The Moral Education of a Mad Bastard

Issue #72

I was twelve when I, like my father before me, was sentenced to transportation to Sutterland. My crime was the theft of a leg of lamb. I stole to feed myself and, if Governor Bidwell was to be believed, because I could not do otherwise.

I was greatly impressed by the governor’s demonstration of how a man’s character can be read from the structure of his skull. He examined all us new arrivals of the Thirty-fourth Fleet at Botany Bay, not out of concern for our health after our six-month passage but to pursue his amateur studies in the new science of criminal anthropology.

“Observe the thick lips and distorted nose, clear indications of a brutal nature,” he said, prodding my face with perfumed fingers. “The pronounced slope of the boy’s forehead shows negative benevolence, and you’ll note the convexity of the area above the ears, signs of an overly developed organ of destructiveness.”

His own features were leonine. He looked like there should be a statue somewhere in his honor.

“The records state,” his assistant said, “that his father was transported three years ago. He comes of criminal stock.”

“My pa is no criminal, sir,” I said, voice quivering.

“That is for the law to decide.” The governor kept poking my head. “Where are you from, boy?”

“Liddonfield, sir.”

“An industrial town, is it not?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And I shall venture to guess that you lived in the immediate proximity of a factory, yes?”

“Just down the street from the McIver Engine Works, that’s where my pa worked before—”

“Ah, I see, an engine works,” he said, glancing back at his assistant. “The poor child never had a chance.”

“Sir?” I said.

He turned back to me and said, “It’s all here, under your scalp. These protrusions and concavities are the map of your character. I’ve noted a clear statistical tendency towards greater abnormality in those raised in the proximity of industrial facilities. Or, to put it in terms you’ll understand, factories breed mad bastards.”

“It’s not my fault I am what I am, then, is it, sir?”

“Your nature is inborn.”

It was a terrifying thought.

“Sir,” I whispered, and God help me if I wasn’t earnest, “is there nothing that can be done? To make me become like you are, sir.”

He leaned back, his gaze searing me to the core. “You impudent pup, you can’t rise above your station. The only cure for your criminal tendencies is piety and hard labor.”

He dismissed me with a cuff on the ear.

We convicts were dispatched to labor camps across this great continent. I ended up at Harlot’s Bush, an open-pit mine in the foothills at the edge of the McCallum Desert.

Hundreds of us, covered in crimson dust like so many devils, extracted redrock from the earth with pick and shovel. Veins of it pulsed with strange energy. This was the stuff that powered industry back in the mother country.

It was dangerous work, make no mistake. None of us were unaffected by exposure to redrock. The side effects were unpredictable. Some poor souls succumbed to the red horrors—the power of the damned stuff drove them insane. Others saw their bodies rebel against them, becoming monstrous, and they were taken out at night and put out of their misery.

Only a lucky few benefited, I among them. One night I awoke and thought it must be dawn. I saw the world as through a tinted glass, dimmer than in the day yet bright enough. Everything had a flat luminosity. I looked out, saw only a sliver of moon, and knew it should be pitch dark—yet I could see clearly. The effect persisted momentarily when I closed my eyes. Over the weeks, my blindsight improved and I amused myself by watching my fingers through my closed eyelids. I kept my new talent to myself.

As we toiled, we sang of the day when we would be handed our Freedom Papers. Ten years and I would be released—too late, much too late, I’d be broken by then. But escape seemed futile. Every week, the screws read out the names of convicts who had tried and failed. The ones who didn’t die in the outback were captured and either flogged or hanged.

Two years into my servitude, the screws lined us up in orderly rows to hear the latest list of shame. The warden gave his customary speech about the wages of sin. I paid little attention until he said my father’s name. He had escaped six months earlier from Sweatfoot in the northeastern territories. And now he was dead.

Better dead than a slave, he must’ve thought. My father had always been a proud man. That’s why he was sent here. One day the owner of the McIver Engine Works came to inspect the premises and my pa stepped up to him and complained about the unsafe working conditions. That very month there had been two fatalities and nine men wounded. The boss told him to step aside, but pa would not have any of it. They shoved him to the floor. He picked himself up and with a piece of pipe gave his boss a lesson in work safety.

At the trial, when he was asked if he was sorry for what he had done, he said he wasn’t.

I resolved I would be worthy of being called my father’s son.

I slipped under the barbwire fence, equipped only with a flask of water, matches, and several lumps of redrock. There was no moon but the pitch darkness didn’t slow me down. I ventured into the outback, nerves raw with terror and exhilaration.

At dawn, I headed to higher ground through stands of trees pungent with eucalyptus. From the edge of a bluff, I saw Harlot’s Bush some six miles behind me, nestled in the curve of the foothills that rose to the Eastern Range. I felt like the master of all I surveyed.

When the sun was high overhead, I heard my pursuers. Birds took flight, cawing in alarm, as the screws rode through the brush, slowed by the thick trees. Since I had little knowledge of bushcraft, the tracks I left must’ve been as easy to read as a broadsheet.

I didn’t have much time. My plan was desperate—I set fire to the undergrowth. Fueled by the redrock, the flames spread with alarming speed and soon engulfed the dry trees.

I heard men shouting, “Bushfire! Turn back!”

I hoped I could outrun it. Fire leapt from branch to branch, always slightly ahead of me. Burning leaves spun in the acrid air. Behind me I heard the roar of an inferno.

For miles I ran. My lungs were needled with quicksilver pain and the taste of smoke and blood was in my mouth. I began to see through a red filter, but I kept up my pace until at last I came to the edge of the forest.

A great plateau stretched out before me, nothing but rocks and sand where fire could not take hold, and I have never been so happy to see such a desolate place.

The next morning, in a shady copse where I’d collapsed after trudging across the plateau, I woke to the sight of a young man in a safari suit staring down at me with a supercilious sneer. He was a gentleman of means, from the looks of him. A lady in a riding outfit and a pith helmet leaned against a tree, toying with a shiny brass instrument.

“What say we play blindman’s run?” he said.

“Let’s,” she said. “I wager ten pounds he won’t last more than half a minute.”

“I accept. He seems an agile little monkey.” The gentleman kicked me in the belly. “It’s time to rise.”

I curled up around the pain. “Please, sir.”

He hauled me up and tied my hands behind my back and put a burlap sack on my head.

“Now we shall have some sport,” he said. “On my command, run through the trees as fast as you can. If you slow down or stop, you’ll find I’m a crack shot. Now—run!

I charged off, blind as the proverbial. Low branches raked my head. At any moment I could’ve tripped on a root or run straight into a tree.

I let my instincts take over. The space around me revealed itself to me. I could visualize the forest, each root and fallen tree, all the colors strange and smeared. Weaving through the trunks at full tilt, I believed that I might escape after all. I heard muted cries and pistol shots, and my blindsight revealed the trajectories of the bullets.

My hot breath washed over my face. I could’ve kept running forever but the burlap around my head didn’t let in enough air. Still I kept running until I was out of breath and collapsed gasping onto the ground.

Rough fingers untied the bag.

“Damn your eyes, boy, you led us on a merry chase—how did you do that?”

I whispered, “Redrock.”

They exchanged glances. The woman placed her hands behind her back. “How many fingers am I holding up?”

With my eyes closed, I could see them clearly. “Four.”

She tried that a few more times and I got it right every time.

“It’s uncanny,” he said.

She examined me from head to toe. “He would pass for a proper little gypsy.”

“You’re thinking what I’m thinking, then?” he said.

“It would be most amusing.”

“Good, it’s decided then. He’ll be a sensation, I’m sure.” He tapped my cheeks. “Won’t you, little gypsy?”

I nodded—whatever they had in mind would be better than being forced to return to Harlot’s Bush. He hauled me to my feet and untied the rope around my wrists.

“How many years do you still owe His Majesty’s Government?” he said. “Don’t lie, lad. I’ll check.”

“Eight.”

Sir.”

“Eight, sir.”

“Then you’ll serve out the rest of your sentence with us.”

I glared at them with suspicion. “And then you’ll let me go?”

“You have my word.”

“What was your name?” the lady asked.

“Ma’am, my name’s Jack Cunningham.”

Was, lad. Jack is dead now. Eaten by a beast, perhaps.” She ruffled my hair. “Let’s think of a more colorful name for you, eh?”

Stiff in a starched tuxedo, I stepped through velvet curtains into a drawing room. Some thirty men and women in eveningwear watched me with expressions of mild interest. I bowed to them and said, in an outrageously thick accent, “Good evening. I am Radu Malik. Please may I have volunteer?”

“I shall outfox the pikey, just you wait and see,” someone whispered—a tall young twit, his thin cheeks ruddy from drink. He made a show of patting his pockets and said to one and all, “I still have my pocketbook and watch on my person. Not for long, I venture.”

There was muted laughter.

“Please come to stage, sir.”

“Right ho. Well, then, show us your gypsy wiles.”

I handed him a blindfold. “Please tie around my head.”

“Nonsense. That’s the oldest trick in the book.” From his pocket, the twit produced two handkerchiefs, which he then folded into squares. “In the Seventh Regiment, when blindfolding a man we first place pads on his eyes to ensure the sneaky blighter can’t sneak a peek, what.”

“Very well, sir.” I refrained from quipping that I hoped his handkerchiefs weren’t used.

Once he had tied the blindfold, I said, “Now we start with simple trick. Please take this pack of cards, choose a card, and hold it up.”

“Oh I shall, once you’re facing the other way,” he said, and turned me around.

I saw him clearly behind me. He drew a card and I said, “Ten, sir. The ten of hearts.”

This produced applause. I smiled, knowing I had them now.

“Once more, sir.”

Again I answered with the correct card. He grunted and flexed his fingers restlessly, then drew two cards.

“Would sir please decide which he would prefer, the queen or the jack,” I said, to much laughter, and the twit wheeled on his heels and returned grumbling to his seat.

At the back of the room, my new masters looked on with amusement at my first performance. They were Terrence and Jane Groves, aristocrats of leisure and amateur bounty hunters.

“We try harder tricks now, ladies and gentlemen.”

The hardest trick of all would have been to escape. Trying to run away from them would have ended badly for me. Without money and identification, I could never leave Sutterland—and in this blasted country, a fugitive was never safe.

In the months that followed, I performed for army officers, diplomats and wealthy merchants in all the civilized outposts of this godforsaken land, and never broke character in public.

When I was not Radu Malik, I did menial chores for Anthony, the Groves’ manservant. He taught me to read—and from him, I learned about the speech and ways of gentlemen, knowledge that I knew would serve me well when I was a free man.

After I turned fifteen, things changed.

One evening, my masters summoned me to the smoking room. Terrence said, “Little gypsy, you’re a useful wee beastie.”

Jane puffed on a most unladylike cigar, leaned back in her leather chair, and said, “We believe we might have further uses for you.”

“An adventure, if you like,” Terrence said. “Are you a horseman?”

“I’ve ridden a nag, sir.”

“Good. Anthony will instruct you further. Next month, you’ll join us on the hunt.”

“Sir?”

“I think you’ll enjoy it. Now run along, there’s a good lad.”

We set out at dawn from Agatha’s Misfortune, a labor camp in the southern coastal forests. Red light filtered through the trees as Anthony and I rode at a respectful distance behind Terrence and Jane. They hardly glanced at the spoor—two days ago, in their pursuit of the escaped convict, the screws had left a trail so clear that even a novice like me could follow it.

We headed deeper into the woods until we came to a wide brown river. The water squirmed with vicious snakelike creatures as thick as a man and twice as long. This is where the screws had turned back.

“Chances are that our escapee has long since been digested and his bones spat out,” Jane said. She dismounted and examined the ground through a brass instrument. “Or perhaps not!”

She led us northward and away from the river until the light faded.

Jane called me to the front and said, “What do you see?”

“Shadows, ma’am.”

“Can you detect his trail?”

I closed my eyes. At first, I saw nothing but the forest. Then I picked up on evidence—a broken twig here, the faintest impression of a footprint there.

I nodded.

“Right then,” she said, “we shall have our supper and a nap.”

It was full dark when we resumed the hunt. With me at the lead, we made slow but steady progress. My masters and Anthony followed behind with the horses, illuminating their way with hooded redrock lamps. All through the night I tracked the convict, predatory excitement mounting, a steady thrum of bloodlust. I could understand why my masters were as addicted to the hunt as an opium fiend to his pipe. God help me, if I had come upon the poor soul in that darkness I would’ve tried to kill him myself.

Dawn flooded the forest with golden light. Jane picked up on the spoor and led us on.

“Good little gypsy,” she said. “We’ve gained on him.”

At around noon, we emerged from the forest onto grassland. Further off, a lake shimmered and on its rocky shore sat a lone human figure. We closed the distance at a furious gallop.

The escapee took to his heels, but it would’ve been better for him to stay where he was. A predator that sees fleeing prey is consumed by a single thought—to kill. The man’s back was an irresistible target for Terrence’s polo mallet. The escapee sprawled, and in moments my masters had dismounted and were on him, kicking in his head and ribs. They laughed as they hauled him up and Jane slipped a noose around his waist and tied the other end to Terrence’s saddle and I too grinned with delight. Terrence mounted and spurred his horse on, the man screaming as the rocky ground tore him.

Anthony met my eyes for the briefest moment, moved by a rare flicker of emotion, then rode to the edge of the lake. There he watched the water until our masters had finished with their fun.

It took the escapee an hour to die.

On the way back, we set up camp for the night.

During my watch, I listened to my masters snore and thought about how they had killed the convict, all pretence of civilized behavior gone.

We had hung the man’s body by the feet from a tree to keep it safe from carrion beasts. I had not seen his face clearly before my masters turned him into something unrecognizable, less than human. It disturbed me now that I had helped kill him, but I couldn’t even say what he looked like in life.

I walked to the edge of the firelight where the body was suspended. His face was nothing but meat and bone, but the shape of his skull revealed itself to my blindsight. I recalled my encounter with Governor Bidwell, the amateur criminal anthropologist. If he had been there, he would certainly have said that these concavities and bumps were a map of a defective nature.

On impulse, I attuned my eyes to my masters’ tent—I had never before dared to examine them, under the skin. Their skulls were finely sculpted, model specimens of superior humanity. We could not have been more unalike. Yet I saw myself in them and them in me, for now I understood that if factories breed mad bastards, so does privilege.

Terrence coughed once, then crawled out of the tent.

“Something the matter, little gypsy?”

“No, sir.”

“I felt something pass over me. A chill of sorts.” He came over to the fire in his long johns and sat down, then took a sip from a silver flask and passed it to me. I savored the whisky, and for a long time neither of us spoke.

He looked into the fire, his eyes like oil. “What did you think of the hunt?”

“Most exciting, sir.”

“That it was. But there’s a curious emptiness that follows. A sense of futility.” He drank long and deep. “I wonder, was that how you felt when we captured you?”

“Sir....

“You may speak freely.”

“Yes, sir. I longed for freedom—but I was relieved to hear that I wouldn’t be sent back to that hellhole, sir.”

He gestured toward the dead escapee. “It’s an act of mercy to bring them back dead. Those places aren’t fit for beasts.” As if reconsidering his words, he shook his head. “Then again, many of these buggers are worse than animals.”

“But not all, sir.”

“No, not all. When your time with us is over, you’ll be able to start afresh, with a new identity. Not many men have that opportunity.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Make the most of it, lad.” He had one last drink and went back to sleep.

With the taste of fine whisky still on my tongue, I remembered Governor Bidwell’s words to me—”You impudent pup, you can’t rise above your station.”

I’d prove him wrong.

At the end of the year, I walked through an exhibition of the latest mechanical innovations of the Empire—artificial dancers and musicians, their clockwork gears exposed, and a machine that snorted steam to form the image of a woman in the air. None of them were of much interest to me—toys for the rich and idle.

Next to the machines was a zoo intended to present the exotic fauna of Sutterland to visiting dignitaries. Here was a blackfellow in a cage, his skin painted with the secret symbols of his people. He stared out in mute stoicism at the tribe that had overrun his country.

How strange we must have looked to him. Beyond the zoo were festive tents and our betters in finery. Gentlemen sipped drinks and discussed sports. Ladies shielded themselves from the sun, pale skins gray under the shade of their parasols. Young men my age comported themselves with cocksure gravitas, so unlike the rough and tumble youths I’d known back home. Clothing makes the man, it’s said, but even if I’d looked the part, it wouldn’t have been easy for me to blend in. All these people knew each other. Their bloodlines and business interests had been intertwined for centuries. I would immediately be recognized as a stranger in their midst.

This was the Governor’s Grand Annual Gala, a weekend event at his estate attended by all persons of note in Sutterland. I was not here to mingle with them but to entertain them.

I stepped onto a stage, took out my blindfold, showed it to the waiting audience, and in my thickest accent said, “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I am Radu Malik. Please may I have volunteer?”

The crowd parted for Governor Bidwell himself.

“They say your magic is not merely an illusion,” he said, joining me on stage. He took the blindfold and ran his fingers over the cloth, looking for evidence of trickery.

“Sir, I have gift to see things other men cannot.”

He cocked an eyebrow. As he looked at me, I wondered if he remembered me—but of course he didn’t. He must’ve examined thousands of convicts over the years. “I would like to witness it up close. Shall we dispense with the card tricks and all that, and proceed to the showstopper.”

“As you wish, sir.”

He tied the cloth around my head.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” I said, “I shall need volunteer.”

A young man joined us on stage with a hearty what-ho. The governor paced around us, watching intently. I shan’t deny that he made me nervous.

“We start with one of most difficult tricks in world!” I proclaimed, spreading my arms.

The young lad gave a wink to his friends.

“I, the mystic Radu Malik, shall reveal facts about you known only to yourself and closest associates! Sir, you may choose to leave stage if you would not be comfortable bringing such secrets to light. I assure you I shall reveal nothing scandalous—there are ladies present.”

“Do your worst,” he said, grinning.

I waved my hands in the air in arcane patterns. “In your pocket, you have book of matches and cigarette case, do you not?”

He nodded. “I do indeed.”

“Case is monogrammed A.R. Cigarettes are stamped with crest—I recognize it—Raleigh family crest.”

“That’s correct! Astonishing.”

“Please show items to audience, sir.”

He did so and then I went deeper. I saw him as he was. I saw beyond the threads that covered him and under the skin and flesh. I saw fractured bone and semen stains and pathological evidence.

“You broke your leg, sir? I see healed fracture in your left tibia.”

He gaped at me. “A riding accident.”

I could always count on them to fill in a detail or two, making my revelations seem that much more astonishing.

“And year ago—it is hard to tell exact—you visited Western Colonies and contracted malaria.” I could see the malarial parasites in his bloodstream.

“How could you know that?”

“I am Radu Malik.”

He looked at me with an expression I had seen many times by now—utter and total belief. Sometimes at this point they would start asking me questions about the future, as if I were some sort of oracle.

Before he could speak, I said, “Thank you, sir.”

Applause accompanied him off the stage.

Governor Bidwell said, “Come to my study after the show. I should like to speak with you. You may now proceed.”

As he left, all I could think of was that it never bodes well when a politician takes an interest in you. The thought filled me with dread, but the show had to go on.

“Ladies and gentlemen, now we see what is on the cards!” I said, and took out my pack.

“Radu Malik,” Governor Bidwell said. While I stood at attention, he leaned back behind his desk, rolling a lit cigar in his fingers. “You’re in the employ of the Groves. Wherever did they find you?”

I decided to brazen it out. “I am orphan. One day I took ship to Sutterland to search for my fortune. Alas, I had misfortune, but the Groves, they took me under their wing.”

“You’re barely old enough to shave. How young you must have been then! Well, it’s said that cunning and tenacity are the most admirable qualities of your race.” He nodded to himself, then got to the point. “It’s a most unusual gift you have.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You maintain that these are no conjuror’s tricks? You must tell me the truth.”

I had a feeling that it would be prudent to have him think I was an illusionist. “Sir, on stage, of course I must stay in role, but in confidence I can tell they are tricks.”

“I’ve never seen a magician do what you did. Tell me how you do it.”

“Trade secrets, sir.”

“No, I believe you really do have a rare talent. Tell me what I have in this box on my desk.”

“Sir....

“Come on then.” He stood up, a cane in hand. Before I’d realized what he was about to do, he gave me a whack on the shoulder, then struck my shin with full force.

I tried not to cry out.

“I’ll beat you within an inch of your life if you don’t.” He emphasized the threat by striking my ribs.

“Sir, is just tricks.”

“Hogwash.”

The next blow felled me. I knew that he’d keep going until either I was a bloody mess or I’d told him what he wanted to hear. I’d endured worse.

He loomed over me and prodded me with the tip of the cane. In a matter-of-fact tone, he said, “I think you are under the misconception that your masters can protect you. They can’t.”

He struck me again and I bit back my pain.

“Cooperate, or it’s off to the labor camps with you.”

No—anything but that. I could’ve taken a beating, but this threat broke my resolve. “There’s a syringe and three vials. I do not recognize the liquid but I suspect it is a narcotic.” I felt my accent slip away and overcorrected. “And also several prophylactics.”

“That wasn’t so hard, was it?” He gave me a broad grin and helped me up. Now that he had gotten what he wanted, his manner was almost avuncular. “How do you do it, lad?”

“I not know. Is gift I have since I was child.”

“I am an amateur scientist. My interest is in the field of criminal anthropology and phrenology. I would very much like to study you.”

He put his perfumed hands on my head. I forced myself to stand still and subject myself to his loathsome touch. All I could think of was how good it would feel to take that cane from him and beat the living daylights out of him. My life would then be measured in hours at most—but it would almost be worth it.

“Your lips are prominent, a sign of sensuality, which does in some cases reflect extrasensory abilities. Likewise, your flared nostrils and large eyes. It’s as if your senses are unusually open to stimuli. Your forehead is sloped, indicating primitivism. These characteristics are the key to the protrusions of your skull. Here, I note several concavities that denote experience, and the pronounced convexity above your ears shows highly developed preternatural tendencies. It’s most fascinating and proof that the gypsies are closer to the spiritual world. Also, there are indications of criminal tendencies, as is typical of your race, but you’ve been a good boy, haven’t you, Radu?”

To think that I had once believed his nonsense. I wanted to laugh in his face and tell him how utterly different this reading was from his first. “Yes, sir.”

He patted my head. “We’ll be sure to keep you on the straight and narrow. All right then, off you go.”

“Sir.” I bowed and once I was out in the corridor I had to cover my mouth to stifle my anger.

I had to be by myself for a while. My masters trusted me enough to leave me unsupervised, so I left the palace grounds and vented my rage in the countryside. Once I was free, I would never again tolerate this sort of treatment.

When I returned to the servants’ quarters, I found Anthony waiting for me.

“You’ll be joining the governor’s staff,” he said. “Tomorrow morning, I’m to take you to the garrison in town.”

I bit back a profanity. Bidwell, that bastard.

“I’m sorry, we were given no choice in the matter. You are now officially Radu Malik, a gypsy in the service of His Majesty’s Government. That skill of yours would be a formidable secret weapon for an ambitious politician.”

“He’ll never give me my freedom.”

“No, you’ll be his creature for as long as he finds you useful.” He placed his hand on my shoulder and whispered, lest anyone overhear us, “The master and mistress were not pleased with this turn of events.”

He handed me an envelope containing forty pounds, more than my father had earned in a year, and false identification papers made out to an Alan Walderwick. With this, I could escape Sutterland.

Mistrust was my immediate reaction. “Why would they do this?”

“In truth? They hate it when their toys are taken away from them. In any case, they gave you their word that you would go free. If you’re caught, they’ll deny helping you.”

“Thank them for me, Anthony.”

We shook hands.

“Good luck, lad—and make something of yourself.”

With my eyes closed, I rode through the brilliant darkness, nerves alive. In the morning, the governor’s men would be on my trail, but I had learned enough from my former masters to make it hard for them. All I could hope was that the Groves would keep their word and not come after me—them, I could not elude.

I made my way to the Botany Bay railway station and hid in the cargo carriage of a northbound train. Once the train was on the move, I rummaged through travel trunks and found new clothes, immaculately tailored and an almost perfect fit. No doubt they belonged to a young gentleman traveling in first class. Resolving that one day I would have all that he had, I filled a valise with his garments.

When the train stopped at the coastal town of Fort Hood, I disembarked and headed to the harbor. I looked and sounded like a toff, and didn’t expect to be challenged. Under my breath, I repeated my new name, drilling it into my memory. Alan. Alan Walderwick.

A chain gang passed by me, overseen by mounted soldiers. The stink of redrock filled my nostrils. I glanced at the poor devils, all these broken men. Perhaps Governor Bidwell had examined all their skulls on their arrival to this godforsaken place and concluded that this was the best they were capable of—as he had done with me. I wanted to reach out to them and tell them that this was not their destiny, that they too could escape, but none met my eyes, cowed by the presence of a gentleman and all that he represented.

Massive clouds of steam rolled over the harbor. I found a ticket office and in a matter of minutes had procured a cabin class ticket to the East Colonies. Twenty-five pounds it cost me, but for the sake of appearances I could not afford to travel in steerage.

Heart pounding, I walked up the gangway and hid in my cabin, afraid that at any moment bounty hunters might break in the door and drag me away. Sweaty and shaking, I must’ve looked like a malarial patient.

At last the ship unmoored. I ran out onto the aft deck and watched the coast until it was but a line on the horizon.

“Rot in hell, Governor,” I whispered, and turned away from Sutterland, hoping never to see the place again.

In the afternoon, I went to the bar for a drink. There I found gentlemen playing cards for money, as I’d hoped I would. It was time to put my skills to work, start earning my living as a gentleman among gentlemen. I approached them and said, “May I join?”

“Please do,” they said.

“Thank you. I feel lucky today.”


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Joe L. Murr has lived on every continent except Antarctica. He currently divides his time between Finland and the Netherlands. His fiction has been published or is forthcoming in ChiZine, Dark Recesses, Dark Pages Volume 1, Phantom Drift: New Fabulism, and other publications.

If you liked this story, you may also like:
“Songdogs” by Ian McHugh
“Mr Morrow Becomes Acquainted with the Delicate Art of Squid Keeping” by Geoffrey Maloney

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Comments & Scrivenings
3 Comments on “The Moral Education of a Mad Bastard”

3 Responses to “The Moral Education of a Mad Bastard”

  1. Heather says:

    07-07-2011, 12:41 PM
    Heather

    Great!

    Just wanted to say that I was absolutely nutso over this story. It made me grin, gasp, and laugh out loud. The ending was note-perfect. Just….just fantastic.Heather

  2. Guest says:

    07-08-2011, 10:18 PM
    Guest

    Great Story

    The subtlety of this story is amazing. Before you know it you are in the world of this young man. You are sharing his world with the revulsion, fear, exhiliration, pain, and determination. Joe Murr is one superb story teller!

  3. Kimberly says:

    Excellent story! I can’t believe I missed it back in 2011!

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