Before I could get beyond small talk, he came down hard.

"Failure Statecraft, we both know why you're here. Personally I think you are a nemesis. A disgrace to your family. An imbecile. But because of your father, and a promise I made to him, one I regret making, I'm going to float you a few million." My heart skipped a beat and being a haughty sort, I proclaimed my disappointment.

"A few million," I uttered incredulously. Sanders narrowed his eyes and called my bluff.

"More than you're entitled to. Now don't push me or I'll change my mind." I realized this was one time to hold my tongue so sat back down and remained silent. Sanders went behind his desk and pulled out a checkbook when suddenly, he staggered and said he didn't feel well. I suspected that something wasn't right and urged him to hurry. "Don't push me!" he snapped and teetered before hitting his desk, then sliding down to the floor. My step uncle Sanders was dead. What was I to do? I exited his study suffering great anxiety. Who could I turn to now? Ah ha! I've got it! My kinesiologist, Kirk. Kirk and I every now and then would share a glass of port, ponder over my remarkable success, and discuss kinesiology. Kinesiology is the study of muscular movements of the human body. Since I had seen seven people die within the week and all fell to the floor in what seemed to be a highly uncoordinated fashion, I presumed Kirk might have some insights.

I arrived at Kirk's laboratory when Kirk grabbed my arm and proceeded to show me some strange experiment. His hold began to hurt and I let him know so.

"Kirk, let go of my arm. Kirk, you're hurting me. Kirk…" Following my third admonishment, Kirk and I were scrambling on the laboratory floor. Although I was taller and had more than forty pounds on him, he was wiry and clever. In moments, he was straddling me, with a chokehold. I writhed like I was going to die. With virtually no strength remaining, I uttered what I thought were my final words, "Kirk, you're going to kill me..." Suddenly, Kirk's grip loosened, his face flushed.

"Oh, oooh," he moaned, "Failure Statecraft, I feel nauseous."

"Kirk, are you all right?" I asked, now worried about the man who was only a second ago was trying to kill me. Kirk collapsed on top of me. I wiggled free and notified the authorities that his death was separate from our skirmish.

I moped homeward and took a shower. Eight people had died. After rinsing off and sprinkling myself down with baby powder, I poured myself a hot toddy. ‘Was there a connection,' I pondered? It made me feel like a serial killer. And now feeling like a serial killer, I rose to my feet and proceeded back to the bathroom. I grabbed a bar of soap and like I had seen a serial killer do in a movie I once saw, I wrote the name Barton on the mirror. Then I wrote Alice. Then Sting. Ingersoll. Leigh. Ignatius. Sanders. And finally, Kirk my kinesiologist. But what did these letters spell? Basilisk? It made no sense. What was a basilisk? I decided to venture into my study where I never studied and looked up the word ­ a mythological creature that killed by its merely looking at its victim. This is exactly what happened to all my victims. "Hold on, Failure Statecraft," I cautioned myself. "Victims?" I spoke aloud. "But I didn't kill anyone." I felt full of deep consternation and looked more carefully at myself in the mirror. It dawned on me what a failure I was so much to the point that people could no longer bear to look at me. I was a failure. 'Failure Statecraft,' they called me. As I studied my once triumphant face, I now saw 'failure' written all over it. I had failed so miserably in life that I had turned into a basilisk ­ a creature so hideous and pitiful that its very stare could kill. I now felt nauseous, my hands trembled as I gripped the sink. I couldn't bear the sight of myself a moment more...



David A. Ross is the founder and publisher of St. Paul Arts & Press

A more detailed author's bio appears at the end of David's story "Getting Organized on Cellofrates," which we publish in SiH in 2002.

POE FEST ° Oct 2004