It was a dark and stormy night. Professor Denys Glenlorn was sitting at his desk, attempting to calculate how much weight he could lift if he were equipped with a mechanized exoskelton.
“Someone’s at the door,” called Mrs. Glenlorn.
The Professor hoisted himself to his feet. “That’ll be Major Bloodloss from next door. He said he had something he wanted to show me.”
He pressed the automatic door-opener, and picked up his Heckler & Koch HK416 hopefully, in case he should prove to be mistaken about the bona fides of his visitor.
Moments later, Major Bloodloss strode in. He glanced at the Professor’s gun and laughed. “Better luck next time,” he said.
The Major took a seat by the fire, and grabbed greedily at the tumbler of whiskey proffered by Mrs. Glenlorn. Five glasses later, he was talking expansively about his role in the liberation of Grenada, and the dangers of allowing menstruating women to abide in foxholes, and the queer customs that prevail in foreign lands.
"That's all very interesting," said the Professor. "And yet, I feel that in some ways, I’ve led a more exciting life than you, thanks to the Internet. For instance, you can only fight in one war at a time. But I can fight in as many browser windows as I can open.”
“Jesus fucking Christ,” the old soldier muttered. “What a hopelessly deluded little piss-ant you are.”
The Professor picked up an electrified ear-trumpet devised for him by Ray Kurzweil, and placed the narrow end into his ear canal; a light at the other end pulsed in response to the rhythms of human speech, as though it were animated by some otherworldly intelligence. “Pardon me?”
“Nothing,” said the Major.
“What was that you were telling me the other day about a monkey's paw, or something?"
The Major fumbled in his pocket, and pulled out a hideous, wizened little paw with matted tufts of pale hair around its wrist. “Bought it in France at a street market. The fellow said it’d grant its owner three wishes.”
The Professor snorted. “That’s socialism for you.”
“That’s what I thought, too. But it works. All you have to do is hold it aloft in your right hand, and say out loud what you want.”
The Professor took the paw and looked at it thoughtfully. “Can I try it?”
“I wouldn’t if I were you,” said the Major.
Professor Glenlorn held the paw aloft and said, “I want the president to invade and occupy Iraq.”
Nothing happened. For a moment, the Professor looked as though he might burst into tears. The Major gestured towards the television. The Professor turned it on, and was astonished to behold many interesting scenes of calamity and bloodshed. Iraqis were being beaten, sexually tortured, and even murdered. Car bombs were exploding in markets and outside mosques. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were dead, as were thousands of American soldiers. The cost of the war was skyrocketing, and wounded Americans – many of whom had been redeployed to Iraq multiple times - were being neglected in filthy hospitals.
“It worked!” he shrieked. "This is marvelous!"
“Don’t you see?” cried the Major. “You got your wish, but it brought nothing but disaster!”
“I suppose you’d like Saddam back, eh?” sneered the Professor. “Defeatism like yours can’t be tolerated in a time of war.” He raised the paw again and said, “I want George W. Bush to use every available tool in the fight against Islamofascism.”
No sooner had he pronounced these words than the Major vanished, and the war coverage was replaced by a rerun of Green Acres. The Professor was so exceedingly pleased by this further demonstration of the paw’s efficacy that several moments passed before he comprehended that the walls of his house – and of every other house on the street – were now made of transparent plastic. There was an itching sensation in his left wrist; he glanced down, and his acute mind instantly understood that he’d been implanted with some sort of RFID tracking device.
“One step nearer to our transhuman future!” he ejaculated. “The paw works perfectly. There's no downside at all, that I can see.”
He toyed with it pensively. “I’ve only got one wish left. I’ll have to make it a good one.”
“You’ve got mail,” his computer said. “Thanks,” replied the Professor, who was endeavoring to meet the changing demands of etiquette in an age of intelligent machines.
He walked over to his desk, and read with considerable interest the e-mail that had just been delivered.
He glanced slyly at his wife, who was slumped in the corner, crying softly. He raised the paw and whispered, “I want to get up and stay up. All night, every night.”
And so he did, until the day he died. For the monkey’s paw had given him a conscience.