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FABLE

The old man was dying and he knew it. His body ached and the slightest movement inflicted the intolerable pain. From the above, the sun was flooding his defenseless body with rays of heat and light. He could not remember where he was or how long he had been lying there. He lost the track of time and sometimes it seemed to him that he was there for years; at the other times, it was only yesterday.
The only thing that penetrated the blackness of the past was his fall. He remembered going somewhere, being in a hurry. He was almost running. And then he tripped. He never saw what caused him to trip; it was not important. He remembered being on the ground, his forehead scratched from the fall, the cracking sound, and the sharp, excruciating pain in his leg. The brittle old bone in his calf was broken and protruded through the yellow skin.
Since then, he tried to survive. Desperately, despondently, with all the strength that he had. He abandoned the idea of calling for help after trying a dozen times and having nothing reacted to his pleas. He had to deal with his pain by himself. He cleaned the wound trying to remove the sand that got into it, and bandaged it with his shirt. He found in his pockets a pack of gum and chocolate bar. He extended them as long as he could. In the meantime he kept walking forward heavily limping and crying out in pain, and then falling on the ground covered in sweat and deafened by the shrill ringing in his ears. At some point he forgot where and why he was going. Because of the broken leg and a clouded consciousness, confused by the fever, he moved in circles, but did not notice it, or did not want to notice. The movement became a necessity to him because just lying on the ground doing absolutely nothing was intolerable. But the broken bone refused to heal. Few days later he realized that the infection has gotten into his bloodstream. He had gangrene. The old man did not know too much about medicine but he knew that if he would not hurry he might lose the leg. And he crawled forward disregarding pain in his old body, exhausted by sleeping on the cold earth. He wanted to keep his body intact. Meanwhile the leg was getting worse and worse with every day. It was swollen and started to deteriorate. The lethal redness was spreading out refusing to stop. It was then when the thought about death first visited him. At first, he denied the idea. It was impossible. How could he die like that? But the thought did not go away; it stayed and annoyed him, making him plunge into panic every once in a while and scream for help over and over again, scream until his voice would turn into a shriek, although it was clear that nobody was going to save him. The anger and fear took over him in periods. He would be mad at everyone and everything for letting him perish, and then intolerable and deadly fear would come and make him shudder and get up on both legs and run despite excruciating pain. Then the burst of panic would pass and he would fall down, panting and sweating from pain. It was hot, intolerably hot; or maybe it was fever. He didn't want to die, he wanted to live, but somewhere deep in the unconscious he knew that nothing would help and all his efforts would never help him. Again and again he would call for help just to realize once again that it's futile. He was hungry and thirsty; by now the gum and the chocolate were long gone.
He felt the approach of yet another panic attack and desperately tried to suppress it, but the fear was stronger. Once again he tried to get up and run; however, he realized that he was too weak to stand. He crawled on one leg, pulling the broken one behind but soon was tired of even that. All of a sudden, it occurred to him that he couldn't survive.
It was clear, absolutely certain, with no shadow of doubt. There was no hope for him. In odious rage he banged his fist on the ground cursing this world and his destiny. The bitter tears streamed from his eyes. Somewhere in the back of his mind he realized how long he didn't cry. Sometimes only death can make one cry. The old man was crying but tears did not help at all. They exhausted him even further. He fell asleep into the world of nightmares waking up in cold sweat after each one of them. His imagination drew him pictures of death slowly walking behind him, approaching with every step. He wouldrun as fast as he could but with every step his pursuer would be closer. He would call for help but nobody would answer. All of a sudden there was a wall in front of him. He tried climbing but there was nothing to which he could hang. And death was closer. He could hear its steps and quiet breath. He turned and looked into its face . . .
He woke up next morning with a feeling that it was the last day.
Somehow the idea did not terrify him. In some sense, he was glad that his ordeal would finally end. He was tired of pain that by now gnawed his brain without breaks. Yet, he was still scared. With the last strength he had he started crawling. With no direction or idea, he kept dragging his ill body ahead trying to escape the inescapable. By now the infection had spread over his lower body and the broken leg was almost entirely paralyzed. But even after the power left him completely he still tried to move, to advance forward at least a centimeter, anything but just lie there helpless and defenseless. He could not even do that.
A strange feeling seized the old man. He looked at the limbs of his body and discovered with surprise that they no longer obeyed him. He understood. Once again he tried calling for help, but only a weak hiss emerged from his throat. Then, he lifted his head and for the last time looked at the bright sun, the blue clear sky, and the crowded Times Square of New York City around him.



PROGRAMMER'S DAY.

It's a fresh Monday morning at the XYZ software developing company. Sleepy and sluggish after Sunday night football drinking party, the programmers drag themselves into their cubicles and immediately redirect their course toward the coffee machines. It takes approximately 2 mugs of concentrated caffeine solution to jumpstart the brain and to shift it into "Semi-functional" mode.

After 2 or 3 restarts Microsoft Windows finally stabilize and allow users to log in. The working day begins.

As usual, most programs don't function on Mondays, and even though they worked perfectly on Friday, seem to develop random features over the weekend. After the first shock is over ("WHAT?!!! It's not supposed to do that!"), the people start bringing the programs into the pre-weekend condition.

Through the walls of the cubicles one can hear programmers converse with their machines, at first, rationally trying to convince the program that nobody wins if it doesn't run. Then the tone subdues even to further to the almost imploring "Please run!" until finally you can hear people talk in threatening tones, promising to do to computer things that would definitely be considered illegal in some states. Some computers comply, and some push their luck. The owners of these can be easily located by following the sound of fingers crushing down on keyboards with force of approximately 1.23 tons. The shout "ARRGH!" followed by ferocious kicking of the CPU announces to the world that some computer pushed its luck too far.

A muffled scream comes out of one cubicle. Somebody used the rm command indiscreetly.

At approximately 11:35 UNIX server crashes eliciting yet another series of screams from the programmers who did not save their code. The veterans smile. A veteran programmer saves his work at a rate 3 saves per second.

Lunch on Monday is actually a breakfast time for most young programmers. Majority of them eat in their cubicles, chewing on a sandwich obtained from the nearby McDonald's (Motto: "Proudly selling the stuff that will kill you."), and maliciously looking at their computer wishing it things that would hardly be considered a part of the healthy professional relationship. In response, many computers, who, by the way, have a great sense of humor, display the blue screen of death, immensely enjoying watching the programmer stand up, his mouth wide open, his eyes observing the last fragments of unsaved code dissipating from the computer's memory, his mind trying to choose the expression most appropriate for the occasion. "Strike two," think the veterans.

Workday afternoons are always boring. The stomachs are full, the minds are sleepy and prepare to concentrate heavily on the minute hand of the watch observing it to approach the magic and desirable mark of 5 o'clock.

"Hey guys, how is it going?" That 's the greeting call of "Camping Carl" also known as "The Roamer." Every office has roamers: the people who go from a cubicle to cubicle disturbing the already shaky and unstable process of programming. To the untrained eye they look like the absolute best in their field. Everything about a roamer emits the air of competence. They can talk about the Microsoft vs Netscape trial with great eloquence though in general terms, they know what computer platform dominates the market, they are aware of the market fluctuations, and you will treat them with respectful admiration until one day they open their mouth and ask you how to change permissions on a file. There is no protection against roamers except for the silent treatment. After 15 minutes of the monologue entitled "What I was doing yesterday" the Camping Carl fruitlessly awaits a reply, leaves a cube and heads toward another one mumbling about the amount of work that he has.

The only people who are even more incompetent than roamers are managers.
These are people whose technical ability has never gone beyond learning how
to attach a document to an email. Thus, instead of programming themselves
they are forced to tell others how to program, a task which they performvia
constantly sending group emails featuring words like "communication,"
"challenging" and "efficiency." Anybody who thinks that Windows 95 do not
come with pre-installed MS-DOS is a manager material. Between writing and
sending emails, managers spend their workday by walking through the office
and discussing projects with the programmers. "John, I'd like to know when
that project of yours be finished." John, who was attending a bachelor
party last night and who is not quite sure of his middle name at this
point, looks at the screen of his computer which displays a just started
unfinished 24-line-long function (20 lines of official company header, 3
lines of comments, 1 line of code) and replies with a very long phrase
filled with highly technical terms whose general meaning comes down to the
fact that after the source code is written it should be compiled. Frowning
intently, the manager nods and walks away trying to understand whether more
compilers should be installed in the RAM of the server processor.

As the evening approaches, productivity decreases proportionally. One by one, the people start leaving their cubicles leaving behind them the thin residue of work. The rapidity of the keystrokes decreases and pretty soon ceases entirely with the exception of a few programmers who have deadlines and whose code suffered in the morning server crashe. These are pumped with 4 to 5 bottles of Coke plus the morning coffee overdose and currently type at the rate of 250 words per minute. Of course, there's no time for comments. If it was hard to program, it must be hard to understand. This, in some way, is a comfort to the programmers and the mere thought of somebody in the future trying to decipher a few thousands of lines of uncommented spaghetti logic involving up to five nested loops and variable names like pst_ntns makes them smile happily.

As soon as one bug is fixed, another one immediately pops up, thus proving the Fundamental Law of Programming: errors cannot be created or destroyed, they can only be transferred from one part of the program to the other. Change the code - save the code - compile the code - observe the code crash - mutter an expletive. The cycle repeats over and over. Compilation is the longest part of the process, and keeps the programmer in suspense comparable only to the thriller movies. During this seemingly endless procedure where the computer does (or pretends to do) all the work, the programmers release their energy via a number of relaxation techniques, most popular one being drumming their fingers on the table. Passing from cube to cube, one can hear all kinds of drumbeats from the simple tapping to the 190 beats per minute Spanish rhythm in 15/8 involving both hands and feet with additional moderate head banging. Naturally, the computers get a great kick out of taking as long as five minutes to compile the program even though the actual compilation takes them about 20 seconds.

But to everything there is an end. Around 6:00 in the evening most of the bugs have been relocated to the program modules belonging to the people who already left for the day, and the tired but happy programmer shuts down his machine with the sense of inexpressible relief. It is particularly pleasant to press power switch seconds before the computer is actually done shutting itself down. The day is done, everybody. SHANK IT UP!!!



VITAL MATTER
So, what's your priority?
out of a television commercial
.

The shrill ringing of the alarm slices the dream into pieces. The gray reality rudely breaks into the consciousness. Confused by the awakening, I lie with closed eyes for some time trying to understand where I am. Gradually, the thoughts in the disturbed mind begin to get in the order. Then one of them surges upfront.
Chemistry final. Today at 8!
I jump off the bed. A fearful look at the clock. It's 7 o'clock, so I have one hour. Twenty minutes to shower and have breakfast, thirty minutes to get to college, and ten more to go over the notes. This is the last chance to pass this course. I can't afford missing it.
The warm water dissolves the remainder of sleepiness. Coming out of the bathroom I notice the grayness of the morning and the brick wall of heavy clouds. The forecast has been correct. It's definitely will be raining today and all day tomorrow. No weekend trips with Jane. But never mind that, there is no time for sentiments before the exam, especially the one as important as this one. If I miss it, there will be no make-up. An automatic failure. What kind of an idiot came up with this academic
policy? Whoever he is, this guy is running a major risk of being killed by the students.
Nervous before the exam and exhausted by the studying all day before, I almost don't eat and force the cold solution of cereal and milk into my mouth. I should not feel hunger before the exam. I can't make any mistakes now that everything depends on it.
A quick look at the watch. 7:21. Shoot, already behind the schedule. I run out of the apartment. No time to wait for the elevator, and I run down the stairs, a thought dangling in the back of my mind: it's a good thing that I live on the third floor. It already starts drizzling. I come to my car and as I approach it, the feelings inside of me gradually shift from confusion to disbelief to anger. Why did it have to happen today?! The front tire is completely flat. Probably run over the nail and didn't notice. Or the children let the air out. Whatever the reason is, I have to change it.
I've GOT to make it in time for the Chemistry final. They accept no excuses.
I take the spare tire and the tools out of the trunk. Where is the jack? In frenzy, I search the trunk. The jack is not there. Then I remember that I had to use it last week in my appartment and forgot to bring it back. I run for it.
I can feel the heart pumping the blood into the arteries and lungs as I finally get upstairs. Where did I leave the jack? I finally find it and run back downstairs, a thought dangling in the back of my mind: next year I should look for the apartment on the first floor. Failing Chemistry means GPA below 3.0 and losing half of the scholarships. I must pass it.
It's already raining outside. The lead bullets of rain pound heavily against the shield of the earth. I lift the car and feverishly start unbolting the tire. One down, three to go; two down, two to go; three down, one to go; done. I look at the watch. It's 7:29. Thank Heaven, there will be no traffic jams on the way. Having a college outside the city is not a bad thing sometimes. One minute to put back the spare tire and screw the bolts, throw the old tire and the jack in the trunk and start the car. It's 7:32 already and obviously there will be no final review. I'll be lucky to make it on time.
I must be on time. Steve said the last year exam was very long. There will be not a single spare minute.
The tires scream like crazy as my "Mazda" flies out on the street. Five blocks till exit onto highway. It's seems like more like eternity, as I wait at four out of five traffic lights. Then finally I turn onto the ramp. I-75 to Route 211 to Lincoln Ave. Thirty minutes normally, and twenty today. You can get anywhere in fifteen minutes if you go fast enough. Who said that? I wish he was right. The highway is almost empty, just as I expected. The opposite lane is jammed with cars trying to get in the city.I look at the watch again.
7:38.
If I fail this exam, I'm dead. No chance of collecting $5,000 over summer.
I press the pedal farther and farther. The speedometer lingers over the number 65 then decisively crosses it. Changing lanes, maneuvering between the occasional cars I glance on the speedometer and see it show 95 mph. 7:45.
The asphalt of the highway flies under the wheels of the car with insane speed. I'm still not halfway through. I push the pedal even farther, hoping there are no police cars ahead. I'm doing 105 now, and it's starts raining even harder now. The voice of reason inside tells me to slow down but I can't do it. I can feel the second hand on my watch circling around and around in a never-ending cycle. Second after second, tic toc, tic toc, less and less time till 8 o'clock. And I'm speeding forward in desperation as if hoping to slow down time by going faster.
7:52.
Suddenly I feel the car swerve to the right and I hear a loud bang as if the big air balloon has been popped. The spare tire blew up. Or one of the three others. I sharply turn to the left trying to regain control but I'm going too fast and the rain worsens the situation. Panicking, Ibrake sharply forgetting all the rules I've been taught. The car begins skidding all over the road, then turns 180 degrees, and I see something that no driver would want to see: a front view of the road traveled seconds ago. But the car goes on skidding and circling, now it's completely out of my control. In shock I keep pressing the brakes harder and harder as the spinning road flashes in front of my eyes. All of a sudden, I see the wall in front of me, and I realize that it's the wall that bounds the right shoulder of the highway. I turn the wheel to avoid smashing headlong but it does not work. The expression "helpless as a kitten" unexpectedly pops into my head as I see the concrete blocks advance on me as if in slow motion. The flat surface of the car front is suddenly broken into hills and valleys, and I hear the ugly and violent screech of metal on concrete as the car smashes into the wall. I fly off the seat and smash headfirst into the windshield as the steering wheel crushes deep into
my chest and I hear the sound of the broken ribs. In the fadingconsciousness drifts one thought:
I MUST make it to the Chemistry exam. It's a matter of life and death.



ONCE UPON A MIDNIGHT DREARY

The full moon shone in the open window of the old castle. The
deathly-pale light flooded the dusty little room, making everything in it
seem unreal, as if taken from a gothic painting or an episode of X-Files.
Everything was quiet, very quiet, too quiet.
Count Dracula was sitting in the chair watching his favorite TV
program "ER: the Bloodiest Episodes." The dim light of the television set
shimmered from his shining bald head and threw reflections on the ceiling.
Count Dracula The Twenty-Second in his middle age represented a
pitiful sight comparing to his ancestors. He was short, nearsighted, and
absolutely non-romantic. He was also quite cowardly and preferred to buy
concentrated low-cholesterol blood in the pharmacy-the count was watching
his health-rather than to crawl in the windows of the nearby houses sucking
someone's junk-food-filled blood saturated with cholesterol.
The terrifying roar of the crowd from the nearby soccer stadium
reached the count's ears. Transylvania Vampires just scored the third goal
into the net of the visitor team Lochness Monsters.
The count approached the window and angrily shut it up.
"Empty-headed youth!" he exclaimed with annoyance.
Silence filled the old castle. It crept from closets, beds, and
especially from the basement, which has not been cleaned ever since the
count's wife dumped him for Frankenstein. The count shuddered; he did not
like the sound of silence. The voice of Art Garfunkel drove him crazy.
And then it came back. Two weeks passed and it happened again-the
scratching, rapping sound that scared him out of his wits last time. The
count was so afraid that he actually ran out of the castle much to the
surprise of neighbors who haven't seen a sight of him since the time two
years ago when he had to call the plumber to get his pet bat out of the
toilet. But that was a fortnight ago and since then the count have read
the book How to Be a Manly Vampire. Now he was filled with courage (kind
of) and intended to find out the source of the sound, whatever it would
take, as long as it didn't hurt.
He moved toward the source of the sound but then changed his mind
and swiftly marched to the refrigerator. He took out a bottle and sipped
half a pint of the alcoholized blood.
"For courage," he explained to himself.
Then he listened again. The sound was coming from the room in the
attic. The count took the chair on which he was sitting and walked toward
the stairs. He ascended up the down staircase and entered the suspicious
room.
The count turned the light on and there it was-the big bump on the
carpet. Something was under it, and it was this something which was
scratching and rapping. Count raised the heavy old-fashioned chair high
above his head and tumbled it upon the bump.
He missed.
After a minute of jumping on one foot and holding the other one,
trying to calm down the searing pain in the toes, he raised the chair again
but suddenly stopped.
"I have nothing to fear, but fear itself," he thought and kind of
liked the phrase. "Too bad no one will hear it. What an artist dies with
me!"
Then he took out a big knife from the drawer. He cut the carpet
around the bump. Proudly he noted that he didn't cut himself more than
three times, already a record for him. With the trembling hand he drew
open the cut circle of carpet and almost fainting saw a giant cross-eyed
flea with a started bottle of alcoholized blood in its hand. The flea
arrogantly looked at the count.
"Yo-o, g-got milk?" it asked with visible difficulty; and that was
the last thing that Count Dracula XXII saw before he hit the floor.
THE END
EPILOGUE
Dracula has gone mad. He sits in the Hospital of the University of
Transylvania, does not answer any questions, and mumbles very rapidly:
"flea giant flea monster flea flea flea flea red hot chili peppers red hot
chili peppers red hot chili peppers": At times he becomes very violent,
especially when shown dairy products. The doctors appear very puzzled.



WELCOME TO HELL.

You spent your whole life to get here.
Well, it's a dream come true.
This is what you lived for and now you will finally get some rest.
This is all you will do from now on. Rest.
Isn't it what you always wanted?

Step into your room.
In this little cell you will spend the rest of eternity.
No light, no speech, no sleep,
Not a single sound scattering the stillness of space.
It's just you and your thoughts.
Do you have a lot on your mind?

You don't look too happy
All of your life you wanted God to leave you alone.
Isn't it sad how wishes can come true sometime?
You are all alone now.
Didn't you always want to be alone?

Every word that you'll scream into the empty silence will come back to you
And every tear that you'll cry will not disappear from your face
And if you want to complain there'll be no one to blame but yourself
And whatever you say, there will be only one answer:
"It was all you own fault."