I have been working feverishly hard on a comic on Line Webtoon, called Desoulator.
a Gothic mystery
I had one loaf of unsliced white bread in the fridge that was supposed to last the whole month, my only way to get anywhere was to ride a half-broken bicycle, and a leak in the roof made the bucket I had placed under it overfill every hour on the dot.
But those problems did not feel particularly important, because my rent was extremely overdue, and I was about to be kicked out of the house and sent to live alone on the street in the heat of day and the freezing cold of night.
After I had submitted resumes at nearly every business in town and been rejected, it felt hopeless trying to find a job. In desperation, I checked the employment papers one final time, not expecting to find anything.
Scarcely able to believe it, I saw a new ad that actually looked rather promising. The only problems were it was also short, vague, and extremely bizarre:
Handsomely-paying Industrial Factory Employment Available!
We are offering a high-paying factory job offered for a candidate with the following characteristics and items: Superb mental skills, a good temper, a spark, and a sharp knife.
Further details upon personal application to Mssr. Frost.
Below the listing was the address for where to take a job interview.
I took a deep breath and rolled the matter around in my head for a minute.
It seemed I may fit their criteria, and I had no better options, so I rented a car with my last bit of savings, in order to look a bit respectable, and drove off in search of the place where the interview would occur.
Driving on and on until I reached the far edge of town, I found myself in a mysterious and desolate section of industrial factoryscape. There was not a person around. I passed through street after street of concrete and smokestacks, took a few wrong turns, and after a long time trying to find a familiar road, I noticed the building I was looking for was right in front of me.
It was a enormous, typical-looking concrete factory building with the same sterile but dirty, spacious but repressive feeling as any other similar building in the area, or perhaps the world.
Surprisingly, I saw next to it a Gothic, Edwardian style two-story house. It was constructed from mixed ruddy brown and dark rust bricks, hand mortared, and the structure was in rather unrepaired condition. Vines crept up sections of it and two of the windows had cracks in them. Otherwise, it seemed serviceable at first glance. The roof was chocolate-colored and steeply upswept, with a lonely window peeking out of the middle of the top floor. I doubted anyone was inside it.
I had a vaguely apprehensive feeling about this job in the pit of my stomach as I drove around the back of the buildings and parked the car in the parking lot.
There were not any other cars back there.
Walking around to the front, I double-checked that the address was for the factory and not the house (it was), then walked up a few metal steps to a door on the right side of the factory. The left side had a large shipping bay but I did not see any normal sized doors anywhere else.
I hesitated for a moment and then knocked three times.
There was no answer. I do not know what possessed me, but for some reason I felt to try the door handle. It was not locked. I cautiously opened it up and looked inside.
The door opened up into a rather normal looking office room which connected to the main factory room at the far end. Inside was a clock, a calendar, a filing cabinet, a table, some notebooks, and a few other trinkets and items. A first aid kit stood out of the far wall protrusively.
As I surveyed the room and decided not to go any further, I heard a quiet sound from, I guessed, the factory room. The footsteps got louder and a moment later I saw a man turn round the corner.
He was about 60, with a wrinkly face and a few strands of grey hair. He looked agitated and wore a green canvas shirt and khaki pants.
A quizzical expression darted across his face as he took notice of me.
“You’re here for the job,” he asserted abruptly.
“Yes,” I replied hesitantly.
“Good,” he replied straightforwardly. “Do you have a sharp knife?”
I was stunned for a moment.
“Umm, yes,” I said. I hoped it would fit his definition of keenness.
“Let me see it.”
I pulled out my pocketknife, which I carried quite often, but not nearly all the time. The man motioned with his hands the opening of an imaginary knife, and just from seeing it I could tell he had experience opening knives. Waiting a moment yet again, I obeyed him and opened up the knife blade.
The worker slowly approached me, and suddenly his hand darted up and closed around the knife blade.
Instinctively, I pulled the blade back to retain control of it. I heard a ghastly cutting sound and blood spattered on the floor.
“Oh it’s sharp all right,” the man said, holding his injured hand. He walked quickly over to the first aid kit and, in a rehearsed fashion, took out everything he needed from it and began to treat his injury.
I did not know whether to run away or apologize, so I stood there stunned. In a flash, the man was back in front of me, not looking more unnerved than when I first saw him, which was quite unnerved anyway.
“I apologize. I didn’t mean to–” I sputtered.
“No apology necessary,” he said back, “It’s really the best way to tell if a knife is truly sharp.”
My eyebrows raised. I had no idea what to think.
“And by the way, you passed your first assessment. Now follow me,” he said, squeezing past me and opening the door. We went down the steps and made it onto the porch of the Edwardian house. The man knocked on the door with his unbandaged hand.
“And what’s your name by the way?” he asked me. I told him, and asked what his name was in return.
“Mr. Knife,” he replied, grinning.
A moment later the door opened up a crack and I saw a sleepy-looking bespectacled man hiding behind it, his face peering out at me. He was younger and less rustic in appearance than Mr. Knife, with a blue suit coat and tie.
“Oh, hello,” he muttered. “Come in.”
I felt slightly more safe with this fellow. Mr. Knife waved goodbye to me and I entered the house. The suited man scuttered back to a large table in the dining room in front of me. It had six place settings. Looking around the house for a moment, I saw many pieces of old furniture, a grandfather clock, and a phonograph. I even saw the wheel of a bicycle poking out from a corner far ahead of me.
“Seat yourself,” he said, pulling out a chair. I sat down and noted the comfort of the seat, and my acquaintance took a place across the table from me and slightly to the right. He cleared his throat.
I heard a slight metallic clicking sound and saw a rotund butler appear from around the corner on an old bicycle. He was dressed in black and white and sported a waxed mustache. He stopped at the table and put up the kickstand on his bike.
“What a shame I haven’t introduced myself,” noted the seated man. “I am Mr. Fraust, and this is our butler Mr. Crause.”
The butler nodded politely, hands behind his back.
Mr. Fraust leaned forward and stared intensely into my eyes. I tried to hold back my thoughts.
“Ahh,” he wheezed. “Crause, go fetch the– you know what.” he added. Mr. Fraust ceased looking into my eyes and instead stared at the salt shaker. The butler mounted his bicycle and disappeared.
“It’s interesting, the bicycle,” I said, attempting to make conversation.
“It’s not a bicycle, it’s a velocipede,” he replied, sternly.
“Yes,” I said, unsure. “I suppose.”
We sat silently for a few moments, then Mr. Crause returned on his velocipede holding a tray and glass of water in one hand. The water did not spill. He placed them down on the table in front of me.
On the tray were three cookies. The first was a circular thumbprint shortbread cookie with brown jelly in the center, the second a green mint cookie shaped like a pine tree, and the third a shell-shaped one of an indeterminate substance.
Mr. Crause sat down next to Mr. Fraust.
I saw a red and black mark on the butler’s hand as he took a sip of tea.
“Oh, just a burn,” he said, as if reading my mind.
“Take some sweets,” invited Mr. Fraust. “Oh, and I have some news. According to my observations, you have it; you have The Spark.”
“Thank you,” I replied, rather coldly. I had no idea what The Spark was, so I deliberated on which cookie to eat instead. I chose the green one and took a nibble.
“That’s an interesting… velocipede you have there,” I said to Mr. Crause.
“Thank you sir,” he replied. “I am quite proud of her.”
“Yes…” I said. I took another bite. The ticking sound of the clock emanated around the room softly but fully.
“Mr. Crause has been here quite a while, haven’t you?” commented Mr. Fraust.
“Yes,” he agreed. “I have.”
They talked amongst each other, saying something about Mr. Fraust’s fainting spells a long time ago.
I finished the cookie. It had a marginally bland but generally agreeable taste. I did not particularly want to eat any of the other ones.
“Pleasant day, isn’t it?” remarked Mr. Fraust.
I took a sip of water.
“Yes, I suppose,” I said. “Better than yesterday.”
“Completely,” he agreed.
Mr. Crause twiddled his thumbs. Mr. Fraust’s expression lifted inexplicably.
“You won. You passed the test,” he said seriously. “I can’t believe it.”
“How?” I asked.
“You ate the right cookie, and you drank correctly as well.”
“So?” I asked, agitated.
“You are clearly well-tempered,” congratulated Mr. Fraust. “The shell cookie was a bad choice overall and the jelly thumbprint was of questionable taste. You clearly chose the superior specimen. And you did not ask for superfluous drinks, or eat too many cookies, which would prove a lazy and excessive temperament. You passed the third assessment by having both a good temper and excellent taste.”
“Thank you,” I said.
After a moment, however, an uneasy feeling hung in the air. They were anticipating something.
“So…” ventured Mr. Fraust. “There is another test ahead, and it may be even more difficult than the last ones. We should go upstairs. You must meet our chief executive officer.”
“Who is he?” I asked.
“Mr. Frost,” replied the man nervously.
“Of course,” I said, chuckling quietly.
We stood up, Mr. Crause mounted his velocipede, and I followed behind the butler further into the house. It seemed larger from the inside than the outside. We approached a staircase on the left. Mr. Fraust waited at the side of it and Mr. Crause stopped his velocipede several feet before the stairs began.
It was astounding to me that instead of the staircase simply consisting of stairs, this one had the stairs interrupted in the middle of their width, by a ramp as steep as the stairs and as wide as one’s hand. Before I could make any sense of the situation Mr. Crause made a sound like a bull bellowing and put a Herculean amount of effort into pedaling. In an instant he was halfway up the steep staircase, riding the ramped section.
Then he was at the top, staring down at us as if nothing had happened. Mr. Fraust glanced nervously at me and we walked the stairs in a moderately normal fashion.
The top of the house, just as it looked from the outside, had only one room, which was Mr. Frost’s office. It was decorated more seriously, with darker colors, than any other room I had been in. A drafty chill entered the attic, presumably through a hole in the wall somewhere. I shivered.
A noise of pen scratching emanated from the desk, which overlooked the lone window. Mr. Frost sat there, his back to me. I could not make out any of his features.
“You may be excused, Fraust,” he said, in a smooth and cool voice. Fraust obeyed.
“It may get rather confusing when he is around,” added Mr. Frost as a side note. I took a deep breath of the cold air.
Mr. Frost spun his chair around. He was about thirty, with black hair and dark glasses, and looked very learned and completely somber. He wore a well-tailored tailcoat and I saw a silk top hat hanging off a hook two feet to his left.
“You have come for a job interview, have you not?” said Mr. Frost, his voice hitting me like icicles.
“Yes…” I stuttered.
“Cool,” he replied. “Crause, has he passed the Three Tests?”
“Yes,” affirmed the butler.
“We shall start the final portion now. I have simply one question for you.”
There was a pause.
“What is five thousand four hundred and thirty eight multiplied by four and then divided by sixteen?”
I had no idea what to say. “Umm, do you have a piece of paper?”
“No,” he replied coldly, “this test is for your mental skills, not for your penmanship nor for your paper calculating proficiency.”
“So I have to solve it in my head?”
“What is the question again?”
“What is five thousand four hundred and thirty eight multiplied by four and then divided by sixteen?” he repeated.
I had no chance so I simply guessed.
Mr. Frost shook his head.
“No, you are wrong. It is 1359 and a half.”
I frowned. Why had I come so far just to fail the last test?
“So have I lost?” I asked, afraid to even say it. Mr. Frost glanced at me mysteriously.
“Not completely. Actually, you have not failed the assessment at all. We have tested three hundred and fifty two people and only four have ever made it up here to this frigid room in the first place.”
“What were their answers?” I inquired.
“Significantly more wrong than yours,” he replied. I saw his breath cloud up in front of him as he spoke.
“Thank you, sir,” I said timidly.
“It is nothing.”
There was still a barrier between us.
“Crause,” he commanded softly.
The butler silently commanded me to follow him and rolled a bit towards the stairs. I went in front of him.
It was even more difficult to descend the stairs than it was to go up them originally. I managed by making gratuitous use of the handrail and my balance. When I was at the end, the butler abruptly rolled down the staircase. The brakes squealed loudly but did not slow the bike down very much. Mr. Crause and his bike forcefully slammed into the wall.
Upon further inspection, however, it was not a wall, but instead a very thick mattress colored to look like the wall. Crause and his bike went far into it and then softly rebounded back. He was generally uninjured.
I gave the butler a disappointed and confused look and shook my head. I sighed. Nobody said anything.
“I was wondering why you… ride that velocipede everywhere instead of walking,” I stated, trying my best not to sound too tactless.
“Do you know about the properties the wheel in regards to angular velocity and the efficiencies of centrifugal momentum?”
“Not particularly,” I replied.
“What about the force-converting functions of differently-sized gears?”
“I suppose I know something about that.”
“Those are the reasons I ride this velocipede everywhere I go. As you can see,” Crause said, tapping his tummy which made a thick sound, “I am not very efficient when it comes to walking. Therefore, I use to my advantage the myriad benefits of this beautiful invention called the velocipede.”
I thought about specifically asking about the staircase but decided it would be a ridiculous idea.
“One moment,” he said, riding over to a nearby cabinet which was full of dozens of brake pads. In a moment, he quickly removed his worn out brake pads with a fresh pair and put the old ones at the top of a stack at the corner of the cabinet.
A moment later we were standing in the dining room.
“I don’t quite understand; did I pass the tests? Can I start working?”
I regretted the second question as I was not sure if I wanted to work there at all.
“Well, Mr. Frost said you did better than anyone else, so I suppose you could begin,” spoke Mr. Crause.
“Would I be working with Mr. Knife?” I asked. The prospect was terrifying.
“Come with me,” said Mr. Fraust, pushing me a bit on the back and leading me out the door and back to the factory.
It felt strange being outdoors in the air again, and I sensed some sort of change from when I was last outside.
We entered the factory. Just as last time, the office was deserted.
“Sign this,” said Mr. Fraust. He handed me a piece of heavy paper and a metal nibbed dip pen which he had already dipped for me.
The contract was written in a very archaic and extremely calligraphic script. Try as I might, I could not make out more than a few very common words.
Mr. Fraust hurried me on. I signed reluctantly. He took the paper back and hid it away in a locked section of the filing cabinet.
“Since today is your first day, we are only expecting five units. Typically we would aim for ten.”
“What are… we… making?” I inquired.
“Magnifying glass handles,” replied Mr. Fraust. “I’ll leave Mr. Knife to explain the rest. Goodbye. I hope you enjoy the rest of your day. And perhaps we’ll have some tea tomorrow.”
Mr. Fraust left and locked the door behind him, somehow. I sat on the chair to kill some time, afraid to be in the vicinity of Mr. Knife. Slowly, I realized that they would probably realize that I had not worked at all if I were to stay there the whole time. Reluctantly, I raised myself up and explored the factory floor. There were several large hefty cast iron and steel machines at approximately equal intervals to each other, each painted a different color. I saw a few chairs and numerous hand tools laying about on the floor. There was a noise of scraping far off.
I spotted Mr. Knife, carving away at some wood far away in the corner, facing the walls. There was a table with other magnifying glass parts: lenses and the metal tangs which became thin and encircled the lenses at the ends so that they could be attached to the wooden handles.
At the northern edge of the area there was a pile of what I took to be magnifying glass handle blanks. I picked one up and felt the heft of it. It was a quite small piece, but still larger than a finished handle, and it was in a long, vaguely rectangular shape.
Taking it over to a chair, I pulled out my knife and found a small handsaw nearby. Fervently against associating with Mr. Knife at all, I went to work on the blank and did my best to try to make it look like a finished product.
I kept on working and working and Mr. Knife never really seemed to notice me. He certainly did not help.
At one point, about two hours later, I saw Mr. Knife on his knees as if he were praying. It was hard to make out exactly what it was speaking but it was very repetitive and had the words “great” and “deliver” in it.
When I had worked for as long as I could, and was not sure how many hours had passed by, I heard footsteps and realized that Mr. Knife had seen me. He approached.
“Do you know why they were hiring? Because they want to get rid of me, poor old Mr. Knife. I have been an absolute failure.” I heard notes of rage and despair in his voice. “Every day they laze about in their bourgeois mansion, drinking tea and playing phonograph music. The only reason they have any of those things is because of me!” His voice was hitting a crescendo.
“I pay their bills, I make their living, and they don’t even let me SLEEP in there!”
“Whoa, calm down, Mr. Knife,” I said. “I’m not them, you don’t need to get mad at me. I understand you.”
“Yes I do need to get mad at you!” he yelled. “You are my replacement! PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE!” he screamed. He was right in front of me, knife in his hand, quivering with rage.
“It’s alright, I’m not replacing you, they just need workers,” I said. I had no idea if I was there to replace Mr. Knife but I did not want him to be angry.
“I’m the worker here!” he burst.
“Yes, you are,” I agreed.
“And do you know how sharp this knife is?” he asked, holding it up to the light and licking his lips.
“It’s pretty sharp?” I guessed.
“Yes! Feel it!” yelled Mr. Knife. He jabbed the knife at me but I backed up and dodged it. I stood up, my own knife in my hand. Mr. Knife took a step towards me and stabbed at me again. I jumped out of the way.
“How else will you know if me knife is sharp?” he asked grimly.
“Try it out on a piece of wood!” I exclaimed. He took a swipe at one of my handle blanks and then set his sights on me again. The next cut barely missed my shirt. I took a swing at Mr. Knife and hit him in the shoulder. He recoiled back and put his hand on the wound. I saw a dark spot under the shirt.
“That’s a pretty sharp knife,” he said, impressed. He applied pressure to his shoulder.
I heard the sound of a door opening.
“Wait, Mr. Knife,” I said. “I think Mr. Fraust is coming.”
“Yes he is,” replied Mr. Knife.
I wiped the blood off my knife blade onto the bottom section of my pants and folded the knife up, placing it in my pocket. I was extremely nervous of what Mr. Fraust would think of the altercation.
Suddenly, along with the sound of metal clicking, Mr. Crause and his velocipede appeared around the office corner.
“The shift’s over!” he said. He coasted over to us. “Would you like to come over for some tea?” he asked me.
“What about me?” interrogated Mr. Knife, angry. Mr. Crause noticed his injury.
“What happened to you, Mr. Knife?” he asked, not sounding overly surprised.
“He tested his knife on me,” said Mr. Knife.
“No, he tried to stab me,” I retorted, trying to defend myself.
“Settle down you two, I know you both have sharp knives,” scolded Mr. Crause.
I went back with Mr. Crause as Mr. Knife looked on jealously.
The table was set for an elaborate tea. I took my place across from the other two and inquired where Mr. Frost was.
“He’s in his room. We have tried to bring him down here for tea before but his mere presence would always chill the tea in a matter of minutes. You fancy hot tea, do you not?” remarked Mr. Fraust.
“Of course,” I replied.
The tea tasted like a very nice Ceylon, or perhaps something a little bit different. I poured a splash of milk in it. I looked at the china in the cabinet and the paintings on the walls. Nothing seemed out of place in the slightest.
“So I see you have figured out the rudiments of the trade,” said Mr. Fraust.
“We’ll hopefully only be seeing improvements from here.”
“I think so,” I said, nervous thinking about anything even connected to Mr. Knife. I tried to bring up the bravery to ask my next question.
“Have you ever had green tea?” Mr. Fraust asked Mr. Crause.
“I don’t believe I have. Actually, no, I have once.”
“How did you like it?”
“It was beautiful.”
I cleared my throat.
“So… am I here to replace Mr. Knife?” I inquired.
“Actually, well,” stuttered Mr. Fraust, “I believe that was the purpose of our job advertisement. He has not been the ideal worker, in all honesty.”
“Why?” I asked, certain I was becoming too curious for my own good.
“He… injures himself quite frequently, and he is simply obsessed with knives. In fact, he has created a belief system centered around them. Fancy some sugar, Mr. Crause?”
“A belief system?” I asked, astounded.
“More sugar, Mr. Crause?” repeated Mr. Fraust.
“Please,” replied the butler.
“I believe we have something that you may enjoy,” said Mr. Fraust. He excused himself from the table and walked over to the phonograph by the wall. In the bottom shelf of it sat a number of blue wax cylinders in colored tubes. He carefully removed one from its tube and placed it in the cylinder holder. There was a brass crank with a wooden handle, possibly made by Mr. Knife, and Mr. Fraust vigorously wound it until the spring was at full pressure. He dropped the needle onto the cylinder and a noisy crackling sound filled the room.
I watched intently.
The noise transformed into a jolly song about Mr. Frost.
“What do you think?” asked Mr. Fraust.
“Wonderful,” I said.
“It’s getting quite late, isn’t it?” remarked Mr. Fraust.
It was already past ten.
“Why don’t you pass the night on the couch here so you can be ready for your early morning shift? And here is your payment,” he added, pulling a very small golden coin out of his pocket and handing it to me.
It was genuine.
With some reservations, I agreed, and the men headed to their separate quarters as I lay on the couch looking out at the sky through a gap in the windowshade.
How had I ever obtained this job? Had so many people really applied before me? Who was Mr. Frost? And why was he so cold?
The next morning I was awoken by the shuffling about of Mr. Fraust and the clicking about of Mr. Crause.
“You may wish to wear these,” he said, placing a pile of Victorian-style clothes next to me. They fit perfectly.
I washed my face, prepared for work, and went out to the factory.
The air was chill and moist outside, and I felt a rural energy infringing upon the industrial landscape in an unseen manner. There seemed to be less factory buildings in the distance, too, somehow.
I looked around the office a bit more and tried several of the filing cabinet drawers, finding them all locked.
Overall, the factory building was several decades more modern than the house.
Apprehensively, I entered the workroom and found my supplies. I could not see anyone else in there.
I scraped away at one of the blanks, shaving long strips away from the edges of it. They fell softly to the floor. A voice directly behind me boomed.
“What are you doing? How was the tea?” it asked.
“Good,” I replied, trying to maintain my composure.
“They didn’t invite me!” shot back Mr. Knife.
He yelled a bearlike resounding roar and spread his arms out to his sides.
“And the tea was good! You need to get out! Let me be at this job!”
“If I had known I would be replacing you I wouldn’t have taken this job in the first place,” I replied calmly.
Mr. Knife picked up a wooden mallet and approached me with it. I backed away.
“Do you know what happens after death?” he said.
“I would like to believe so,” I replied, knife in my hand. There was enough sweat on the handle to make my grip unsure.
“You go to,” he pointed upwards, “that great big knife up in the sky. That’s what I want. It’s what you need.” he said in a surprisingly soft voice. He stood still.
I shook my head.
“You don’t agree?”
I took a deep breath.
“Uggh, look!” he swung the mallet at me and I blocked it with the knife blade. The two tools connected together. Mr. Knife threw the mallet away and the knife went with it.
“I’m gonna throw this at you!” he said, running over to a gigantic iron machine and pitifully attempting to pick it up. I grabbed a handsaw which was under a nearby table.
“Go back to work,” I scolded.
“No!” he bellowed. He charged me and collided into me. We fell to the floor.
“Replacement!” he yelled. I backed away and regained my footing. Mr. Knife threw a piece of wood at me and I batted it away.
There was a sound of a door opening.
“This knife looks sharp,” he said, eyeing a very long cutting implement nearby. He threw it up in the air and it spun one and a half times. He caught the blade and then turned it around quickly to cover up his gross inadequacies in coordination.
I backed up more and he started to follow me, menacing with the knife. I saw Mr. Crause approaching. Mr. Knife did not notice since his back was to him.
The butler put in a burst of effort even greater than that required to climb the stairs and headed directly for Mr. Knife at a blazing speed.
“That’s enough!” boomed Mr. Crause with surprising vigor.
The velocipede slammed into Mr. Knife, both men being flung a great distance and smashing forcefully into the ground. Mr. Crause’s bowler hat rolled away under a table.
“You! Crause! It’s all because of you!” said Mr. Knife. He crawled to Mr. Crause’s bike and bit the tire, deflating one of the wheels.
“Damn you, Mr. Knife!” Mr. Crause screamed in agony.
He approached the worker and pounded on him with his fists. The two began a brutal ground fight.
I could barely watch. They yelled obscenities and insults at each other related to production efficiency, choice of clothes, and transportation methods.
Mr. Crause elbowed his adversary brutally in the face several times, and Mr. Knife bit his hand in return.
The woodworker stretched his arm out and tried to grab the nearest object, a small hacksaw, but Mr. Crause sat on him and stopped him from reaching it.
“There is no knife in the sky!” shouted Mr. Crause, pulling his wallet out of his pocket and pushing it into Mr. Knife’s mouth. Mr. Knife made gurgling sounds.
Mr. Crause stood up and jumped repeatedly on Mr. Knife. Horrible noises emanated from him. Mr. Crause was so heavy that every impact was colossal.
The worker was running out of energy to fight. With his final burst of life, Mr. Knife found the hacksaw and attacked Mr. Crause’s ankle.
The butler screamed and retreated from Mr. Knife.
“Why don’t you help me?” he pleaded, referring to me.
I couldn’t stand it any longer.
“No, Mr. Knife is crazy but he doesn’t deserve to be murdered,” I said. “He should be…”
Mr. Knife spat the wallet out and then held the hacksaw to his own throat.
“sent to a mental hospital…” I finished.
“I see The Knife!” yelled Mr. Knife gladly. “It’s up there! The great big knife!”
“Don’t!” I argued, “There is none!”
“No! It’s really there!”
I looked at the ceiling.
“No it isn’t!”
Mr. Crause looked at me.
“You are right. Why am I doing this? Give me that!” Mr. Crause ordered to Mr. Knife.
Mr. Crause decided that his adversary should live. He lunged at Mr. Knife and tried to take his hacksaw away.
In the ensuing struggle, Mr. Knife received a terrible wound.
Mr. Crause held up the hacksaw and looked back at me.
“I stopped him from killing himself!” he declared proudly.
“Look at him,” I retorted. Mr. Crause was horrified to see Mr. Knife dying right in front of him.
“The first aid kit!” he yelled, hopping onto his velocipede and riding it at a snail’s pace with one flat tire and a damaged foot.
I ran to the kit but wasn’t really sure what to get out of it, and by the time I returned, Mr. Knife was dead.
Mr. Crause and I dug him a grave behind the mansion with a small wooden marker to mark his 17 years working for the company. The air outside seemed much fresher than before and the landscape more sparse.
The butler called Mr. Fraust and Mr. Frost down for his burial.
As they came to the backyard, they talked amongst themselves of the altercation and the reasons for it, and mentioned a lot of information from the past that I could only get a general sense of.
There was no priest. We went around in a circle, or a square rather, giving short eulogies. Mr. Frost began.
“Mr. Knife worked hard here for seventeen years,” he declared, giving only the cold facts. “He was, at times, an excellent worker. He produced a lot of magnifying glass handles.” Mr. Frost opened his mouth to say something more but decided against it at the last second.
Mr. Fraust went next.
“Mr. Knife was unique. He had his own lifestyle, his own beliefs, and he would never give any of them up for anything. I suppose that’s what I appreciate most about him: his steadfastness till the end. Yes, he did things like sharpen his knives on pieces of glass or any random object, and collect four hundred and thirty eight of them total, but that was part of his charm.” Mr. Fraust’s voice cracked. “You will be missed, Mr. Knife.”
I saw tears rolling down Mr. Crause’s face. He sniffled and wiped his eyes with his red silk handkerchief.
“I… killed him!” he bellowed, voice breaking. “He… Mr. Knife killed himself! No!”
Everybody was silent for a moment.
“Mr. Knife… you were the sweetest, the best… gosh… Why?” said Mr. Crause through a fog of ears. “He was so… kind and caring…” Mr. Crause faded behind his tears and stuffiness.
“Your turn,” said Mr. Frost to me.
“Well…” I could scarcely think of anything to say. “Umm… I guess Mr. Knife was good at what he did and it’s too bad he didn’t get treatment before it came to this. Umm… yeah. He was a character. I just wish he wouldn’t sharpen his knife on me–“
“What?” said Mr. Crause. “That was part of his charm!”
Exasperated, I shook my head. We stood there in vigil for a bit more and then broke off to our own separate things.
There was no work for the rest of the day and a heavy feeling was evident in the air. After a few hours, I became quite restless and wanted to go home, so I asked Mr. Fraust when I should work next. He looked quite grim.
“I am afraid that may not be possible,” he told me.
“Yes it is, you can’t keep me here,” I brushed him off, “There’s no work today anyways.”
I started towards the front door.
“Try if you want,” lamented Mr. Fraust.
I opened the door.
“Look, I’m going,” I asserted.
I looked outside. There were no other factories, just fields and forests in the distance. The air was fresh and clear. I saw no other people. Curious and amazed, I headed towards the back of the factory where the parking lot and my car used to be.
There was nothing but rolling grassy hills. Far off in the distance, I saw a faded split rail fence encircling a large swath of meadow.
I explored the landscape. It felt so free, so uninhabited. There seemed to be less noise in the air, and the silence was so obvious that it almost felt like a noise in itself.
Over the next hill, I could see a stone farmhouse with smoke billowing from the chimney. I approached it, but after coming quite close I felt afraid to go further, turning around.
It was all so new, and so old, at the same time. All I knew was nothing about this landscape was normal.
I was overcome with curiosity about what was happening on the way back. What was in those filing cabinets? What was Mr. Frost working on? I burst into the factory office and tried the filing cabinet drawers again. They were all locked. Was there a key around? I checked the desk and the upper cabinets behind it and did not find any. Most probably, Mr. Fraust or Mr. Frost had one, but it would be very difficult to get it from them.
Was there any way to get into the cabinets? I could use brute force. It would definitely leave evidence, but it still seemed like the best idea. Perhaps it would be possible to break into the back of the cabinets and then replace them to make it seem, at a cursory glance, like nothing had happened. Perhaps the hammer and a hacksaw would be sufficient.
Right when I was preparing to find the tools, I heard something breathing behind me.
“Yes, I bet this is quite surprising,” Mr. Fraust intoned. “But have you not noticed that every time you go out of this house, something changes?”
I was frightened.
“Yes… I believe so.”
“Why would that be?” he led me.
I put the pieces together in my head.
“Either I am going insane, or time… is unstable.”
“Precisely,” replied Mr. Fraust. “and that is why we do not have vehicles, excepting Mr. Crause’s velocipede. They would not be reliable.”
“But how come nothing in the house changes?” I asked.
“We have pinpointed the extreme range of this effect as being the year 1898.”
“But… what about the factory?” I added.
“It seems to follow different rules. Everything from about 1965 and on disappears at times from there. Is your knife still in your pocket?”
I checked. “Yes. But it is very old…”
“And the clothes you were wearing…” we began to return to the house. “They were on this sofa, and now there is nothing.”
I took a glance at the house. It looked brand new; all the windows were fixed and I saw no ivy on the walls.
We entered the house. I heard whistling upstairs from Mr. Frost.
“Where is the far edge of this effect?” I asked, curious.
“It only happens to these two properties and a bit of land surrounding them. We have became quite used to this effect.”
“But… why does it end at those years?”
“We may need to do some research for that…” replied Mr. Fraust.
We went back to the factory and he unlocked one of the filing cabinets. After rifling through many documents in them, he pulled something out.
“Why are those always locked? What’s so secretive about these documents, anyways?” I wondered.
Mr. Fraust sighed, not excited to divulge such information.
“It’s all very sensitive information, about various topics. Some of it is about… an adversary of Mr. Frost.”
“Shouldn’t have said that,” muttered Mr. Fraust to himself.
“But this time effect, anyhow, appears to have something with temporal differentiation… invention of the flashlight and paper clip… the population of the world at two and three billion respectively… death of Winston Churchill…”
He read amongst the documents.
“There seem to be a number of reasons. And there is Mr. Frost.”
“But who is Mr. Frost?” I asked, a bit impatiently. “What is Mr. Frost?”
“Shh,” he said, gesturing.
I heard a terrifying loud banging on the roof. It sounded like something slid off onto the ground. Suddenly, the ambient temperature seemed to increase slightly. Mr. Fraust’s eyes showed a stunned gaze, and his mouth hung open.
“What is it?” I asked. He did not respond.
Despite my fears, I marched towards the front door and opened it up. There was a cloud of black and grey smoke in front of the factory, hovering above the ground and apparently originating from it.
I did not see anything else unusual, except that the world in 1898 looked very different from what I was used to. Still, there was a queasy feeling as I went back into the factory to check on Mr. Fraust.
“What is out there?” he asked me urgently.
“Smoke,” I replied.
“Mr–” he whispered. He fainted and collapsed to the ground.
I heard a frantic knocking on the door.
Had Mr. Knife come back from the dead?
Terror paralyzed me. I could not manage to move a muscle.
Mr. Frost barged in.
“You! Get the fire extinguisher! Hurry!” he ordered, pointing at me. My paralysis breaking, I ran around the factory room desperately, neglecting to ask where the fire extinguisher was.
It was nowhere to be found.
“Hurry!” yelled Mr. Frost from the office.
It was way off in the farthest corner of the room. The fire extinguisher was more like a large red and yellow pressurized can, being from the 1950’s or 60’s. It was quite heavy as I lugged it back.
Mr. Frost was waiting impatiently by the door. He snatched the apparatus from me and jumped out the door. Smoke poured in from outside.
Covering my mouth, I took a step outside and saw the house and factory surrounded on two sides by an inferno of fire. Mr. Frost combated the blaze by shooting a stream of water at it. The door of the house swung open and Mr. Crause ran out with a bucket and dumped it onto a section of the blaze, which crackled and smoked as it went out.
The gigantic fire had been reduced halfway, but Mr. Frost’s extinguisher was running out and it was encroaching even closer to the house.
“Get the other one!” he yelled.
I frantically searched through the factory workroom again but could not find it. Hopeless, I returned to the office and was about to tell Mr. Frost the news, when I glimpsed another extinguisher right under the desk, next to the wall.
I brought it to Mr. Frost. Mr. Crause readied another bucket.
Just as the fire was about to reach the far wall of the house, Mr. Crause put it out. On the other side, Mr. Frost finished off the last of it.
I heard coughing from the butler. It was even smokier now than before.
There was some refuge back in the safety of the workroom. Mr. Fraust came to from his fainting spell, slightly disoriented.
I knelt down by his side and reassured him, not telling him about the fire, although its existence was obvious from the smoke that had poured in in no small quantity from the opening and shutting of the door.
Mr. Frost appeared and placed the empty fire extinguisher cans on top of the desk in the office.
“What is all that smoke?” wondered Mr. Fraust.
“Nothing,” I replied, clearly lying.
“No!” said Mr. Fraust to himself, unbelieving. He struggled to his feet and headed towards the door.
“What’s going on?” I called out to Mr. Frost. He headed towards me.
“I’m afraid to tell you the reason for the fire,” he said, his face cold and expressionless.
“I am quite sure, however, that it came from the being known as Mr–“
A scream from outside interrupted him.
“We have to go!” he said.
Not interested in missing anything, I sprinted past Mr. Frost and left the building.
Mr. Fraust was nowhere to be seen outside, so I supposed he therefore had to be in the mansion.
“Is anybody here?” I called, opening the front door. There was a noise from upstairs.
Cautiously, I approached the stairs.
“Stop!” yelled Mr. Fraust from Mr. Frost’s office. There were scuffling noises. Strangely, I felt a strong sensation of heat as I climbed the staircase.
At the top, an insane sight awaited me. Mr. Fraust was cowering in front of a red-haired suited man whom I had never seen before. His face was covered in pimples and his presence felt immediately annoying. He was about the same age as Mr. Frost.
“Ahh, it’s about time we met!” he grinned evilly. It was almost like his body was burning. The temperature of the room had skyrocketed.
“I suppose you can guess what my name is,” he said, warmly. Still, I detected a streak of fire behind his eyes.
Silenced by the awkwardness of the conversation and a hunch to keep my mouth shut, I simply stood there.
“Well,” he said, his temper starting to simmer, “no words from you?” His mouth contorted.
“Why doesn’t anyone ever talk to me?” he shrieked, his voice reaching a boiling point.
“Well what is your name?” I asked, giving up.
“Mr. Heat,” he replied, smiling.
“You have one decision: either follow me or follow Mr. Frost. So, will you join me or are you going to leave me out in the cold?”
I was getting sick of this.
“I am not joining you, and I’m not a huge fan of Mr. Frost either, honestly, but how would I possibly trust you?” I said, exasperated.
Mr. Heat’s body increased in calorificy rapidly.
“If you are not going to help me destroy all of Mr. Frost’s documents, this guy will die!”
I was disappointed he did not know Mr. Fraust’s name but it was not surprising.
“No!” protested Mr. Fraust.
“His name is Mr. Fraust!” I said defiantly, grabbing the nearest object to me, an historical compendium, and launching it at Mr. Heat.
He shrugged off the large impact and the book set ablaze as it ricocheted off his body. It crackled on the floor next to him.
Using some sort of telekinesis, Mr. Heat sent the book flying towards Mr. Fraust and it collided with his head, sending him sprawling on the ground.
I was stunned.
“Why are you even trying to fight me?” he asked. “You know you will fail.”
I had to admit, he had a good point.
But what about Mr. Frost? Perhaps I could pass the time until he showed up to help me. I had to think of something.
“I can find you a great document to burn,” I said, trying to backstab him. I rifled through the bookshelf for the least important item. Mr. Heat seemed patient for a few seconds.
“Here it is,” I said, holding up a biological treatise, “burn this!”
Mr. Heat sent a fireball at it and the entire book combusted in one second.
“Good, you’re helping me,” said Mr Heat. “Now we can get rid of winter once and for all! Now get me another book, or maybe I should just set the whole bookcase on fire.”
“No!” I said, unable to restrain myself.
“Yes,” he replied, discovering my ruse. He held out his hands and began to materialize a fireball. Instinctively, I charged him and we crashed to the floor.
“Damn you, Mr. Heat!” I yelled, infuriated. His aim was upset and the fireball hit the wall next to the bookcase, charring it.
I was starting to burn, so I crawled away from Mr. Heat as quickly as I could.
“It’s your turn! Feel the burn!” he said, preparing to blast me. There was a small mirror right in front of me, next to Mr. Frost’s desk. I took it and pointed it towards Mr. Heat just as he shot the fireball. It bounced back at him and only burnt my fingertips slightly.
“That doesn’t work!” he said as the fireball collided with him. “You can’t fight fire with fire!”
“Shut up!” I yelled.
He fired another projectile at me, which made the mirror drop out of my hands and shatter.
“You’re done!” Mr. Heat declared, in a burning rage.
“No he isn’t,” countered the cold voice of Mr. Frost, who stood at the top of the staircase. Mr. Heat shot a fireball at him but he dodged it, advanced, and swung his fist at Mr. Heat.
Mr. Heat cried out in pain and dealt Mr. Frost a blow in return. They pounded each other mercilessly, and with each blow the former’s’ heat diminished and the latter’s frozenness became more temperate. Mr. Frost swung his foot under his adversary’s leg, tripping him. Descending on his injured opponent, Mr. Frost slugged hit after hit on Mr. Heat’s face.
I stared wide-eyed.
“Go back to where you came from!” said Mr. Frost venomously. Mr Heat’s face became mangled and unrecognizable under a layer of frozen blood.
Doubts entered my mind.
Mr. Frost started to elbow Mr. Heat unremittingly.
I was disgusted.
“Stop!” I yelled. “Don’t kill him!”
Mr. Heat lay silent under another round of crushing impacts.
“Give me your knife, now!” implored Mr. Frost, looking me right in the eye.
“No,” I replied, placing my hand over my pocket protectively. Mr. Frost dealt Mr. Heat another kick and advanced towards me.
I backed up and found my back against the wall.
“Give it to me,” he repeated. “It’s the only way.”
I shook my head.
Mr. Heat’s body began to warm up again. I saw him convulsing.
“Now!” said Mr. Frost urgently. I dug the knife out of my pocket and handed it to him. Mr. Frost took it, and Mr. Heat, regaining consciousness, sent a huge inferno at Mr. Frost’s back. He collapsed.
Mr. Heat smiled an unrecognizable smile at me.
“Join me!” he said, preparing yet another fireball.
I looked my immanent death in the face. Mr. Frost was out cold.
The fireball was nearly ready.
Then I saw the window on my left.
I climbed onto Mr. Frost’s desk and jumped through the window without thinking. It smashed and everything raced past me in a blue as I freefell towards an inevitable impact.
Everything was black.
I am laying on grass sideways with no recollection of the past.
There is a factory in front of me. Everything is blurry but it slowly comes into focus. I try to stand up but my ribs are broken.
Slowly, at a pace that would make a snail jealous, I raise myself up and hobble one foot at a time towards the factory. I remember that I left something around there.
I look behind me and see an old Edwardian house with nobody in it, consumed by ivy.
Gradually, I make it in back of the factory, where there is a large parking lot containing only my car.
Perhaps there is a bit of fresh dirt behind the main house, I cannot tell for sure.
I hobble towards the vehicle and wonder how I got here.
The keys are in my pocket. There is a severe pain in my fingers as I pull them out and unlock the car.
Putting the key in the ignition and starting the engine, I finally take a look at my hand.
My fingertips are black and the skin is severely burned.
Back in those days I was zheetin’ in the desert wid me n’ me droogs. It was real hot back in them dyeny.
The entieh weld had bin hit by a sun flayah.
Then visyo started gettin’ real insan. Insand as all heck.
Moy boge!So vi was zheetin’ in dis heah deset just tryin’ not to get smerted or kilt. There was dis malyenky little cave wheh we could git some shad from the old Sol. (the sun)
Well, the Sol was dis real wead oringe all day ee the sky had dis coating of chorny ugly black all o’er herself.
Moskay, it made me a malyenky bit queasy observin’ it.
Things was a little bit cooler because of all dis no it didn’t really help us all too much, in pravda.
So we had at first this vintovka that we would load up wid a couple slugs. Five I think. N’ we would shoot roos or whatever animalia would be zheetin about, out in the back. Vi would pyot ’em all and save some a their measa n’ salt it and brulee it fine.
Apray a while this pyotin’ and walkin’ and sleepin’ about in dis cave was too dam much and vi was real bored and chompin at the bit to do somethin’ else.
But we wasn’t sure how the weld was goin’ or anything because vi wouldn’t just be plompin around this cave for fun, it was seeryis business.
So we left out and walked in a sure direction and apray a good nacht’s journey we ended up where dis little ville was that we’d been to before back when we was malyenky boys.
The Sol was gettin high so we hid in the shad a’ dis wooden buildin’.
And Boge knoweth not but I saw my eld friend Tom walkin’ down the rod and I said hey and he was real scared but seed that it was just us and re-cognized us and all that and he started snakkin at us.
“It’s been a long tom! Where in the weld have you all bin, mine ven?”
“We was zheetin’ in a cave…”
“Sheetin’ in a kev? What?”
“Yep. Measa and sunlicht and hotness. Vi er all sick of it.”
“Well I don’t recco yall stayin’ out on this rod any longer ‘tween the Sol and the freezers and allah dem.”
Tom harrumphed and laffed.
“They’ll rip the om rot off a muzh.”
Tom stared blank.
“So what should vi do?” I ask.
“Hod,” he said.
“N’ where are these freezahs,” I ask.
“Dey hod in holes,” said Tom. “Look out fer ’em.”
“Thunks,” I says.
“No problem,” said Tom. “See you next tom.”
So vi found dis buildin’ that was uninhabited n’ stayed round there for the day.
Then vi started snakkin with each other and tryin’ to deduce the beste way to get somewhere.
And I was just taenkin’ to myself how it is getting real boring in this weld waitin’ for something to happen and nothin’ going on at all. Except running into Tom.
No anyways we had wek to do.
So vi figured out to go, moskay, to a city where there might be some fodd to eat that’s better than the sach vi were getting so terribly sick of. I reckon I’ve pyoted enough snake and roo meat to last a couple lifetimes.
Well the nearest city was, like, real far away. Vi needed a plan.
“But we only got about seven slugs left for the vintovka,” said Leigh.
“Dam the vintovker!” I yelt.
“Then what’ll we use?” inquired Franz, shakin ‘is head real sad.
I am driving with my mother somewhere in the south or the mid-atlantic.
Not really the south or the mid-atlantic, somewhere that bears an energetic resemblance to the aforementioned but is unique in its particularities.
Quite unique, I will find.
In the back seat is a blanket covering a BB gun and a giant cap rifle, food, and various other nonessentials.
We go down the somewhat traffic ridden road and I know there are police almost everywhere, but still my mother fails to correct some sort of vague illegality that is sufficient to get us pulled over. I am disappointed.
Blue and red lights.
We roll the windows down. A cop dressed in olive drab walks up to the back window and instantly pulls the blanket off the guns and gives me a severe look.
He knew! I am amazed.
“Why do you need these?” he accuses, handling the BB gun roughly and with an almost utter lack of gun safety.
“That’s a BB gun and the other is a cap rifle, they’re not very dangerous,” I clarify.
He eventually seems to arrive at the conclusion of what they are. I have the feeling I did not even need to tell him.
“We could have taken real guns but I thought that would be a bad idea. I’m sorry. Please.”
I am nearly on the verge of crying. I do not desire to go to jail or pay a large fine for something as typically trivial as this. My pleading is followed by silence for a few seconds.
The cop rolls the situation over in his head and seems to deduce that we are not particularly dangerous people.
“It’s not a big deal; I’ll let you off this time.” he says casually. He replaces the guns over the blanket.
“But do you know what’s up there on that hill?”
An air of mystery descends. On our right side is a large, dark hill covered with thick forest and grassy cattail marshlands leading up to it, as may be seen in parts of Pennsylvania. There is no path leading up to it and it seems exceptionally isolated from the rest of the world.
“No, I have no idea,” say I.
“I can show you,” he says, mystery thick behind his voice.
My mother is not at all interested in coming. She stays behind.
I do not know what pulls me towards the wild but it is an irresistible force and whatever is out there seems much more fascinating than the highway, and more dangerous.
We start off. The policeman begins to descend the ten foot slope directly beside the road and I follow him. He makes his own trail amongst the knee-high grasses that undulate for two-hundred feet until the more severe section of the slope upwards. After traveling increasingly far from the safety of the highway, we approach the trees and walk through them, in the midst of the dark and subconsciously-attuned woods native to this part of the country. The noises of broken sticks and crushing leaves sound.
However, I feel some sort of break in the solidity of the forest. I see light through the other side of the vegetation. The policeman smiles.
We break through the forest to a concrete ramp guarded by a chainlink fence. There is a hole in the fence that we step through. To the direct right of the slope is a large brick apartment building with faded yellow window casings on its myriad windows.
The building is clearly not being used.
I feel very apprehensive at the bizarre and monolithic feeling caused by such an object in the middle of the woods, but curiosity propels my feet nevertheless.
After mounting the incline, we turn to the right side and see another building that was being hid behind the first as we were on the ramp, and to the right of that one is yet another smaller version of the same, so that the three combine to make a U shape which we would have been on the left side of a minute ago.
We make it to the middle of these structures. They look at least seventy years old. There are stairwells down to possible entrances underground but we worry not with them.
Suddenly the policeman takes a pistol out of his holster and starts shooting at the wall and windows.
“What are you doing?” I ask, startled. The gun seems inexplicably quieter than a real one. His aim is very specific. I am not used to policemen breaking the law.
“Look in those windows.” he says. I feel a dirge bell ring.
I can see clearly inside each of these windows. As I walk, in awe, down the side of the apartment building, I see room after room of people, motionless, going about their lives or simply sitting and staring out at whatever is in front of their windows. Young people, old men, all sorts of different inhabitants.
They are all stuck there, silent, but look as if they could suddenly move if something in the atmosphere shifted. It is so nearly like they are still alive.
“There was an accident here,” saith the policeman gravely, “A bad accident. Something happened nearby and everyone in these apartment complexes was frozen in time where they stand. It happened decades ago.”
The gravity of this dawns on me and I feel a strong sense of melancholy. It reminds me of a similar event somewhere else in the world.
“Here, take this rock lobber,” he says, out of the blue, handing me an underpowered or modified pistol. “Shoot some of them.”
I don’t know what comes over me, or if I am simply afraid to not obey, but I fire at a few of these ephemeral personages and small holes seem to appear in them where the slow rocklike projectile hits them. It is like a bizarre target gallery.
I give the gun back, wondering if I should feel guilty or contented with ending their ceaseless vigil. I cannot tell if I killed them or not, but nothing about them essentially seemed to change after being shot.
Either way, the policeman’s habit of coming out here and regularly using this hideous place as a target gallery makes me feel nervous.
“I am going to leave,” say I.
“You should go up that path to the new civilization,” he advises. I nod. East of the apartments, further into the wilderness, lay a concrete path with a gate partially blocking it. I pass through the old gate and continue along. Rocks litter the way.
The policeman leaves and goes back to his car.
After putting some much-needed distance between me and those awful apartment buildings, I find myself curious as to what is ahead. I walk another five hundred feet.
My curiosity is satisfied as I see, far away, a small village built on top of a huge slab of concrete. A minute later I am there.
The terrain is generally somewhat flat, and the town is hemmed in by forested wilderness. The town is on the top of a hill, though, so the highest parts of the trees barely manage to rise above the settlement.
There are people here!
I find some young teen boy, somewhat overweight, and we walk along the main corridor of the town, talking about it. He seems so bored that we become friends quickly, as I am the only new thing to happen at the town in quite a while.
I ask him how the town was founded. He explains that some of the original residents from the apartment buildings managed to make it over here to start a new civilization. Now there are at least forty people in the area. I wonder how anyone could have escaped the accident.
The buildings around here are but small, blackened plank structures, but they give off a comforting if archaic energy compared to the brutalist Eastern European ambience of the last ones. I see some work being done in the area, dirt and gravel being moved, and there are several bobcats and excavators going about, doing their jobs.
Due to its remoteness, this settlement does not feel boring in the manner of some locations, but it does feel difficult to actually do much nonetheless.
We get off the beaten path and explore a fairly large cabin surrounded by woods. It has brown shingles and a single medium-sized window.
I walk up to it and peer in the window. There are many pots and pans, primitive darkwood furnishings, a few old books, and an icebox in it. But something is sitting in the chair close to the window I am looking into, on the right. A man-sized insect, a cricket or spider, or some unholy combination of man with the aforementioned. Its giant brown hairy legs splay out of myriad directions.
The thing is sitting there motionless.
“Let’s get out of here,” I say, very nervous.
“Oh yeah,” replies the boy. “Those are dangerous, we should go.”
We head, surprisingly slowly, back up the path separating us from the mainland of the town. My new friend and I mess around with gravel piles, look at construction equipment, perhaps go in a small cabin or two, and try generally to pass the time in any way we can. Sometimes we can see many people in the town and other times it looks nearly abandoned, but no reason is ever made clear as to the volatility of its rugged inhabitants.
After a while it becomes difficult to play around any more, and I do not want to retrace my steps and go back to the highway either. I feel that chapter of the adventure is over with and I am spooked still by those frozen structures.
Night is beginning to fall. It is not blurring the colors of the landscape or turning everything to black, but the carefreeness of the start of my voyage, if there ever was any, has faded away.
We are bored and feel the irresistible urge to explore more, dangerous as it may be.
Past the section with the bugman house is another turnoff into the woods, which has evidently been traveled before. We walk down the path, which heads downwards off the plateau of the town.
We come to a section where the grassy path ends and is replaced by a large square mass of concrete, fifty by fifty feet, with different rectangular shapes layered on top of it. It nearly seems like a children’s playground except for the vague eeriness and mystery surrounding its purpose.
We use it, however, for its supposed purpose and climb about on it, finding it a respite from the last events.
Then I hear something a ways behind us. Fear is in my friend’s eyes. I turn around and see, on the path coming from the town, another one of those horrid creatures. It lurches towards of with many light-brown hairy hairy arms and I don’t know how many legs.
We try to hide behind a concrete rectangle, but I hear it coming around the side and run to another shape before it sees me.
It is even more terrifying up close. I lose my friend at some point, and although I can deduce that he was not killed, I am never quite sure where he goes. My best guess is into the dark surrounding woods.
I play cat and mouse with the thing through different shapes until I eventually end up and the far end of the slab form the town. The pathway continues on further past that.
It sees me and has me cornered so that my best choice is to continue down the path.
Quickly the woods and trees go by me, for I am at top speed and jumping over logs and turning corners with an emergencial exhilaration I have rarely felt hitherto.
But it is yet behind me, and I find with horror that it is a tiny bit faster than me and is gaining ground at a tortuously slow rate. I need something to save me and at the next turn something does. An oak tree stands in the middle of the path so I barely brush by it and then put it between me and the thing as I continue running.
It smashes into the tree and falls. I look at it for a moment.
It is not dead but needs to make it off the ground before it can continue its pursuit.
I wonder what terrible accident could have caused such an abomination. The one at the apartment buildings or some sinister de-evolution from the surviving town? Or were they always in the surrounding woods?
At any rate, I continue as fast as I can and note the path’s curvature to the right. Perhaps it will eventually make a semicircle and join up with the rest of the town.
But yet again the thing is gaining on me and I run, filled with terror that I will trip up at some point and make a mistake. I am lucky, but it is only ten feet behind me.
I dodge under a branch and go around an S-bend, and see the path raise up. Five seconds later I am nearly on the level of the town again.
The creature is overrun and I make it, panting and happy to be safe again, onto the foundation of the town. The thing, evidently, is fearful of the area, for I never see it again.
And there is my friend, far away, on the top of a mound of dirt.
Finally, we are reunited, and I hope that my trials are over.
In the depths of a dark video game cafe, sharp sapphire light illuminated the recesses of towered hard disks and shelves of computer accessories, and the gamers Kim and Joel sat two chairs away from each other. But they were better known by their game names, pocketmaster1345 and xxxxxKIMPTxxxxx. They were in the midst of practicing for another competitive tournament at some point in the future. There were many other players in the room who did not have the sophisticated and cool atmosphere of true gaming veterans, and Kim and Joel looked down on them as casuals.
It was eight at night.
“Headshot!” Kim said into his microphone, and Joel heard him through his headset. Joel jumped around a building corner, dove to the ground, and noscoped three enemies in a row. Dead bodies piled on the ground. Joel got up and ran into cover, throwing two grenades incredibly far into some random location in enemy territory. He saw Kim out of the corner of his eye enter the building to the right of him, about to go in deep and cut around the enemy’s flank.
Kim and Joel communicated much better than most Insane Warbattles VI players, and used myriad strategies to help them in their pursuit of gaming infamy.
They had been in countless tournaments together, and though Joel entertained some thoughts of getting married and having a life outside of gaming, Kim lived for it and almost never did anything else.
But they were indisputably both extremely skilled.
Joel’s armament was usually a SCAR with extended barrel and green 2x magnification sight and a USP extended mag for backup. His comrade used a bolt-action sniper rifle and dual M9 pistols. But on occasion, as a joke, Joel would pull out his difficult-to-use middle finger cannon that he had got as a prize for prestiging eleven times. That was a long time ago.
Time had passed, but the players scarcely noticed. They were now the only people there except the absentminded store clerk, as it was three in the morning. Joel tried to recollect when they had first entered the cafe– it was perhaps a day or a day and a half ago? They played on.
“Stay behind that door, and I’ll cover the other exit,” said Kim, his voice sounding weaker than usual. They hadn’t been communicating as much lately.
An enemy went through the door and was in the process of spinning around and shooting at Joel when he took two slugs to the chest and collapsed.
They had won. Patriotic music played and the soldier with the most kills was displayed.
Now there was a loading time between battles, and they were going to be on the Soviet side. Joel took a swig of Mtn Dew, which used to be Mountain Dew, when they had first picked up their controllers.
Memories of some of their earlier tournaments suddenly flooded Joel’s mind, all the fun they’d had and how difficult it all was. How exciting it had been to prepare, and the thought that all of their enemies had spent just as much time getting ready as them!
Joel worried a little that Kim wasn’t eating much. He never ate a lot and often lost a lot of weight before a competition.
Joel’s character’s head exploded and he fell to the ground. He was getting way too distracted. The young man promised to himself to focus more from then on. Suddenly, Kim’s voice came on again.
“I’m getting tired, maybe we should close this up at the end of this battle.”
Kim was always subtle and a little bit submissive. He sounded exhausted.
“I don’t think so,” replied Joel, “I’m three quarters to level 176 and I should get there before the weekend. What do you think?”
“I’m not sure…”
“Come on,” replied Joel, brushing it off.
“Ok,” said his friend.
They continued on, playing on top of ships, on the roofs of tall buildings, and even in the inside of submarines where stray bullets caused flooding. Their battle orders and general chatter had slowed down and completely stopped a while ago. Joel was skilled enough that he could still play very well, however.
It was eight in the morning and a small but increasing amount of light poured in from the alien outside world. It took Joel’s attention away from what he was doing for a few moments. He actually enjoyed looking from a hole in the curtains at the orange sunlight. He detected a bad odor, surprisingly it was even worse than the typical stink of the place, and wondered where it had come from. After looking around the source was still not evident. But Kim seemed pretty still.
Joel was getting very close to level 176. His heart rate increased and every headshot and triple grenade kill moved the experience bar ever closer to that lofty goal.
Across the room, the store worker played around on his phone and ignored everyone as usual.
The gamer noticed that while he was starting to get tired, and no matter how much Mtn Dew he drank, there was not much he could do about it. His reactions were slowing down and his killstreak had went from 2.64 to the despicable ratio of 1.32! It was terrible.
But Kim, somehow, had not just stayed at the same level of mastery, but actually gotten slightly better and moved around with even more grace as he hopped fences and ran through dusty Middle Eastern towns. Joel was sure, one time, that one of the animations he went through did not even exist at all.
And all this without them even talking.
He didn’t mind, as his throat was sore anyways. At the end of the battle the experience bar was so close to its goal that Joel could not even believe he had not leveled-up yet.
The next round took place on a huge jumbo jet, and if enough windows were broken it would suck players out of the plane, so sometimes players used that effect as a strategy to win. Kim did three times better than Joel, but finally, after shooting some dude’s feet six times in a row, twenty five more experience points were added to the bar and the golden letters
CONGRATULATIONS: LEVEL 127 REACHED!
appeared. Joel gave out an audible shout. The store worker actually noticed him and stared condescendingly for a moment. It was ten in the morning now. The smell was getting horrible, and Joel thought it was about time to go home and take a shower, so he turned the game off and slowly re-acclimated to the real world. After pressing the computer power button and brushing the chip dust off his chair, the young man took a step towards his friend to remind him that they were finished. Not noticing it, he still had his wireless headset on.
Joel touched his friend on the shoulder. It was cold. He shook Kim, but the latter did not resist the movement at all. His face was much paler than usual and he smelled much worse than usual.
He was dead. And he had been dead for a long time.
And then Joel had the horrible thought– how was he still playing?
A low, creaky voice suddenly appeared on Joel’s headset. His heart nearly stopped.
“Hello,” it growled, “Shall we play another round?”
(link to part I)
“I don’t know where,” shot back Crimp, exasperated.
“You can’t just order a strike for nowhere,” replied Henry, starting to become annoyed.
“I know, smartass. How about a pickup at the corner of Oak Street and Lexington Ave, then?”
“Okay,” he replied. “I’ll be maybe three minutes.”
“Come on. You can do two; it’s urgent.” said Crimp. He hopped a fence to the right and ran to the front of the house, which was three buildings to the left of his own abode. The fence he had hopped was riddled with holes a moment later.
Crimp chuckled, knowing that the soldier was wasting his time trying to shoot the fence instead of pursuing him. He was already twenty yards away.
Not far up ahead, the houses turned into stores, and there was an opening to the building’s alleyway directly before the first storefront. Crimp saw the Snipa soldier coming around the front of the house just as he made it to the storefront. They both fired at each other and missed.
An instant later Crimp was behind the buildings, sprinting on. As he nearly came out the other end, the leader heard the running of the soldier not far behind him. As the other man aimed his rifle, Crimp shot at him and struck him in the arm. It knocked the man’s aim off for long enough for the Shank’s leader to turn left onto the busy sidewalk.
Only fifty yards away was the intersection were he was supposed to get picked up. Crimp booked it, using surprised strangers as cover so that he would be more difficult to spot. He saw Henry’s car off in the distance, driving as quickly as it could towards the intersection.
Behind him, a rifle roared, gunning down some of the people in between the Snipa ganger and Crimp. Crimp looked backwards and tried to get a shot off but couldn’t see what he was shooting at. The car screeched to a stop in front of the leader, but instead of getting in, he ran past and ducked behind it. Rifle bullets tore up the top left side of the car but did not hit anything important. They stopped coming suddenly.
“He needs to reload,” thought Crimp optimistically. He moved from behind his cover, aimed carefully and delivered two shots, dropping the other man. Crimp opened the door and ducked into the back seat of the car. They sped off quickly, burning rubber.
Crimp breathed heavily, and Henry chuckled, knowing why.
“That’s somethin’ ain’t it?” he said. Crimp was about to reply but only chuckled himself, letting off some steam. Henry had curly hair and was quite young, but smart. He had become disillusioned with the world and felt he didn’t have anything better to do than to join the Shanks.
As they kept driving down the road, Crimp had a bad feeling.
“And here’s the police,” observed Henry, all of a sudden. The cherries and berries flashed in their rear view mirror. Henry hammered the gas, went right between two cars, overtook them, and got onto the highway which was just ahead.
The police car was five seconds behind them. As soon as they were on an open stretch of highway, they saw the police car entering onto it as well. It was slightly faster than their own vehicle.
“Too bad they appropriated the military budget to the police,” complained Crimp.
“I guess,” said Henry.
Henry pressed a jury-rigged button which let out a pound of large jacks onto the road. Crimp looked back and saw the police car spinning out, with two flat tires.
“Didn’t take long, did it?” asked the leader. His associate nodded knowingly. They took the next exit and headed back towards Henry’s house, which wasn’t far from Crimp’s devastated building.
“I think we need to double down on the search for their boss. They probably have a big bunker somewhere or something similar.”
“S does?” asked Henry.
“Yep. We have to try harder. Tell your comrades to forget about the laws, use satellite imagery, increase radio and internet monitoring, outsource the labor if they have to, and tell them to comb over all the media reports, even from the little newspapers. Especially from them.”
“Good,” replied Henry. “I can’t remember more than three things at once, though.”
“We’ll be dealing with it soon anyways, so don’t worry about remembering every little thing. We can stay at your place for a moment, but I should get to my second house eventually.”
“The one that’s almost out in the country?” asked Henry, who had only vaguely heard about it.
“Yep,” said Crimp. “That one.”
The car stopped and the two men went inside. The leader loaded his revolver and Henry gave some orders over his radio.
It distressed Crimp slightly that the house had no bunker and didn’t even have reinforcing armor. But it was still better than the alternative; being out in the open.
“I can’t believe the repair company was in on it too,” said Crimp, frustrated. “Do the Snipas own everything?”
“Practically. Everything except what we own.” They looked out the window and saw a police car at a faraway intersection, racing towards where the first one had been, on the highway.
“Do you think anyone’s unaffiliated?”
“Not really, except the newest businesses we don’t have time to deal with.”
“I wonder if we can get the cops on our side,” remarked Crimp.
“Nah, some of ’em are already with the enemy and the others won’t budge. They love their job.”
“Yeah, it was a stupid idea,” agreed the boss. “Well, now that I have no assistant anymore, would you like to be one? Two hundred dollars a day, free food and lodging…”
“Hmm. Sure,” replied Henry, “let me just get some things together. Do you have a radio there?”
“Nope,” said Crimp. Silently, Henry seemed disapproving.
A few minutes later the two were on the road again. When they reached the property, Henry could hardly believe it. The house was just a tiny square. It faced the road directly, at the end of a dead end. Behind it was only wilderness.
“We’re really out there now. Why is this place so small?” laughed the assistant, unable to take it seriously.
“Because it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
They walked inside and ignored the top two rooms. To the left were two stairs and a heavy metal door. Crimp unlocked a lock on the wall and the door slowly slid to the right. There was gigantic bunker underneath, two or three times larger than the rest of the house, but it was just a single long room.
At the back of the bunker, lights illuminating it dramatically, was a huge milsurp machine gun with armor plating all around, particularly for the firer. It was a modified Navy cannon.
“Is that a 50-cal?” asked Henry. “It’s nice.”
“Nope,” replied Crimp.
“40mm?” pressed Henry.
Henry’s jaw dropped.
“And the whole section of the floor it’s on can raise to the ground level if you hit that switch. Don’t forget the earmuffs.” They were hanging on the top of the armor plating.
On the wall a few feet away was a pair of portable revolving grenade launchers.
“The one on the top is loaded with anti-tank rounds,” said Crimp. Henry raised his eyebrows.
“I suppose this place isn’t so horrible.”
After the tour, the pair set up Henry’s relocated radio. It took awhile, and they ran into some unforeseen technical difficulties, but were eventually successful.
As soon as the radio was running, Crimp messaged some of his contacts and got the word that good progress was being made in the search. They had the base locations narrowed down to just five.
“At the risk of being overly optimistic, I think this might work,” said Crimp.
They watched a sniper on the rooftops over one of the screens, but he merely waited there, seeming to have nothing to shoot.
“All units, avoid 118th ave and Chestnut Street,” he radioed. Someone replied that they were on their way there.
“That was a close one,” sighed Crimp. “They move somewhere different every day.”
“So how’s Susie?” asked Henry.
“Good. I last talked to her yesterday. It seems such a long time ago now, but I suppose it isn’t actually.”
“You like the blondes, don’t you?” asked Henry. Crimp nodded slightly.
“So why do you not have a radio but you still have all your screens here?”
“Money,” replied Crimp.
“I thought money’s no object for you!”
“That’s only what they say on TV.” Crimp winked. For the rest of the day, the Shanks associates worked like horses to find the base.
Early the next morning, Crimp woke Henry up and they started the day’s work. It did not take long before Crimp received a radio report stating that they had probably located the enemy base. It was a primarily-underground building that would take a lot of armament to damage, but it seemed to be the most likely candidate for the enemy HQ.
Just before the boss was about to authorize a strike, though, he received a text message from an unknown number. Warily, Crimp picked up his phone and read it.
Don’t even try to blow up the base; you’ll regret it.
“What the hell is this?” raged the leader, showing the message to his comrade.
Henry shrugged his shoulders.
“Perhaps they’re afraid of you, finally, after they failed with those last soldiers.”
“S actually knows my phone number?” said Crimp, exasperated. “I bought this phone explicitly because it would be hard to track.” He worked himself up to a bit of a rage.
“Did you not call the repair shop with it? Of course they know. Why doesn’t your assistant do these calls? I’m sure they have your voice profile.”
“But the only time I was on TV, they lowered my voice fifty percent,” argued Crimp.
Henry laughed, as he was more of a technophile than the boss.
“All you do is raise it back up fifty percent, and bingo.”
“Uggh. I’m sick of this.”
A message came in from the radio, changing Crimp’s attention.
“This is Blaise. Eighty percent chance that the location is correct. Also, we may have found a weak spot in the fortification. What are your orders, C?”
Crimp thought about it for a moment. Perhaps S was right that he would regret blowing the building up, or maybe he was just fooling the Shanks yet again. Either way, although Crimp couldn’t easily think of what could go wrong if they shot the base up, he knew something unforeseen might happen, and that could have bad consequences.
In a rare moment of indecisiveness, he asked for advice.
“What should I do?”
“Shoot ’em,” replied Henry, simply.
A moment later, Crimp slowly nodded his head and spoke into the microphone. He called his two friends with large cannons.
“We’ll need to use everything we have. Fire,” he said to the first.
On the other side of the radio sounded explosion after explosion. It went on for ten seconds straight. After that, he called the second one and the same events proceeded.
“Whoo!” yelled Henry. Crimp looked happy as well.
“I just wish we could see how well it worked,” the boss said, a tiny bit reserved. “I don’t even have cameras that show that area from far away. It’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere.”
Crimp made a weird expression and cocked his head. A very far-away rumbling noise sounded outside. Crimp immediately ran to the ground level and looked out the window. Almost a mile away, driving on the road as if it were a normal vehicle, a tank was coming towards them. There were five armored personnel carriers driving behind it, slowly overtaking the lumbering machine.
“Oh no,” said Crimp, desperation in his voice. He ran back to the radio and hurriedly put in calls for a strike at the intersection closest to his house.
“We’re out of ammo, we need to reload,” were the replies.
“Damn it all!” yelled the boss. “How did they find us?”
“They must have triangulated your position from the radio calls,” said Henry. “They were pretty obvious. Or maybe they found out what my car looks like from the police who chased us and found it with a satellite overnight. Or maybe-”
“Stop it,” said Crimp, ashamed. After a moment, he gave a command. “Be useful; go shoot them,”
They couldn’t use the machine gun as the rest of the house was currently blocking their line-of-sight, but it was possible to at least use the grenade launcher.
“I have to stay here and radio,” said Crimp, running over to the shelf and throwing the top weapon to his assistant. Crimp returned to the radio while Henry went upstairs and opened up a little gap in the front wall that was specially-made for such circumstances. It was just big enough to poke the barrel of the grenade launcher through.
Pink! Pink! Pink! went the firearm. The projectiles sailed through the air at a high angle and one missed, one glanced the tank, and another damaged a personnel carrier.
Henry shot three more times. He focused all his efforts on the APC’s this time, destroying a pair of them. There were only two APCs left.
“I need more ammo!” yelled Henry. A gigantic thundering sound was made and the corner of the top section of the house was decimated. Henry ran back to the basement, terrified.
“It was the tank, wasn’t it?” said Crimp.
“Yeah,” replied Henry.
“Are you alright?” asked Crimp, eyes focused on the radio.
“I guess,” he said feverishly, picking up the second grenade launcher. The tank fired at the house again, shaking its foundations and destroying the roof.
“I can’t go up there!” said Henry, breaking down.
“Shh,” said Crimp, busy with communications.
“Did you say you’ve reloaded?” he asked over the radio.
“Great. Fire at the Columbia intersection. Now!” said Crimp.
Another tank shell tore up the house, collapsing it on top of the bunker entrance way. There was only one way out now.
Crimp heard the firing of his artillery far away and hoped it had been on target.
“Get up there!” said Crimp, pointing towards the 76mm cannon. Henry ran up and manned the gun. Crimp pressed the elevator button and then joined Henry. Slowly, the floor began to move upwards and the two roof sections split apart, opening the gun platform to ground level. The daylight poured in more and more every inch they went up.
“Let’s hope the strike got them all,” said Crimp, pressing a button which readied the cannon for firing. Since the house was so decimated, they could see some of the enemies up ahead. A piece of the house was still in the way, though.
Henry and Crimp put the earmuffs on. Crimp controlled the cannon and swiveled it to the left.
“Fire in the hole!” said Crimp. The cannon exploded, sending a huge shell through the house, collapsing it further.
“Well, now we can see,” commented the boss. Five hundred yards ahead, troops poured out of an APC. They could see that the artillery strike had demolished the other APC. The tank was still there.
“Damn!” said Crimp, adjusting the controls to point the cannon at the tank. He was angry at the aim of his associates.
He fired, and a huge cloud of smoke poured out of the barrel of the cannon as it shook from the explosion. The shot struck the tank on one of its tracks.
It seemed that the tank was immobilized but still functional.
A few soldiers started to fire their small arms at them.
They heard a thundering sound as a shell from the tank struck the ground right in front of the cannon, shaking everything and kicking up a giant cloud of dirt. The two men coughed and were unable to see anything. Crimp blindly adjusted the aim slightly.
“It’s now or never,” he said.
The boss pressed the fire button and the cannon went off again. They could not tell if it was a hit or not.
In the interim, a tank shell tore into the side of their cannon, sending a giant piece of metal flying off in the distance. Shrapnel from the impact flew off in different directions.
“Oww!” screamed Henry, grabbing his leg.
The haze started to clear up and Crimp noticed their aim had been slightly wide. He adjusted and shot again.
It was a direct hit. The enemy tank exploded in a crimson and ash blast.
“Finally!” said the leader. A few rifle rounds bounced off the armor and Crimp kept his head down more.
“My leg…” said Henry. It was bleeding from shrapnel.
Crimp took Henry’s grenade launcher and shot in an arc from behind the armor, taking out a few soldiers. Henry manned the artillery controls and nearly missed but took out one more Snipa. By the time Crimp was out of ammo, there was only one man left.
“Should we?” he asked. They watched the man run backwards, away from the fight.
“With the 76mm?” asked Henry. “No.”
“You’re right,” conceded Crimp.
Crimp took his shirt off and hastily bandaged up Henry’s leg with it.
“You’ll be alright, but you need to go to the hospital.”
“I can’t really walk,” replied the assistant.
“Lean on me,” said Crimp. Henry got off the platform and Crimp pressed the button sending the artillery back into the ground. Slowly, they made their way back to the car and Crimp took the wheel. They sped off to the hospital, making sure to avoid the road where the lone soldier was definitely still running away.
As they drove, Henry called for the hospital to ready a stretcher in front of the building.
Five minutes later, Crimp and Henry arrived and the nurses put the wounded assistant on a stretcher and wheeled him to the lobby and then the emergency room.
Crimp found an actual place to park, rested for a few minutes, then decided he should see how his friend was doing. The walk to the front of the building felt so normal that it almost made him nervous. For once, he found himself unworried about his rivals. The shock from the recent past had not totally cleared up, but he felt better overall. When he went inside, Crimp noticed a policeman eyeing him from behind the counter. He waited until the cop left and then asked a receptionist, under a false name, where Henry was. The leader walked there and stayed outside the surgery area while the doctors finished extracting a few bits of steel from Henry’s leg.
Crimp used the downtime to calm down, rest, read, and eat five crullers from Tim Horton’s.
He kept in contact with his associates through his phone. It sounded like the enemy was greatly weakened. They found little activity during the next two hours.
Before long, Henry was in a recovery room upstairs. Crimp sat next to him.
“So how did it go?” asked Crimp, wanting his opinion on the recent events.
“As good as it could have, except for your lousy timing with the artillery strike.”
“It’s not my fault,” said Crimp, offended. “I always time them perfectly. I know how long everything takes to make it work. The problem was that they didn’t have precise enough coordinates. I told Jimmy last month to map the streets everywhere out to seven decimal points, but he probably only did five. Lazy shmuck.” Crimp shook his head.
“Well, there’s not much going on anymore. They only found one sniper lately.”
“Yeah,” said Henry. “What are you gonna do now, see someone you know?” He winked.
“Susie?” asked Crimp, surprised.
There was a knock on the door. Forgetting The Rules for a moment, Crimp walked over and opened it.
“Speak of the devil,” he said. An attractive blonde woman with a handbag and a red dress stood there, looking at him. Henry laughed to himself, loud enough for Crimp to hear him.
“How are you, girl? Nice to see you,” said Crimp politely. She undercut the formality quickly.
“S told you that you would regret that decision,” she said, in a biting tone.
“What do you mean? It worked out in the end.” Crimp began to be slightly nervous, and his positive expression faded. Henry stared from ten feet away.
“It worked out for you,” she shot back.
“Do you want me to see you more, or have they bought you off, just like everyone else?”
“Not necessarily,” she replied. “I’m just done with the explosions and the war, and I want to live normally. This is the easiest way of making peace,” she said, quietly. Crimp shook his head hopelessly.
“So what are you here for, then?”
She looked right into his eyes. It was hard to tell what either of them were thinking.
Silently, Susie extracted a pistol from her purse and brought it to Crimp’s head.
Jacob Prisgrim pressed of a hundred buttons on his remote and the television set flicked on. A blonde newscaster reported the story, not in a typical canned reporter’s tone, but with a hint of haste and genuine apprehension.
“In national news, the Supreme Court of the United States of America has ruled that the Second Amendment of the constitution is an ‘Unlimited and Inviolable Right’, and cannot be subject to change, the end result of the ongoing Davison vs. Picketts case,” she said.
That same piece of news had been repeated with the same urgency throughout the entire day.
— — — — —
A year later, things had changed.
Off in the distance, an earth-shaking, full sound boomed. The china in the cabinet rattled and the floor vibrated beneath people’s feet. Mr. Prisgrim sat on an old chair in his living room.
“There it is again, that infernal blasting,” he muttered under his breath. When the noise was over, he threw his coat on and walked out to the car. The engine puttered as he pulled out onto the main road. A few minutes down his side street lay the battered foundations of a house. His neighbor knew who used to live there. They had talked about the event several times since then.
“There it is, where the Forrests used to live. Why do the gangs around here have such bad aim?” complained the man. He kept on driving, with a bit of an empty feeling inside.
At the grocery store, a television by the counter showed another similarly decimated house which belonged to a low-ranking gangster in the Snipas gang. A voice droned on and on about how he had upset the adjacent criminal group The Shanks in some way, and how he had been killed by an artillery blast just one day later. A helicopter fluttered over the scene, recording the blackened remnants of wood, plastic, and the huge crater swallowing up most of the property and even some of the next house’s yard.
Evidently the neighbor of the gangster was going to try to sue someone to recover the money from her destroyed orchids.
Mr. Prisgrim humphed and frowned.
On another channel, the territory wars were being made into a reality show called Shanks vs. Snipas. It already was the second most-watched show on the air.
— — — — —
On the other side of the city, in one of several normal-looking but extremely fortified houses that he owned, sat the man known only as Crimp. He wore a tuxedo, taking his job as leader seriously. His hair was black, and gelled backwards, except on days where he didn’t do much. Those days were getting fewer and fewer.
Times had changed.
This wasn’t like a gang from five years ago; Crimp and his enemies were professionals.
More than a dozen monitors lined the wall, each showing the view from a different hidden camera around the city. On the table in front of him sat a HAM radio, which would give off security updates around three times a minute. He sat in a cheap chair; the only object in the room without the high-quality aesthetic of it.
From time to time, Crimp took a sip of extra old cognac. At times he simply drank Serbian mineral water.
Chore though it was, he enjoyed his time in his basement bunker. Aside from having persistent worrying thoughts of snipers, he felt nearly at peace.
“Damn, I’m late,” he whispered, turning on his swivel microphone and talking into it.
“This is alpha beta kilo x-ray kilo,” he repeated twice.
“10-4,” replied another voice, muffled slightly by static.
“What’s the word?” asked Crimp.
“Noodles,” replied the voice.
“10-4. Have you checked Highway 28, and made sure Maggonicelli’s has paid their tax?” inquired Crimp.
“Affirmative,” was the reply. “Twenty-four hundred for the month.”
“Perfect. Keep it up and you might get promoted. Alpha beta kilo x-ray kilo over and out.”
He turned the microphone off, but only a second later another voice was already coming in.
“Is this alpha beta kilo x-ray kilo?” it asked.
“What’s the word?” asked Crimp, in a serious tone.
“Affirmative,” said Crimp. After a polite pause the informant continued, copying the tones used by police on their radios.
“I have a tangent on Highway 87 heading northwards towards the Highway 28 intersection on the south side.”
“A Snipa?” asked Crimp, forgetting his clandestine protocol for a moment.
“Affirmative. Sausage. In about two minutes the tangent will be at the H-28 intersection.” The voice couldn’t help but sound slightly awkward for the first half of the sentence.
“Perfect. Lat and long?” asked the leader.
“41.8369° North, 87.6847° West. I repeat. Red hatchback, right lane.”
“Is there other traffic on the road?” asked Crimp.
“Not much,” replied the voice.
“Good.” He smirked. “We should avoid extra damages since what happened in September,” said Crimp.
“10-4. Good idea, C. Over and out.”
The boss repeated the coordinates to an associate a mile out of town who had a heavy artillery piece surrounded by a huge foam box to muffle the noise. Crimp observed the screen showing the relevant intersection and waited. The moments passed uncomfortably by before, at last, the car appeared, slowing to a stop at the intersection. It looked expensive.
The boss knew that this was the moment for action.
“Fire,” ordered Crimp. He heard the explosion a moment later through the other side of the radio. Three seconds later, the blast rocked the surveillance camera, suddenly sending the vehicle to a many-pieced end. There was little peripheral damage. The execution was perfect.
Crimp smiled, although he wished someone was there to see him. The adrenaline coursed through his veins as he watched police arrive at the scene in their huge armored vehicles. Three-quarters of the police force was now armored, the rest being reserved for pursuit.
A tank armed with a four-inch cannon even showed up for backup. Nobody found the Shank’s security camera. Their cover was intact.
Crimp grinned to himself, pleased at the result.
A few minutes later, he saw one of his highest-ranking group members on the screen. He was the second-in-command, and the most probable to take over if Crimp’s home defenses were breached.
“Joe,” Crimp said to himself. The man walked on the sidewalk towards the camera, which was mounted around the second story of a nearby building. He smiled at the camera and waved. Crimp nodded his head, appreciating the attention. He felt nearly warm for a second.
Joe’s head exploded and he fell to the ground, bleeding all over the sidewalk.
The boss took the sight in, unbelieving.
“Damn!” yelled Crimp, throwing his cup and a clipboard from his desk. The cup damaged a portion of his radio, making him even angrier.
“Goddamned snipas!” he screamed, throwing his chair in the opposite direction.
Bought from Ikea and made in China, it shattered when it hit the ground.
Crimp collapsed, hopeless.
“Why can’t I be as precise as them? It seems like as soon as I make one good move, they outclass me.” He knew they were called Snipas for a reason.
The life drained out of him as the gang leader lay on the ground. He felt slightly like his late friend Joe.
“My only benefit is all this huge artillery, but sometimes it feels useless compared to the tools they use… It’s like they’re ghosts; they know where all my cameras are, they use decoy houses and use decoy vehicles, hidden snipers…” Despite the ideas Crimp had stolen from them, they were always coming up with new, increasingly diabolical schemes.
“I bet that car wasn’t even the real one.” Negativity overwhelmed him. He had no good reason to think the car was fake, though, beyond gut suspicion.
“First it was Karl, then Morris, then Joe. I can’t take another one.”
He thought about calling on the radio to broaden and intensify the search for the enemy headquarters, but he would need to fix the radio equipment first. He brought his fist down on the floor, enjoying the satisfying feeling when it connected.
It wouldn’t take long for him to recover from the shock, though, for he had been in similar situations many times before.
Crimp took out his phone, an old but durable model. At least it didn’t spy on him like the new ones. He dialed and it ringed for a while.
“Is this E-Z Repairs?” he asked, in his regular tone of voice.
“Yes,” replied the man on the other end.
“I’m looking to repair a HAM radio, quite urgently,” he replied.
“What’s your name?”
“Just give me a minute,” said the repairman. There was silence for an unusually long amount of time.
“Okay, what do you need?” he said, with extra vigor.
“Just a replacement for a transmitter part.”
At the end of the call, Crimp got up and opened the solid metal door to the ground level of the house. He made sure he had some extra bribe money for the repairman in his wallet so he wouldn’t tell anyone the unusual nature of the house. Still, something in him felt uneasy. His personal assistant was waiting upstairs.
“Louie, would you mind answering the door when the repairman shows up?” asked Crimp.
“No problem,” he replied. Louie was not an old-fashioned butler, but a typical semi-casual man who had knowledge of a vast variety of modern things. Crimp handed him three hundred dollars and left the room.
The leader waited in his bedroom in the top floor. There was a desk next to the bedroom door with one large drawer.
He looked out the window facing the backyard. It was made of three panes of bulletproof glass. He opened up the steel locking mechanism and felt the wind through his hair.
Someone knocked at the front door, so Crimp laid down by the top of the staircase so he could catch a small glimpse of what was going on. Louie answered the door and spoke with the repairman for a moment. They walked towards the bunker entryway and left Crimp’s sight.
The leader heard the repairman call up someone on his phone and say something like “Yeah, you can come.”
That’s when the mayhem started.
A few moments later, Crimp saw several armed and armored men rush through the front door and into the bunker.
“Shit,” he said, running to his desk, opening the drawer, and frantically pulling out a smoke grenade and an MP5.
There was a gunshot, evidently from the armed men and not from Louie as he had not been armed. Crimp sighed. This had been the third downed personal assistant in the last three months.
That’s why their salary was so high.
Crimp pulled the pin on the grenade and threw it down the stairs. It sent out clouds of whitish smoke. He threw his desk down there as well to trip them up.
Knowing their methods, Crimp supposed the Snipas would have scoured the whole house for him in a few moments even if he had not shown any evidence of his presence. They knew, at least vaguely, what he looked like, and it wasn’t at all like Louie.
The leader dropped his submachine gun out the window and it fell two feet onto the roof. An instant later, he went out with it, grabbing it again as it slowly slid downwards.
The neighbor’s roof was ten feet away from the edge of his own but much lower. He ran as quickly as he could and made the jump, but crashed with so much force into the second roof that he had to let go of his weapon. He just managed to be securely on the roof and avoid the threat of falling off himself.
“No!” he said as the gun fell twenty feet to the ground. He started to scramble to the peak of the neighbor’s roof.
To make matters worse, the Snipas in his own house had made it through the defences and were looking through the window. They saw Crimp and started shooting just as he disappeared beyond the apex of the second rooftop.
As most of the fire was directed towards the northern end of the roof, Crimp ran, low to the ground, to the southern end, and pulled his magnum snubnose revolver out from its concealment holster. Crimp popped out from behind the cover and saw one man firing his assault rifle from the open window. The shots ripped apart the other side of the roof.
The boss aimed the revolver sights carefully and took out the Snipa with a loud bang.
“Good thing I chose such a huge gun,” said Crimp to himself as he jumped to the roof of the next house over. From there, he decided to drop down to the backyard. After making it to the fence, he entered the alleyway and started running from the remaining soldier.
The second man could not be far behind in his pursuit.
Crimp took his phone out and called up his second-in-command, although he had been the third until a few minutes before, when Joe was shot.
“Hey Henry, it’s C. What’s the word?”
“Noodles,” replied Henry.
“Great,” said Crimp, still running, revolver in one hand. “Listen, Henry, it’s an emergency. Louie is dead and my location is compromised.” Just as he said so, a gigantic shell slammed into Crimp’s house, destroying a piece of it.
The leader looked back and saw the second Snipa running out into the alleyway. He turned right and entered someone’s backyard as he opened fire.
“Okay… here’s your orders. Henry, I need a strike, now.”
“Where?” asked his friend, nervous.
“Why exactly are you so interested in this?” asked John Ivans, standing uncomfortably in his doorway. His guest was Jarl Winslow, English multimillionaire and eccentric. Their Pacific town had never seen anyone of his stature and it made John quite uncomfortable.
“I need him for my private collection. It’s a big affair, very exclusive,” replied the sure, foreign tone of Jarl’s voice. He was overdressed, wearing a creme blazer and white pants, making him stand out that much more.
“Well, I’ve thought about it a lot since you last called, and I can’t really refuse.” He summoned up his courage for a moment. “I’m not honestly so into this whole idea, but if you insist, I’ll help you out.”
“Thank you very much. You will have no complaints regarding payment, that I can assure you.” Jarl slid two hundred-dollar bills out of his black shell cordovan wallet. “Your advance.” John took it carefully, regarding it as one regards a dying bear on a bear hunt.
“Are you sure?” he stammered.
“Extremely. I shall see to to-morrow,” replied the gentleman, tipping his hat briefly and departing.
– – – – – –
“I suppose this man is the best in the area, as far as his knowledge of the land goes. We will have a shot at success with him on our side,” said Jarl confidently.
“The Sheriff wouldn’t recommend anyone but him, I don’t think,” said Robert Crawford, private investigator. He sighed and watched the road as he drove. Crawford had served in Chicago for ten years, seen a lot of tough stuff, and developed skin as thick as a rhinoceros. Anything during this trip would be a total piece of cake. The Northwest was a joke compared to a Midwestern metropolis. Or so he thought…
– – – – – –
The next evening, before sunset, Winslow, Crawford, and Ivans took the long drive to the edge of the county, where the woods were so thick there was scarcely a house. This was the area where there had been several sightings in the past years.
“But you seriously have an actual mermaid?” asked John Ivans, barely believing his ears.
“That is a secret. You would have to see for yourself, but I do not let guests in often. Perhaps I will invite you sometime later,” replied Winslow. The car slowed down, kicking a few final pieces of dirt into the air before stopping entirely. Crawford got out of the driver’s seat and leaned against the hood for a minute, breathing in the fresh mountain air. The three men stood silently for a moment, then started to study the treeline.
“Well, I think I’ll take a look n’ see if there’s any tracks,” ventured John.
“Of course,” said Jarl Winslow, putting on his brush poncho to keep his blazer clean. They walked down the hill before the treeline and the tracker pulled out his special tools, a multicolored flashlight and a rangefinder. Crawford stayed behind, hand on the butt of his Ruger Redhawk forty-four magnum. Something about the woods didn’t seem quite right to him, although John Ivans seemed to think it was normal. The sun was almost brushing against the horizon already.
“I brought two trail cameras,” informed John, placing one strategically on a tree and marking it with yellow tape. “We can come tomorrow and see if they find anything.”
Crawford nodded resolutely. They traveled another hundred yards and put up the next camera, but Ivans did not see any tracks except for one belonging to a small rabbit. As night fell, Crawford found himself feeling a bit off, scared of the slightest things. Winslow seemed to be acting less exuberant but not as affected as Crawford. Ivans kept to himself, and no-one else could tell what he was thinking and feeling. They headed back to the vehicle, tense but relieved to be done for the night.
– – – – – –
Winslow had never believed in the beast until he was driving out in the country after a secret business meeting. There, in the middle of the night, he saw a coyote run by. After stopping the car and listening resolutely, he saw a dark figure rushing through the leaves and heard horrible, gruesome sounds emanating from the forest. The canine yelped, and a fearsome deep-voiced mammal grunted and roared. Whatever it was, it made him think the old Indian legend was true. From then on, he was determined to capture it.
– – – – – –
After checking the cameras the second day, the men saw nothing of value.
“I do not want to sound heavy-handed, but are you sure there are no other steps to take?” inquired a disappointed Jarl Winslow. John stared at him for a second, then a light slowly came on in his head.
“Wait– I know. There’s an old man that lives around here, and if anyone knows about this creature, it’s him.”
“Where does he live?”
“He’s in an old shack a mile past the end of old Mill Road. It will be a hike to get there. No-one else lives in that entire section.”
Half an hour later, the trio found themselves trailblazing through the underbrush on the way to the house. The land was desolate and wild, teeming with energy.
“What do you know about this creature, Mr. Ivans?” asked Jarl.
“Not a whole lot, aside from what my dad told me. The Natives called him Dvahamochak, and they used to tell them stories about him to keep their kids from going outside alone. It scared them pretty well. There were no sightings for a hundred years, but recently they’ve started up again. Nowadays, around here we call him Big D.”
Winslow laughed for a moment. “Do you know anyone who has seen him?”
“No, not personally. We’re almost there. I’m going to set up another camera that views his house.”
“Good idea,” said Crawford, who had been silent for ten minutes.
The shack was from the generation that made things the old way, by hand with local materials. Logs, not plywood; nails, not screws. It was not in the best of shape, however. Crawford wondered how anyone could live in such a tiny area. Winslow broke the nervous waiting feeling as they stood in front of the house by knocking decisively. It was silent again for a minute.
The door opened, revealing an old bearded man with a face full of wrinkles.
“Who is this?” he asked, surprised.
“Jarl Winslow, Detective Crawford, and John Ivans,” said the millionaire, sweeping his hand. “We’ve come to ask you some questions, if you don’t mind, about this local legend.”
The old man looked scared.
“Uh, what are you asking?”
“Well, Willie, we thought you may have had some sort of contact with this creature, living out here like this.”
He felt suspicious about the whole matter.
“No, I’ve never seen it. I’ve never even heard of it. There’s no Sasquatch around here,” he pouted, looking at the ground.
“You’re sure?” followed Winslow.
“Yes, darned right.”
Winslow caught a look at the interior of the house, which was a total mess.
“Mister Willie, if you would like, I could get you some new furniture, a new bed? It seems the current one is… not in such good condition,” offered Jarl.
“No. No! There’s no point in that,” snapped Willie, slamming the door abruptly.
The men left downtrodden, again, and even Winslow found himself feeling that there was barely a point in their continued search.
“What did you think of Willie?” John said to Detective Crawford.
“He was pre-ty weird,” he replied concisely. The journey back was easier since there was already a trail, and before long, they were back in town, forced to wait another night. Morale was low, but Winslow and Ivans decided to give the cameras one more chance.
– – – – – –
“Oh my gosh,” said John, staring wide-eyed at his trail camera. “Look at it.”
“That’s just Willie,” said Robert Crawford, unsure what to think.
“I don’t think so,” replied the tracker. “It’s as tall as the whole house! And it looks like it’s about to wait in front of the door or go inside!” He could barely believe his eyes. “And look at this one, he’s going in the opposite direction, and it looks like it could have even been inside the house!”
Crawford could barely believe their success, but Ivans had stunning evidence. Besides, the bipedal thing caught on film was much taller than a person, especially Willie.
“Something is not right here,” said Crawford. “Willie must be hiding something.” He grasped his revolver again. Ivans felt for his pistol in his pocket as well, just to be sure. Winslow had stayed in town, tired of their past failures and feeling a little bit under the weather.
“We have to go talk to him again,” declared Crawford.
They knocked on the door, but nobody answered.
“Open the door!” shouted Crawford. “Or I’ll kick it down!”
The detective got ready to bash the door down but John stepped in and turned the handle, opening it. Crawford looked slightly embarrassed. Willie was inside, sitting on a chair, staring directly at them.
“We want to know if…” said the detective, cut off.
“No! He’s never been in here!”
John flashed a quick glance at Crawford and nodded.
“We found pictures of something, it looks like–“
Willie stood up and ran past at the two men, pushing John off to the side and escaping through the door. Quickly, Detective Crawford was onto him. They collided and Willie fell to the ground. The detective pulled out his firearm and pointed it at the old man while yelling.
“Where the frick is Big D?”
“He was never here!”
“I’m serious, we have pictures. Why are you denying this?”
“You don’t understand,” whimpered the old man. He shouted into the woods in a bizarre way.
“We know it was around here.” John Ivans appeared behind the detective.
“Just calm down, put your gun away, and I’ll tell you,” said Willie, slowly getting up. There was silence for a few minutes, then Crawford obliged.
“See, me and him, we have… a relationship.”
The two investigators were stunned. Willie turned around, seeing something important, and ran off into the woods. Crawford drew his revolver and fired, the bullet bouncing off a tree. They lost sight of the old man.
“What the hell?” said Crawford. They followed after Willie, and after barely making it into the forest, they saw him standing right next to a gigantic lumbering ape-like creature, talking to it. They were barely twenty yards away. Crawford and Ivans stopped cold, amazed.
“I can’t believe it,” whispered John. The detective was silent.
Willie was talking to the thing, quietly at first. Then, the two men heard it.
“Go get them!” shouted the old man, pointing. Instantly, the beast gave chase to them through the woods and across the open field as Ivans and Crawford ran for their lives.
“Get your gun!” shouted Crawford, panicked. They spun around and fired at the beast as it got closer and closer to them. The detective emptied all six shots in his cylinder, and the creature dropped right at his feet at the last second. Behind it was Willie.
“Why… Why did you kill him?” he yelled, hitting the ground and pounding it. “He was my only friend!”
“That’s enough, Willie. You’re going with us.” Crawford walked over and handcuffed the crying old man. John stayed put, staring at the huge body of their target. It had barely been killed in time.
“The place for you is at the mental hospital, Mister,” said Crawford, walking behind Willie all the way to the car. What do you think Winslow is gonna think of all this?”
– – – – – –
In the red, carpeted room of Jarl Winslow’s private museum, the newest exhibit was receiving a lot of attention, more than anything else in years. Killed in a gruesome fight to the death with a Northwestern hunter, the body of a massive ape was displayed in all its viscous glory.Winslow billed it as one of the toughest, most heartless predators in the world.
“From ancient times sages were seeking
For the forgotten truth’s footprints.
And they for long were loud-speaking
The usual speeches of old flints.
They were repeating: “The truth-treasure Had hidden self into a well.” (5)
And, drinking water all together, were crying: “There we’ll find it, well!”
But someone faithful friend of mortals, (Maybe Silen this person was)
The witness of their disputes, thoughtless,
Had tired of water and of noise,
Left all attempts to find the holly, And thought about wine, the first, (10)
And, having drunk a bowl, whole,
Saw, on its bottom, the truth, lost.”
-Aleksandr Pushkin, Yengeny Bonver translation 
One of the fundamental human attributes is the search for the Truth, the meaning of life. It has been a signature part of society ever since at least the beginning of civilization. People have attempted in myriad ways to try to find this universal truth; philosophy, religion, sports, math, science, and art are just a sample. And so Pushkin’s poem begins with a subject no less important than this; sages trying to find the meaning of life, the Secret that makes everything sparkle.
At the beginning, these wise sages track down footprints, and search widely for the remainder of the “truth-treasure”. They appear to be unsuccessful, and at the end, the situation becomes hopeless and the distracted wise men talk amongst each other whilst drinking water and making excuses, saying the truth must be hidden in a well. (5) As they are drinking water and still not finding the truth, it becomes apparent that this method is not working. The water in this poem stands for cowardice and blandness, and reminds one of the phrase “watered down.” It symbolizes the futility of their hunt for truth.
The search for meaning has been a failure for the wise sages, but someone else is now introduced, Silen or Silenus. At the end, only the person who became tired of the search actually found it. Silen was a satyr from Greek mythology, one of the first antinatalists. (those against bringing life into the world) This philosophy, of which a central tenet is overpopulation, has existed since long before the total human population was over one billion. Ironically, as Silen abandons the quest for the truth, becomes distracted and drinks wine, he actually discovers that truth lost at the bottom of his bowl. (12) The moral is that you cannot find the truth by furiously searching for it like the sages, only by letting it find you instead. The latter half of the poem could be miscontrued to support alcoholism, but in actuality the wine and water are symbolic for different ways of living, the former frenetically searching and the latter calm and collected.
There are two words for “truth” in Russian, Istina and Pravda. The former is “divine truth” and the latter is subjective truth, the word used in this poem.  Of all the ways of searching for the Truth, some are direct and some not as direct; some use a physical method to bring psychological and spiritual satisfaction to their lives, others try to find it directly at a higher level. It seems the old men were trying this higher spiritual or philosophical approach without success. Silenus’ approach, on the other hand, was reminiscent of Forrest Gump, Sling Blade, or any simpleminded but generally happy people.
“The Truth” is a compliment to the physically-dwelling and simple-minded, stating that only by enjoying life can one find any remnant of the truth, not by trying to directly capture it. By being less intelligent, one is aware of less problems and life may appear better. Abstract worries or ideaologies may not obscure vision in these people. As the overused cliche goes, “Ignorance is bliss.” Many appear happy with their lives lived simply, on farms or the wilderness.
One of the issues with this poem, and with Pushkin and Russian poets in general, is the fact that meaning is often lost or occluded in translation. Russian only shares primitive roots with English, and compared to French and Spanish it is quite difficult to translate. The numerous translations of this piece in particular make this fact painfully obvious. Neither of them are alike or even very similar. A literal interpretation is below, and it seems that the Yevgeny Bonver translation is actually inferior in a way, using rhymes that do not fully fit together and feel quite false. A fitting example is: “The truth-treasure has hidden itself into a well/ and there we’ll find it, well!”
It has long been looking for the wise
Traces of the forgotten truth
And long, long interpreted
Longstanding rumors elderly.
Asserted: “Truth is holy In the pits, cleaned up secretly “
And, happily drinking water, Shouted: “Here we find her!”
But somebody, mortal benefactor (And almost old Silenus)
Their stupidity important witness,
Water and cry tired,
Left our invisibility, First thought about wine
And, drained to the dregs the cup
Saw the truth at the bottom.
Although some of the English grammar and all of the end rhymes have been taken out in this version, it has more of the Russian character and arguably more impact than the translation at the beginning of this essay. Nevertheless, Alexsandr Pushkin is considered the Shakespeare of Russia, and “The Truth” is one of his more fascinating poems, on which many hours of research can be spent. It is very thought-provoking, a useful way to start philosophical discussions, and although the English version may not have the same impact as the original, it is still high-quality piece of classic poetry.
Everything was silent. I stood by the front window, staring outside at the neighborhood.
Something happened to the southwest, instantly appearing, as if a nightmare. A horrifying ashy explosion followed by a resounding crack. It reached up, gargantuan, through the sky, a slim brown spire of ash surrounded by a grey dusty pillar. The top of the cloud spread out suddenly and boldly into a shape resembling a mushroom.
The type of fear it created was not just physical, it was existential and undeniable.
My best friends, Ryan and Rinzal were in their house just across the street. I rushed to the front door, flung it open and yelled to my friends to come quickly. I could see through the window that Ryan heard me, and made a hand signal saying “one minute”, disappearing into the back of his house.
Thirty seconds later, my friends ran frantically across the street, briefly looking back at the explosion several miles away, which was now spreading up and outwards even more. With a momentary relief, they were safely inside my house. Ryan had brought a slingshot and Rinzal carried a set of poker chips under his arm.
“It’s not safe here. The radiation is going to go right through these windows,” I stammered.
“We should take a roll of that black plastic and tape it over them,” suggested Rinzal. He was thirteen years old, shorter and slightly younger than his brother and more cerebral.
I rushed to reply. “No, we can’t do that right now. Lock the front door.”
Rinzal ran to the front door and speedily spun the lock, making our house a step more secure.
“Come on. We need to get the supplies,” nagged Ryan worriedly.
“I have a bucket in my room,” I shouted, running towards it. “Go, get everything out of the cupboards.”
We worked very quickly to scavenge together food and other useful items. I brought an orange supply pail prepared for emergencies, and my friends took almost everything out of the kitchen. Nonetheless, we forgot a number of things in our haste.
“The only safe place to go is in the basement. It will protect us from the radiation. Even if someone gets inside our house they probably still won’t find us there.”
My friends were worried.
“Are you sure?” asked Ryan. “Isn’t it just dirt down there?” He might as well have said it was too creepy for his taste.
“It’s the best spot,” I replied. The trapdoor to the basement was in the kitchen, covered up by a rug. I removed the cover and got a screwdriver out to pry open the trapdoor. Rinzal filled glass jars up with water and laid them next to me as I worked. Finally, the trapdoor popped open and I removed it, setting it to the side.
In front of us was the old wooden staircase leading into the basement. There were cracks in some of the steps, and they did not look absolutely reliable. At the bottom was a plain white wall. It looked as if there were no rooms in the basement, but once we descended to the bottom, we saw identical rooms on either side of the staircase, both rectangular and the size of the inside of a bus, between the two of them. We unloaded the supplies on the right side of the landing. There was a huge, black millipedal bug with ten body sections on the wall across from me. I gasped, horrified.
“Ryan, will you please get rid of that bug?” I asked nervously. He looked at me dumbly.
“No! Rinzal, won’t you kill it?” he asked. Rinzal shook his head. I cautiously approached the monstrous insect, thought about cutting it in half, but couldn’t stomach the thought of actually doing it.
“Please, Rinzal! I can’t…” I whined. He looked at the ground and thought for a moment.
“Ok,” he conceded. I backed off and sat on a creaky step as Rinzal got rid of the creature with his slingshot. Afterwards, we went back upstairs to dispose of its body and get the rest of the supplies. I rummaged around the kitchen for a moment for a deck of cards and jug of water, took one more quick glance out the front window at the grey wintry street, then descended down into the depths, putting the trapdoor on top, slightly ajar. The stairs groaned as I descended them and felt the heaviness that often comes along with going further underground. A miniature version of the bug I had just seen, about an inch long, crawled on the floor, but I ignored it this time and it moved away and disappeared into a small nook.
I turned right at the bottom of the stairs into the room where Rinzal and Ryan sat. Its central feature was a red plaid couch, next to which were two square coffee tables. At the furthest part of the room, where the trapdoor would be if the wasn’t a dividing wall between the room and the staircase, was a flatscreen television on the wall. I pressed the button on it, but it would not turn on. It was impossible to tell if it was because of the bomb or the faulty electronics, but the situation would not be changing any time soon.
It was encouraging to be with company in this room, and it made me feel less lonely. Rinzal mumbled something to his brother. He nodded.
“You should have brought your supplies over. Did you lock your door?” I asked Ryan.
His face showed guilt. “Yeah I locked it. We can get the stuff sometime later.”
“Hopefully,” I replied, not wanting to think much about it. “Good thing you brought those chips and slingshot, though. We’ll be using them a lot.”
“I got that little Nerf gun too,” said Rinzal.
“Cool,” I replied. “Good to have stuff to do. What about the rubbing alcohol and soap? Those were in the bathroom.”
“We’ll get it later after things calm down,” said Ryan, face serious. I nodded. Risking any more exposure at the moment would be extremely foolish. Silence reigned while we stared at the walls and breathed nervously. I felt a vague weight pressing down on me from up above.
Having never seen the other room before, I stepped over the bottom landing of the staircase to it. It was identical to the first, except it had a dirtier carpet and no furniture except a counter and small freezer at the far end. Something about this room on the left felt isolated and quiet, and it was filled with a cold grey, spacious energy. I stood in the center of the room for a few moments, not thinking at all, just doing nothing. More time passed, during which I heard Rinzal and his brother quietly conversing. For the first time since the bomb fell, I felt a sense of space, similar to the feeling of being alone in the countryside on a winter’s night.
For a bit, I just wanted time to think. I sat down, back against the wall. There was a newfound sense of freedom, of imprisonment. Thoughts, worries, and quiet passed through my head. In the air I could barely hear a sound. Slowly getting back up, I inspected the two pieces of furniture in the room, seeing if anything inside them was useful. We had brought a few things, but the more I thought of it the more it seemed there was almost nothing in the basement. After eight hours, we could perhaps take a speedy run back up to get clothes and books, the previously-forgotten supplies.
I went back to the first room, where Ryan and Rinzal sat uncomfortably. They were obviously not used to doing nothing or being so confined. We surely had things to do, many of them, but it somehow felt sacrilegious to entertain ourselves at such a dismal time. I sat on the couch as well, pleased to find there was room for three people on it.
“I’m going to take a nap,” declared Rinzal.
“Where?” I asked, realizing that there was nowhere to sleep except on the couch only after I said it. “C’mon, Ryan, let’s go in the other room.”
We grabbed up the poker chips and cards, turned the light off in the right-side room and settled down for some poker on the floor in the other room. Now, it felt possible to do something aside from sit quietly. The chips went back and forth until I eventually lost, and by then we had slowed down a lot and become quite distracted. In the bucket was a bag of crackers which we munched on, happy to finally hear some other sounds from breathing and silence.
Rinzal manifested from the shadows of the right room, rubbing his eyes.
“I can’t sleep,” he complained.
“I know,” I said. He never usually slept during the daytime anyways.
“Why don’t you play a hand or two?” I asked. Time flew by as we played round after round of many variants of the game. Later, after an improvised dinner and some conversation, it started to get dark out. I decided enough time had went by for us to take turns quickly blacking the windows out, barricade some weak points, and get clothing and reading material.