There's that strange feeling that a new, hitherto unknown, stratum of reality has peeled off like a scabbed blister from the main life strata, where all, both kind and evil, is, for good or for ill, sorted out, simple, comprehensible, and ignorable if there a need for it to be ignorable.
Ignorable on demand.
The neighbour will surely help himself, or the old lady will do it, for she, with her kind, caring and motherly heart would do a better job at it than us. We aren't being apathetic, are we?
Oh, of course, you aren't. You’ve been cowardised, paralysed, you’re the one for whom the demons may come as well, even though you, like the lad, have done nothing wrong, or nothing right, or nothing at all.
Cowardised sounds rather pitiful.
Oh, yes, it does.
If we do nothing and keep our mouths and doors shut, nobody will find us lurking in our No. 53, will they? It’s just us: the body and the consciousness, the physical and the mental, the we-est we, the greatest confidants, the only friends. We can simply ignore the remainder, can’t we?
Yes, you can't perceive them properly anyway, you can't see anything with your metaphorical cataracts. You are blind and your blindness is your bliss.
And the phone, the phone, too, we must not pick up a handset.
“Don’t leave your room. This is better left undone.”
We should get more sleep.
You can't sleep within the dream, can you? Even if now it's a part of
Nothing. Nothing is happening; minutes pass, hours, days, nobody comes, nobody knocks, nobody calls. It's just a ghost of us in an empty, cold studio alone with our thoughts, being grilled on them as they kindle and dwindle. The vision of the outside world has gone nil. The sun is a parody on intermission in the unremitting winter nights. It is, in fact, not a star but a mere gas lantern with a lamplighter who is neither an owl nor a lark, but a drunkard. A dense and damp fog, palpable if you open the window and try to feel it with your fingers, veils everything beyond a few metres and the world becomes white, as if we, on our thirteenth floor, live in a concrete box somewhere in cloudy cuckoo land, and all we have left to do is to gaze into the white wall and let our brain do a photomontage of images, a kaleidoscope, a labyrinth of what-ifs, with or without our free will. Books are useless in their purpose — the number of our thoughts flashing simultaneously is now eclipsing any possible number of thoughts that the author could condense into their creation, hence losing the competition over our mind. We have enough of our own thoughts to think. Each of our thoughts is an author itself, an autonomous agent that keeps seething inside our mind and writes stories without asking or providing us with any sense of awareness, so all we have left to do is to surrender, succumb, stare into the emptiness on the other side of the window and let each story create itself. They end terribly; the best thing that can happen in them is nothing and the best we can hope for is no resolution. Otherwise, there's always somebody beaten or dead, or not some- but everybody. Hence it's much better when the story fractures, breaks off and diverges, as if the author is knackered from writing it and switched to the new one, more interesting where, however, more interesting tends to be even more dismal, spawning numerous branches of inhumanity, which, no matter how we try to stifle them, evade and resurge in strange and unexpected places, like blackberry bushes taking over our granny's garden every summer again. Not sure we want to tell any of these stories. Not sure we want to tell any story at all. It's better to tell something absurd, create a literary cage, the content of which cannot exist under any possible conditions anywhere and nowhere. Some stories must not see reality, for they may emerge into it, merge with it and make it far worse than it already is.
No, you can't make it worse than
Death to the pigs.
Oh, this is surely an audacious one.
A lurid dream there was, in which all law and military enforcement agencies turned into pig-faced, hoofed demons, with tusks and horns growing with their anger and violence to the point where they could no longer stand on their hind legs like human beings and had to stand on all four to move at least somewhat. Then, when the sharp offshoots could no longer extend due to the physical insolvency of the subsequent enlargement, instead, their bodies themselves began to swell, and the brain shrank and simplified, transferring all the energy necessary to maintain the sapiens stuff to the further swelling.
The final form, after which there was no more change, at least from our limited observation, was a cloven-hoofed demon two to three metres long, one and a half metres high, a couple quintals in weight, with huge black horns akin to mammoth tusks, but jagged in texture. The skin of such a creature would eventually turn red, as if it had been stripped off altogether. The creature walked slowly, heavily, crumpling the floor beneath it, panting, snorting, and emitting a plume of pollution akin to an exhausted car muffler with a dirty or clogged air filter. This breed, Homo demonicus, was cultivated by a professor in a laboratory, who, for some reason, looked like our dear father. He had the same moustache, tobacco-stained and yellowed, an almost bald head, ponderous, tortoise-rimmed spectacles that looked more like two loupes, wore a beige, once white, lab coat, and carried a bulky, black ledger with pages falling out of it in random places — as we remember, exactly like our father when he was still working at the university, with the only exception — no lab coat, because why would a historian need a lab coat? Why would he work in that lab at all?
Perhaps one needed to be well-versed in history to produce a breed of absolute cruelty.
The laboratory was located deep under the city, in one of the abandoned branches of the metro, and looked like an endless prison corridor, flanked by hollowed cells with bars behind which shackled bodies dwelled. Every morning, the professor made his rounds, driving around the endless, eerie corridor in a crumbling, creaking draisine, a light auxiliary rail vehicle, driven by service personnel, who was one of the converted demons of medium size, still somewhat sapiens. The train would stop at each cell, the professor would pant to get down from it, open the lattice with a key, take a huge syringe of thick and muddy red liquid, nay a sludge, from the pocket of his beige lab coat and inject it into the subject intravenously. After a few such visits, the subject's skin turned red, their pupils narrowed into goat pupils, their nasal structure morphed into a grotesque pig-like snout, soft horns and fangs began to grow, and so on exponentially until
Odd. They've started chatting to each other.
The thoughts, teeming.
Ours, can't you hear? They are seeping from epistemic commons.
Oh, are they?
Yes, they are plenty and they are exhanging opinions.
This is nonsense, who cares about your bloody thoughts?
They themselves seem to do it.
Silhouettes of thoughts form. Their voices, hitherto distant, become louder and clearer. They, in unknown quantity and quality, all blurry, nay faceless, sit around the table, share strong spirits, of a cheap kind, emptying shot glasses one after another, and engage in a civilised conversation.
—One wonders how much humanity remains in these demons after the metamorphosis. What is humanity anyway?
—That's a loaded term.
—The zenith of civilisation *air quotes*. On the journey to which we've discovered the concepts of sadism, genocide, slavery, countless types of torture and murder using a diverse list of tools and devices, as if a stone or a stick weren't enough for that.
—You forgot the batons.
—What about kindness, cooperation, creativity, cultures, languages, technologies, arts, and sciences?
—As if it all holds any weight at this juncture.
—As much as flowers breaking through the cement. “In the midst of pandemonium, beauty is forged.”
—Or rather destroyed.
Sepulchral silence. The first of the thoughts renews the shots and, following an unknowingly elongated intermission, continues:
—One wonders if they have a plan for beatings and torture, if they need to curry favour to receive more stars on shoulder straps, a flat, a car, a pension at thirty-five, or if it is all, as they say, personal initiative, adrenaline rush, an urge to prove to the world that they are worth something, seeking revenge on the world for their earlier treatment, for their childhood bullying, for someone stealing their first love; or perhaps it's fear, the banal fear of losing the job you've dreamed of since a young age, telling your grandfather that when you grow up you'd become a policeman and protect him from bandits, a fear that later morphed into a dread of going to prison for not complying with the orders of those same bandits, or different ones, because you know that people like yourself will be watching you, and you know what they're capable of.
To which another random thought at the table contributes:
—It's all *hiccups* because of the red sludge.
—Maybe soon, imminently, their helmets will have holes cut in them due to their gnarled goat's horns, still little and soft, only yet to grow, but already making their helmets uncomfortable to wear. Soon, very soon, their pupils will become goat-like, cowardly vertical, shrunken under the weight of their desire to be a predator.
—Could it be that they wear balaclavas and helmets and hide their faces?
—Perhaps there are no faces there already, maybe they truly aren't human beings at all, but pig-based demons of various beastial features that are ashamed to look people in the eye.
—Are you writing a fantasy novel or something?
—The greatest tragedy is that no matter what I say here, no matter how much I try to squeeze out a metaphor or a nice word, neither that metaphor nor that word will ever be read by the person they are denouncing; not because they can't read, but because they don't care about our indignation, our pain and discontent. They don't care about humanity, morality, ethics, faith, hope, love.
—They do care about love. They want, even subconsciously, to be loved, perhaps, as the second thing after power.
—Their sole desire is to turn us all into bloodthirsty demons with "Thou shalt kill" tattooed on our subcortex.
—Why would "angels" want more demons in the world?
—Should we descend to their level, spew blood on everything our species has achieved and revert to brutality and barbarism, all the while desiring that violence and barbarism to end? Someone wrote that one cannot teach pity, intelligence, logic and awareness for decades and centuries with impunity. It is possible to get used to the sight of blood, tears, suffering, screams, and death - like butchers or doctors; but how is it possible, having reached the truth trudging through epochs of killing and destruction, to simply relinquish it? It is absurd!
—It's not absurd! It's far worse, it's a tradition! *glasses clank*
—So what do you propose? Sit back in front of the screen, chill and watch them beat, torture, and imprison our friends and neighbours?
—I propose we do everything, everything that is possible and impossible but still within our power, but to remain human in all this!
—Tongue and ears! We can talk! Listen! We can communicate our thoughts, engage in dialogue; argue, damn it! Not just with them - at least start with each other!
—Well, we're doing that now. Where is this all going?
—Why beat and shiv the undesirable? Strangle, torture, stab, drown, rape with batons? Is that what you call Homo sapiens?
—I'm not saying anything. It's your rant. But it seems to me that we failed to devise more efficient methods of communication.
—Demons can only be defeated by other demons; all the angels could do was segregate the demons, let them breed for whatever reason
—I know the reason but I won't tell you now! Too dark!
—while they themselves live their naive, angelic lives. If you want to get through a door, knock.
—I'm not going to knock. Don't you understand? Didn't I make it clear?
—If you don't knock them down, they will knock down you. You should be one step ahead and knock “preventively”.
—Well, those are their methods. You're using their own linguistic legerdemain. This is what we're fighting against!
—Oh, are we fighting something? Sometimes I forget. We have three choices - fight, flee, or hang yourself. In the end, the only ones left are those who can fight.
—That's what I'm talking about—we're going backwards! Into the barbaric scorchers!
—So, let’s say you're standing in the corner and a man approaches, fists flailing. What are you going to do?
—What if the man has a knife?
—Well... then you're dead.
—You can negotiate, you can offer him some terms. Why would he want blood on his hands? Is that what he wants, rather than, say, going home to his family, having a drink, watching the telly together?
—Did you ask him?
—Does the blood on his hands bother him and does he want to have a chat with you about his modus vivendi? It seems to me that during the day he goes to work, presses buttons, fires missiles at peaceful cities, and in the evening he goes home, kisses his child on the forehead, they all have dinner together and go to bed. And he took out a knife not because he questions the ethics, but because he's utterly fed up with you, inordinately irritated, or fucking annoyed, in a word. You go around shouting about how bad he is, how he is a disgusting, cruel animal that treats you so badly and doesn't let you breathe, while he sits there, reddening, riling, sharpening his knife.
—We should have started talking earlier!
—And he doesn't want to listen to you, he doesn't and he never has. Why should he care about you? Who are you to him? He's your leader, your leech, your lord, and your liege. He does everything for you, tries at least, as he thinks, and you still want something — some kind of freedoms, rights. He does not think in these categories; these categories have no sense for him; these categories are the same sheer absurdity for him, as well as you are an ungrateful wretch who shows no respect and wishes only harm to him, yell and whine using, by the way, highly invective words. He's scared, hence he's angry.
—Well, we should teach him!
—We should have... punched him in the face, for example, before he sharpened his knife; that's what should've been done, and now this is it. Here we are. Now it's either us or them. Admit it and make a choice.
—I will not wield a weapon; I won't kill.
—I don't want to kill either, but with weapons, we'll be treated better and our words will carry more weight!
—“The vileness of the methods translates into the vileness of the results.” Even if we kill all the killers, only killers will remain!
—Uh-huh! So what's your plan?
—A million people in the street, a million shouting, "We can't take this anymore", a million showing by example what peace is like - that's what's impressive, that's what's loud.
—The truth is that, so far, all that has gathered from this million are us - mere thoughts of one person.
—And imagine how many more thoughts like we there are!
—Many, perhaps, but the thing is, we remain in people's hea
At that moment, the door to the room where thoughts have been residing blasts off its hinges and falls into the corridor. It is knocked out with a single, but well-practised blow. The thoughts shudder, one of them drops a glass. A squad of armoured policemen charge into the room, bellowing out commands in Demonesque and waving their guns around.
—To the floor! Everybody on the floor!
—I said, get down!
—Hands behind your back!
—Everybody on the floor!
The thoughts are paralysed, unable to decide on the next course of action or phrase to voice. They are hunted down, found, caught, suppressed. The demons seize them, twisting their faces to the floor.
—Lie down! Don't move!
The cow says “moo”, the goat says “maa”, the butterfly says nothing, the pig says:
—You have the right to remain silent. You are being charged with propaganda for pacifism!
Thus lay our thoughts and cannot be thinked any more.
One doesn't want to impute insanity to them; it's certain that their diatribe makes them that way. A swollen sense of self-importance has metastasised throughout their bodies, and a cascade of maladies has appeared: inflammation of impunity, collapse of the moral compass, chronic itching of the anger organ, uncontrollable violent disorder, atrophy of kindness, acute lack of empathy, weakened immunity to inhumane orders, critical thinking deficit syndrome. It might just be an occupational deformity, something they acquire in the course of their work, losing sensitivity, like butchers or doctors, but what if only people like them are hired there?
A room with nothing but a flickering and crackling fluorescent lamp hanging above a big stainless steel desk and two faceless people sitting in front of each other: an interviewer with a woman silhouette and an interviewee with a man silhouette. The woman begins:
—Tell us about your strengths.
—Well... that's erm... I don't know how to put it.
—Whatever it is, just say it. That will determine whether or not we hire you for the job.
—Well, I can fuck someone's face up.
—Just the face?
—Well, not only the face.
—Kidneys, I can fuck up the kidneys too, if needed.
—And that's it? Have you even tortured anyone?
—Well... so... sometimes.
—Do you beat your wife?
—Well... I don't know how to put it.
—Just say it. We need to build a psychological profile of you, to assess your skills and understand how suitable you are for this job.
—I do... I sometimes torture cats in the basement.
The employer-thought arches an eyebrow and shakes their head.
—Not bad. Quite commendable.
—Kittens, to be precise.
—I would even say great! Congratulations, you're hired.
Two pictures of reality fail to make one whole. If we cover one eye, we see one thing; if we cover the other, we see the same thing, but in a distorted way. They don't overlap. There's something amiss with them. We glance at them and feel vertigo. With one eye, we see a country that is always at war, a country where they come at night to our neighbours to arrest them for making a snow angel, a reality in which we have to live. With the other eye, you see the same country, but it's a utopia, a locomotive, rushing towards a bright future, where peace reigns — the reality broadcast on television. As it turns out, one doesn't have to build a utopia to create it, one can just convince people that they're living in one. It is hard to imagine how the people at the very top make de
—Well, listen, dear sir, does war have a place in utopias?
—It does not, of course.
In the smoky room, they sit on mahogany chairs around a round table, also mahogany, and share strong spirits, of an expensive kind, sipping them from heavy-bottom crystal glasses.
—Then what are you trying to peddle to us? War in utopias? Sir, you ought to take some pills, clear your head.
—That's a valid point, what are you trying to sell us? As the engineers of this whole mess, we pay the utmost attention to such details.
—Hold on a minute, dear sirs… *clears his throat* In any utopia, if one digs deep enough, one is bound to find a candied piece of shit.
—Oh, come on, so candid of you!
—Dear sirs, watch yourselves, please. Not at the table!
—"Excrements", if that's how you prefer it, dear sir.
—There's no war, is there?
—What do you mean, there's no war?
—That's the trick, indeed.
—Listen to me. *whispers* It's only “pretend”.
—Pretend, exactly. *sips from his glass* It's merely a pre-emptive counter-military peacekeeping operation, or a small local conflict somewhere out there on a neighbouring island, if you prefer that. What kind of war is it?
—Sounds strangely unwarly.
—This semantic wordplay of yours sometimes renders me ecstatic. *fakes shivers*
—And it is intended, incidentally, to end the war (and all wars, by the way) and thus to complete the assembly of utopia in our Novo Czarstvo.
—Sometimes it's easy to forget about that.
—This is another important semantic feature of our Novo Czarstvo. We don't start wars, we end them.
—Indeed, dear sir, our Novo Czarstvo is brimming with all sorts of such features.
—Indeed, we have plenty of wonders to chew on.
—Whatever you desire to chew on, as a utopia should be, shouldn’t it?
—So, we must drink to that, don't you reckon?
—Well, now we're talking!
—A toast! Someone?
—*clears his throat* We’re lucky to live in a country where at times one cannot help but marvel.
The thought that has huzzah-ed first throws a crystal glass at the floor; it shatters into jagged fragments that fly around the room. Hundreds of other thoughts, whether they have participated in the dialogue or remained silent, empty their glasses in one shot and smash them too, asynchronously. The noise of cracking and clinking glass turns into a roar of a water cascade that rings and hums in our ears, intensifying until
Stark whiteness. It remains as such up to the point when the only thing we hear is tinnitus, and the whiteness begins to move, rippling and shimmering, like the surface of snow amidst a field touched and soothed by the wind, and upon it, as if it’s an inkblot test, faceless figures surface and commence a dialogue:
—Imagine that the world exists simultaneously in several permutations, and that these variations arise from spontaneous and diverging developments.
—Suppose, for example, if one stays at home instead of going to the shop, this too could trigger a chain of events such that, in one version, it could change the world. Such as, when en route to the shop, you might fall in love with someone, start a family, raise children, and the children could become brutal dictators who would decimate the planet by exchanging a volley of nuclear warheads, but if you had stayed at home, this would not have happened.
—Makes total sense.
—No, it fuckin’ doesn't!
—That's overly saccharine!
—By your logic, they also become benevolent rulers who propel the arts and sciences, couldn’t they?
—That's precisely true. My point is, the set of such probabilities and outcomes is infinite, and nothing is impossible within the boundless realm of infinity. In one of the strata where we live, for example, Novo Czarstvo, formed from the ruins of the erstwhile Great Imperia, there are endless special military operations, asymmetric warfare, national unity under a strong leader, patriotism awareness campaigns, information security and media regulation, education reforms and mental hygiene, economic challenges, discipline enforcement and order maintenance, privacy protection and security monitoring, social harmony, and other political and semantic features of our noble regime as if someone had turned the dial to its utmost limit.
—Or artistic expression, emotional engagement, stability and well-being!
—This is exactly whither I’m getting. At the same time, somewhere, there is a reality that is just like ours, but where those things are called by their names. Such as "war" is called "war", or, on the contrary, perhaps it has never even existed as a concept! Somewhere there is one reality where what they show on TV and tell in the newspapers is Truth, not even in the sense that our leaders are lying — how could we even assume that? *fakes cough* — but in the sense that the fantasies of our leaders may also be real in one of the infinite variations of our reality.
—In another one, however, everything is even worse — there is an evil professor who bred a particular breed of Homo demonicus and half of the populace "evolved" into it, and everything flashed red, including the sky, and the sky started laughing. In another one, where everything is polar opposite, where our archipelago never existed, hence no Great Imperia, and no Novo Czarstvo, where all the geography is completely different, where all the people are happy, lives a person who could somehow be reading our mind right now.
—Bullshit! *bangs on the table*
—Don't freak us out!
—One wishes to know which one is which.
—Bullshit! Bullshit! *bangs on the table*
The thoughts pause and around them, the ink starts painting a dark room, the far wall of which is adorned with a barred window transmitting the dim light in and, it seems, responsible for the fact we can see our thought’s silhouettes.
—Don't you think there's something a little... odd... as if from Satan?
—There's definitely a world where Satan himself waters the flowers in the morning and plays with the kittens in the afternoon, and all is well between them, no harm done.
—It's a pity that that reality isn't ours.
—Absolutely a pity.
The realities have collided, mixed together, as if at one moment something in the universal mechanism rumbled and clicked, one little cog went off, and many once parallel realities began to coexist in one. The environment remained the same, but an inflamed fissure, one shared by all, cracked open in people's minds. The tectonic plates of consciousness have ripped open and there is nothing and no one to fill the gaping hole between them.
Just build a bridge, come on.
Who can build such a bridge?
Builders. Bridge builders.
Where have you seen such builders?
Architects? There are universities that produce such people.
Some people have the extraordinary ability to see many realities, some even manage not only to see them but to switch between them, while most people are destined to live in only one.
Is this a fantasy to you?
Others think that it is possible to make a pact with these realities to ignore one another to the exclusion of any outburst of mutual interest. Consider us, for example, we have accustomed ourselves to ignoring the television reality, or rather we have accustomed ourselves to thinking so, and we were quite sure that she would also ignore us in return. Seemingly, all should be content, no one bothers anyone, everyone lives in their own stratum, but then you suddenly notice that someone has fucked you over, hard and completely unscrupulously, and at some point, the television reality comes to your door and
We turn the cold handle with our trembling, sweaty palms — there she is.
—Greetings, I am the television reality.
In official, militaristic, dark grey attire: a shirt, a skirt, both tweed, heeled shoes, black, patent; in her hands — a leather folder packed with documents, instead of her head — a miniature TV with two telescopic antennae, a slightly cracked kinescope and nothing broadcast on it.
—I don’t want to speak about our Lord.
—Henceforth, I shall live with you.
—What? Who are you?
—I am the television reality, silly, but you may address me as TVR. It's quite a delight to finally meet you.
—Well, I don't feel like it, go away, you're unwelcome.
—I must confess, your deafness rather amuses me. There appears to be a misunderstanding, silly.
—And what is it?
—Now I live with you.
She smiles and her antennae grow.
—It's nippy out here on the landing. Blood on the floor. Hardly homely. The lift, too, is on the blink. Why don't we drop the pretence and you can invite me in?
—I'm not inviting you anywhere. Please, leave.
Reaching out to close the door, the television reality inserts her elegant foot into the gap.
—It wasn’t a request.
—Leave, or I'm calling the police.
—Oh, do not trouble yourself, my dear. The decision has been made at the highest echelons.—She points upwards with her index finger.
—Such is the order of things.
—Oh, silly, I am fully aware. Please, open the door, don’t be dramatic.