An unusual tutorial. Winner of SCREAMS!!! July 17 2020.
|A Contradiction or Two
Professor Albert Hungerford raised a hand, finger pointing at the sky. “Contradiction,” he said. “From the Latin ‘contra’ - meaning ‘against’ - and ‘diction’ - meaning ‘speech.’ From this we are to gather that the word refers to a statement that contains two conflicting assertions. For instance, if I were to say, ‘All blackbirds are black birds but not all black birds are blackbirds,” you would hear an apparent contradiction. Surely, it has already been established that black birds are black and cannot be anything else, you would argue. It is only when you see the words written down that you realise the difference between ‘blackbirds’ and ‘black birds.’ To express it in a better way, all birds of the genus blackbird are clothed in black feathers but not all birds so attired belong to that genus.”
Here Hungerford paused for a moment, surveying his audience for signs of understanding. As usual, several of his students seemed to be asleep or well on the way to such a condition. Others had the familiar blank stare that indicated they heard the words but did not bother assigning meaning to them. And then there was Ormundson. Maurice Ormundson, the only intelligent student of this year but, as if to make up for the others’ dullness, possessed of a mind so sharp and perceptive that he gave Hungerford hope for the future.
It was clearly time to wrap this up, thought Hungerford. “That’ll do for today,” he announced. “Before the next tutorial be sure to have read Blackstone’s “Classification of Modern Monsters.” The 1683 Edition preferably but any other if you fail to get hold of that one. The original illustrations are so much more accurate.”
The students began to move, some standing up and others blinking in surprise as they awoke from their reveries. Only Ormundson remained unmoving in his seat. Hungerford continued to address the class.
“For those of you who are that way inclined, I shall be holding an extra-curricular tutorial tonight at 11:30pm. This will be in the clock tower and you should attend only if you have a special interest in experiments in the fields of morphology and taxonomy. These late night endeavours are not for those of a nervous disposition or somnolent nature. Be assured that this is a purely voluntary matter and will not feature in your final report.”
The students had been readying themselves for leaving as he spoke these words and even Ormundson now stacked his books, ready for departure. Hungerford turned, walked to the door and left.
At the appointed time that night, Ormundson was standing at the locked door to the clock tower, ready for the tutorial Professor Hungerford had mentioned. The full moon was high and the clouds drifted across the sky, leaving everything in darkness at times and then in stark clarity at others. Ormundson was ten minutes early but gave no indication of impatience as he waited. It was no surprise to him that the others were already snoring in their beds. Studies additional to the curriculum were not exactly their bread and butter.
In due course, Hungerford could be seen, striding across the lawn in one of the periods lit by the moon. He reached the tower and, without greeting Ormundson, produced a key from his pocket to open the door. He gestured for the student to enter first.
Inside, the tower was lit only by the moonlight streaming through windows placed one above the other in one wall. A wooden staircase wound around the walls until, far above, it disappeared into an opening in a platform constructed as a top floor of the tower. Hungerford started to climb and Ormundson followed obediently.
When they reached the platform, Hungerford moved a metal grating to cover the hole in the floor. “We don’t want anyone stepping back into the opening,” he explained. Ormundson was taking in his surroundings in the small room. Moonlight flooded in from a window high in one of the walls.
Most of the floor space was taken up by the workings of the enormous clock that gave the tower its name. The face was directed outwards, of course, but the machinery and the frame supporting it was crammed into the room, leaving only a limited area where they could stand. There was no furniture in the room and it was obviously intended only for maintenance and adjustment of the clock mechanicals.
Hungerford leant against one of the clock’s supporting beams and began. “We should make a start. Morphology and taxonomy it was, if I remember correctly. Is that correct?”
“Yessir,” confirmed Ormundson.
The professor did not begin immediately but studied the floor for a moment, as if readying himself for the speech. Then he looked up at Ormundson with a grin on his face.
“I’m afraid there’ll be nothing said about those two subjects tonight,” he said. “That was just my little subterfuge to ensure that none of your classmates decided to attend this tutorial. In fact, I doubt that any of them have the faintest idea what subjects those two studies encompass.”
He paused a moment before continuing. “What we are here to do is to consider a contradiction, one rather different from the example I used in my lecture today. I refer to the matter of the living dead. That would appear to be an obvious contradiction, since how can something be both alive and dead at the same time? Yet we have many tales that describe such creatures. I presume that you are familiar with these stories?”
Ormundson hesitated before answering. “Er, yes sir. But isn’t this a bit…”
“Far from the curriculum?” interrupted Hungerford. “Indeed it is, but I did warn you about that. Now tell me, what sort of thing have you heard of these, umm, zombies, as I believe they’re called in popular literature?”
Ormundson looked off into space, apparently trying to recall what he’d read on the subject. “Well, sir, they are always depicted as being extremely pale with deep set, staring eyes. As you’d expect since they’re dead. Always dressed in rags, presumably because the material would have rotted while they were underground. And they move slowly, like robots, with arms extended before them. In fact, I’ve always wondered why they’re considered so frightening since we can easily run faster than them. Oh, and I think they eat brains. At least that seems to be the main reason they chase humans - they want the brains.”
“Very good, Ormundson,” said the professor. “But why do you think they’re depicted as having risen from the grave? One can understand the pallid complexion if that’s the case, and the tattered clothing, but they are not all buried immediately after death, are they?”
“Presumably not, sir. I suppose the movie makers do it like that so they can make them as scary as possible.. But it’s a bit of an anomaly since I’ve seen movies where people are killed and five minutes later they get up as zombies.”
“Ah, you have put your finger on the very nub of the matter, young Ormundson. If zombiism is passed on by the bite of the undead, then it is doubtful that any of them would have the time to be buried before returning to, umm, life. So their appearance would not be much altered from their original form. Indeed, this would indicate that the fictional suggestions as to their speed of movement are also likely to be incorrect. Decay is not so speedy that the zombie’s body would lose all the attributes of life. The likelihood is that such a creature would be very close in physical performance to its former self. I suspect that the matter of the zombie’s mobility is purely a convenience for the writers of such tales. It would be a very short story if the undead could move as quickly as we are able.”
“I agree, sir,” blurted Ormundson, “but I’m afraid I don’t see why we are discussing this subject. Since the living dead are completely fictional, all of this is entirely speculative and not really something we should be concerned about.”
“Once again straight to the point, hey, Ormundson?” A slight smile curled the edges of Hungerford’s mouth. “And you are quite correct, of course.” He paused, this time for a full minute before adding, “If, that is, there is no such thing as the living dead.”
Ormundson frowned. “Are you suggesting that zombies are real, sir?”
Hungerford took a step closer to his student. “That is exactly what I am suggesting, boy. Take a good look at my face. Do you see my rosy red cheeks? Have you noted the red at the corner of my eyes? No, you won’t, of course. Because, my friend, there is no blood in these veins. Circulation stopped long ago for me. I am, in fact, everyone’s worst nightmare, the walking dead, the undead and yes, the dreaded zombie of so many horror movies. Only much worse, you see, because I am not some shambling, half crippled shell of a man. I am fast, strong and more than the equal of any living man.”
He fell silent and the two of them stood, frozen into a tableau in that cramped space lit only by moonlight from above. Then Ormundson turned and looked at the grate covering the opening. But Hungerford was too quick for him. He stepped forward to stand on the grate, thereby blocking the only exit.
“I have chosen you carefully, Ormundson. Your quick intelligence is exactly what we need in the ranks of the undead. When you take your place alongside our elite, we will be unstoppable. Think of it, boy. Eternal life and a position of power in the world. You’ll not have a better offer out there.”
When Ormundson looked around, clearly looking for an escape route, Hungerford continued, “Come now, there is no other way out. Might as well submit without a fight. It can get so terribly messy otherwise. And I always win. Just a small matter of a bite, possibly in the arm so there won’t be too much damage. It would help if you were to roll up your sleeve, however. All be over in a few minutes with as little pain as possible, I promise you.”
Word Count: 1,715
For SCREAMS!!!, July 17 2020
Prompt: A contradiction.