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Author's note: Inspired by a classroom assignment from a couple of years ago, about ethics in a historical period. Obviously it became too long for a school assignment, and a bit too short for anything else... It's a bit surreal and not historically accurate. Some parts may not make sense. I can't even take my own work seriously, so you need not either. I hope nobody is offended. Think of it as alternate universe Russia.
The plague is spreading. It was a germ that entered through the ears and traveled through the neurons and tubules of the mind. A journey through a labyrinth until the virus reaches the core. But the victim tends to be dead before then.
The plague is spreading and there is no stopping. Even for all their care to bring away the diseased and protect the healthy, the plague would take another victim. Somewhere. A victim will be taken.
The plague was spreading for years until lives began to be taken. It spread to this town and that town and here town and there town. It was rare to find a town where each and every person was entirely free of the germ. The motherland knew the plight well, but failed to recognize it. The sick man would do well to seem healthy. It was said, or rather, unsaid, that admitting one’s illness, even to oneself, would drive you to irredeemable insanity. You will soon be dead. For you see, this is a disease of the mind.
Certainly these sick slugs secretly slunk in shadow in this town and that town and there town. It existed. It was a disease. It was badness and sadness and madness tenfold. There was no doubt of its existence, for they said it was bad and mad. Yet for all the anxiety felt for and in the regions of the motherland, there was one town that was quite good and clean for a very, very long time. This was Bezymynnyy, a very moderate and gratefully dull town. In this moderate and dull town there existed a moderate and exquisitely dull educational facility some called "school" and others called certain names that weren't very nice. And in this school there were two little boys who happened to be friends.
Except that one of these little boys was a big little boy and the other was a little little boy. The big little boy was smart yet strange, simultaneously. He was one of those irregular looking folks that people liked to look at because they liked to see new things. His skin was white. His hair was white. His blood vessels showed themselves clearly through transparent skin. But most peculiarly his squinting, shaking eyes were either red or blue or grey depending on the light. These were quite strange changes indeed. They called this big little boy A. for just as his head was above everyone else's, so were his grades. A. was the top of his class. And though many people struggled to get such high marks, they seemed unable to compete with his inherited intellectual wealth.
The little little boy, on the other hand was skinny and sloppy and plain and big eyed and dark haired and awkward all at once. He was as short as his friend was tall and as slow as his friend was smart. He was called P. by his peers. He tended to spend his day at A.'s side, to be petted on like a poor pitiable puppy.
These classmates weren't always friends, however. It just so happened that neither had a friend at all for a long time. A. was seen as incredibly selfish by his peers, for when break came around, he refused to share his delectable looking lunch, claiming he made it for himself and nobody else. Oh how they teased him for this. P. however, didn't share a delectable looking lunch because he had none. Everyone was annoyed that he took pieces of their lunches but didn't give anything nice himself. So one day they all decided P. would get no lunch of theirs.
A. happened to be one of those people who listened quite intently into other people's conversations but never contributed himself. And when he saw this plot he felt a minuscule tang of pity for poor pitiable P. So when nobody was looking his direction, A. put his entire lunch on P.'s desk and walked away swiftly. Indeed the little boy felt quite grateful. It seemed he had always depended on the kindness of strangers.
But the most unusual sight of the day came at recess when the tallest of the tall sat next to the smallest of the small whose hands were still sticky from a certain delectable looking lunch, and began petting his head. Yes indeed he came up and rubbed his head. A. stroked his disheveled head for all of playtime and then suddenly stopped and stomped back to the classroom. And that continued day in and day out without P. ever saying a word of protest. In fact, nothing was ever said until once A. called him "my dearest friend".
"P. dear boy, there is something I must tell you," A. began, almost seeming sincere but then reverting to his haughty speech of usual. "I consider you to be my dearest friend. Indeed. Yes. Quite. And that is the quite the end of the matter."
"Indeed. Yes. Quite. Thank you, sir." P. would reply.
Apparently these strange strangers were the best of friends.
And so the days passed and changes came to the school, and went even quicker on some occasion. For one thing, most students were found to be wearing a red scarf with their uniforms of white and black. That was most kids anyway, even though it was mostly voluntary. For example, A. wouldn't wear the red scarf, preferring to compliment his outfit with something shiny and silk of a black and white paisley. The other little children thought A. was the queerest thing after that. Well, queerer than they had ever thought him anyway, which was certainly a high amount of peculiar. But nary a child would speak very rudely to A. for all their sentiment. After all, there was still the chance that he would let them cheat (or as they called it, share the answers) on his exams like he let P.
Indeed A.'s marks continued to be exemplary throughout all of primary and secondary education. He excelled in history class and writing class and even arithmetic class. Most of all he liked the arts, although the programs therein were cut in favor of more important classes such as “History of the Revolution” class or “Harmonious Working for the Harmony of a Harmonious Society” class. Moreover, the administrators of course had to spend much time on improving the conditions of the moderate and dull school. Certainly they needed new textbooks to tell the ever changing history of the revolution. Ever changing indeed. Many students struggled to keep up with the changes.
A., on the other hand, seemed to know what he was doing for the longest. At least, that was true until a disturbing March day when he felt very disturbed indeed. Miss Uchitel was passing out tests to all the middle sized boys and girls. Of course she went to a sour and slouching A. and patted him on the back as she gave his paper back. And A. took one sour look at that sorry test and it should have been enough to make him smile on an ordinary day. But something within refused to change his outward countenance. It was an exam of 100 glorious points. But with an unfortunate pen stroke, the 100 on the test was hardly glorious at all. It looked more like a 1 that was written with a very nice pen stroke, a well filled with a swell of red ink, followed by a 0 that looked acceptable, but the final 0 was faint and choppy and sharp. It was hardly a 0 at all. The pen must have reached the end of its days and Miss Uchitel must've not felt the necessity to write A.'s perfect grade perfectly.
A.'s eyes opened wide and his flushed lips turned into an unpleasant frown and his nostrils flared once or twice and he clenched his fingers and his toes and visually expressed his emotion in various ways, hoping to gain the attention of a certain individual with eyes large enough to see these cues.
"How do you feel, A?" P. said, knowing that A. did not usually speak unless he was expressing how he felt, something which was very important to him.
"I feel... I feel..." A. took a gulp of saliva and then air and tried to find a few solid words of expression. He wasn't sure what to make of his imperfect perfect grade. "It's nothing, my dearest friend. Nothing nothing nothing. I just feel...mildly perturbed. Yes. That is it. Perturbation of the mind. That is all."
But that mild perturbation escalated into advanced perturbation until he was very near bursting of perturbation by their final level of education.
It was a moderate and dull day, which was a good thing for their standards. Miss Uchitel had passed out grades on the latest history exam and then left for a smoke and a steak as the students went on break. A. happened to be looking at his grade and then covered it up very quick. His eyes darted about even swifter than they did in rest. Miss Marya Mushkin and Mister Georgy Glazkov were speaking very loudly about the test and some other students would occasionally contribute words of their own.
“Well, look at that. I got 100 points without even copying off of A.”
“Seems to me like he isn’t top cat anymore. I’ve been getting 100 points on the past seven tests I’ve taken.”
“My rating was 5 of 5, last quarter.”
And then the schoolmate who was sitting next to A. stood up and sat with Marya and Georgy and they formed a little group.
“Did you see what A. got, anyway?” A.’s neighbor whispered quite raspily to his comrades. And it was then that A. felt anger and betrayal and insecurity, like being naked and exposed in a Siberian prison mid-December.
“For all my protection and lying and pretending, it seems I have come to the point of no hope. There is no changing what comes after here. Quite hopeless indeed. Yes.” A. conjured thoughts of such a nature in the neurons and tubules of his mind. “There is no point to maintain this masquerade if they are not as ignorant of my standing as I wish.”
The marking on his test wasn’t merely an expression of failure, but of advanced failure. Oh how hideous the numbers seemed on his page and A. wanted to cry and curl up into a fetal position or possibly do a time warp again and live in his mother’s warm womb for the rest of eternity. But that was not only impossible and gross, but extremely impossible and gross. So instead of trying something extremely impossible and gross, A.’s face went into full unpleasant mode and he stood up in a fit of advanced anger.
“This just proves how idiotic you all are!” A. growled, and everyone jumped and turned around, incredibly shaken. “You can hardly retain a thing. Just give you a grade and you’re happy, aren’t you? Don’t you fools even notice that the answers contradict things we used to know? Come on, guys. These tests aren’t even that hard. Don’t know the answer? Just say it was comrade Stalin, da??? The test makers can’t disagree with that!” A. finished, breathing irregularly and letting his eyes glance over the pale faces about him. For a moment nobody said a single thing, and A. thought for a moment that he made them come to an understanding. But it didn’t last very long.
“Shut up, A.-Hole! Everyone knows you are just a sour grape because you have nothing anymore.” said Mushkin. “No...You never had nothing at all!”
“Fantastic use of double negatives, Madame--” A. was trying to say something convincing, but he never had to argue before.
“Enough of your petty arguments and pretty airs, A! You’re so pathetic. You hate a revolution that deprived you of your parent’s excess, but makes everyone else happy. Everyone sees it. Everyone knows it. You are so selfish!”
“Me? I’m the selfish one? Indeed? Well, at least my reasons--which I shall have no need to reveal to you single-minded buffoons--are not based on the fact that I support a government that gives me free stuff. My parents worked for their money! My mother and father were businesspeople like you’ve never seen.”
“Yeah, but what work have you ever done for that money?” From there all the students went into a frenzy. They argued back and forth about this and that, but A. receded to the back of the room and leaned on Lenin’s glorious portrait and looked at all the chaos. He folded his arms and stomped his foot and let his eyes get wet and red in the whites and thought of very rude words to say indeed.
“You shouldn’t even trust him; he’s such a weirdo,” A. thought he heard one say. It was at this moment that a slightly less small P. was seen, somewhat drowning in the crowd of bigger students. He struggled to get to A., and then stood at his side so he can pet his head.
“This is the last you shall ever see of me, friend. I am nothing nothing nothing.” said A.
“I am puzzled, comrade.” replied P. “Where are you going to go? Why are you so angry anyway? This isn’t very bad. Nope, I have seen bad grades and it is not something to make a big deal out of.”
“I’m afraid you shall never grasp what I mean...I’m afraid. Perhaps they are right. I must be gone.” P. could have sworn that A. looked genuinely sad and confused, but then decided that A. never felt sad and confused, even if P. felt he was in the wrong for something.
It just so happened that at that very moment, P. did feel that A. was wrong. Everything he ever learned pointed to A. being one of those very bad bourgeois traitors; from his behavior to his fancy white coat he put on after school. But he didn’t say anything and let A. continue to have his melodramatic fancies. That was what friends did, he supposed.
And so the school day continued. When Uchitel returned to the class, everyone scurried back into their seats. They didn’t dare say what A. was doing while she was away, even though she would have agreed with them, or so they believed. But they quickly forgot about the issue, for A. was gone the next day and many did not see him ever again.
And time passed uneventfully for a long while. The last years of higher education for P. were acceptable, and he eventually got a job in a factory right outside the town of Bezymynnyy. His existence was moderate and acceptably dull and P. was quite content with this.
However, this respectable dullness did not last. It was a lovely grey day and drab night in Bezymynny when P. was taking a shortcut through a cemetery to get to his grey, drab house. Suddenly his coat was grabbed by some unknown monstrosity. P. clenched his eyes shut and squealed like a pig (or a little girl), grabbing his neck and thinking some corpse was trying to pull him down and gnaw upon the neurons and tubules of his brain. “Oh what a strange and cruel end to me this shall be! What shall my mother think?” thought he. But as he threw himself upon the ground and scrambled across the slippery slush, P. found there was nothing to be afraid of in his pursuer, for it was simply a tall man all in white who blended in rather well with the November scenery. P. looked at him and the man looked at him and P. continued to look at the man and then he was happy indeed.
"Ah, A. Is that you, dearest comrade?"
"Hush your inexhaustible squealing now." said A. "Yes it is your old dearest friend. Does that calm you now? How unnerving it would be if two young men were found in a cemetery, one all wet and screaming on the ground. And to be seen with someone like me. What disturbing sights they shall see in their minds for hearing of the queer graveyard situation. No we wouldn't want anyone to think I'm trying to kill you, although they think of such things readily these days it seems. Can I speak with you about something serious?"
“Oh I'm just glad you're back. I thought you left the state." P. gasped for relief and tried to get up on his own.
“I'll get you up, don't worry. There can be no pain in helping these days. We are all in need of help it seems." Now as they were both standing, P. tried to greet him but was shrugged off. “Come on, dorogoy, can I assume you will treat me like a friend although I abandoned you back then? I’m sorry. I couldn’t help it. No indeed. My folks had just gotten into a bit of an issue but everything is fine now. Are you very angry, Pigeon?”
“Oh no I’m doing well myself. There’s no need to feel bad.” A. was surprised in his somewhat unrealistic way, but then felt a little guilty.
“I’m sorry I still retain some of these superiority sentiments...or whatever it is that makes me feel like you needed me...Yes. Quite. I supposed there is something wrong with me. Oh! But anyway, let’s get back to business, da?”
“Well, go on anyway, this is about to take a page if we keep talking like this and I have to get home to my family.” A. began groping about his satchel and unsheathed a stack of paper.
“Oh Pigeon, would you be as kind as to read this for me? It’s just a book I had been writing. I’m afraid it’s a bit boring and over complicated. Quite like this story...” P. understood what he meant readily, for not only was the manuscript hefty, but the fourth wall was shattered beyond repair. “Just read a bit tonight please. I want to see you at 1 o'clock in the morning right here.” P. felt quite confused but figured that A. was just being very mysterious and dramatic.
“Whatever you say, kotik.” And P. crossed the graveyard home, trying not to think about buried beasts of the past coming to take him away.
P. was in his room scanning through the sloppily scripted pages of the book, but found he didn’t understand what it was even saying.
When you find that you agree with the masses and the combination of all the individuals of the land reflects exactly yourself, you must be mistaken. For how is it that your mind is identical to theirs? Theirs which reflects the country, which in turn reflects all that you care for? Isn’t it strange that we are protecting each and every person, not just the ones at top, but then we are all grouped together as the country and it is claimed that the individual does not matter anymore. Then what are we yearning for?
And the rambling continued for well over a page, and might have been all the pages as far as P. was concerned. “Well,” thought P. “I have a feeling he is trying to say something profound but is far too impassioned to make sense to the plain man. That’s just too bad.” And then P. did a very unfortunate thing and went to the living room with the pages.
“Mamulya, you’ll never believe it, but I saw A. today and he’s doing well and he wants me to read this.” P.’s two aunts and female cousins also lived in the grey, drab house and were all sitting in the room when he addressed his mother.
“What’s this?” his aunt Tetya Urodlivyy screeched rather in a rather spitty, ugly manner. “What’s this? Who is this A? Is he one of those eccentric folks you deals with? We don’t want no eccentric folks here. No we don’ts. Nope, this is a good boring town. Who writes books anyways? What do you have important to say?”
“What’s it about, malysh?” his cousin Agnessa asked.
“I’m not sure really. It says that we shouldn’t consider ourselves part of the country because we have our own concerns. That’s the gist I get anyway.” Unfortunately his family didn’t respond in a very encouraging manner. Their eyes got rather big and they were stiff and uncomfortable. The discomfort was filling the room with a fog and choking him.
“I...I think he has a poor spirit, that A. boy," Agnessa broke the silence with a couple of pokes. “Something about it seems counter revolutionary. It seems quite evil. I don’t want to read it.”
“Oh, is it that bad?” P. was quite confused, but he couldn’t just doubt the validity of his elder’s opinions. “I think he wants to paint the place a rainbow. Make a bunch of different colors in this grey place I guess. Maybe some color isn’t so bad...”
“Don’t you see?” interrupted his aunt. “Oh no you can’t, you are so gullible! He’s trying to paint us white. All this bourgeois bull--. I never saw anyone but those upper class eggheads do things like that. Individuality? Phooey! It’s just being selfish that is. In a different name indeed."
“Yes, let’s think about this grand country and all we’ve come to, not us silly selfish folk,” contributed his other cousin Agatha. “It’s for the greater good.” Everyone shook their heads in agreement, even P. who felt a bit confused.
P. did not tell anyone he was about to meet A. in the morning, so he didn’t go out at all. Therefore he was anxious for going to work. He skipped around the cemetery instead of through it, and went back to making rakes and shovels and brooms and very useful things at the factory. If it wasn’t for the bulging stack of paper, last night’s graveyard escapade might have been a nightmare only. However, his hopes for perfect non-excitement went unheeded, for it was 6 o’clock when he saw A. again.
"Pigeon! Pigeon, I've waited all day in a tomb of woe," A. began. It seemed like he was going to start crying and pouting and say very emotional things and be like a sour little boy even if he was not a child anymore. "Where have you been? How sadly I waited for you." And A. put his hands on P.'s shoulders and looked down at him.
P. also looked down and didn't look him in the eyes when he said, "I can't associate with eccentric people. You'll do well to clean up your act. It's for the greater good. We don't like chaos and disorder here you know. Please, A. it's best for everyone this way. Just accept that this country is great. I don't understand why you can't see it." P. shook his shoulders from A.'s weak grip and turned around with his arms folded.
The tears might have been saved, but not after that. A. Screwed his face into something unpleasant and then sad.
"I’m sorry but I can't see well. I never will. These eyes see it all so distant. It is not clear and the light is too painful. I can't change that. It's everyone else that needs to change. They must stop allowing themselves to be brainwashed. Please, Pigeon. This is not how you really feel. Where did you get this?"
"From wiser people than you, that's who."
"No, Pigeon. I'm on a mission to let people see for themselves. This is just sad. If I can't even enlighten you, how can I get to anyone else? This gosh darned town!" A. was yelling now. "This gosh darned country!"
"Stop with your gosh-darned censorship!"
A. did not know what to think. He thought that P. was loyal as a poor pup, but he was not following him as easily as he followed everyone else. How confusing and saddening indeed. All that young man felt was loneliness and tears.
“You listen to the people you love: your mom and your aunts. So why won’t you listen to me?” A. grabbed P. at the back of the head and bashed his forehead onto it, smashing his brain up against that frequently petted head. “Please just take what’s in my mind and you will find the answer. Seeing will do nothing. I just want you to find yourself!”
P. shook himself free. “I’m sorry, A. I really am. But you’re being irrational. Please, how can you expect me to trust you with my development, when you haven’t even found yourself.”
By now the scene became very awkward indeed. If it was one of those American Hollywood productions, rain would have fallen with A.’s tears and a moving piano motif would have played. What a horrid break-up scene it would have been indeed. And they parted for the second time.
Night fell and it rose again in the morning and it seemed things were good and dull again. P. felt bad for his poor, confused companion. He hoped A. did not do something very desperate. It seemed he had lost all sense. But the seemingly mad behavior of A. was quickly shoved aside in favor of a new oddity.
Nobody knew where it came from or what it was, but one day a small person was seen roaming town square. Its hair was long and messy and covered its face, and its bloodstained Cossack coat was overly large for its tiny frame. It was rumored that the thing wore a necklace of the hand of Miriam and it kept a head in its traditional kokoshnik headdress. It was covered in snow and seemed to make footprints from the direction of the cemetery. P. had avoided the graveyard ever since the awkward and very cheesy break up scene from nights before. How queer a place it now seemed, and entirely haunting. But for all his avoidance of the graves, there was no avoiding the ghost.
P. was just coming from the Useful Things Factory when the little thing was standing before him.
“Mmm yessss. It needsess the big spoonsies yesss. To dig to the tombs yesss,” the odd thing said. “The snowsses are too high for it to roam and it needsess to get home. Yes?” The thing reached its hands out and felt the air, trying to go around P.
“Erm, we have no big spoons in this factory. Would you want a shovel instead.” P. hoped that the shovel was intended for the snow and not for any graves.
“Ohh, the shovelsess, yes? That is very nice, yes? Gimme gimme gimme, yes?” P. went back inside and obtained a shovel from his own money. When he brought it back outside, the oddment was opening and closing its hands, trying to grab a handle that wasn’t there.
“Come on, give it nowsss, yes? Where is it, yes? Givess it nowss, yesss?” The thing tried to scramble all over P., but he put the shovel in its hands. “Ohh very goodss, very nicesss, yess? Yess, and it gets it free now, frees yess? What would it be? The palmsses, yes? The readingsss of themses? My eyess, yes let’s get them on for the readingss yes. What does it see, what does it needsess?” The small creature pushed the black mat of hair from its face, and P. saw that is was nothing but a harmless little girl. Sure, she may have had the crooked nose of a witch and the monobrow of a man, but it was definitely young and pale and strangely endearing. P. figured she might have been Baba Yaga if she wasn’t so young. This was very relieving until she opened her eyes and revealed nothing but blank, black sockets. P. screamed like a little girl.
“It is the banshee, it iss, yess you screaming girl, you isss the manshee, silly pansy, yes?” The child cackled like a crone. She pulled her long coat sleeves back and upon her wrists were bracelets made of small eyes of various colors. And then she did the unthinkable and put a single dangling eye into her hand, and it popped in as readily as if it was a natural socket. “For the readingss of the palmsss, the palm readingss, the palmss readss, yess? It is blind without them. Oh waitss! It didn’t answer, yes? What does it needss? The palmses? Or is a trance needed to tell the storiesss, historiess, his storiess, yes?”
“No! No, please I was just going home. It doesn’t-err-I don’t need no palm readings or trances, no!” P. thought he would faint just by looking at the wiggling hand eyes.
“Ahh haaa! It needs it! It tells its story now, yes? Let us do that!” The blind child was hopping up and down very happily as P. face palmed for his grammatical error. “Well, it needs the stories of his, yes? The fairy, yes? The butterfly? The duck who wanted to paint the world in the rainbows, yes? The crying poofer who did the suicide-able, yes?
“It goes to the square and it looks very interesting, yes? I sees it. Eye saws it. With my very own ay ya yays, indeeds. It speaks words, but folks don’t do the listening, yes? They see things that looks very interesting, but do they sees indeeds? No, not at all, yes? And it says ‘look at these people, amazing how sheep’ll show up to the slaughter’. And then they get angry all at once. Mmm yesss. It says it wants to keep the man happy and the lady happy and that and this man and here and there man all are different mansses, but he doesn’t want to keep the country happy if it is blood spilled of the unhappy man of here and there, on the handses of our hand-lerss, indeeds.”
“Wait, do you speak of A? What has he done?” As was mentioned, P. was a slow little thing.
“Ahh, hoy. It does not listen, yes? It has the earses and does not listen. Aye it needs to listen for the eyesesss cannot be trusted, no? And so as the story goes:
“It yells at the bafoonses, the balloonses, the baboonses and they scream ‘traitor’ and ‘fool’ and I see that they is very good and liked by Stalin, yes they issss. A good town indeeds, yes? And for such the goodsies in the townsies there is some NKVDsies and they sees the hubbub and they want to take away the one who disturbed the peace. And it had a very good record of slipping away, the fairy did. The kreativschik did. The Либераст did. Hee hee! And he could blend in with the scenery and he was gone indeed. Like a bit of old magic, yes.”
“Well, where is he now?”
“If it’s not a rooster by now, hee hee, then it’s in the grave, yes? Is that the end of the story, yes?”
P. felt a mild perturbation. He hoped quite earnestly, for it is important to be earnest, that A. was neither “in the grave” nor being a rooster, whatever that meant. He scurried away from the child quite noiselessly so he could feel his perturbation in the comfort of his own room. He only paused to remember that the path through the cemetery was covered in four feet of snow and there was no entering that zone for the moment.
But the young man allowed very strange thoughts to enter his head that night. He thought of how dreadful it would be if A. was dead, even if they weren't earnest companions anymore. He thought of how much worse it would be if A. went through a metamorphosis and became a rooster in his sleep. He would wake up very roosterly and then wake everyone else up with his noises and he’ll be very lonesome indeed because nobody likes ugly, noisy roosters. Whatever that meant.
“I don’t see why A. should be dead, though.” P. thought. “Why should the police hurt him if he hurt nobody himself?”
And P. encompassed himself in a bubble of mindly fortitude which he let nobody enter. He concluded a few things that night. One was that A. disturbed the peace. Two was that A. did no worse crime. Three was that A. shouldn’t be hurt since it isn’t right for a government to hurt harmless dissenters, only violent psychopaths and terrorists. And lastly was that there was something tap tap tapping at his window. But then he paused again because he forgot his last point through the sound of the rapping.
The night was bright because of blizzard, where snowflakes reflected the moonlight all around. And at his window was not a raven nor a writing desk (because P. wasn’t one to write), but it actually something very white and bright indeed.
“Can I stay here for the night?” A. was yelling through the window, above the howling wind. P’s eyes got very big and he forgot all about the awkward break up scene and he let a slightly frozen A. penetrate the fortress of mindly fortitude.
“I’m so cold, I can use my nose drippings to stab somebody,” A. chattered. P. embraced him warmly, but it wasn’t warm enough to cause a change in neither temperature nor temperament.
“Poor A. I feel guilty for this. I hoped you weren’t dead, but perhaps you have become a rooster. Whatever that means. Where have you been?”
“I was in the grave, you see. Not quite dead, though. Not quite dead indeed. I’ve always depended on the deadness of my ancestors, it seems. I had to hide from very scary officers for being myself I think. Oy golubchik, goluboy, I’m in as deep a doo doo as the snow.”
“Well, I don’t see any issue with you hiding here for a while. Mother and I share the house with all my cousins who had no house of their own. One more shouldn't be a burden.”
It was a burden.
When A. and P. emerged from upstairs the next morning in a rather awkward way, immediately there was argument running around all over the room, making it a very dangerous place to be. Words such as traitor, crazy, ignorant, selfish, unenlightened, counter revolutionary, attempting to oppress again, flabby, thoroughly unpleasant, and very ugly were flung across the room. Everyone said their piece, including Agatha, who said “it is for the greater good”, and Agnessa, who said “I don’t want to be involved with such scary things.” Mother Alyona said that they wouldn’t want to revert to a government where her family will go hungry again. And finally Aunt Tetya Urodlivyy said they would do well to “report this criminal--this madman to the authorities at once”, before he murdered them all in his sleep.
And throughout this, P. slunk into the corner, unable to counter argue those formidable females. A., on the other hand, put his face very close to Tetya Urodlivyy and whispered an ugly thing indeed.
“Put me away. Put me with all else whom you despise. Like that unfortunate man that makes you a widow. A saboteur of the system indeed. Or perhaps I am like the woman who put a needle through our glorious leader’s portrait’s eye on that incident when she lost her pincushion. Just let these crimes slip to the cops and you get the perks. Yes, is that what I am?”
The answer was yes. Yes. Indeed. Quite. And that was quite the end of the matter. For the third time in his life, P. was lost from A.
And this time he quite truly never saw him again.
“Long live the king, the king is dead. Your prayers won’t call him back to your bed. With all this blood I’ve laced upon the moon. No spells of tricks will bring him home, long live the king, the king is mine, the king is dead.”
P. would have liked to think that life went back to dullness or moderateness or whatever it was he used to value, but it did not. The first bit of excitement came when Agnessa showed everyone the Pravda story of the arrest of a bezymianny madman. Everyone was quite relieved, for the Pravda revealed he was quite sick in the head. He possessed the diseases known as imagination (where one thought of unrealistic things), sluggish schizophrenia (where one disliked the best sociopolitical system in the world), idiocy (where one possessed the stupidness of a character whose problems arise from unrealistic moronity), and was even prone to rambling incoherently. One shouldn’t be fooled by his beautiful diction and his skilled oratory, for it was all the work of a diseased mind. P. felt a bit embarrassed because he might have been fooled by that crazy person’s beautiful diction and skilled oratory in the past. But then (he is rather slow as you remember) he realized that this skilled orator was A., who, although strange, never seemed to be such a dangerous sluggish schizophrenic. But how can he argue with the law? The law is all that is good and just and is always looking at the best interests of everyone. It was for the greater good.
For the rest of the week P. felt sluggish.
“No one sees, no one sees, nobody sees me. No one wants, no one wants, nobody loves me. I will take a ride up to the moon and eat myself a stranger. I don't feel nothing at all, don't taste nothing at all. Nice day for a murder...”
Another excitement came over the town when the newspaper reported the suicide of a judge who had recently sentenced a handful of young dissenters to death. Indeed they were bad little terrorists, said the newspapers. There was one thing the article lacked, however, that should have made all the difference. Before his death, he said:
"When children speak the truth and we punish them, I do not have the right to live."
Yes it was a man of the law, but he despised the punishment. As a judge, he served as executioner. The accused was good as dead, everyone knew. It was very strange. No wonder the newspapers refused to report such a treacherous thing.
P.’s days were terribly dull and feeling a bit immoderate. When P. went home on weekdays, he would always see the blind child, and eerily she might have seen him. In the town, she was known as “the Seer”, and they all thought she was a skilled fortune teller. Normally such things would not be accepted in this moderate and dull town, but this child became the town’s guilty pleasure, Cossack coat, church hat and all.
Rumors would circulate about various things. For example, everyone wanted to know how she was able to act strange and look dirty and do no work and just be a pimple on the face of the motherland and still remain not arrested. Some said she could make herself invisible when she needed to. Others said the cops had a thing for her and wouldn't arrest her for the world. Her opinion on the matter, which nobody would listen to for it was less interesting than the rumors, was that “nobody... no body...no. None pokes the girl. The blind thing. The poor small thing, no. So insignificant, yes? So mad though, yes. It has lost it. But they pokes the men, yes? They become these roosters, yes? That is what they does to the poor and the mad mensss.”
Other folks wanted to know where she stayed for the night. Some said she transformed into a bat and slept in a raided tomb. Still others said she put herself in the mouth of the town brown bear and stayed quite warm. But it was highly suspected that the creepy old man who was rumored to had been a medium ranking church official before the revolution had brought her into his home for a night’s stay. He was a secretive man and never wanted anyone to know of his origins, but his house was rumored to be full of holy things. It was then no wonder she claimed to be a skilled pianist who recently took to playing the organ, the church’s instrument of choice.
When asked how she got her mystical powers, the Seer said that she ate from the remains of Rasputin himself (never mind that he was burned, although perhaps eating ashes is not nearly as gross as his...other remains). Then she spooned out her own eyes and used them for seeing things that others wouldn’t see. It finally took a pig’s head in her hat to give her the wisdom to go on...
“Look no more; only the weak use their eyes, but I, I will teach you right. Come with me, come inside. You’ll just be gone and I’ll sing on and on, and on and on to capture the next one.”
P. would never participate in such discussions himself. He avoided the Seer and the grave and even the town brown bear at all costs. But avoidance of one’s problems was never a success.
Finally P. was met with a particular pivotal occasion, a fateful one indeed. It happened a pink and purple evening in a certain February in a certain year in a certain town square. P.’s eyes were so filled with the seeming loveliness of the evening that his vision completely skipped over something in his way and he bumped quite heartily into it. It was a teenager, so it seemed, who had their eyes dart back and forth more readily than one in rest. There was nobody around. And then the youth lifted its hand and between two fingers there was pinched a pamphlet. It was quite interesting to look at indeed, which the people of this town liked very much, so P. took the offering. Then the youngling disappeared.
The pamphlet was topped with “Death to Beria” and included such phrases as “freedom of thought” and “less cruel society” and “end the slaughter of our clergymen” and “free the innocent”. P. didn’t like the look of the paper anymore. Such radical thoughts occupied the mind of his youthful days. Never now, when he was such a good boring man. He let the anti-Soviet propaganda fall to the ground.
And it fell at the feet of a bear. It was huge, it was brown, and it was being ridden on by a slightly less little than previously, blind girl.
“Ah, what have we here?” asked the Seer.
“Nothing!” P. was scared for a moment that she’ll tell one of those police friends that he was touching the paper, but then he remembered that she couldn’t read.
“Nothing? Nothing nothing nothing! Tra la la!” The Seer slid from the bear’s head to the ground, where she stood on bare bear feet. Then she picked up the paper. “Ah, pravda, yes? Truth, yes? Mmm yessss. Very good. Burnsss them at the stake. The steak? It’s all at stake. For the sake. Of the state. Mmm yess. Cage them up and they’ll cry. Whip them and they’ll whinny until they’re hoarse. Until they’re horse. Yess, little boy.” P. was about to tell her that it wasn’t the Pravda newspaper she was holding, but she continued speaking anyway.
“Let’s walk now. I have shoveled all my life and built a labyrinth as it should be. To the tomb? To the womb? To the home? Let us roam. The snow is cleared. I have cleared it with the big spoon and the path is clear. Come, little boy. It tells a free story now. Yess, here it goes:
“It is a A...A. a, an A. indeed. It goes to the sanitarium at sanitary square. They wants the chemical treatment. Oh but it longs for the physical treatment. The psychical? The cynical? The financial? No, yes? The physical psychical. Mmm yes. And Dr. D has the physical medicine that he wants. Skilled with the instruments. Play it softly against your skin. 10 weeks shock treatment out to do you good. It’ll zap the fairy right out of you. If not, there is always surgery. Mmm yesss, pleasant penetration of the knife. Or we can use the ice pick. There is nothing that I can’t pick. I pick Trotsky for the pick treatment. Shove it in the back, or the eye even. Yes, it’ll put your mind in the right place.
“Oh no, you know, Nurse Ratched, Wretched, Ratshat, wants to talk it out and she says that it’s mad and you’ll be cured of these unfortunate thoughts and we’ll put you back in society and you’ll be good....An alien. A brainwasher. A brainwatcher? And you’ll be good. They’re always good. All ways. A dead man does no damage, yes?
“Indeed!! Indeed!! It is found, yes? I have found myself. In the Gulag. In the camp. Very camp. I am dead. Oh yes! A shot or a shock or a shat or a snap of the back under the whip. Oh, but you can’t kill the killer without becoming him, oh no, you know. Ohh very good.”
The plague was spreading.
And slowly P. grasped her possessed words. “Are you saying that A. is dead?”
It was a disease of the mind.
“Always dead. Siempre. Para siempre. For years and years since it never got the love it longed for. Years and years it was dead. Bury him in the masses of their mules. It was called Avon Shipovnik and Anandyn Amar and Avel Enukidze and Axel Bakunts and Alexei and Anastasia and Amanda and Andrei and all that was there. Walk in further through this path, little boy. We have come so far.” The shoveled path had already reached the interior of the graveyard.
They did all they could to stop it.
“And what was his crime?” That particular question was asked by no one and then everyone all at once.
But what consequence were they dreading?
The Seer entered into a wicked laugh. What stupid questions they were. The lark screamed and squealed and cackled and scared the living and the dead alike. “Don’t you hear them now, with their brooms? We’ll sweep the dirt from the street and under the carpet. It’ll look quite pretty, yesss! Oh yess. They’re coming to take me away! Ha ha! Back to the asylum. That’s all that’s left. What is right then, if that is left??”
What was right indeed? Was is right to allow Avon Shipovnik and Anandyn Amar and Avel Enukidze and Axel Bakunts and Alexei and Anastasia and Amanda and Andrei and all that was there to be dead and broken. Somewhere. The victims were taken. The evil and the vile and the live and the prerecorded, as were seen on trial.
Just for a fear. Paranoia of a plague. It took over the mind. It needed to be purged from the population. A plague that led to an inharmonious society. Society needed order and laws, and all men should know what was right and wrong. But the madmen never knew. Not the true psychos. So the society cured them. The poor plighted people. It was necessary.
“‘And come now’ the officer says. ‘We needs 200 prisoners today. 200 souls for Davie Jones’ locker.’ David Jones? David Bones? Yess. ‘Pick them if they can work. Snap ‘em up but leave the chicks behind. We’re coming to take them away! Ha ha!’”
And sometimes the innocent were mistaken for mad. Or at least it was convenient for them to be mad. Any madness could be proven. It just took the standards. The written. The unwritten. Know the morality of your society, for any act can be bad in a certain place.
So the plague was spread.
And this was the end of P. He was in the center of the labyrinth. The center was nothing but a white tomb of marble. Very plain. Very bright. The world around was very plain and very bright. Snow fell from all directions, blowing from the loose tops of the labyrinth’s walls in vast snowdrifts. P. fell to the ground, producing a resounding crack for the whole town to hear as he fainted.
“Please don’t go to sleep, I need your eyes; they help me think that what I do is right. I’ll try to believe that you’ll believe once again, like olden times.”
And the Seer looked down. She looked indeed. She looked him in the eyes. Right there was the precious treasure, but he wouldn't be needing them anymore. She giggled quite girlishly and listened to the schwiff schwiff schwiffer-ing of the cleansing sweepers. Ah, but also coming was the whole town out from work already. One day more was all that was needed to the final infection. One more day before the storm.
“It’s these evil stars! Yes! You keep watch in the night in all your multitude. Yes! Now the stars have nothing anymore!” And the Seer pulled out P.’s eye. Poor P. who went insane with the realization that the comfortable world he lived in was built on misery. He whimpered weakly. The Seer spun and danced all around him. “I have the eye! I have the eye! It sees now. The little boy sees with his big eyes and big ears and big nose, yes? Not the eyes, they are lies. Yes! Yes Yes!”
Then came the sweepers. Swept across the land, P. was. Just some pushes of the broom to bring him along. And as for the raving girl, she was picked up by the big men around her, short legs kicking in protest, but still singing to the death of the stars. They’ll fall and their necks will crack, a fact which made her positively giddy.
Yes, the townspeople would sweep the dirt away.
But the virus has already made itself too strong, and no medicine could stop this strain. The town was plagued and succumbed to the disease. The last of the safe towns. Oh sure, and many deaths followed. The viral executions were unforgiving.
And as they fell, so did the stars. The stars watched at nightfall, and so it fell as night falls. And it was lovely and bloody. The stars came down like a boot upon the world’s face; the insects called the human race. They saw what happened at the fall. The walls and the falls and the curtains of iron and the night and all those lovely things that fall in their own way, each producing their own effect.
And as for the diseased people: those who were mad? Yes they died. Yes they were mad, but it didn’t mean sad. Why, they were indeed quite glad.