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Rajah. By Martin Green.


When Douglas Farnsworth was a boy he’d been small, very smart, wore glasses and liked to read books. Like many boys of this kind he’d had few friends. But he did have an imaginary playmate, a big tiger named Rajah. Douglas’s favorite pastime was to read books like “Kidnapped” and “Treasure Island,” sitting on the floor, propped up against Rajah. He’d relate the details of the plots to Rajah, who’d listen gravely, nodding his head every now and then. Douglas’s mother and father didn’t like the idea of an imaginary tiger but Douglas seemed to be so devoted to him that they finally gave in and accepted Rajah, reasoning that this was just a phase. His father said, “The way Douglas talks to him I could almost swear he was actually there.”

“I know,” said his mother. “When I clean up his bedroom, I sometimes think I see a tail disappearing around a corner.”

Also, like many boys of his kind, Douglas had been a natural target of school bullies but something in his manner, perhaps the assurance of having a large tiger as his friend, put off potential bullies and he’d had a relatively pleasant childhood. There’d been one exception, when Douglas was in third grade. A boy named Wilbur Scruggs, who lived with his aunt and uncle in a trailer camp, began to pick on him and one day told Douglas to watch it, he was going to catch him after school and beat him up. Douglas gave this information to Rajah and said he planned to hit Wilbur first and at least get in one good blow. He never got a chance to put his plan in action because the next day Wilbur disappeared. A search was made but nothing was found except a shoe that may or may not have belonged to Wilbur. The aunt and uncle weren’t especially interested and the search was soon ended. Douglas never saw Wilbur again.

As might be expected with someone who liked to read so much, Douglas gravitated to literature in college and eventually became a professor of English. Here too there was one obstacle, an older professor named Philip Crenshaw who’d taken a dislike to him and who was blocking Douglas’s path to getting tenure. By this time Douglas had married and had two children, a boy and a girl. The imaginary tiger had of course long since evaporated, but the family did have a cat that Douglas had named Rajah II. On the eve of the meeting that would decide whether or not Douglas would be granted tenure Professor Crenshaw was found on campus, scratched and disheveled, his eyes crazed and babbling about a monster that had attacked him. He was taken to a sanitarium to recover. Without Crenshaw’s presence at the meeting, Douglas was granted tenure. He sometimes wondered about what might have happened to Crenshaw but eventually told himself that further speculation was pointless and that some things should just be accepted.

As the years passed, Douglas’s life continued to be pleasant but with the collapse of values and an increasingly permissive society acts of violence increased and his college was not immune to them. A disgruntled student invaded a classroom and shot and killed his teacher and several other students before turning his gun on himself. A lab assistant killed a co-worker, a woman who’d broken up with him. Student protests were common. Most recently, a series of robberies had taken place at homes on and around the campus, young people on drugs who took whatever they could get and routinely trashed everything else.

It was evening. Douglas was in his study writing. He heard the sound of glass breaking and had just stood up behind his desk when two young men in masks burst into the room. Both held guns. Douglas was glad that his wife was away, visiting her mother. “Hello, Professor,” the smaller one said. He held a gun. “Thought we’d pay you a little visit.”

“What do you want?”

The young man looked around. “Nice house,” he said. “Where do you keep your money?”

“I have some in my wallet, but it’s not much.”

“You must have some more somewhere.”

“I really don’t.”

The larger one stepped forward and hit Douglas across the face with his gun. “We’re not kidding around,” he said.

“All right. I do have a safe in my bedroom. It’s upstairs. I’ll give you the combination. You’re welcome to take whatever you want.”

“That’s the spirit, Professor,” said the smaller one. “Keep your eye on him,” he told his confederate. “I’ll go up and take a look.” He went up the stairs.

“You have any drugs in the house?” the larger one asked.

“Just the medicines I take. I …”

A loud crash came from upstairs, then a terrified scream.

“What the hell?” said the robber. He ran up the stairs. Douglas heard more loud noises from above, then the two young men came running down the stairs, ran through the study and out of the house. Douglas picked up his phone and dialed 911.

It was late when the police finally left. First, they wanted to know if Douglas was all right after being hit in the face. He assured them he was fine and didn’t have to go to the hospital. Then they wanted to know if he had any idea what had so frightened the two robbers. Douglas told them he didn’t know. “Well,” said the lead policeman, “they must have been pretty scared because one of them dropped his gun. We should be able to identify it and trace it to him. I think the crime wave we’ve been having will be over soon.”

Douglas was very tired when he finally went into his bedroom. His cat, Rajah IV, was sitting on the bed. “Well, that was quite a night,” Douglas said. The cat nodded. “What do you think happened?” he asked. The cat appeared to contemplate this question for a moment but then just gave him the complacent look that cats sometime assume and said nothing. As in the case of Professor Crenshaw’s mysterious “monster,” Douglas concluded that speculation was pointless and that some things should just be accepted.



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