Exquisite Corpse - Issue 3
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Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates
by Tom Robbins


Switters had once read somewhere that according to data accumulated from the black-box flight recorders of crashed aircraft, the last words spoken by pilots, upon realization that they were doomed, were most often, "Oh shit!"

What did it say about human frailty, about the transparent peel of civilization, about the state of evolution, about the dominion of body over mind, when, at the moment of their imminent death, modern, educated, affluent men were moved to an evocation of excrement? That as the axe abruptly fell on their mortal lives, technologically sophisticated commanders of multimillion-dollar flying machines usually uttered no proclamation of sacred, familial or romantic love; no patriotic sentiment, no cry for forgiveness, no expression of gratitude or regret, but rather, a scatological oath?

Quite likely, it said very little. Almost certainly, the word "shit" was issued without the slightest conscious regard for its literal meaning. On an unconscious level, the oath might be significant, but one would have to be a fairly fanatical Freudian to propose that it indicated the persistent domination of an infantile fixation on feces.

In any event, though he might imagine Bobb Case uttering something of the sort (Bobby was a Texan, after all, and had cut his teeth on dung), Switters -- mildly appalled by the information -- vowed that no such phrase would mark his final exit. "Oh shit" lacked grace, lacked class, lacked charm, lacked imagination, lacked any hint of enlightenment. It was simply vulgar, simply crude, and while Switters could appreciate profanity's occasional value as verbal punctuation, as a highly effective vehicle for emphasis, he was scornful when louts swore as a substitute for vocabulary, youths as a substitute for rebellion, stand-up comics as a substitute for wit.

When his end came, Switters had always trusted that he would improvise something original if not profound; something appropriate to the specific situation, which was to say, something dramatically correct. If nothing else, should time be short and inspiration shorter, he would, he had vowed, bellow WAHOO! -- one final, culminating, roller-coaster-rider whoop of defiant exhilaration.

A noble ambition, perhaps. Yet when the spook viper bit, when the internal fireball exploded, when he lost contact with the earth and went spiraling off into an electrified darkness, he did no bellow "wahoo," let alone anything remotely resembling famous last words. The only sound, in fact, to escape through the bubbles of blood that were forming on his lips, was a kind of wavery squeak, as if Minnie Mouse had glanced at her boudoir window and seen the Hillside Strangler there.

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