The Gas Chamber

Robert Bradbury was the scion of an old Bostonian family and was given the best of upbringing.  He lacked for nothing.  There was a separate nursery with a live in wet nurse and a nanny.  His mother came from old money and was of a delicate constitution.  Unfortunately both the wet nurse Hilda and  Bertha the nanny were of Germanic blood and martinets who fostered the mean streak in Robbie inadvertently.    They were very strict and  little Robbie vented his frustrations with them on the family pets and any hapless living creature that came his way.  Behind his back, all the household staff disliked him very much.  The unpleasant child grew up to be an obnoxious man.

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Louis St. Croix was the son the head chef of the Bradbury family.  He was very amiable in nature and was much loved by the staff.  Robert on the other hand barely acknowledged his existence and merely tolerated the menials who came in his line of vision.

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One day, Louis was visiting the kitchen with a message from his mom, when he heard piteous squeals coming from the backyard.  He went outside and the sight that met his eyes horrified him.  Brownie the family dog had been gnawing at the tennis ball which had fallen near him when Robbie had hit a wild volley.  The tennis courts were adjacent to the kitchen.  Robbie saw the ball being eaten by Brownie and got infuriated and started bashing the hapless dog’s head with his metal tennis racquet.  The more the dog cried, the harder he hit.  Finally the dog died beaten into a bloody pulp.  Everyone in the kitchen were disgusted but no one had the guts to say anything.  The only person who saw the gentle side of Robbie was his mom and no one had the heart to tell her about Robbie’s reality.

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Iraq war was raging and recruitments were on.   Per family tradition, Robbie too was sent to do his bit for the country.  Robbie was delighted as he feared nothing.  He excelled at all  rigorous training the army put him through.  He was enlisted as a captain in the army.  He had earned this rank.
Louis too was in the boot camp and finished  his training head of the class.  He showed leadership qualities from day one and he too was elevated to the rank of a captain.

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To inculcate sporting spirit and a robust fighting one as well, two groups were formed amongst the new recruits and both rival groups were headed by Robbie and Louis.  Robert looked down his patrician nose at Louis and dismissed him.  He felt his group would win hands down.

He was a strict commander and drove his group and himself hard so that they had an edge over Louis’s lot.  Both teams were head to head and now the last test remained.  This was the most dreaded one yet.  It was the gas chamber.  Each recruit was sent into the gas chamber with his mouth covered to get a first hand experience of what it felt like when criminals were meted out capital punishment…… It was a part of the boot camp training.

One from each group was sent alternately and the scores were chalked up.  Fifty percent of both the groups passed out.  A quarter of the rest puked and gagged and had watery eyes.  Some were gasping for breath.

Finally Louis and Robert remained.  Louis went in first.  He had covered his mouth and nose carefully and held his breath and prayed hard whilst he went through the stipulated time.  Then came out gasping.  His group was done.  Now it was Robbie’s turn.  Robbie too covered his face carefully and went in.  He was doing fine, when suddenly a dog’s shadow appeared from nowhere and  grabbed the mask covering Robert’s face and disappeared.  Robbie choked, gasped  flailing his hands and then lay still, stone dead.   Onlookers were aghast as their mouth’s fell open in amazement and disbelief!

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ps: at the eye doc. yesterday- sitting across from me was this young girl who was text msg and spkg alt. to her boyfriend and I heard that he was in the gas chamber.  I was shocked and asked her about it.  Then she mentioned he was in boot camp and all recruits were sent to the gas chamber as part of their training.
The word gas chamber stuck in my head and I recalled a wonderful movie we’d seen called Hangman by Adoor gopalkrishanan with the lush Kerala backdrop and of course Sean penn’s Dead man walking…

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