Tuesday, July 14, 2015

nuqneH pa'!

File:Amazing Stories October 1957.jpg

nuqneH pa'! qalegh naDev DaHjaj jIQuch! 
(Hello there! I am happy to see you here today!)

This is the most entertaining bit of political news that I've seen in a while.

From BBC news: 
Klingon was the chosen language for the Welsh government in its response to queries about UFO sightings at Cardiff Airport.

"Shadow Health Minister Darren Millar had asked for details of UFOs sightings and asked if research would be funded.
A Welsh government spokesman responded with: "jang vIDa je due luq."
The Welsh government statement continued: "'ach ghotvam'e' QI'yaH devolve qaS."
In full it said it translated as: "The minister will reply in due course. However this is a non-devolved matter."
It is believed to be the first time the Welsh government has chosen to communicate in Klingon."
 10 July 2015

Use the translator at Bing to translate further Klingon communications.
Learn Huttese and Ewok here
Listverse has a few other fictional languages here  
There seem to be a TON of Minion translator apps available, too many to list here.

This was a just-for-fun post since I've been busy this summer and took a writing hiatus after the A to Z Challenge in April.

Have you done anything interesting this summer? Know anyone who has learned a fictional language?   Created a fictional language of your own?

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Charlie Charlie Are You There? Or, How Modern Kids Are Scaring Themselves As They Have For Generations #CharlieCharlieChallenge

     Sitting in the Junior High school cafeteria the other day, I was bemused by the the following special announcement.
     "Attention students. Some of you have been engaging in the game called Charlie Charlie Are You There. Let me remind you that this is not an acceptable or appropriate activity during your lunch break, or during school hours for that matter..."
      I try to stay on top of new fads, but this one was unfamiliar to me. So I asked another instructor about it.
      "It's some sort of game played with a paper grid and pencils. I think they ask questions about the future."
      "No, they're trying to make contact with the dead," someone chimed in. "And then the pencil moves and some of these kids get scared."
     The teacher across from me nodded. "We now have students crying, who are afraid to be in the hallway or go to the bathroom by themselves."

     Since no one seemed to really know the details, I did a little digging when I got home from work that day.  Multiple sources state that it's been around for at least 6 or 7 years, but really took off via social media as participants filmed themselves and posted it using the tag #CharlieCharlieChallenge. A grid is drawn with yes, no, yes, and no in four corners.  Two pencils or pens are laid in the shape of a cross on the grid. Then a participant says either "Charlie, Charlie, are you there?" or "Charlie, Charlie, can you play?" and waits for the pen/pencil to move.  Just about all sources say that the game is calling upon a "Mexican demon" named Charlie and similar games played with pencil and paper. (Isn't it strange how dozens of entities quote the same information, but can't point to a single definitive source?)
      I did, however, finally track down a notation on Wikipedia stating that the game was engineered to promote an upcoming movie called The Gallows.  (I have no idea if it's true or not.)
     At any rate, the "game" has caused consternation among schools, some parents, and even the Vatican.  
     "The problem with opening yourself up to demonic activity is that it opens a window of possibilities which is not easily closed." - Father Stephen McCarthy of Saints John Neumann and Mario Goretti Catholic High School in Philadelphia was quoted as saying by The Independent.

     I have no intention of weighing in on the existence of spirits, demons, communication with the dead, or any sort of religious beliefs. I agree that schools should squelch this sort of activity during school hours;  good luck with that, however, as strictures against giving wedgies, texting during class and farting games seem to be relatively difficult to enforce. Besides, making it "forbidden" will just add to the air of fear and suspense that already surrounds it for some kids.
     There's nothing new about children scaring each other or themselves, and dabbling in magic, superstition and the occult.  Remember Huck and Tom with the dead cat in the graveyard?  And the Ouija board has been around since 1890 (although it began life as an adult parlor game). I don't know about boys, but girls have dozens of ways to predict who their future husbands will be.  We used to say the alphabet while twisting an apple stem; whatever letter was said when the stem snapped was the first letter of your future husband's last name. When I was in Girl Scouts, we would sit in a circle at night and try to "levitate" someone.  Then there were the hundreds of scary stories, urban legends, and half-baked theories about missing persons or abandoned properties that we would recite and embellish until someone would scream and the Scout leaders would shut us down for the night.
     Charlie Charlie has spread further and faster due to the "viral" nature of the internet, but rest assured that one day it will fade...to be replaced by some other method for kids to scare themselves silly.  It seems to be human nature.
     What about you? Have you heard of this game?  Any memories of doing spooky stuff as a kid?

*Just as an aside, after writing the first paragraph of this post my computer inexplicably crashed.  Charlie, Charlie, are you...


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Letter Z, The Choose Your Poison List and Wrap-Up #AtoZChallenge

Z is for Zyklon B, originally developed as a fumigant and pesticide but used in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. You can read more here and here.  
I'll be honest. There's too much information on Zyklon B for it to be easily condensed, and I hadn't the stomach to try and create a fiction piece. I wasn't there, and I've never really been able to wrap my mind around what it must have been like in the death chambers at Auschwitz.

Poisons A to Z: the Wrap-Up

Through time, many plants and animals evolved toxins - and methods of administration - either to protect themselves or to actively prey on others. At some point humans learned to use these poisons themselves, at first probably for hunting but as time went on, also to treat disease, kill unwanted vegetation and vermin, and...unwanted humans as well.

Oldest traces of poison - Stone Age Tool With Ricinoleic Acid

Mentions of deliberate poisonings date back to ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. Poison was a very popular method of assassination.  Mithridates VI was so afraid of being poisoned that he began to test substances on criminals, experimenting with various strengths and combinations as well as antidotes. He even administered small amounts of poison to himself in an attempt to gain immunity.

Agathodaimon, an ancient alchemist, makes mention of a“fiery poison”; when mixed with natron and dissolved into water, the water stayed clear, but when copper was dunked into it that water, it turned a deep green (which leads experts to believe that he was describing arsenic trioxide). Only fragments of his texts remain.

Persian physician and scholar Rhazes wrote Secret of Secrets, a book of chemical compounds, minerals and apparatus. His was the first mention of mercury compounds (such as mercury chloride) as medicine, particularly as a laxative and an ingredient in ointments for skin diseases like scabies (caused by mites, which the mercury killed) and weeping sores (such as those caused by syphilis).

medieval poison ring was unearthed in Bulgaria in 2013. Murderous jewelry was thought of long before modern mystery writers came on the scene.

Poisons are still used today, both for good and for evil. People die daily, from accidental ingestion, environmental exposure, and by deliberate administration for purposes of murder (or 'sanctioned' execution).

The history of poison is intertwined with the history of mankind. I couldn't possibly cover all of them in the challenge. I've tried to use each post to highlight something unusual: a poison you might not have heard of, a more imaginative way to use it, a historical case which might be unfamiliar to you.

Other poisons/toxins/heavy metals which you may wish to research and include in your stories are listed below. (LInks are to my A to Z posts.) I have attempted to give each one a date or time frame, in case you are looking for a poison specific to a time period. The time is just a reference point; it doesn't mean that the poison was recognized as such. Many were first used as pigments, folk remedies, even hallucinogens. Some are also naturally occuring and have always been around, like mushrooms and castor beans. (I did not include all of the poisonous plants and venoms found in nature, as that would make the list far too long and unwieldy.)

Abrin                            (No dates found. Naturally occuring toxin.)
Aconite                         (Ancient)
Antimony                      (1540)
Arsenic                          (Ancient)
Aristolochia clematitis (Ancient)
Atropine                       (Ancient)
Belladonna                   (Ancient)
Brodifacoum                (1975)
Bromine/bromides (xylyl bromide) (1825)
Botulin                      (first medically described 1817)
Cadmium                     (1817)
Chlorine                       (1774)
Chloroform                  (1831)
Chromium                   (used by Q'in dynasty; named as element in 1761)
Cobalt                          (Ancient, used in pigment)
Colchicine                   (Ancient)
Cyanide                       (1700s)
Dioxin                         (1960s)
Ethylene glycol           (1859)
Ergot                             (Ancient)
Fluorine                        (1886) 
Formaldehyde              (1859)
Fugu (pufferfish)          (Ancient)
Furan                            (1780)
Green potatoes (solanine) (Ancient)
Hellebore                      (Medieval)
Hemlock                       (Ancient)
Henbane                        (Ancient)
Hydrogen cyanide         (1704) isolated from "Prussian Blue"
Inhalants                        varies according to substance inhaled
Lead                              (Ancient)
Mandrake                      (Ancient)
Mercury                        (Ancient)
Methyl bromide            (1932)      (Recent case: US Virgin Islands)
Mustard gas                   (1916)
Mycotoxins (fungi/mold) (Ancient)
Nicotine                          (Ancient, isolated 1828)
Nux vomica                   (Medieval)
Oleander                        (Ancient)
Paraquat                         (1882; first used as herbicide 1955)
Paris Green                    (1800s)
Phosgene                       (1812)
Phosphorus                    (1669)
Plutonium                      (1940)
Polonium                       (1898)
Potassium cyanide        Possibly 1807
Quinine                         Ancient
Ricin                              (Ancient. Identified 1889)
Sarin                              (1938)
Saxitoxin (paralytic shellfish toxin) (Identified 1927)
Strychnine                     (Ancient)
Thallium                        (1861)
Tutin                              (1909)
VX (nerve gas)              (1954)
Warfarin                         (1948)              

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Letter Y: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

Today's letter, Y, is represented by Mr. Yuk.

The idea for Mr.Yuk was conceived by Dr. Richard Moriarty of University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 1971. The design for Mr. Yuk was created by Wendy Courtney Brown, a 4th grader student at Liberty Elementary in West Virginia, USA as part of a contest.
     Mr. Yuk is used to educate children and adults about the dangers of poisonous substances.  Free sheets of stickers are available by sending a stamped, self-addressed envelope to:
Mr. Yuk
Pittsburgh Poison Center
200 Lothrop Street
PFG 01-01-01
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Each sticker contains the national toll-free number to the Poison Control Center. Calling this number from anywhere in the US or its territories will connect you to the nearest regional poison center. Help is available 24/7.

For your viewing pleasure: a Mr. Yuk commercial from 1971. Very trippy.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Letter X: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

Olive Trees With Yellow Sky and Sun

     "Art and sight are closely intertwined. Painting is a visual medium that requires both the artist and the observer to use their visual sense to fully appreciate the execution and development of a composition....
     .....In this first instalment of a mini-series looking into the subject of ‘Vision and Art’ I would like to talk about the ‘yellow vision’ of Vincent van Gogh.
     ‘Xanthopsia’, that is, an overriding yellow bias in vision, can be provoked by many disorders other than the reddish-brown filter of nuclear sclerosis, which most famously affected Monet.
Poisoning by a large number of drugs, including santonin, digitalis, phenacetin, ether, chromic and picric acids, and even snake venom have been associated with xanthopsia....
     ...Whatever van Gogh’s exact diagnosis may have been, it is highly likely that after admission to the asylum at Saint-Rémy in 1889, his physician, Dr Paul-Ferdinand Gachet, prescribed digitalis, which is why medical historiography strongly supports the hypothesis of van Gogh having suffered from digitalis-induced xanthopsia. In Portrait of Dr Gachet, 1890, the foxglove plant is presented in front of Dr Gachet; digitalis is extracted from foxglove plants."  -from Vincent van Gogh’s Yellow Vision, Anna Gruene,

Monday, April 27, 2015

Letter W: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

It would be most disconcerting if your doctor wrote you a prescription for rat poison. Yet that is exactly what has happened if you or a family member has taken Warfarin (brand name Coumadin) for preventing thrombosis or thromboembolism (blood clot).

Warfarin was initially introduced in 1948 as a pesticide against rats and mice, and is still used for this purpose today although better controls are available. The name Warfarin is derived from Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation which funded studies, and coumarin. It is a synthetic form of an anti-coagulant originally discovered in spoiled sweet clover animal feed.

Patients being treated with Warfarin need to have their blood monitored on a regular basis, and since levels of vitamin K can affect the blood clotting ability, dietary intake of foods high in that vitamin (like leafy green vegetables) must be regulated as well.

This is yet another example of a "poison" being put to use in a therapeutic manner under tightly controlled circumstances.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Letter V : The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

Blue ringed octopus. Photograph by Roy Caldwell via Wikimedia Commons

     The terms poisonous and venomous are not interchangeable.  Venomous creatures produce a biotoxin and inject it by means of bite, sting, or other sharp protruding body part (such as spines or spurs).  Utilization of venom occurs across a broad spectrum of classifications, from invertebrates (spiders) to fish (stonefish) to mammals (male platypus).  Venom can be used as both an offensive and defensive weapon.

    Lists of "most venomous" animals vary, due to differences in criteria.  Are they rating absolute toxicity? Most commonly encountered?  Highest death toll among humans? I thought I'd list a few with no known antidote; you get envenomated, you probably die in a painful and horrible manner.

    1. The Blue-Ringed Octopus is strikingly beautiful and small, but its venom is powerful. It carries enough poison to kill 26 adult humans within minutes, and there is no antidote.

    2. The Pufferfish's poison produces a quick and violent death. Puffer poisoning causes dizziness, vomiting, rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, and muscle paralysis. Victims die from suffocation when diaphragm muscles are paralyzed. There is no known antidote.

    3. Coral cobra. These snakes are not true cobras but get their name from both their color and habit of flattening their necks into a hood. They are native to Africa and are highly venomous. However, since they have short fangs and live a burrowing lifestyle, the chances of a deadly encounter are fairly slim. There is no known antidote for their bite.

    4. Cone snails typically live in warm and tropical oceans worldwide, with the highest density in the western Pacific region.  They have beautifully patterned shells, but carry a deadly neurotoxin with which they poison their prey.  Symptoms after being stung include typical neurological impairment such as weakness, lack of coordination, vision problems, and difficulty with speech and hearing. A heavy dose of venom from one of the larger snails may result in death, due to respiratory paralysis, within hours.  There is no antidote.

      5. Box jellyfish show up on nearly every list. Most entries I've read state that there is no antidote to the poison. However, it's my understanding that an antidote does now exist. Unfortunately, many victims probably wouldn't live long enough to take advantage of it anyway.
     Box jellies include about 50 described species; there are probably more yet to be discovered. They have tentacles covered in tiny cnidocysts; each one is like a poison dart that causes an immediate and explosive release of poison. The toxin enters the blood, spiking blood pressure to dangerously high levels and often causing cardiac arrest.

     That's a short list, due to the nature of the A to Z Challenge. (I've tried to keep my posts short and sweet.)  There are plenty more venomous - and deadly - creatures out there. But let's not forget that in studying these toxins and attempting to find antidotes, scientists have learned a great deal about how toxins work, and they have also put these toxins and/or their components to work saving lives.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Unhealthy Foods and Orthorexia : The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

     Most of us strive to eat a healthy diet. So it seems counterintuitive to consider that behavior as problematic. But there are those who cross the line and become obsessive.
     When unhealthy foods are viewed as poison, when one's life is consumed with draconian food restrictions, when social life is narrowed or disappears altogether, then orthorexia nervosa may have come into play.
     Orthorexia nervosa is not a recognized disorder in the DSM-V, but falls into the same category as anorexia nervosa and bulemia. One of the differences, however, is that orthorexics aren't generally attempting to lose or control weight; they are simply consumed with eating only what they consider to be "pure" or healthy foods. This type of eating behavior becomes a disorder when it interferes with a person's ability to function on a daily basis. For example, an orthorexic may decline to eat anywhere outside the home and only what they themselves have chosen and prepared. They may agonize over every single food item; where it came from, whether or not it is currently considered a "superfood", whether or not it should be cooked and by what method. They may spend hours poring over books and internet sites, searching for information on what they should be eating, and when. "Slipping up" and eating something unhealthy may send them into a spiral of depression and self-loathing, with the added consequence of making them even more rigid about their diet.
     And while eating pure and healthy foods may sound like it's good for you, unless it is carefully done you can still end up with unmet nutritional needs and deficiencies. That can result in osteoporosis, hormone problems, gastrointestinal problems, even cardiac issues.
     Like just about everything in life, it all comes down to balance. If you have food allergies or diseases such as celiac, diabetes or IBS, then of course diet is more critical to you then most. But for the average person with no known food issues, eating should be just a part of life - and a pleasurable part. Be smart about it. Portion control, a wide variety of fruits and veggies, lots of whole grains - these will help you stay on track to meet your nutritional needs. Don't forget, your body also needs a small amount of fat in the diet to function properly. Fat is a component of myelin, the protective sheath around nerve cells; it's also necessary to absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, E, and K.

     Couldn't come up with a poison for letter U (other than uranium).
    I was going to do "unhealthy foods are like poison to your system" but there's so much information on foods that are bad for you. (And it keeps changing.) So I chose to highlight orthorexia, which I think is a lesser known (but increasingly common) disorder. A bit of a stretch for letter U but...it's my blog and I'll fudge if I want to.

Letter T : The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

It was discovered in 1862, and like so many other poisons was first used to kill rodents. After several accidents the use as poison was banned in the United States in 1972. It is, however, still used in the electronics industry, as well as for certain medical scans.

A spate of murders gained this element the moniker of "poisoner's poison", as it is colorless, tasteless and odorless, and causes symptoms in the victims which can easily be attributed to other causes.  It featured in an Agatha Christie novel, The Pale Horse;  a major clue was hair loss, a distinctive side effect.

Have you guessed today's poison?  It's Thallium.

During 1952-1953 several successive murder trials featured thallium poisoning in Australia; chronic vermin infestations, the easy availability of thallium rat poison and the human propensity to "copy-cat" probably led to the cluster of killings.  There were 5 different murder cases during that time period.  The most sensational was probably that of Veronica Monty in 1952; she was tried for the attempted murder of her son-in-law and rugby player Bob Lulham, and the trial revealed that she had been involved in an intimate relationship with him. Veronica was found not guilty, but committed suicide - using thallium - in 1955.

Other noted cases include:

  • 1957  Nikolai Khokhlov, a former KGB assassin, was poisoned with thallium. (Oh, the irony.) He was eventually flown to the US and recovered.
  • 1971   Graham Frederick Young used thallium to poison around 70 people in the English village of Bovingdon. Three died.
  • 1988   George J. Trepal, later known as "The Mensa Murderer", was convicted of poisoning his neighbors the Carrs by placing Coke bottles laced with thallium nitrate in the residence. The mother, Peggy Carr, died; the rest of the family was sickened but survived. It seems that George was annoyed with his neighbors, especially because they were too loud.  He may have been brilliant and a member of Mensa, but he made two very stupid mistakes.  He couldn't keep his mouth shut;  he drew suspicion when he attended a Mensa group murder weekend and said something about "neighbors needing to watch what they eat/drink around the house". And, he didn't get rid of the evidence; a vial containing traces of thallium was found in his garbage.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Letter S: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

Sarin is a man-made chemical classified as a nerve agent. (Nerve agents are the most toxic and fast acting of chemical warfare agents.)  It was originally developed in Germany in 1938 as a pesticide (along with several other deadly poisons). It was added to the German arsenal but never used during the war.

Sarin is a clear, colorless, odorless and tasteless liquid that can also evaporate into a deadly gas. The gas is heavier than air and will collect in low lying places, but on the plus side it evaporates so quickly that it poses a short-term risk unless it is released in a confined area.

Sarin is extremely toxic; a fraction of an ounce (1 to 10 mL) on the skin can be fatal, and death can occur within minutes.  Exposure can be via direct contact, inhalation, contaminated water, or clothing worn by someone else.  Antidotes (which must be administered ASAP) are Atropine and pralidoxime chloride (2-PAM Cl) along with Diazepam if seizure activity is present.

Emergency response instructions also include the following information:
  • Under acid conditions, sarin hydrolyzes to form hydrofluoric acid (HF). See the emergency response card for hydrofluoric acid.
  • Sarin decomposes tin, magnesium, cadmium-plated steel, and aluminum.
  • Contact with metals may evolve flammable hydrogen gas.                -  (CDC)
Sarin may have been used twice in 1988 during the Iran-Iraq war: in the Kurd city of Halabja (approximately 5,000 people may have died), and during the second battle for al-Faw.

In 1994 it was used in the Matsumoto incident when the Japanese religious sect Aum Shinrikyo released an impure form of sarin in several open spaces. Eight people died. 

On March 20, 1995, Sarin grabbed headlines again due to the Tokyo subway sarin attack by the religious group  Aum Shinrikyo. Thirteen people died and thousands were transported to hospitals for breathing and vision problems.

In 2013 Sarin was used in Ghouta during the civil war in Syria; estimates of deaths range from 300 to over 1000.

Letter R: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

     I snapped on the light.  A hulking white figure to my left resolved itself into the artificial Christmas tree, bagged and unused for years.  Cobwebs slowly drifted by my face, briefly stirred by the influx of fresh air.  The detritis of 20 years lay strewn about the basement, silently waiting for some final disposition.  Nothing unusual; I mentally shrugged, flipped off the light and went back upstairs.  No monsters in my basement after all.
     Except the same silent killer which lurks in households all across America.  It is colorless, odorless, and undetectable without specific tests.  It's one of the leading environmental causes of cancer overall.
     It is a radioactive gas called radon.
     Radon is the primary cause of lung cancer in people who have never smoked. It is also responsible for the bulk of most people's total exposure to radiation Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas which seeps through cracks and holes in building foundations, concentrating in basements and below-ground building levels. An estimated 1 in 15 homes in the US has a significant level of radon;  and certain areas of the country are more prone to high levels of the gas.
     The effects of radon appeared as long ago as the 1600s  (miners may also be exposed to large quantities of the gas) and was described as mala metallorum or miner's wasting disesase.  In the 1970s, research began on the problem of radon in American homes, its effects, and ways to mitigate it.  In the mid 1980s, radon featured prominently in my local newspaper;  a worker at the nearby Three Mile Island nuclear plant was found to be contaminated with radiation, but the source was not the nuclear plant but his home, which had extremely high levels of radon.
     After we built our home in 1994, it was recommended that we wait 6 months for the house to settle and then test for radon.  We did so, and the testing showed high levels. So we had to hire a radon mitigation company to come in and run specific tests, do some heavy-duty sealing of certain areas, and install a special fan which runs 24 hours day to constantly refresh the basement air. Many of the homes in my county have the same type of system installed; other homeowners who cannot afford, or don't want to bother with testing and mitigation have to take their chances with this potentially deadly monster in the basement.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Letter Q: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

Quinine, a bitter extract of cinchona trees from Peru, was used by natives of that country as a muscle relaxant and to reduce shivering from both cold and fever. A Jesuit by the name of Agostino Salumbrino (d1642) who was serving in Peru sent quinine home to Rome to be tested as a treatment for various fevers, particularly malaria. Quinine proved effective and became the first-choice treatment for malaria all over the world until the 1950s, when other drugs became available. Quinine (in miniscule amounts) is found in tonic water, bitter lemon and other cocktail mixers; and although it's no longer recommended, when I was in college during the 1980s I was prescribed low doses of quinine for leg cramps.

Side effects of quinine may include tinnitus (ringing of the ears), headache, vision problems and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).  An overdose can cause any of the following:  rapid/irregular heartbeat, confusion, hearing impairment, seizures, loss of peripheral vision, blindness, coma, or death.

WikiTox: Quinine

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Letter P: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

    As we find prosperity displayed in the most beauteous and pleasing manner, so do we often find the engines of that affluence grinding away savagely in parts of the city now relegated to the masses required to operate those engines. Among those belching factories, within the human warrens of dank alleys and reeking cobblestones, one finds a brew of every human element, from the destitute and despairing to the drunkenly ebullient, from the optimistic family man to the insouciant youth.
    On the evening in question, two gentlemen dipped their elegant, yet obviously sporting toes, into the quagmire of one of these industrial sinks. Having imbibed a quantity of spirits, they had set out on their journey not unlike their fathers pursuing strange game in the heart of the Dark Continent.
     Burgess, the elder of the two, was having some difficulty walking; not because of the detritis underfoot, as one might surmise, but rather in an effort to avoid contact with the hordes of begrimed and odoriferous workers now streaming from the factories as their 14 hour day came to an end. Harold, the younger, was also exhibiting a handicap; as a budding artist, he wished to stop, examine and eventually paint the faces of the working class. Yet it was proving difficult, as most of the passersby moved at a rapid pace and had their faces shielded by caps, or wrapped in collars and mufflers to keep out the chilly, dank breeze which swept down the blackened brick canyons.
     "I shan't be able to get any sketches done at this rate," Harold grumbled to his brother.
     Burgess had already regretted yielding to Harold's absurd request, and was about to suggest curtailing the evening's enterprise when he spotted a slim figure, one loose copper curl bouncing invitingly, as she darted into an alley.
     "Quick. A neat little thing just turned the corner. A shilling ought to buy you a pose."
     The two young men forged ahead and ducked down the aforementioned passage, then nearly fell over the object of their pursuit. She was bending down to examine a long tear in the hem of her dress. Equally startled, she backed away, pulling a woolen scarf tighter about her face.  Large hazel eyes framed by thick lashes reminded Harold of a young doe he'd shot just last week. He was instantly smitten.
     "Oh, that I could capture your look just now! I wish to draw you, if you will only stand just so a minute!"
     Harold was already fumbling in his pocket but the woman - not much more than a child, really - was shaking her head furiously.
     "Come now. Here's something for you." Burgess fished out a coin and held it out upon his pale, fleshy palm.  The toe of his boot tap-tap-tapped on the cobblestone. "He only wants to draw you, goose. Surely you don't think we'd want anything else from the likes of you."
     Still she cowered, back to the sooty wall, barely visible in the dying evening's light.
     "Never mind. I won't be able to see properly to draw in a few minutes. We'll hail a cab and I'll stand you to a pint at the Ten Bells. Likely there will be a visage or two in there worth depicting."
     But Burgess, maddened by the girl's seeming contrariety and lack of approbation, reached out and wrenched away the cloth which stood between her countenance and his brother's gaze.
     "Heh  da eh," she said defiantly. Her answer "then draw me", however perfectly framed in her mind, ceased to be recognizable upon reaching her mouth; for that particular part of her had not existed in its original state for quite some time. Half of her lower jaw, in fact, was either seething with pus from abscesses or had been eaten away entirely. The mishapen remains glowed greenish-white in the calignosity of the city's dusk.
     Harold fainted.
     Burgess, for the first time in his life, was quite unsure what to do.
     The match girl took her time adjusting the cloth which hid her wreckage, held her hand out for the promised payment, then delicately stepped over the dandy splayed upon the ground and joined the tide of humanity flowing through the streets toward their individual refuges for the night.

Photo source here
Today's poison is white/yellow phosphorus, used by the match industry during the 19th century. Exposure to white (seems to be used interchangeably with yellow) phosphorus caused a condition which came to be known as "phossy (fossy) jaw". It began with toothaches, swelling/bleeding of the gums, and jaw pain; then progressed to abscesses, necrosis, brain damage and death. The only treatment was surgical removal of the affected tissue and bone. "Phossy jaw" among workers contributed to the London Match Girl Strike of 1888, along with long hours and terrible working conditions, but because using a safer alternate to white phosphorus was more expensive, manufacturers continued to use it until it was prohibited in 1906.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Letter O: The Choose Your Poison #AtoZChallenge

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

          He had thought that money would smooth everything over. That marriage was essentially a business contract between a man and a woman, each bound to provide certain things and accept certain things.
          But even the most lucrative, the most exciting businesses tended to turn stale after several decades. An infusion of fresh ideas, new blood was called for. People were let go. Sacrifices were made. And one had to be discrete lest the public image suffer.
          Richard hummed under his breath as he drew his knife. Uncapping the honeycombs, he dumped them into the hand cranked honey extractor. Soon the glistening contents would ooze out;  he would filter it, pour it into the glass jars, and present them to his bedridden wife. She would slather it on her morning toast, stir it into her tea, and smile at him through her confusion. Then the pain would begin again. And one day, her heart would stop.
          Hundreds of bees hummed busily on their trips to and fro, between the oleander flowers and the hives that he'd built and placed below them. 

"Oleander poisoning occurs when someone sucks nectar from the flowers or chews leaves from the oleander or yellow oleander plant. Poisoning can also happen if you eat honey made by bees that used the oleander plant for nectar." NY Times.com health guides