Smudge

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History is occupied with an excess of unintended consequences. Who could have foreseen the atom bomb would result in perpetual fear for our lives as a consequence of winning a war? The same pertains to one Berndt Mitterand, an inventor who strove to create a means of eliminating disagreeable matter. Berndt won his quest, but at what price?

Berndt was the progeny of a pretty young woman living in the town of Chauny, between Brussels and Paris. Raped by a German soldier, she subsequently gave birth to a son named Pierre. Pierre married, and they had a son who he named Berndt, in remembrance of his grandmother’s coupling with a Kraut.

Berndt became a scientific bookworm at an early age. He was born with superior intelligence as well as a questioning, creative mind. He put those powers to use in seeking a method to eradicate unpleasant matter. It wasn’t until he received his doctorate in molecular physics that he had sufficient understanding of the micro-world to pursue his objective. It was then that Berndt emigrated to the United States with a firm job offer presented by Dow Chemical.

The breakthrough he sought came to Berndt in the middle of one night. Waking in a sweat, his mind was a jumble of thoughts. He marveled at the symmetry of matter, the truth of quantum mechanics, of God’s wonderful creation. He saw clouds of particles, some coming together in the proper alignment of weak and strong nuclear forces, but some pulling apart, separating from the pack. It was these that interested Berndt the most. And when he was able to determine just how they managed to free themselves from the crowd, he saw the solution he had been seeking.

Berndt jumped from his bed and rushed to his garage. It was there, for four days with no sleep that Berndt assembled his first Molecular Bilateral Dissembler. Anxious to test the thing, he opened the garage door to starlight, confronted his neighbor’s rat-dog, an unpleasant yapping annoyance, pointed his machine at the offensive animal and pressed the button to emit a ray. The dog disappeared. In the dark, he was unable to detect the smudge that replaced it, a little hole in the landscape that permitted nothing to exist within. Berndt slept for the next twenty-four hours.

When Berndt woke, he ate a large breakfast. He mused over his coffee. He showered, shaved and took an aspirin to relieve a lingering headache caused by too much sleep. As he accomplished these mundane tasks, his brain was hard at work, now seeking a solution to a dilemma. Who should he contact regarding his invention? He realized the national security implications of his machine and knew that the government would require exclusive possession.

Berndt Mitterand thus contacted the Department of Defense and after a numberless succession of transfers was finally able to speak with someone who could understand his invention and its possible applications. After a tedious interlude a Colonel Moriarty, himself a scientist, spoke the word, ‘Ah.’ It was enough, and Berndt was informed to stay where he was, someone would be visiting him. When? “Soon,” was the reply.

Shortly, Berndt and his invention were whisked from his home in a flurry of activity which startled and troubled him. He was moved to another city, with another scientist as his keeper, and installed in a house distanced from any other structure, surrounded by open fields and boxed in by tall fir trees. He and the scientist were visited by a bevy of generals and colonels, who demanded a demonstration. Berndt obliged by pointing his ray at a distant tree and pushed the button. The tree disappeared, but Berndt at once recognized the smudge which replaced it, while the military brass exulted over the show of force. They laughed and slapped each other on the back, as if it was they, not him, who had created this destructive machine. But the scientist knew. He glanced at Berndt with a frown as together they silently acknowledged the problem of the smudge.

A squad of soldiers kept an around-the-clock vigil on him. The generals and colonels had departed, together with the machine and the scientist who had quizzed Berndt on the presence of the smudge, to which Berndt could not supply an answer.

All Berndt had to amuse himself with was the television, and it was on that device that he learned that his machine had been applied on a field of battle. The world was agog with wonder at this deadly new war machine as it became aware of the consequences of its use that included an increasing amount of smudges on the world landscape.

As one might expect, venality won the day and the invention soon became the property of the enemy, who used it indiscriminately in retaliation for its own losses. The smudges became widespread, resulting in an increasingly smaller world to accommodate the hordes of people occupying earth. Riots ensued. Production diminished and foodstuffs became a rarity. People fought over the scraps of civilization that remained, whether they be foodstuffs, or shelter or safety. Thus, the essentials of life were eroded in a spiral of devastation that was without pause, much as a colony of bacteria cells will eventually kill itself off in its own wastes and lack of sustenance. The squad of overseers left, their own survival of greater importance.

Berndt sat alone on the front porch. He rocked back and forth, looking at a sky and a landscape forever marred by the jolting reality of nothingness. Eventually, Berndt returned to the house, went directly to the bathroom and extracted a large vial of sleeping pills. He swallowed the entire bottle.

Berndt Mitterand, who had achieved what he had sought and received as reward the loss of his freedom and the destruction of the world, became sleepy. His last mumbled words was the overused, quite banal phrase, “If I’d only known.”

About the Author: 
Jon is a former insurance executive denied the ability to engage in his passion of writing until his retirement. Eleven novels and numerous short stories, the result of the plug being pulled, ensued. Jon lives with his wife in Southern California.