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unpublished fiction by by Harry Willson
DUNG-FREE DIET and Similar Investigations
Posted Excerpts:   A New Word Defined   The Prowlers' Newsletter

Synopsis:  This collection of 35 short stories deals with the individual's struggle to preserve personal integrity in a world full of insidious pressures. In the early stages parents and siblings try to disallow the naive attempt to adhere to a strictly dung-free diet. Spouses, offspring, burglars, police and the law, other people's dogs, telemarketers and worse things later hinder on all sides. The title phrase is meant figuratively, mostly, until near the end of the collection.

A NEW WORD DEFINED

"Hello. My name is Sharon, with the personnel department of Ideas Industries. I'd like to speak with Mr. Frank Shaker."

"Speaking."

"I'm calling with reference to your application for employment, Mr. Shaker. The personal history section."

"Yes."

"Perhaps you could clarify a couple of things for me. I realize you don't have to divulge certain kinds of information, and every now and then some — uh, smarty — does what you did."

"What did I do?"

"Answered those questions — 'Sex, yes. Religion, no.'"

"Oh, yes. That."

"But I'm calling about a word you used in the list of former positions held."

"I see."

"It says here you've been a worm rancher, a tomato grower, a corn picker, a school teacher, a pencil pusher, a paper sorter, a necktie tester, a wine taster, and a dream maker."

"Yes. Is there some problem?"

"Then at the end of the list you write, 'I am now an ex-coprophage.' Did I pronounce that right?"

"Yes. Or almost."

"What does that mean? I looked it up and it isn't in my dictionary."

"You must have one of those cheap eighty-nine cent dictionaries."

"Actually, it cost me two-fifty. But it doesn't have 'ex-coprophage' in it. Or 'coprophage' either."

"Cheap dictionary. It's a good word, even if I made up the 'ex-' part. But that's obvious. It means that I am no longer a coprophage."

"But what is that?"

"Greek roots. Very clear. You sure you want to bother with this?"

"Oh, yes. I called because I want to know, and besides, Idea Industries may be interested in you, Mr. Shaker. Can you explain it to me?"

"Very well. 'Copros' is a Greek word meaning 'dung.' For example, coprolite is a mineral, famous among paleontologists. Petrified dinosaur dung."

"Dung."

"And 'phagein' is the Greek verb, 'to eat.' As in 'anthropophagi,' Shakespeare's word for 'cannibals,' — 'man-eaters.'"

"So —"

"So coprophagia is the practice of eating dung. Some beetles do it. A coprophage is a dung-eater. I am an ex-coprophage."

"Oh."

"I used to eat it. Almost all children are forced to eat large quantities of it. Many spouses feed it to each other. My wife and I do not. Many adults eat it for a living. I used to, but now I have stopped. I recognize the smell from a distance and am repelled by it."

"I see."

"Some people, maybe most people, now and then, eat some. For them it is better, they think, than making a fuss. But I find that I have already had all I can stomach, and now never any more eat any. I have done with it. No more. Any future employer of mine may as well know it from the start."

"Know what?"

"I eat none. Ever. From nobody. Not any. Not from parents, or siblings, or spouses, or offspring, or distant relatives, or neighbors, or punks, or bureaucrats, or bosses. Nobody. Don't expect it. It won't happen."

"Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Shaker. You've been very helpful. Uh, don't call us. We'll call you.

" "Not from —

CLICK!

"— Nobody. Nohow. Never."

Dial tone...

* * *

THE PROWLERS' NEWSLETTER

"Police Department."

"Do you have a department that gives advice to persons who have been robbed?"

"This is Detective Jones."

"Perhaps I need legal advice."

"Tell me what happened."

"Last night someone opened my latched gate, stole a couple of bucketfuls from one of my worm beds and left the gate open."

"You're calling to report a robbery. What was the value of the stolen property?"

"Anything from ten to thirty dollars, depending. But I'm calling about future robbery attempts."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, when I catch this person, may I compost directly, or do I have to turn the cadaver over to you?"

"That's really not funny, Sir..."

* * *

"If you move quickly, I'll blow your head right off. Please do not make the mistake of thinking I don't mean it."

"Oh, my God."

"Yes. So listen carefully. Take your hand off that pitchfork. Let go of that bucket. Straighten up slowly. Any rapid movement will be fatal."

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to tell you carefully what to do. Do not delay in obeying me immediately."

"Oh, my God."

"Yes. You do seem to understand that part. Remove your shirt. Now your undershirt."

"Do you want my clothes?"

"I'll dispose of them. Remove your pants."

"What?"

"Do not delay. Your pants. Now your underdrawers. You may keep your shoes." Louder. "Honey, call the Police and tell them there's a man running around in the neighborhood with no clothes on. Act upset."

"What are you doing?"

"I'm standing here aiming my 16-gauge shotgun at your formerly private parts."

"Let me put my clothes back on."

"Not under any circumstances."

"Frank, Honey, they say they'll send a car right over. They seemed very concerned."

"Oh, my God."

"Yes. Naked you came into this world. If you're on your way out, you're now properly dressed."

"I'm to go?"

"You'll now go out that gate and proceed slowly down the street. Do not return."

"Oh, my God..."

"That part is correct."

* * *

"Good evening, Officer."

"Do you know this man?"

"I do not."

"He says you held a gun on him and made him take off his clothes."

"Really? I wonder why he'd say that?"

"Do you deny it?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"I mean, are you saying that his story isn't true?"

"Well, who are you going to believe? A sovereign citizen who stays home evenings minding his own business after working hard all day, or a person who romps around outdoors in the dark with no clothes on?"

"Did you call in the complaint of a man in the neighborhood with no clothes on?"

"I did. That is, my wife did."

"Where did you see him?"

"Walking down the street, right over there."

"Where were you?"

"Standing among the worm beds."

"At night."

"The dog barked. I went to check..."

* * *

"What are you reading, Sweetheart?"

"A newspaper I found in a parking lot downtown. Very strange. It's called THE PROWLERS' NEWSLETTER. Listen to this. 'This paper is dedicated to making the world safe for theft.'" "Frank, that's silly."

"I used to think so, too. But we've had a car stolen. The garden's been broken into and vandalized several times. Those kids broke in here and stole your jewelry box. The boys have had three two hundred dollar bicycles stolen — it's a major industry over at the University. They've stolen stuff right out of your handbag — stamps one time and the checkbook another. We've had windows and doors jimmied and broken. We upgrade the TV every little while, because they've taken the one we had. They've destroyed the bars on the windows which make our home a prison. The whole neighborhood lives in terror. No, I don't think it's silly."

"That isn't. But they don't have a newsletter."

"Well, this thing claims to be it. Listen to this. 'Report from the Capitol. Our lobbyists report continued success in changing the laws to make this country a safe place for thieves and prowlers to pursue their chosen professions unmolested. Booby traps set by homeowners which could inflict injury on persons breaking and entering have been illegal for some time. That law has been successfully tested in court several times recently. The shooting of trespassers is now illegal in every state. Caution is still advised in Texas and New Mexico, however. Many homeowners are still not convinced that the law actually states what it now does, and may shoot anyway. They will regret it, when our legal department is through with them, but meanwhile such law breakers constitute a clear and present menace to trespassers. We're working on it.'"

"Well, I declare."

"'It has recently been made illegal to install a Mexican wall around one's private property.'"

"What's a Mexican wall?"

"Let me read it. 'A wall of block or adobe may not have broken glass cemented along the top of it. Our lobbyists succeeded in demonstrating the obvious danger to the health and well-being of persons trying to enter the property by climbing the wall.'"

"Honey, I think it's all a joke."

"I wonder. I've been suspecting that a good bit of this was the case, but I've never seen it in print before."

"The police should tend to that kind of thing."

"You know very well that that isn't happening. Here's another section. 'Diversionary tactics. ' Our lobbyists and legislators have succeeded in keeping the public attention focused on police activities that allow our members the greatest freedom of movement and activity. The police will be busy with the following questions: "Where are people parked? Who is driving too fast on the open highway? Who is crossing the intersections where the traffic signal is not functioning? What illegal substance is making those people mellow?"

"Here's another part. 'Public Relations Success.' Amalgamated Prowlers and Pilferers has succeeded in getting TV time, with police co-operation, for its message campaign encouraging victims not to resist hold-ups, muggings, purse-snatchings, burglaries and other activities of our organization. The campaign appealed to the fears of listeners. The motto of the campaign was, 'Do you want a robbery to turn into a fight for life?'"

"I can't believe the police aren't interested in this."

"They weren't interested in our problems, when we reported them. Not beyond record-keeping."

"You're right, Frank."

"Check this. 'Juvenile Section. There has been some talk of disbanding this department of our organization, since all that could possibly be accomplished has been done. When police suspect that theft or breaking and entering have been perpetrated by juveniles, they do not complete the investigation.'"

"That is what they told me, Frank. 'If it was kids, there's nothing we can do.'"

"'Watch for the special in our next issue on theft from and by the purchasing departments of large corporations and the government itself.' I'll bet. Ha! Hear this. 'Peeping Tom's Guided Tour. The lady at 429 Maple consistently takes her clothes off with the light on and the drapes open. Mosey by after dark and take a peek for yourself.'"

"Frank, that's terrible!"

"'The following former victims are taking Karate lessons. Caution is advised.' List of names. 'The following former victims have purchased firearms and made public statements to the effect that they are ready to use them.' More names. 'The following are developing occult powers.' More names. Ha! They have my name listed here!"

"Well, Frank, you have been studying it for some time."

"But how do they know? And what do they care? Look at this. 'The following are your best fences.' List of names."

"Now surely the police would be interested in that."

"Oh, they know those names already. 'Members are warned to use caution. It is safer than ever before, legally, to practice our profession. But a dangerous change of mood can be detected on the part of the general public, especially among surviving victims. It means that we must still be vigilant...'"

Frank shook the paper. "Support thieves' and trespassers' rights! Eliminate honest householders!"

* * *
© 2000, Harry Willson

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