The last time I visited Ebeneezer T. Twistle at the Shady Nook Sanitorium, I took notice that he was in the same mental condition as on the day of his admittance. As the family doctor in his attendance I was given access into the institution in concern for the well-being of my patient.
I watched him as he wandered around his pleasant and sterile quarters with an empty aerosol tin searching for the enemy; namely bugs, grubs and creepy-crawlies of all types that inhabited the insect world. Yes, for as long as I can remember Ebeneezer T. Twistle was at constant battle with these tiny creatures that invaded the gardens surrounding his home. Even in the years of sanity he talked incessantly about his fight with the denizens of the insect world.
Even in his business world his he would relate details of his constant battles with the insects to the obedient minions who were coerced to listen. Of course this subject would be discussed after he gleefully announced a lucrative merger or a business raid that would subdue his competitors. After all, Mr. Twistle was an esteemed member of the business community during his sane years, although he used vicious, miserly methods in the accumulation of lucre.
Later, in the debilitation of his mind, and his subsequent care in the booby hatch, he forgot about his adversaries in the business world and only concentrated on a crazed attempt to eradicate this menace of the insect world that beset him. “With this weapon of mass destruction we will annihilate the evil forces,” he gleefully announced to me. No other words were spoken. He waved the empty aerosol tin that was at his disposal as he continued to battle the invisible foe.
Mr. Twistle was a man of strong will and determination, which helped him to overcome his adversaries in the business world. From the ashes of the fallen and from his definite acumen of market trends he was able to increase his financial assets. Nobody dared to defy him in his fierce drive to enrich his ever-filling bank accounts.
But it was the only the varied mandibular, clawed insects that dared to defy him when they rampaged his delight: the flowers of his gardens. The grubs, bugs and creepy-crawlies were to him the axis of evil and their minor victories drove him to distraction. That alone forced his needed residence at Shady Nook.
His family had decided to institutionalize him in this cuckoo bin as Dr. Zennia Zilch, and the proprietor and his staff were quite secretive concerning their residents. Anyway, the good doctor realized to his advantage that the patient’s lawyers were endowed to pay the excessive charges for mental rest and cure. In simple terms, the institution only catered to the mildly infected and rich nutters who only needed a bit of proper rest and cure. Mr. Twistle had the requirements for admittance.
In the past he had been known as a rich eccentric who had the appearance of an ignoble Dickensian character. His slightly bent, cadaverous form was always dressed in the meanness of black cloth and leather. His face had a crabby disposition, always with sourness to his lips. His furtive gray eyes were enveloped in wrinkled questioning: questioning his surroundings and those who dared to have a word with him.
Even to his many cousins, aunts and the many other assorted relatives Mr. Twistle had a questioning look. He questioned their varied existence, because he considered them rabid parasites. He may have been right, as these good people were always kowtowing to him and trying to find favour in his so-called benevolence, which in rare times was a goodly money grant. They hovered over the rich eccentric waiting for his last breath.
As the last of his many suffering doctors who tended him, I had a fair insight into the man. All the time he was in my care I noticed that he was continually in the appearance of one who was perpetually of old age. How I was able to serve him properly those past twelve years with his griping and complaining over my treatment and especially of the bills I presented for payment, I never knew. The many other frustrated doctors who had tried to serve him had simply closed their satchels in frustration and left him to his miseries.
Mr. Twistle had all the wealth needed to provide him with the amenities of a good and proper life. Yet he chose to live as a miser in an antiquated, two-storey dwelling on two acres of land surrounded by a few aged oaks and maples whose long branches cast their shadows on the meanness of his existence. Yet there were plots of well-tended gardens of flowers and plants surrounding the dwelling, one of the rare delights of his parsimonious existence.
Within the rooms of the house was the evidence of his soured quality of life: the furnishings were aged, but serviceable antiques and the decorations everywhere were of dark hue. Yet, the carpeted floors in the salon, library and dining room were well vacuumed, the kitchen clean and spotless, and the upstairs sleeping rooms were readied with fresh linen and warm blankets.
Mr. Twistle never felt the companionship of a good woman but relied on a hard-bitten housekeeper and her equally hard-bitten husband to tend to his needs. Three other servants were about, but only this couple dared approach him, as their sourness were akin to his disposition. Thus, he considered them as able and efficient attendants to his simple requirements.
Mr. Twistle took great pleasure in amassing his fortune in monies and properties; those who dared to stand in his way he eradicated with the greatest delight. To the people in the financial world he was known as a holy terror that would use any means to dispose of his competitors. His success was immense and his tactics in its achievements were sometimes grey to the law, which did not rule out physical as well as mental threat when needed. The obituaries were filled with names of those that were gripped by his projected fear and passed on to an early grave.
Mr. Twistle had one passion in his miserly life, which he cherished; that was his plants and flowers he tended in the garden plots that surrounded his mean residence. When not busy in the money game, he would spend a great deal of time tending to his beautiful bounty and watching it flourish and bloom. True, he had the service of gardener; but the man came on a regular schedule to turn the earth, trim the bushes and trees, and rake the grounds.
Mr. Twistle bought the best seedlings and bulbs at nurseries, a rare expenditure that was opposite of his meanness. After each purchase he commanded the chauffeur to speed in his company’s limousine and race to his garden plots. There he doffed his suit coat, rolled up his shirtsleeves, donned a blue apron, and with expectant, wiry hands planted the seedlings and bulbs in the warmth of the soil. He nurtured them to flowering, damning to destruction any weed that dared to intrude. The best of fertilizers were used. The roses were brilliant in varied colours; the hollyhocks, the lilies, the iris and gladiolus stood tall; the petunias, the daisies, the zinnias, and the snapdragons gave off their brilliance. Other species of plant life were planted and tended till their splendor rose to perfection. The eccentric delighted in this work, and this touch of accumulation and profit excited him.
Yet Mr. Twistle had one bane and blight in this delightful occupation: namely the axis of evil, which was the bugs, grubs and creepy-crawlies of the insect world that dared to alight on his precious plants. “Horrors,” he would yell in panic as he saw a horde of caterpillars chomping away on the leaves of his precious rose bushes and cocooning on the twigs. “Devil and damn,” he would curse loudly when, at a later date, he saw leaf-eating ants chomping away on the leaves on his prize morning-glories. “Glory be!” he would scream in agony as aphids in their season holed their hunger into his mixed shades of delphinium.
Mr. Twistle, then and there, declared war on these blighters that dared to interfere into his dictated world. Insecticides by the score were purchased; advice by the experts in botany were offered and accepted, albeit in grudging payments; many digests and periodicals were subscribed to. The weapons of mass destruction for the insect colonies were readied.
Various insecticides were lined up ready for the coming battle. Brand names containing stomach poisons that kill insects that eat them; contact poisons that kill on touch by their claws; systemic insecticides that can be sprayed on insects and plants; gas fumigants which form vapours to kill the insects; and chemosterilants that foul the insects reproductive system or cause them to starve to death. Yes, Ebeneezer T. Twistle was ready to do battle with the insect world.
Season after season Mr. Twistle with might and main fought against the evil forces that dared to intrude into his plant life. He would scout out their signs by turning a leaf or examine a flower petal. “Ahh, there they are,” he would exclaim as he reached for either his powdered tin, aerosol spray, or fumigator and he would send off a charge of insecticides, which would exterminate the blighters. Victory for the eccentric was always in sight, but the insects had many ways to intrude into his gardens that had him in constant vigilance.
After a delightful morning in exterminating his rivals in the business world, Mr. Twistle would retire to his house for a meager lunch. Then he would doff his black coat, roll up his sleeves and search for his other rivals in the patches of gardens. He may have found success in the eliminating his two-legged competitors, but the insects were scoring minor victories in their campaign.
After many flowering seasons, Mr. Twistle started to have hallucinations. He saw them as horrible monsters clacking at their claws as they marched in rank and file towards his garden plots. He thought of other ways and means to combat this force of evil that dared to threaten his plants and flowers with biological destruction. He tried insecticides filled with lethal calcium or lead arsenate fluorides and other types that contained organic phosphates. Still, season after season, the insects came and chomped away at his plants and flowers in their hunger.
The insect world entered the dreams of Mr. Twistle, and the dreams turned into horrible nightmares. It was in the recent past that I received a hurried call in the middle of the night from his agitated housekeeper. When I arrived at his dwelling, the good woman blurted out the impending madness of her master. “Both me man and meself heard loud screams coming from Mr. Twistle’s bedroom. We thought of intruders and murderous blows. But no, the good man was running around the darkened room screaming that large insect monsters were after him. He even sprayed us from a tin of aerosol. Probably thought we were one of the horrors of his mind. Me man was able to pin him down and secure the poor man to his bed. Terrible, terrible, t’was!”
The housekeeper’s story was true as I witnessed the secured Mr. Twistle, screaming and ranting on his bed. “Aiee they are coming after me,” he screamed as his mind described a monstrosity of an insect threatening him. I filled a hypodermic needle with a strong sedative and plunged it into his thin arm. The eccentric relaxed and an ambulance was called to take him securely to the mental ward of the local hospital.
Well, the rest is history. Ebeneezer T. Twistle’s condition never changed for the better, but as long as he had an empty aerosol tin his hand he remained sedate and quiet. Dr. Zinnia Zilch was glad to offer him accommodations to his Cozy Nook Rest Home, especially because it enjoyed a tiny part of the eccentric’s immense fortune. True there were other sanatoriums competing for the welfare of Mr. Twistle, but the lawyers of the good man’s affairs suggested Dr. Zilch’s establishment, as the good doctor and the legal vultures were good club companions.
And the axis of evil — the bugs, grubs and creepy-crawlies in the eccentric’s garden plots — happily made short work of blighting the flowers and plants in an orgy of mass destruction.
Copyright © 2003 by Norman A. Rubin