This short story was about an elaborate torture device that carved an inscription of your penalty into your back while slowly letting you die over the course of twelve hours. An officer spends the first 70% of the story explaining to an explorer the intricacies of how the device was built and the various roles of all of the parts of the device: the bed, the designer, and the harrow. Body of the condemned is tied down to the bed which raises up and down. The harrow is a series of needles that are programmed by the Designer which is usually an inscription of the condemned’s sentence, in this case it was “Be Just”. This is then carved into their back over the course of twelve hours, the needles going deeper and deeper with each pass. The catch is that, this intricate device was popular a long, long time ago and was no longer supported by the people, save this one officer. Crowds used to show up for the executions but since the death of it’s inventor, no one shows up. The officer begs the explorer to speak to the new Commander about the benefits of this device and the explorer refuses. Realizing that the officer has lost much of his influence he stops the machine and frees the condemned man. He then puts himself into the device realizing that it will likely be its last run. Instead of the elaborate, and somewhat spiritual death (according to the officer), the machine malfunctions and brutally stabs him until he dies within minutes.
There are definitely sentiments of semi-religious insanity littered throughout this story. He was unwilling to change his ways, sticking to the old methods, despite the culture having moved on from the barbaric practices of the old days. You could tell the officer was holding onto this practice as his only measure of power, and when he realized he no longer had any power or influence he killed himself. Definitely an engaging story, a little longer than many of the other short stories I’ve read (40 pages) but well worth the read.
About the Author Franz Kafka:
Franz Kafka was an influential German-language author of novels and short stories. Contemporary critics and academics, including Vladimir Nabokov, regard Kafka as one of the best writers of the 20th century. The term “Kafkaesque” has become part of the English language. Kafka was born to middle class, German-speaking, Jewish parents, in Prague, Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The house in which he was born, on the Old Town Square next to Prague’s Church of St Nicholas, now contains a permanent exhibition devoted to the author. Most of Kafka’s writing, including the large body of his unfinished work, was published posthumously. (Courtesy of Amazon.com)
To see more of the books I’ve read and reviewed, check out my virtual bookshelf on Shelfari.com:
- Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield