Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

96. Bell, Book, and Chicken in a Hatbox

Frank and I couldn’t get right in to see “Papa.” Dr. Schlichter von Koenigswald, the physician in attendance, muttered that we would have to wait about half an hour. So Frank and I waited in the anteroom of “Papa’s” suite, a room without windows. The room was thirty feet square, furnished with several rugged benches and a card table. The card table supported an electric fan. The walls were stone. There were no pictures, no decorations of any sort on the walls.

There were iron rings fixed to the wall, however, seven feet off the floor and at intervals of six feet. I asked Frank if the room had ever been a torture chamber.

He told me that it had, and that the manhole cover on which I stood was the lid of an oubliette.

There was a listless guard in the anteroom. There was also a Christian minister, who was ready to take care of “Papa’s” spiritual needs as they arose. He had a brass dinner bell and a hatbox with holes drilled in it, and a Bible, and a butcher knife—all laid out on the bench beside him.

He told me there was a live chicken in the hatbox. The chicken was quiet, he said, because he had fed it tranquilizers.

Like all San Lorenzans past the age of twenty-five, he looked at least sixty. He told me that his name was Dr. Vox Humana, that he was named after an organ stop that had struck his mother when San Lorenzo Cathedral was dynamited in 1923. His father, he told me without shame, was unknown.

I asked him what particular Christian sect he represented, and I observed frankly that the chicken and the butcher knife were novelties insofar as my understanding of Christianity went.

“The bell,” I commented, “I can understand how that might fit in nicely.”

He turned out to be an intelligent man. His doctorate, which he invited me to examine, was awarded by the Western Hemisphere University of the Bible of Little Rock, Arkansas. He made contact with the University through a classified ad in Popular Mechanics, he told me. He said that the motto of the University had become his own, and that it explained the chicken and the butcher knife. The motto of the University was this:


He said that he had had to feel his way along with Christianity, since Catholicism and Protestantism had been outlawed along with Bokononism.

“So, if I am going to be a Christian under those conditions, I have to make up a lot of new stuff.”

Zo,” he said in dialect, “yeff jy bam gong be Kret-yeen hooner yoze kon-steez-yen, jy hap my yup oon lot nee stopf.”

Dr. Schlichter von Koenigswald now came out of “Papa’s” suite, looking very German, very tired. “You can see ‘Papa’ now.”

“We’ll be careful not to tire him,” Frank promised.

“If you could kill him,” said Von Koenigswald, “I think he’d be grateful.”

Turn page.