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Short Stories

"In the Ruins" Actual Text


Introductory Text by Judith Merril

I mentioned earlier the prevalence of war-theme stories: war-and-diplomacy-and-sovereignty stories, that is, as distinct from calamity stories. There were four at least besides the several included here that are worth special mention: Jesse Bier's "Father and Son" from a book full of remarkable stories, A Hole in the Lead Apron (Harcourt Brace & World); Joseph Green's "The Decision Makers" (Galaxy); Mack Reynolds' "Time af War" (If); and William Sambrot's "Substance of Martyrs" (Rogue).

Meanwhile, back in the laboratory, the world of science has not forgotten about war problems either. One of the news items emanating from the annual meeting of Ihe American Association for the Advancement of Science in Berkeley last year concerned investigations into "a strange drug" which might prevent the lethal effects of shock. What made me notice the piece particularly was the headline: PRE-COMBAT INJECTIONS MAY BAR FATAL SHOCK. Sort of made me wonder whether it was the boys in the bock room at the newspaper, or at the lab, who forgot that civilians die of shock too.

What makes me mention it now is Roald Dahl's story. This one is a calamity story, and if you happen to have any adrenochrome semicarbazone around, I suggest you take a pre-reading injection.


IN THE RUINS
ROALD DAHL

Somewhere among the bricks and stones, I came across a man sitting on the ground in his underpants, sawing off his left leg. There was a black bag beside him, and the bag was open, and I could see a hypodermic needle lying there among all the rest of the stuff.

"Do you want some?" he asked, looking up.

"Yes, please," I said. I was going crazy with hunger.

"I don't mind giving you a bit so long as you will promise to produce the next meal. I am quite uncontaminated."

"All right," I said. "Yes."

"Caudal injection," he said. "Base of the spine. You don't feel a thing."

I found a few bits of wood, and I made a fire in the ruins, and started roasting a piece of the meat. The doctor sat on the ground doing things to the stump of his leg.

A child came up, a girl of about four years old. She had probably seen the smoke from the fire or smelled the smell of cooking, I don't know which. She was very unsteady on her feet.

"Do you want some, too?" the doctor asked.

She nodded.

"You'll have to pay it back later," the doctor said.

The child stood there looking at the piece of meat that I was holding over the fire on the end of a bent curtain rod.

"You know something," the doctor said, "with all three of us here, we ought to be able to survive for quite a long time."

"I want my mummy," the child said, starting to cry.

"Sit down," the doctor told her. "I'll take care of you."

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