By JS O'Keefe
“It’s come to my attention that ten-to-fifteen percent of my subjects are depressos,” the Pharaoh told the prime minister. “We are the breadbasket of the Roman Empire, in fact the richest province between Carthago and Polonia. For the first time in our history there’s no poverty in Egypt and we have not had an epidemic for two decades. I want you to get to the bottom of this, why are so many free citizens depressed?”
“Your highness, I believe I know what the problem is,” said the prime minister. “Lack of physical exercise. In the past peasants would toil all day long to produce wheat in the Nile basin and on top of that they would have to carry water to irrigate their vegetable and fruit gardens. Ever since we got Roman machinery to help with the most back-breaking chores and the water comes up to their houses, all they have to do is turn on the faucet. As a result, people have become plump and lazy, and some of them are completely inactive physically. Let me put forward an unorthodox idea, what if we conscript the worst cases into the army?”
The Pharaoh shook his head, “Depressos in my army? I don’t care for that; they would be more hindrance than help. Depressed people tend to be self-involved, brooding all day long about unfulfilled life dreams, unreturned love, the meaning of human existence and other murky consternations that never occur to normal individuals. And it’s almost guaranteed they would go epileptic at the first sight of blood in battle. They are no material for the Egyptian army. Weak and completely undisciplined.”
“Yes, initially. But the first few days of basic training will scare them almost normal, followed by boot camp which will get them compliant right away. Obedient as a battle dog! This is how the civilian’s resistance breaks down under the harsh physical training we are famous for. Of course there are always a few holdouts, difficult cases that our drill sergeants like to call ‘individuals.’ For these we use sleep deprivation.”
“You mean one of the sergeants keeps them awake all night long?”
“Actually we’ve found a simpler method. A couple of years ago we hired a philosopher from Athens. Every evening he reads the pig-headed ones a chapter or two from his works. That stirs them up to no end and they’ll spend the night tossing and turning. Then comes the five mile run at dawn followed by eight hundred pushups.”
“No and no! Sleep deprivation is brutal, especially the philosophical kind. Once I listened to one of these Athenians and had nightmares for a year. But with the physical exercise you may have hit the nail on the head. Okay listen to this, we round up the depressos and send them out in the desert to collect all the rocks, boulders, stones, pebbles they can find and build a nondescript structure. That along with meagre rations and frequent beatings should take their minds off the non-issues that plague them. In the future we might find some use for the stone structure, although I doubt it. One more thing, to keep it simple we'll call it the Pile of Rocks."
“Your highness, we're going to start the project at the crack of dawn tomorrow. However, calling the structure the Pile of Rocks could possibly be detrimental to morale.”
“Well, I am open to suggestions,” said the Pharaoh.
“How about a made up name, say, P-Y-R-A-M-I-D?”
“Pyramid. Sounds a little outlandish… but I like it!”
A short sketch of this story was published in Six Sentences on September 1, 2023.
About the Author
J. S. O’Keefe is a scientist, trilingual translator and writer.
His short stories and poems have been published in Roi Faineant, Scribes*MICRO, Every Day Fiction, AntipodeanSF, 101 Words, Microfiction Monday, 50WS, Friday Flash Fiction, Medium, Paragraph Planet, 6S, WENSUM, Spillwords, Satire, etc.