—Dear friends, citizens of Novo Czarstvo,— resounds the Czar’s voice from the telescreen, and, for a couple of seconds, pauses.
Wherever we are in the room with the telly at that moment, his little eyes, clumped together always look from the screen directly at us, into our soul, like in an old portrait, as if those eyes know with certainty that the soul exists, and are ensuring that it is all at his attention. His round head is grey, almost bald. He’s little, shrivelled, feeble and frail.
Just say he’s looking like a desiccated scrotum.
He sighs heavily, sometimes rasping like a clogged hoover and coughing if his throat begins to scratch. He fidgets unobtrusively in an uncomfortable mahogany wooden chair with gold trim, fiddles with a biro, and moves his wrinkled hands with swollen dark veins to and fro. In his eyes, meanwhile, dwells an icy indifference and a chasm of apathy. All kindness from them has been repressed and exiled to the wrinkles in the corners of his eyes as an unwanted radical element. His lips move even when he speaks nothing, as if eliciting spells or curses of mind control.
When seeing and hearing him, it feels like you are eating porridge made from crushed flies, and each unchewed insect is becoming harder and harder to swallow, wedges in your throat, and tickles your gullet, until your pharyngeal muscles fail to contract, your air-starved lungs clench in terror, and beads of cold sweat dew on your blue face.
—I come before you today with a heavy heart, to discuss our homeland, Novo Czarstvo, and the hardships we face. In these challenging times, the safety of our nation, of our families, takes precedence above all else, for it's my main responsibility before you. Our memory is scarred by The Great Coup, a catastrophe that disrupted the peace we once upheld across our archipelago. That was a dark time — families were shattered, chaos reigned. Together, we pledged to remember, to learn, and to never let such a disaster strike us again.
He punctuates his speech with cerebral-cleaving pauses that create a sensation of silence for a fraction of a second; each time, reality cracks and we can slip from its grasp.
A pleasant, nay narcotic, sensation.
We have always wondered why and questioned the existence of these pauses: whether they add weight to the words or help keep up with the pace of the teleprompter, the script for which is written by an alumnus of a literary faculty from the University of Quite-Liberal Arts, who aspired to become the greatest writer of their generation but now writes speeches for the elites, even for the Czar himself. Is he being merciful and giving us time to better digest the rhetorical substance?
The whisper is that he lives in a bunker, surrounded by a horde of doppelgängers, and these doppelgängers fight with each other over who'll be his next avatar, who'll be the next to suck up to the Czar’s sceptre.
What if it's just one of them?
You can never exclude that option.
What if he's terminally ill or no longer alive?
Like blue cheese, it's hard to tell whether he's already spoiled or not.
What if he’s a mechanised puppet?
Yes, run by a dozen people and voiced by a long-languished theatre actor held captive in a basement.
Perhaps all of this is just one prolonged and absurd teleshow and people, ordinary people, including us, are just spectators in a boundless sphere of a room on the other side of the camera. While watching the pantomime, we, the audience, is shown signs during the pauses indicating where to laugh and where to weep, when to enable patriotism, when to be proud of our rich history, when to praise our distinctive culture, when to hate our enemies, when to marvell at our bright future, and when to grieve for all that unattainable past and resent the rest of the world.
—Times have changed, our world has evolved, but the thirst for peace remains unquenched. Today, our peace is under threat. A shadow looms over our neighbouring island, Slobodna Zembla, where a relentless terrorist junta, propped up by the imperialist influences of the Collective South, asserts its anti-human rule. They create hazards and set snares, attempting to sway our former allies against us. They're using innocent lives as chess pieces in their game of world domination. Slobodna Zembla now has become a wound on the flesh of our great archipelago, and, despite all our trials, the wound refuses to heal. We are left with no choice but to act, to safeguard our homes and our people. Even now, with the ongoing peacekeeping operation, our brave soldiers are facing grave risks, defending on the frontlines against the terrorists, trying to burn the wound. And now, we find ourselves on the brink of a significant, pivotal moment. We are poised to end our special military operation and save our blood from being spilled with a decisive act — a show of force that will put an end to the aggression against us, that will silence the chaos and bring order. To shield Novo Czarstvo, we will deploy our novel instrument, “The Peace Bringer” — a powerful weapon that will pacify Slobodna Zembla and secure the tranquillity of our island and the whole archipelago. This, in the purest sense, is an act of defence, of protection, an action we have to undertake as the guardians of peace. We will put an end to the unrest, to the violence, and, most importantly, to the threat against our motherland. May the dove on our flag fly high again, and may peace usher in. Stand strong, Novo Czarstvo, for we won't back down. We stand for our Motherland, we stand for our future!
At that very moment, the bald little man awkwardly attempts a seated bow and disappears from the telescreen. In his place, unfolds the black and red flag of Novo Czarstvo with the white dove on it; the national anthem blares — with two orchestral blasts followed by the menacing rhythm of thunderous drums in unison with the tubas and the squeaking strings in the background. Almost immediately, a choir joins in, ululating about the sacrosanct heritage and preordained triumph over enemies. Instead of standing up while the anthem is played, we are drawn downwards. Our legs are cotton wool; the bones have vanished; the muscles have disentangled. The anthem ends.
—It's 6:15 am in Novo Czarstvo. The mild winter has come to a close. Today will begin bitingly, with temperatures around minus 30 degrees Celsius in the morning, but as the day progresses, the sun will shine, and the temperature will climb 5 degrees by noon before falling back again. The atmospheric pressure will be relatively high, at about 1040 hectopascals. Blustery winds from the north are expected throughout the day, reaching speeds of up to 20 kilometres per hour, which may further intensify the chill. There are also possibilities of flurries in the evening and at night. Island residents should exercise caution on the roads due to black ice, which can be particularly dangerous at intersections and turns. It's also important to remember that we are entering the season of the Northern Lights. It's recommended to seek open spots with minimal light pollution for the best viewing experience. Be careful and remember to dress warmly!
The ludicrous music starts to play, and two individuals appear at the table. They greet the audience, each other, and then dive into an animated conversation, something that resembles gossip.
In the strongest paroxysm of cowardly fever, a sullen thought enters our brain and passes through our body with a revolting sensation. It prompts us to seize the telly, drag it to the window, stammering, panting, pull the cord out of the socket, or altogether with the socket — no reason for the socket to be there — and send the black box from our thirteenth floor straight down to the pavement. Perhaps nothing else would ensue, and the telly, with a broadcast still running on it by inertia, would disintegrate into glass and plastic, but at the same time an accident might occur and there would be standing a demon in a balaclava, waiting for his next victim
and the telly would land on his head.
Like a bomb, indeed. The balaclava wouldn't help.
Thirteen floors, approximately thirty-five metres, two and a half to three seconds of falling.
The word is flying! The word is free!
Similar to a meteorite, the telly would flash, drawing a trail of wire with a torn-out socket at the end, and, instead of nailing the demon down to Earth, it would lead to the demon’s complete extinction, “complete” for it would smash the demon’s head, turning it into porridge, and blood and bones would mix with the glass of the kinescope shattered against icy asphalt and transform into one disastrous debacle, a spontaneous art installation
"The Power of the Word"
and passers-by would be strolling along, glancing out of the corner of their eyes at the disturbing object of art, adjusting their collars and straps of rucksacks and bags and tucking their gloved hands in their pockets, then looking forward or down, somewhere at a forty-five degree angle, so they would see nothing but that couple of metres of treacherous surface before them, before they disappear into the depths of the city landscape, their worn soles polishing the slippery road for future generations to follow. We, meanwhile, would stay upstairs, almost falling out of the open window, blown back by the biting wind, gulping, and then would vomit, sending the triumph and horror born in our stomach plummeting down to the pavement to finish the installation.
Stop using “would”, will you? You're already in it. Realise what has just happened. The atmospheric pressure drops around you. Run to the bathroom, lock yourself in, sit on the closed porcelain throne, and wait.
Wait for what?
Don’t ask me. Your ears buzz, your thoughts flutter against the soft walls in your head, chirping and giggling, stumbling and falling down. Look in the mirror. Your mother's best creation. Pure accident, as everything is.
It should have been broken.
It is. It is cracked, see. Fissures are everywhere in the surrounding space, decorating it like a spider web. The person you see is pale, sinister, with tangled locks of greasy hair stuck to their face. She used to say you're pretty, didn't she? The murderer, the vigilante, the peace-bringer, the one who delivered the preemptive blow? Pull your lower eyelids down, upper eyelids up. Look inside the pupils. There, inside the black dots, in the depths, consciousness still resides. You see it and it sees you. Say “Hi”, would you?
Grab your hair, pull it out in strands, run out of the toilet, peer out of the window and look again at what you've done. Remove the carpet from under the settee, roll it, take a bucket with a dustpan and a small broom and head for the lift.
This life isn’t working.
You mean "this lift"?
That isn’t working either.
Then what’s working for you now is an intangible spiral of steps and phantom railings which will guide you down.
Thirteen floors. Two-point-seventy-five metres per floor. Seventeen centimetres per step.
Your heart, like a jackhammer, punches a hole in the ability to act sensibly, reasonably, deliberately.
There’s a luft between the body and mind.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen.
All that's thinking now is your paleomammalian cortex. Run!
Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty-seven, thirty-eight, thirty-nine, forty, forty-one, forty-two, forty-three, forty-four.
Breathe, control your breathing. Who are you, the elderly?
Wait-wait-wait-wait-wait, you've been there already. You’ve fucked it up.
We don't care. We can't count now. We can’t do anything.
Keep the fucking count!
Thirty-nine, forty, forty-one, forty-two, forty-three, forty-four. Thirty forty-five, forty-six, forty-seven, forty-eight, forty-nine, fifty, fifty-one, fifty-two, fifty-three, fifty-four, fifty-five, fifty-six, fifty-seven, fifty-eight, fifty-nine, sixty, sixty-one, sixty-two, sixty-three, sixty-four, sixty-five, sixty-six
breath, breath, control it
sixty-seven, sixty-eight, sixty-nine, eighty, eighty-one, eighty-two, eighty-three, eighty-four, eighty-five, eighty-six, eighty-seven, eighty-eight, eighty-nine, ninety, ninety-one, ninety-two, ninety-three, ninety-four, ninety-five, ninety-six, ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred, one hundred one, one hundred two
you don't have to say "one" every time
hundred three, hundred four, hundred five, hundred six, hundred seven, hundred eight, hundred nine, hundred ten, hundred eleven, hundred twelve, hundred thirteen
you don't have to say “hundred” either, there isn't much left.
fourteen, fifteen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty twenty-one twenty-two twenty-three twenty-four twenty-five twenty-six twenty-seven degrees of pain in the left side of the ribcage and twenty-eight
one two one two is your drill march killer march
thirty thirty-one thirty-two thirty-three
run for your life
thirty-four thirty-five thirty-six thirty-seven thirty-eight thirty-nine
when is the end
it's near my friend it's near don't skip the numbers would you
forty one hundred forty-one forty-two forty-three forty-four forty-five forty-six forty-seven forty-eight, one hundred forty-eight, that's it!
no it's not
forty-nine fifty fifty-one-two
It's you, it's your fault!
No-no-no, it's not us, it's not even the telly (an object in freefall) that destroys (turns the demon’s head into a porridge) in the case of the falling; what destroys is the impact force when one object (the telly) collides with an obstacle (the demon). We (what is "we" even?) have nothing to do with that. We have nothing to do with it at all.
Yes, you do! Of course you do! They're coming for you already! You think you can porridge a cop on the pavement and get away with it?
Yeah! Yeah, absolutely! It's all surface elasticity (the cop's head)! Had he been a gas, nothing would have happened! He would have blown apart and thanked us for the tickle.
Where were you?
sixty-seven sixty-eight-nine seventy seventy-one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten-eleven
Eighty, it should be eighty, dimwit.
eighty eighty-one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten ninety
Say it in full again, you're fucking it up again.
One hundred ninety, one hundred ninety-one, one hundred ninety-two, one hundred ninety-three, one hundred ninety-four, one hundred ninety-five, one hundred ninety-six, one hundred ninety-seven, one hundred ninety-eight, one hundred ninety-nine. Two hundred.
Two hundred one, two hundred two, we're closer than ever, closer to the bottom, two hundred three, two hundred four
the bottom, the bottom, can you feel it? can you?
two hundred five two hundred six two hundred seven
here here jump over the last three
It's quiet at the telly crash site. It's still dark. The useless street lights flicker drearily. The snow falls perpendicularly, cushioning the pavement and the deserted street. No sound can be heard. There are no passers-by, no one, not now at least; they may have scampered, possibly hidden, lurking, waiting, questioning themselves, wondering what will happen to this marvellous art installation and who the ingenious artist is that made it. What a performance! No doubt, it's a great opportunity for municipal services to finally break the ice on the pavement and clear the snow.
Someone stabs us from inside under the rib.
Cold air wheezes in our throat before it has time to warm up in the nose and mouth.
You shouldn't have skipped gym class to go to the library; you should have run, run, run, learned to breathe, mastered the motion of your limbs, for life is unpredictable. You never know what a television dropped on a cop from a thirteenth-floor window might do to him. You can't prepare yourself for
Here he is on the icy pavement, splayed out, still resembling a human body, albeit headless. His head is a gory disaster.
The television can sometimes be mind-blowing, can't
Around the cop, the blood covers the icy pavement; the snow is crimson. Pieces of brain, bones, the kinescope's glass and plastic are all scattered around. With the rolled carpet under your arm — it has finally started to feel heavy, hasn't it — and the bucket in hand, you approach him but slip on the blood-moistened ice and plummet on the body. Under the dark clothes, it's probably still warm. An eyeball is floating in the puddle of filth, see? It sees you. Use your dustpan and broom, scoop up the installation and hurry. Your hands are shaking, bloody slush is splashing, your pupils are dilating, your mouth is dry, you forgot to put on your shoes, silly.
Is that an ear?
Collect as much as you can, and hide the large pieces in the snowdrift. The rest will freeze into the pavement by dawn, covered with snow.
It's falling right now, oh dear snow, thank you, thank you.
Passers-by will only think that some drunkard was walking home again with jingling bags, slipped, fell face-first on the ice, split his lip, nose, or his eyebrow and bled on the road. What an abomination! Put that horn in your pocket. Roll out the rug, drag the bloody body onto it, wrap it up. You used to enjoy rolling yourself up in the carpet when you were a child, using this same carpet and pretending you were a mummy, pretending you were dead while your dear parents were grudging, but each time you did that, after a minute or even less time, as soon as you decided to leave the carpet-chamber, you realised you couldn't escape and claustrophobia kicked in, leaving you believing you would stay there inside the carpet forever and die a dreadful within-rug demise, so you started screaming for help, crying, and your parents, laughing, unwrapped you. Remember?
Now, it's your turn to wrap and unwrap. Hang the bucket full of demonic leftovers onto your shoulder, turn your back to the entrance, grab the head end of the carpet
But aren't we supposed to bring him inside legs-first? Isn't that the custom?
Do you want to smear the entire building in blood? Grab the body. Up, up only. He's not too heavy - perhaps the head was the heaviest part. Press the lift button with your nose.
This lift isn't working.
Up, up only, again those thirteen floors through the dark staircase littered with cinders and butts and condoms and cans, newspapers and needles, smelling musty, smelling of damp and dust, smelling of human filth.
Time goes by in arithmetic progression. One, two, four, eight
Stop doing that, drag the body and don't think about anything, turn off your mi
— Why are you all in blood?
It's her; the old lady, your neighbour, her nose broken and blue. It's the thirteenth floor. Your physique is impressive; good work.
But we're alone with her in the stairway.
Yes, this is where it ends.
— Erm, we cut our hand while preparing frozen chicken.
— You should've defrosted it, love, don't you know?
— We know, we didn’t have time for defrosting. Thank you, though.
— You look unwell. Are you eating well, love?
— Not really, m-am. Just erm...
—What's in the bucket, love?
Busted. Now you have to kill her, too.
—Erm, a porridge, pig porridge.
—Yes, m-am, indeed. Please, we're in a bit of a rush.
— Is it from a pig?
— From a real pig?
—A metaphorical pig, m-am.
— A porridge?
— It is, m-am.
— Porridge from a pig. I don't understand, love.
— We thought you were a wise woman, but you're asking such silly questions, m-am.
— Wise woman? Look at me, love.
— You're right, you're right. Please, can we go?
— What's floating in there?
— Kinescope pieces.
— It's a telly, look closely.
— Bollocks! You're bullshitting me, love, aren't you?
— It shattered. We're not bullshitting. We threw it out of our window.
— Are you drunk? Are you delirious?
— What? No, we're not. We don't think so.
She noticed the boot sticking out of the rolled carpet and blinked thrice.
— Am I delirious?
— We don't know, m-am, it may be you, may be us, maybe we’ve both lived in collective delirium for dozens of years and there's nothing left in the world apart from the delirium, and perhaps it's just an order of things to flush remnants of a policeman down the toilet, for the order of things is odd. So odd you can't imagine it, m-am.
— Perhaps we are both delirious.
— Perhaps we both are.
She stares into the bucket and the carpet again and shakes her head.
— Good luck, love. Please take care of yourself.
— Thank you, m-am, and you have a great day too.
— Why do you refer to yourself as "we", love?
— Because "we" are never lonely, m-am.
She shakes her head, crosses herself, and retreats to her flat, sits by the window and looks into the
Well, you don't know whither, you're not omniscient, are you, you can't see that, she's in her flat now, behind the closed door, probably calling the police. Your metal door is open so don't wait and burst in put the bucket on the floor first lock click second lock click then the latch click and now to the toilet to the toilet to the toilet lock yourself in again so no one can see. The lid of your porcelain throne is open and ready to take in your creation wholly entirely from your bucket young dissident extremist terrorist murderer pour pour your hellish cocktail your demon brew into the sewer and flow flow the cocktail flow and float all the way through the pipes but please don't clog them up please.
Flush flush flush fl
Oh no. The water level rises.
It's muddy and bloody with pieces of bones and brain floating in it. It's going up.
Up, up only.
Take the toilet brush and start thrusting the pig porridge down. Your heart pumps blood through your veins into your head with the same vehemence and futility with which you try to pump down the porridge. You're snivelling, tears teetering behind your eyelids, rolling down your cheeks and raining into the bowl below. The mixture of toilet water, infernal ichor, and your salty drops splashes around, soaking your clothes, running down your face, entering your mouth — an unwelcome baptism in filth and fear. The bowl is still overbrimming. You push the toilet brush far into the syphon; something cracks and the handle stays in your hand while the brush itself rests wedged in the U-bend. You're losing this battle. You're losing to a grotesque slop. You are nothing. An agonised whimper erupts from the dank depths of your gullet. Plunge your hands into the filthy substance and clean the syphon. Don't mind the nausea, your futilely contracting stomach doesn't understand the situation; you have nothing to vomit with, you've already been cleansed; now, do that to the toilet. Uproot the brush, rid all remnants clogging the plum, including the bony and the brainy bits, and the incisive shards of the kinescope. It is your ordeal. Let the substance flow
Down, down only.
The rhythm of your rushing blood turns into applause, then, for a moment, into silence, until your sob, raw and guttural, shreds it.
You're free, water, please go. Please.
It does. The water answers to your plea. Don't think, dive into the sink. Behold your reflection in the mirror (youthful dissident extremist terrorist murderer). Don’t cry; it won’t help, it will only irritate your eyes. You like crying, savouring every sob, but this is not something you need to do right now. Wash your face, your hair, mop it, twist it in a bun, and drink, drink, drink, drink, drink that chlorinated liquid with the flavour of rust and lime.
The body! The bod
Peek out from the toilet. Here she is, your telly-headed mistress, standing there, shaking her head, etching the events in her notebook. You’ve failed her. She's disappointed in you, though it’s hard to tell. Her kinescope shows nothing, only your faint reflection.
She will snitch on us
And hello jail. Because of you.
They will kindly place us against the wall and shoot us, and no one will ever know what happened.
What about your multiple realities now? How many do you see?
Ignore, ignore, ignore.
No, you can’t escape it anymore; you have to choose. You must hide the body.
It would only fit a head, but there isn't even a head anymore. A suitcase, your father's travel suitcase. Throw his old clothes out of it. Unwrap the demon from the carpet, toss it aside. Lay the suitcase next to it. Lay the demon in it. Close it.
No, no, no, it's not closing. It's not fitting into it.
Put him in the foetus position. The suitcase is a womb, the demon’s ready for rebirth.
No, he is too large to fit the suitcase. They aren't designed to fit demons, they are designed to fit things.
Turn him into things then. Unfold the carpet back and drag the demon to the centre of it. Prepare to butcher.
—Make sure your knife is sharp—a dull knife is a dangerous tool, —murmurs TVR, suddenly appearing behind you, hovering and whispering, —But better get a saw.
She's very caring again. But "a saw"? We don't have a saw. Ask your
—Morning again, love. What can I d-
—Have a saw?
—Saw? I didn't see anything.
—No-no, the tool. I need a saw.
—Why would you need a saw at such an early hour? I wonder.
—We... We... have a table to fix. One leg is… well *gulp*, larger than the other three.
—Has it grown overnight?
—It might've, ma'am.
—I only have a hacksaw, love.
—That, well, will do well.
—You're having a busy morning, aren't you, love?
She gives you the hacksaw, you bid her a pleasant day once more, and go back to the demon. On your knees, you kneel next to the demon's body.
Our lungs defy inhalation; we don't know what to do.
—Start with the arms. Find the joint where the arm connects to the body. Carefully cut through the joint and set the arm aside. Repeat this step with the other arm.
Place the hacksaw on his shoulder and with a frictional movement, back and forth, pull and push, pull and push. You squint as the dark demon's blood sprinkles, already cold and stinky. The hacksaw gets through its skin, to flesh, to bone, as blood spurts out on the carpet, which like a sponge takes it all in and turns into a mire. Pull and push, pull and push. The red sludge, the demon blood, enters your mouth and
—Next, let's move on to the legs. Like with the arms, find the natural joint between the thigh and the body. It should give way easily if you've found the right spot.
Obey. It takes time, but trust her. Just pull and push. Don't weep. Why do you keep weeping? No redemption for you, it’s all sold out.
There's nothing else left to do but weeping. This is who we are now, this is where it all ends, in
A lurid dream there was, of a butcher, who sold the demon's flesh to angels. Paradise that week was short on demon's meat. The angels craved to feast and celebrate their virtuous, righteous, holy nature, and thought they must, and had no other choice but to act and open the gates of hell, to let the demons out and hunt them down.
—Repeat with the other leg.
The demons fled into the night, but all were caught and slain with glee. The butcher carved them with delight and brought them to the angels' spree. They ate the demon flesh and loved the taste of sin, and soon they ran out of their stash and looked for more to feed but couldn't find it, for demons now were extinct. They searched the barren hell, they rummaged through paradise, until with shock and awe they realised the only demon left to kill was hiding in the butcher’s skin.
Too coherent for a dream, isn't it?
—...And there you have it—a fully dismembered body. Remember, practice makes perfect, so don't be discouraged if you don't get it right the first time.