“You can see an old lady on the opposite side of the road. She’s stuck there, struggling to cross. What do you do?”
The answers came thick and fast:
“Push her in front of a car!”
“Throw a brick at her!”
Mr Kabirex shook his head. “No, no, no! Where is your imagination? This is an opportunity waiting to be grasped, and you give the kind of answer I expect from a common football thug. Somebody rescue me from this inspirational desert.”
“Set her on fire!” Yelled Eyeblight, making the others giggle.
A great sigh issued from Mr Kabirex, lowering the classroom’s temperature by three degrees. Then he noticed the small clawed hand that had been raised politely. “Yes Evilwendy?”
“Well sir,” she began, scratching one of her crooked horns, “You could say hello to her.”
“Yes, go on.”
“And you could help her across to the other side of the road.”
Interest flickered in his eyes, “Yes?”
She hesitated, “Well, then you could…Er, you could… go up to her and…”
“Yes, go on!” He said, starting to get excited, the whole class were caught up too, holding their collective breath.
“…You could steal her handbag and run away.” She looked at him hopefully.
“Your ideas are crap! Boring, boring crap! Didn’t Miss H teach you anything?”
The class were quiet, their tails drooping.
“Pay attention, all of you. It looks like we’re going to have to go back to basics. Think about the old lady. If you laugh at her, or attack her you are spending a lot of your own effort to cause harm to one individual. Worse you are likely to encourage others to behave decently: people may come to the old lady’s defence or they might offer her sympathy, and where could that take us?” He looked expectantly at the group. “Yes Evilwendy?”
Her eyes were fearful, “They could make friends?”
“Exactly, they might strike up a friendship, losing us hours of valuable lonely despair. We could in fact end up in serious debt and you know what happens if we accrue too much debt?”
They all knew the answer to this one: “The Rendering.”
“Indeed, and none of you want that to happen.”
“But Sir,” Eyeblight asked, “I don’t understand, if we’d set the old lady on fire she wouldn’t be able to make any friends. She’d be dead.”
“Eyeblight, I’m beginning to think you would be more useful to me as an ornament.”
The others laughed, making Eyeblight smoulder with embarrassment. “But Sir,” he continued doggedly, “she’d be dead, and death by burning, that’s very painful Sir, and pain is money Sir, that’s what Miss H says.”
“Are you joking with me Eyeblight?”
“I just can’t believe you’re really that stupid.” He flicked Eyeblight’s nose hard with a long nail, bursting several of the boils that nestled there. “We don’t want her to die, you imbecile, that’s the whole point! It’s a complete waste. The only redeeming feature with burns is that they are debilitating in the long term. If you must be so crass as to burn the old lady, then go for something small, something that will cause prolonged discomfort rather than death. Discomfort is the first step towards unhappiness after all. The problem with burns however is their visibility, and visible suffering is more likely to evoke pity, which can of course lead to acts of…”
“Charity.” whispered the class with horror.
“If you learn nothing else from me today, remember to always be economic with your evil. Don’t gamble everything on one big explosion. Invest, and remember to spread your assets as far as you can. You never know when your best works of misery might be taken from you. Indeed the more tragic you make a case the more likely you are to invite other agencies to get involved and the last thing anybody wants is another ‘miracle recovery’ story.”
“Sir?” asked Evilwendy, “What would you do with the old lady scenario?”
Mr Kabirex looked thoughtful. “One of my old students, Smiler, handled it well. He escorted the old lady nearly all the way across and then do you know what he did?”
Eyeblight looked up eagerly.
“Please don’t say he set her on fire.”
Eyeblight looked down again.
“He walked her back to her original position and enthusiastically said goodbye. Brilliant.”
The class dutifully applauded.
“Remember, the higher you can raise their hope the more it is worth when you break it.” He snapped from his reverie to glare at them, “I’m not talking for my benefit, you know! Get your books out and start using them.”
Pens began scratching frantically as he continued.
“As for myself I wouldn’t bother with one old lady. I’d much rather find a banker, make a deal that gives them riches beyond their wildest dreams.”
“What do you get from them, Sir?” asked Evilwendy.
Several maws hung open in confusion.
“Then, five to ten years on, simply end the agreement, sit back and watch the global crisis. That, my little biters, is why I have the biggest cave this side of The Blood Lake.”
“For beginners like you, it’s better to start with something like the Pyramid of Pain: Find any CEO of a large company and convince them of their physical and sexual inadequacies. Stick to the classics: height, weight and size of genitals or breasts. They will then compensate by persecuting their staff, who in turn will pass the stress through their families. But we’ll cover that in next week’s session: Multigenerational Suffering and how it can benefit you.”
“Sir,” asked Eyeblight, “are you teaching us next week?”
“What happened to Miss H?”
Mr Kabirex grinned, exposing the small child trapped behind his teeth, “Unfortunately Miss H didn’t follow my advice, investing too heavily in tape decks that chewed favourite cassettes, which as we all know are now completely irrelevant. I’m sitting on her right now. Best chair I’ve had in years.