The Cafe Irreal: International Imagination

Issue Thirteen

Alice Whittenburg
G.S. Evans

This issue went online
February 1, 2005

copyright 2005 The Cafe Irreal
all rights reserved

Čeština Translations into Czech


irreal (re)view #4

by Blumfeld 2001

Termix was a lab rat residing in the laboratory of one Dr. Udo Nussbaum, who was a vivisector. So prolific had Doctor Nussbaum been in his field--he had experimented on more than 25,000 rats so far in his career--that his students and coworkers had nicknamed him the Rat Man. So how was it that this one rat, Termix, managed to emerge from this great crowd to become the Great Vivisector's personal favorite? Such that he even spent a weekend with the doctor's charming family?

Because, to put it simply, he had proven to be a very resilient rat.

When the doctor had brought Termix home that weekend he'd put the guest of honor, secure in his cage, in the dining room under a rubber plant. This gave Termix a view of the whole family as they lunched. After they'd finished with lunch they carried him onto the terrace, where he had a magnificent view of the garden community of MegaBox Gross KotzenStadt. In addition, he also had the chance to get to know up close the doctor's son, who put his face up right next to the cage and asked his father some questions, such as: "Will he die?" "Will he harm me?" But then his mother called out, "Make sure you stay far enough away from that cage," before turning to her husband. "Udo, dear, look at how that rat is baring his teeth at our boy."

"Don't worry, it doesn't mean anything," Nussbaum reassured her. "We had to sever his trigeminal nerve for an experiment, so his lower jaw is always drooping down like that. It only looks like he's about to bite."

Later, Doctor Nussbaum and Mrs. Nussbaum were watching the talk show of Pamela Degrado. "He couldn't be aggressive, Lola; just to be sure, I injected him with benzodiazepam." Little Udo wasn't watching the program; he was playing in his room with his teddy bear, injecting it with a refill cartridge of ink.

Termix, meanwhile, wasn't watching the television but rather himself--looking at his reflection in his water dish. He wasn't a pretty sight. Up on the top of his skull they'd removed some bone and inserted a transparent Plexiglas-covering in its place. The little Nussbaum thought this was neat. "What's inside of here, Daddy?" he'd asked. "A brain," said Nussbaum while he used a toothpick to get a small bit of beef out from between his teeth.

Termix leaned his head forward to look at the spiral pattern of his cerebral cortex. Who was he really? He wondered. This was a question that he often asked himself, and one that had no easy answer. Just recently, for example, he had been put through an induced masculinization--supplied with dimetylbezantracen, injections of testosterone, implants of beef hormones, and implanted with some of the genitalia that Nussbaum had castrated from other rats in the course of his work--and had been transformed into a male rat. Logically, that could only mean that he'd been a female rat before that.

Though Termix might well have been expected from this to gain unique transsexual experiences, in reality he'd never been able to take advantage of it. From the very beginning he'd been classified as purely an experimental animal, with no provision being made for the possibility of his breeding. In this sense it wasn't difficult for him to answer the question as to who he was, or what his destiny was to be. His whole family--including all of his sisters and brothers along with hundreds of other specimens--had been brought to Nussbaum's institute in a truck owned and operated by the company ReSearch Animals. And, so long as everything went according to the plan worked out by the Great Vivisector himself, in the end a latex-gloved hand would raise Termix above the altar of science before casually tossing him into the plastic trash bag that lies alongside it.

If Termix could have seen his backside, he wouldn't have been able to deny that it also wasn't a pretty sight: first, his back had been shaved and an identification number branded onto it; then he'd undergone a Draize skin test, abrading the skin and leaving his spinal column partially exposed. Specifically, in this test an adhesive had been applied and the removed from his skin some twenty-five times, one time after the other, to remove the protective layers of the skin and expose the raw flesh underneath. Experimenters then thrust him into concentrations of soap DEO, cream and makeup DEO, lipstick and cosmetic powder DEO, sprays and nail polish DEO, massage oil and bathtub requisite DEO, deodorant and antiperspirant DEO. Indeed, if Termix were let loose in a drugstore DEO, he would probably feel like he was right at home, like he was in the laboratory of the Rat Man.

Nor did it help with Termix's bella forma that he only had one eye. This came about as a result of their testing the hair shampoo DEO on him (this was the kind of shampoo that Mrs. Nussbaum preferred to use). The experimenter dropped some drops of diaminosol and etylenoxid--ingredients found in the shampoo--into the conjunctiva and cornea of the eye. Shortly thereafter the eye became inflamed, infected, and in the end the synthetic material completely cauterized the eye. All that remained was an inflamed and pus-filled sac.

On the up side, however, in other tests done on him at that time he hadn't shown any reaction to the implantation of a silicon product (brand name SILICA) into him, nor to an extended stay in a container filled with cigarette smoke. Even the twenty-five doses of nicotine they'd injected directly into his brain hadn't been a problem for him.

Then he was transferred from cosmetics into the pharmaceutical division of the laboratory.

As far as he could remember, here they'd injected him with reserpin and amphetamine as part of a study that was trying to determine what influences the body's thermoregulation. After he'd been injected with the amphetamines he began to suffer serious psychological problems. He threw himself against the bars of the cage and attempted to commit suicide. The amphetamines also made him aggressive--in fact, they made him into a killer rat. Unfortunately, he hadn't been alone in the cage at this time and the next morning his cage mates--all five of them--were found dead and piled up in the corner of the cage, their bodies torn to shreds. In the opposite corner sat Termix. He was trembling. He'd been killing his fellow rats the whole night, but knew nothing of it. Depression quickly set in, and his experimenters didn't miss this opportunity to try a range of new anti-depressants on him, administering, in succession, fenelzin, tranilcipromin, isocarboxazid, maprolitin, and fluoxetin.

After this had run its course they next used him as a subject in their study of epilepsy. Since he didn't happen to suffer from the disorder naturally, they injected penicillin into his muscles to trigger an epileptic reaction. Termix, crazed with pain, began to thrash wildly about whereupon he was put into a box--one of whose walls was made from Plexiglas so the experimenter could observe Termix "in action." His convulsions were observed for five hours before they finally subsided. They were then re-stimulated by means of an electric discharge onto an electrode implanted in his cerebral cortex, which initiated a series of new and even more violent convulsions.

Having successfully induced acute epilepsy, they now turned their attention to chronic forms of the disorder. To do this they applied a small quantity of aluminum hydroxide into the brain, which is sufficient to induce chronic epilepsy. In fact, after thirty days it induces focal clonic activity (rhythmic muscle contractions) in all the limbs. After several weeks of such experiments it usually isn't necessary to put the experimental specimen to death, as they will die on their own. Termix, however, once again proved to be the exception. For some number of days, it was true, he lay on his back and writhed in pain. In the end, however, he somehow managed to pull through. It was at this time that he started to be called, with a discernable hint of fondness, the "iron rat" by none other than the Great Vivisector himself.

Having gained the favor of the lab's director, he was soon also privileged with the attentions of the rest of the laboratory. Thus, the pharmaceutical researchers tried, in succession, talimidol, clioquinol, fenylbutazon, streptomycin, chloramfenikol, aminofenazon, fenacetin, and metaqualon on this seemingly indestructible rat. The chemotherapy was so massive that his aggression and mania entirely disappeared. In their place he exhibited a great apathy, such that it seemed as if the old Termix had completely disappeared--he now seemed like a subject without an emotional center. Even his instincts forsook him. He no longer bit, fretted, scratched, or trembled.

He was, in other words, the ideal animal for experimental surgery and, in no time at all, he caught the eye of a surgeon and was transferred into his lab.

And here we find a reminder that Termix's life wasn't all work, work, work. Indeed, that he even experienced moments of great merriment and amusement. Shortly after he'd been transferred to the surgical lab, for example, Doctor Nussbaum brought him into a large lecture-room, full of students, to review some of the surgeries that had been conducted on him since his transfer. Taking the rat out of his cage and setting him on the table, the Great Vivisector began: "On this rat, of the type TM-X, we have done the following surgical experiments: a stereotaxis to remove tissue sample from his brain; a computer-assisted stereotactic procedure to do the same with the spine; surgical impairment of various parts of the brain to mimic clinical neurological disorders; the injection of molecular materials into the brain to examine rehabilitative treatments; the application of an electric current to the skull, resulting in coagulation of the brain parenchyma, epidural and subdural hematomas; the implantation into the brain of nickel-chrome multipolar subcortical electrodes and steel cortical electrodes to investigate the rhombencephalic phase of the sleep cycle; the removal of the rib cage for the purposes of doing elektromyograms on the tracheal muscles; some arterial by-passes; an anastomosis of the aorta, and so on."

Letting go of Termix, Nussbaum continued: "Then his skull cap was removed and an acrylic resin plastic roof was inserted in place of the bone, in which we left two openings through which it is possible to insert probes and electrodes whenever we need to. Through these openings it is also possible for us to analyze the consequences of the various brain treatments that the subject has undergone. It is also possible to utilize them to aspirate particular parts of the brain or destroy them with an electric current..."

The Great Vivisector was interrupted here by a great burst of laughter that resounded through the lecture hall. Termix had--and this is the merry and amusing part referred to earlier--taken advantage of his sudden freedom by making his way to the edge of the table. Due, however, to an earlier experiment (in which his spinal cord had been partially severed, causing his back legs to become completely paralyzed), he had to slide himself along the table in the manner of a walrus. This was, needless to say, a very comical sight and the burst of laughter that resulted so startled Termix that he fell off the table onto the floor. Panicked, he scrambled between the legs of the students, but didn't get far before one of the students scooped him up and carried him back to the Great Vivisector's table. "TM-X evidently responded to my mention of the application of an electrical current," Dr. Nussbaum said, showing his comical bent by deliberately misstating the probable cause of Termix's reaction. "However, to establish whether our little lab rat here understands what we're saying isn't a subject of our current research," he added ironically, causing the whole hall to once again break out in laughter.

The public became familiar with Nussbaum's opinions about vivesection in an interview he gave to the magazine Der Chirurg. There Dr. Nussbaum responded to some number of crude attacks by the so-called protectors of animals against his research institute. These critics, "loudmouths" as Dr. Nussbaum characterized them, asserted that Nussbaum's "living taxidermies" suffer for months, sometimes even years, without having the right to die. A student of his, you see, had said something about the experiments to the media and the Great Vivisector began to be burdened by the unscientific questions of the newsmen. "It's necessary to be cautious around anarchistic students and journalists," Nussbaum said, before proclaiming: "It's not possible to destroy science by throwing cobblestones, any more than ignorance can stop the forward march of progress."

Indeed, so strong was the Great Vivisector's belief in this forward march of progress that he was even known to occasionally free-lance on its behalf. In this regard he'd recently been attracted by a new discipline, genetics. The fact that genetics wasn't a part of the official research program of his laboratory wasn't about to stop him from trying a little bit of it on the side. So he injected a choice selection of fifty rats with cells from human embryos to try and create a hybrid creature that would appear to be a rat, but would have a human genome. "Why should we lag behind the Japanese, who are already developing their own breed of super rats?" Nussbaum asked his wife in bed. His hand was stroking her thigh, but he was actually visualizing an advertisement for his new breed of rat, especially the trademark that would go alongside of it.

The problem was that every one of these specially treated rats died soon after the injections began. All except for one: the TM-X with the number 13, whom we have come to know as Termix. This was then, beyond any doubt, a very special rat. But why? What made him so special? Nussbaum became increasingly preoccupied with these questions, often remaining after work, sitting before the cage of "number 13," trying to get to the root of it all. Every conceivable experiment had already been done on him, after all, and still there were no definitive answers. Nussbaum grew impatient and finally decided that maybe, just maybe, if he could actually talk to TMX-13 and ask him, in a reasonable and friendly way, what made him different, he might be able to get his answer. "You simply need more human genes, friend, then you could understand me," Nussbaum said. It was well past 5:00, and everybody else had gone home but him. "We must have you irradiated first thing tomorrow to speed up the mutations. You're my number one, baby, so you're just going to have to bite the bullet so we can get there faster. Do you understand?" If the doctor had been hoping for an answer, none was forthcoming. Termix continued to chew at the adhesive behind his ears and looked very much like, in fact, he didn't understand.

Nussbaum took off his lab coat and hanged it on a hanger. Then he walked out, closing the security door behind him. Even after it had clicked shut Termix bided his time, to be sure that Nussbaum had really gone. On the Great Vivisector's operating table a disemboweled cat had a series of convulsions, but when these had ended all was quiet. Indeed, the laboratory even seemed serene--all the noisy animals in the neighboring laboratories or cages had had their vocal chords severed. Termix sat facing the wall. He started swinging himself back and forth. Forward--backward. He strove after absolute concentration, waiting until the church bells had sounded for mass. Then he let himself go and, using the hardened Plexiglas shield on his skull, succeeded in smashing open the door of his cage; he then tumbled to the floor of the laboratory.

Based on his experience, he had about half an hour to do what he needed to do. So he climbed up on the operating table, which wasn't easy--while his front legs were strong, his back legs were of no use whatsoever. The cat had been stretched out belly up, pinned by its paws into the cork tabletop. It periodically jerked and thrashed about, but never screeched as it no longer had any vocal chords. The whole day Nussbaum had been sticking something into its open rib cage/thorax. Two tubes had been inserted into its neck, two probes into the stomach, one probe into the vagina and two probes into the skull.

The cat was conscious, but only just. It tilted its head slightly so that it could look at him. He noticed that blood was flowing from the opened thorax. "What is your name?" he whispered. No answer. "Turn your head," he said. He took the scruff of her neck lightly into his teeth. Then with a single, quick and strong bite he bit through her cervical spine. "No more suffering."

He dragged himself to the door. Next to the door lay a sealed plastic bag which contained a couple dozen rats that had been cut up, probed, and deformed before being gassed to death with carbon monoxide. Termix chewed an opening into the bag and crawled inside. The bag was full of bodies, body parts and blood; beside the dead bodies there were ribbons of bloody gauze. He wrapped himself up in a piece of the gauze. Not long afterwards a janitor came into the laboratory. He collected the plastic bags and put them on a cart. Outside he threw them into a trash bin.

It was a little after midnight. A bald, wretched-looking rat crawled along the side of the bridge. In his teeth he was dragging a heavy wrench. When he came upon an abandoned hubcap, which had no doubt fallen off some passing vehicle, he stopped. He set the wrench down and bit into the hubcap with his teeth, and with great effort dragged it to the very edge of the bridge. Underneath the bridge, cars, indifferent to what was going on above them, passed by. The rat crawled under the hubcap and wrapped a wire around himself. In the same manner he secured the wrench onto his back. Remaining under the hubcap, he waited for morning.

It is now morning, a couple of minutes before eight o'clock. Dr. Nussbaum is driving along in his car, approaching the laboratory for another day's work. His route is simple enough: after passing under the bridge he exits right, follows the ramp up as it loops back around and merges with the road that takes him over the bridge and then on to the parking lot of the laboratory.

As Nussbaum is passing under the bridge it looks to him as if something is flashing in the sky. He looks up and thinks that maybe he's spotted a flying saucer. He isn't mistaken. Some kind of a silver disc is headed straight for the front window of his car. Bingo! An explosion of glass. Nussbaum instinctively jerks his steering wheel to the left, swerving into oncoming traffic. At that moment, the oncoming traffic consists of a truck belonging to ReSearch Animals; laden with containers full of experimental animals, it has just made its morning delivery to Nussbaum's institute and is now driving on to make its next delivery. Bingo! A deafening collision of metal against metal. The truck overturns, its canvas covering snapping off. Dozens of containers spill out onto the road. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of rats break free from the destroyed stalls and cages. Confused, they race about, trying to find cover. Termix emerges from the blazing light, carrying the flying saucer under his arm. Bingo!

(translated by G.S. Evans)

Blumfeld 2001 was born in 1955 and grew up in Prague in The Czech Republic. In 1977 he became an “ecological emigrant” and moved to Kokořínsko, a protected natural area in northern Bohemia, where he still lives today. In the early 1980s he published samizdat magazines and was active in the film underground. In 1985 he started working as an editor for the magazine Vokno and in 1990 became its managing editor. He has translated books and articles about psychedelia, hermetics, Jungian psychology and ecological philosophy from English into Czech. Under several different pseudonyms (including Blumfeld 2001, H&H, Čaroděj Oz, Autor, V.I.P., and Homeless@Hungry) he has written articles and essays whose primary theme has been anti-consumerist strategies and practice. “Termix” originally appeared in the book Peep Show, published by the Petrov publishing house in Brno (2001); there is a brief English language review of the book in the journal Context.

G.S. Evans is a writer and translator as well as the coeditor of The Cafe Irreal. An excerpt from his novella Bohemia recently appeared (in Czech) in the Czech literary journal Labyrint, and his translation of Arnošt Lustig's short story, "The Last Cabaret," appears in the current issue of New Orleans Review.

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story copyright by author 2001 all rights reserved
translation copyright 2005 by Greg Evans all rights reserved