I read this short story in my English schoolbook, ca. 1995. It's possible it was written specifically for the schoolbook but it had some "mature" feel to it which makes me think it might have been published somewhere more conspicuous than a mere schoolbook.

In the first half of the story, a prison warden shows off a new kind of prison to a reporter. The prison has no walls, instead the prisoners have an implant which induces pain if they walk away, the pain level growing slowly with distance. During the showing, one of the prisoners actually walks off, until he finally doubles over and drops to the ground from the pain. He is then brought back to the prison.

I remember the warden at some point chiding the reporter for saying something that "sounds commie", whereupon the reporter profusely apologizes to the warden.

The second half focuses on the prisoner who walked away in the first half. (His name might be "Revell" though I may misremember that.) He walks away again, but this time he is not picked up (deliberately, if I remember correctly). He crawls away and is finally found by some random passer-by who, not knowing he's dealing with a prisoner, takes him to a doctor. (I remember "you hurt, fella?" as part of the dialogue.)

The doctor performs surgery to remove the pain inducer. For this, the doctor is sentenced to the same prison. The story ends with both the original prisoner and the doctor walking away together.

At some point during the story, the prisoner sings a song: "Twinkle, twinkle, little pain, in my groin and in my brain."

Googling I mostly get references to The Fortress (which features similar but more deadly implants). With the rather distinctive song lyrics, I found at least one obscure reference to possibly the same schoolbook. (Which, IIRC, had a very boring name like "English C", I think. It was a blue hardcover with some kind of photograph on it.)

1 Answer 1


This is almost definitely "The Winner" (1970) by Donald J. Westlake. It was first published in Nova 1 (Harry Harrison, editor) and has been collected numerous times since.

The warden shows off the Guardian to a visitor:

Wordman stood at the window, looking out, and saw Revell walk away from the compound. "Come here," he said to the interviewer. "You'll see the Guardian in action."

The interviewer came around the desk and stood beside Wordman at the window. He said, "That's one of them?"

"Right." Wordman smiled, feeling pleasure. "You're luck," he said. "It's rare when one of them even makes the attempt. Maybe he's doing it for your benefit."

The interviewer looked troubled. He said, "Doesn't he know what it will do?"

"Of course. Some of them don't believe it, not till they've tried it once. Watch."

They both watched. Revell walked without apparent haste, directly across the the field towards the woods on the other side. After he'd gone about two hundred yards from the edge of the compound he began to bend forward slightly at the middle, and a few yards further on he folded his arms across his stomach as though it ached him. He tottered, but kept moving forward, staggering more and more, appearing to be in great pain. He managed to stay on his feet nearly all the way to the trees, but finally crumpled to the ground, where he lay unmoving.

His little poem:

Revell looked up at the ceiling, and the words he had painted there just a minute ago were gone already. He wished he had paper and pencil. Words were leaking out of him like water through a sieve. He needed paper and pencil to catch them in. He said, "May I have paper and pencil?"

"To write more obscenity? Of course not."

"Of course not," echoed Revell. He closed his eyes and watched the words leaking away. A man doesn't have time both to invent and memorize, he has to choose, and long ago Revell had chosen invention. But now there was no way to put the inventions down on paper and they trickled through his mind like water and eroded away into the great outside world. "Twinkle, twinkle, little pain," Revell said softly, "in my groin and in my brain, down so low and up so high, will you live or will I die?"

He crawls until he reaches a road and is found:

Revell lay screaming. All he could think of was the pain, and the need to scream. But sometimes, when he managed a scream of the very loudest, it was possible for him to have a fraction of a second for himself, and in those fractions of seconds he still kept moving away from the prison, inching along the ground, so that in the last hour he had moved approximately seven feet. His head and right arm were now visible from the country road that passed through these woods.

On one level, he was conscious of nothing but the pain and his own screaming. On another level, he was totally, even insistently, aware of everything around him, the blades of grass near his eyes, the stillness of the woods, the tree branches high overhead. And the small pickup truck, when it stopped on the road beyond him.

The man who came over from the truck and squatted beside Revell had a lined and weathered face and the rough clothing of a farmer. He touched Revell's shoulder and said, "You hurt, fella?"

"Eeeeast!" screamed Revell. "Eeeeast!"

"Is it okay to move you?" asked the man.

"Yesssss!" shrieked Revell. "Eeeeast!"

"I'd best take you to a doctor."

The doctor (Allyn) removes Revell's implant but is arrested by the police before he can even finish cleaning up. Allyn is then sentenced to join Revell in prison. The story ends:

At the door Allyn turned back and said, "Don't go anywhere till I'm up and around, will you? After my operation."

Revell said, "You want to come along next time?"

"Naturally," said Allyn.

  • Thank you, that's exactly it. I also remember the names Wordman and Allyn now. FWIW I also tracked down the schoolbook series, it's called "English G", C-series (the story was most likely in C3, ISBN 9783464052624, but could also have been in C2 or C4), published by Cornelsen. Commented Sep 17, 2023 at 12:40

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