CAN’T DO IT • by Tom Hadrava

I take the body out of the freezer – the middle part, stalk-like and twisted, is very brittle, so careful, there, Mike – and put the amazing body on the steel autopsy desk. The protective suit is heavy and ultra-uncomfortable. When I breathe out too much, the plexiglass visor gets misty. The scalpel feels cold even through the triplicate latex gloves.

Cameras watch me with hungry, ink-black eyes. The label under each lens, Department of Xenotaxonomy and Comparative Xenobiology, is unnecessarily large and obtrusive, still very fresh.

I cannot say I am ready. This is supposed be the chance of a lifetime but I find myself struggling to continue.

Can we start?

The huge microphone above my head seems to be watching, too. How many people are going to hear my words, just now? And then a million times in the future?

First cut. How are we with the suction, ready?

I pause in the middle of the motion I have done a million times before, my index finger trembling as a tiny butterfly wing, and stare. I stare at it.

They cannot be grasped, touched, comprehended.

Our language drops dead to the ground when faced with such a challenge. What can I say? What tools of language are at my disposal? All the pseudo-, quasi-, alter- and meta-s, all the semi- or half-, all the -likes. Not efficient, not sufficient. New comparisons and descriptions need to be created. Later on, much later, I will try. In the morning shower, during a not-so-funny comedy, while driving.

The sense tentacles as soft as a crystal breeze. The shape perhaps similar to erratic square waves. The surface like a comfortably unpleasant gravel rug. There is a sort of shell, covered in colours we have no names for. Shallow sapphired, semi-rich yellowhite. Lightepid blackness. An ultraviolet carnival on the front face plate. The smell of neck bulbs maybe described as burnt hyacinth raspberries. The consistency of some outer organs like a fossilized custard.

I move my hands away, then back. The voice of my colleague is miles away.

The scientific part of me starts to sound the alarm. I feel strange and powerless. Is it something in the air? Have they tested the odour, the evaporations? Could there be any radiation? But I know the answer. Everything is triple tested. Safe.

This is not about physics or chemistry. Human reason is suddenly put to a crash test and in doing so pulverized by our experience. The realm of ideas is bound by the earthly pull as is the material world.

My mouth goes dry and I can feel the hairs on my nape go up. I put down my tools and years of practice and research, years of dreams and hopes, and walk away.

I can’t do it, boss. I am not the first and perhaps not the last to say this.

I  know it’s a chance of a lifetime. But… let someone else do it.

Mike is behind me, doing the same thing, leaving the bright air-conditioned unit, swollen in the white suit as an oversized grub, with his hands up in a gesture of defeat.

Can’t do it. We cannot cut them to pieces. Not them.

We can just wonder. And hold the memory in our heads till the end of our days.


Tom Hadrava is an aspiring Czech writer based in Prague, Czech Republic, Europe, teaching English and constantly trying to transform his mental imagery into words. His fiction has appeared in the XB-1 magazine, a Czech science-fiction magazine, and some anthologies coming from Czech speculative fiction writing competitions. He likes jogging, trying different kinds of tea and playing invisible drums (lots of cymbals included, of course). He lives in a cosy flat with his charming wife and a “curious and even curiouser” baby son.


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Rate this story:
 average 5 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • A bit too obscure for me, though I liked the sentiment behind the story.

  • MPmcgurty

    I echo Paul’s opinion that it’s “a bit too obscure”, but it is also somewhat intriguing. I think what I found most interesting was the author’s attempt to put into words how difficult it was to describe the (beings?). Still, they take the amazing body out of a freezer. If it’s been there even a day, I can’t imagine human beings not already inventing new words for the colors and textures and smells.

    Bottom line, it’s interesting, but I can’t decide whether or not I “like” it. Maybe some illuminative comments from readers will sway me.

  • Scott Harker

    Obscure indeed, but easier to follow than many sci-fi stories published on EDF, so the author certainly gets credit for that.

    In an odd way, the story gives me hope for the future; that good people will still be around. The internal turmoil felt by the surgeon was real, and it made me wonder if I could make that first cut were I in that situation. would I want to be responsible for whatever followed, even if it meant simply accepting the glory and accolades of being the first. A tough inner battle indeed.

    Thank you sharing this thought-provoking story. I thought it was great.

    Can we add 1/2 stars to the grading system? Sometimes 1-5 just isn’t enough.

  • Pamela Cowdery

    I actually didn’t find it obscure at all. The opening part which lets you enter into the autopsy and “feel” along with the ME was very well done, I thought. Also the sense of wonder in the face of something greater than ourselves.
    I liked it very much.

  • Give me that scalpel; I’ll do it.

    Not bad. Could use a little editing. There’s no indication whether the alien body is that of an intelligent species; would that make a difference to the protagonist?

    Reminds me of some of the New Wave stories, C. 1970.

  • Walter Giersbach

    Perhaps some of the beauty in “Can’t Do It” lies in the text being so opaque. An interesting–and not unsatisfying–approach.

  • Some lovely description in this thoughtful piece. Thank you!

  • Nancy Werner

    Terrific. One of the best I’ve read on EDF thus far. I felt I was there–it felt real. It takes skill to achieve this sense, and I often find it lacking in stories on EDF. I also took away a message: other is not lesser.

  • Chinwillow

    I liked this. It hooked me at the first line and them embedded itself with every line.It put me right onto the scene, the feel, the apprehension. the unknown decision…the hope. I thought it was a great. I would have liked perhaps more of the “why” of the story. High marks from me.

  • Netty net

    Great story he working with the dead.