The Catch-22 of Big Brother

 

How great a writer one must be, to have their work become part of a society’s vernacular, and its usage remain relevant decades later? I imagine George Orwell penning Nineteen Eighty-Four–yes originally the title was spelled out–and never even fathoming that the term he coined, “big brother,” would become so synonymous with government; especially in a society that deems itself “democratic” as America does. Although I am sure this term is used more frequently on Fox News than on any other network, this phrase has become the epitome of overreaching government which takes away freedoms from its own citizens. Orwell was a great man who strove for social change and the betterment of society, and this is obvious in his writings, but I digress, I am straying far from the point. I am sure George never imagined, that today, in 2015, we would still be using this phrase he made popular, in his ever famous novel.

Catch-22, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I recall borrowing Catch-22, from the Cutchogue Library, when I was thirteen years old. I can still feel the dust jacket under my fingers as, on a whim, I picked this book off the shelf and brought it home. I poured through the pages with a furious speed as each page enthralled me to keep reading more and more. Under the covers by flashlight I learned “catch-22,” a phrase that I had heard before, but never attempted to discover its meaning.  I remember reading this book and empathizing with Yosarian, feeling his frustrations, nervous for his life. The ridiculousness of it all, somehow made it more realistic, and I yearned for more and more.

But, catch-22, the phrase is cringeworthy. I love it, but hate it. I use it quite a bit, but so do so many others I know, and I have to say, just a ballpark guess, seventy percent of people I know use it incorrectly. I sit there, and listen to them ramble on saying “well its a catch-22” and I think to myself, actually no its not. I don’t want to be the know-it-all, so I keep my mouth shut. I could explain to them that in the novel “catch-22” was a military rule, which said to get out of flying missions, you would have to say you are crazy and apply for a dispensation from flying, but to acknowledge you are crazy and applying for this dispensation, makes you sane, its “catch-22.” So, essentially, there was no way to get out of flying missions. If I explained this I would be met with empty stares, so I just keep my mouth shut.

I wonder, what would I contribute to the vocabulary of America through my writing? I hope that someday, when I publish novels, that one of my phrases becomes a popular saying, and remains part of the language. The downside is, you don’t get to pick what is chosen. It could be some trashy little innuendo that is slapped into the book to emphasize the sleaziness of a character, or, with my luck, some childish phrase which is remembered forever. I guess the worst of it all, would be who appropriates the phrase and work. I really don’t want a piece of my literature to be adopted by Fox News, or some ridiculous group like the KKK. But of course that is all left up to chance, and that is, if it even happens. Maybe while I am alive I will  start something. start whispering those two luscious words into people’s ears at bars. I’ll imbue it into my thesis, and every chapter will contain some perfect two word phrase which could spread like wild fire through the minds of this generation.

It will probably come to me in some drunken haze, and I will stumble around, grasping for a pen and paper, jotting down these two words of genius, shoving the crumpled receipt back in my pocket. Finding it the next day I will open it up, and read the phrase, thinking to myself, what the hell does that mean, and toss it into the basket, forever throwing out my chances at literary fame.

To be immortalized in American vernacular, oh what better way can one die.

A Muse of Utter Convenience

Goddamn you Muse. Goddamn you. You touch my shoulder and whisper into my ear at the worst times. You tickle my neck with your verbose lips as you run your soft fingertips through my hair. But why, oh why, must you do this while I am driving. Why must you visit me when I am entrenched in work, elbow deep in blood, or in the heat of a blazing inferno. You entice me, and force your words into my thoughts, but I sit there impotent, unable to act on your foreplay. You fill my mind with beautiful prose, multisyllabic lines with such deep enthralling content, and I am afraid of losing it forever, vanished inside my alcohol addled brain.

So you are a tease, a constant tease. I sit, staring at the screen, typing away at the keyboard with droll content barely eking from my mind, but when I am walking through the woods, with no implements to write or duplicate my thoughts, you come to me. My hands firmly grasping the wheel of my vehicle, plying the interstate at high speeds, you sit in the passenger seat, just rambling on and on, never halting your speech for even a breath. Why must you be so difficult?

And then there are those nights, those dark, cold nights, when you slither into bed, curling up next to me, whispering sweet loquacious sentences into my ear. You curl your warm body against mine, interjecting the most garrulous topics into my dreams, which render down to beautiful stanzas and prose. In a stupor I sit up, grasping at the last lines remembered in the painterly visions of my sleepy hallucinations, clinging at hope that I can scribble the pleonastic utterance of my mind’s characters.

Oh, Muse of mine. Let’s set a date, a schedule on my calendar. We can meet on the days I am free to write, or you know, just drop by whenever the feeling strikes you, like when I am walking through a museum, engrossed in the quietude of art, you know a time of utter convenience. Please, come to me whenever you feel like, but I would prefer you to schedule your visits in advance. Oh, and next time, bring a bottle of wine. I prefer red.

Today is the Day

I think I’ll write today. That’s it, I’ll write the book to end all books, the book which will get me published, my manuscript will ooze literary savant. I will sit down and words will pour from my fingertips as I furiously bang against the keyboard at a such a speed that my fingers will blur in my sight. I will examine the meaning of life, and put such deep philosophies into print, that my characters will be the most insightful, yet flawed, in the whole existence of history, and prehistory for that matter. Oh, it will be glorious.

I can see the scene set. The environment, the smells, the touch, the emotions, I will make all these things so believable, as I paint the canvas with my thoughts, that when the reader puts down the book, they will be distraught at how fake reality is. Today is the day that I paint my grand masterpiece. Today is the day.

Kissing my wife on her forehead, I relayed the news, and with an excitement bordering on neurosis, closed the door to my office. Coffee cup in hand, steam rising from the molten onyx liquid, which could make a boulder jitter, I took the first lip burning sip, and sat down to work.

Adjusting the lamp in my office–or as I prefer to call it, writing sanctuary–I flicked it off and on, off and on, listening to the click of the round nob, affixed to the brass, 50s, banker’s desk lamp. Staring at the white screen in from of me, I proceeded to fix the keyboard so as to have the maximal typing angle for my wrists. I then adjusted the seat, and analyzed the positioning of my arms, postulating the length of writing time, versus muscle memory, and comfortability of this posture.

Satisfied with this, I now stood up, and looking out the window, saw a flock of turkeys, eating seed from underneath my bird feeder. Their plumage was gorgeous as the sunlight reflected off their feathers, and I wondered how much bird feed in a week was consumed by these birds, and whether or not we should be putting seed down specifically for them, since it would be unfair feeding all the other smaller birds which fly to our feeder, but leave these poor turkeys to scratch up the snow for the leavings and unwanted seeds. These birds found themselves under my feeder for some time, little over a half hour, and then they trotted down the hill, meandering in the lower part of the woods for another hour.

As I sat back down at my desk, I looked around the room, and thought, how distracting all the clutter was. So, I set to work, moving this object here, and that object there. Well, that certainly helped my writing, because after all the organizing, and tidying, I typed a whole paragraph before it was time for lunch. Finding myself a bit peckish, and thirsty, I suggested to my wife we have a light lunch, because work was to be done.

Pawing through the fridge I found condiments, beer, champagne, mead, wilted lettuce–which I placed back in its spot to wilt some more–and various assortment of cheeses. This, being  insufficient a lunch to aid in the endeavors of writing, with a swift step we made our way to the local brewpub. As always the waitress was friendly, and plied her wares upon us, with a quick friendly efficiency, which any salesperson would be jealous. I don’t recall how much we ate or drink, but I believe it was merely a snack.

Making our way back home, we took the dog for a walk, because it would be cruel not to, and then I went right back to my manuscript which would be the benchmark for all literature in the future of known civilization. I then noticed that I had not checked my email in a few hours, and found many adds which could aid me in my quest for great writing. The advertisements of certain travel companies, promising me cheap discounts to Belgium and Ireland, certainly could aid in the prose of any author. Why these countries could be the locations for such stories, or muses of sorts.

This led me to a frantic search for discount travel books on Western European travel, and I came across many that were outdated by a few years. This being insufficient, I found one recent copy on eBay, which just so serendipitously was ending in only an hour. I made a bid, and was instantly outbid, so I put in an outrageously fair price, and then went back to writing.

Not wanting to miss out on such a great opportunity this cheap travel guide was, I clicked the mouse over, just a few times, to my open web browser, hidden behind my almost blank literary canvas, just to make sure I wasn’t missing out on such a good deal. I sensed I was to be the victor of such an auction, and resigned myself to set aside my literary genius for a moment, and not pass up such an instrumental opportunity, that could forever change my life. If I won this guide I could travel Europe unhindered, having the knowledge of which all the locals had, for the subtitle even said “All the tourists know, and the secrets the locals keep for themselves.” I mean, how could someone pass on that.

The victor, last minute sniping, and bids well suited for the cost of such a book I could buy at the local bookstore with no shipping and handling attached to its price–I knew this accomplishment was big. In fact so big because of what it meant for my writing. I sat back, tilting my chair on two legs, and imagined the characters I would develop in Beligium, the bars that would become settings in stories, and the medieval churches, which would be the allegory for so many conflicts the recovering Catholic main character would encounter. Oh this all swirled in my head, and looking outside I realized that the earth was taking on a grey pall.

Opening the door to my office, I looked back inside, and satisfied with my days work, I stepped out into the warmth of the living room, standing next to the wood stove. I rubbed my hands together, warming them after all the hard work, satisfied with my day of writing.

 

 

 

A Swim Amongst the Tempest

They walked along the rocky shore, the salted air misting against their skin as a fierce bitter wind cut through their coats, pulled tightly about their necks. The weather encased them in a snow globe of nor’easter, while waves churned in the emerald green ocean, white caps cresting atop each swell. Foam frothed on the edge of the chilled water like a rabid dogs mouth, waiting to sink its teeth into fresh meat. The shore itself seemed to heave and list under their feet with the lap and crash of every white cap rushing onto the rock strewn beach. Pines bent under the gail force, and the wind itself seamed to scream a banshee’s wail, warning them of impending peril. They walked along the rocky shore, together, yet apart, as they bent down, picking the stones which interested them, on this gray tempestuous day.

She walked along the edge of the surf, like an acrobat on a tight-rope, high above a three ring circus below. With every step, she watched the ocean rush in, all the while dodging white spume atop these dying waves, their last gasp taken as they thinned out across the pebbles and rocks of the beach. Salt water mixed with the rain, descending from the stygian clouds overhead. Like a sopping wool blanket, dark clouds hung in the sky overhead, while massive chapped hands rung them out, saturating the world below. The viridescent ocean violently surged and battered against the boulders which dotted the shore, carbuncles jutting from the soggy delineation between land and the briny sea.

Looking out upon the ocean, she bent down, dipping her fingers in the cold waters of Naskeag Harbor. Placing two fingers to her lips, she tasted the salt, lightly trailing her fingers over her cherry lips. Gazing out over the white-capped reach, a distrait look loomed on her countenance. Dark hair undulated chaotically from beneath her hood, as a sharp gale cut through the frigid air. Like tendrils of black ink, her tresses seemed to float in the air, defying gravity as it drifted sideways, as if she were suspended in the deep sea. Scooping up a hand-full of sand and rocks, she rolled the gritty mixture between her fingers and palm. Saturated sand dropped in clumps out of her hand, splashing in the breaking surf, as she stared through the squall, at the island capped in pointed firs.

Squinting her eyes to descry Harbor Island’s dark silhouette through the sleet and mist, roiling in the atmosphere, she made out a house set amongst the forest, a lone sentinel amidst the ocean wilderness. With a sudden and quick movement, she stood erect, and with one hand, unzipped her black raincoat, letting it slip off her body onto the drenched shore. One layer closer to the soggy atmosphere of this tempest, she felt the cold sleet beat against her head, saturating her hair, reddening her cheeks. Kicking off her shoes with a frivolous, quick gesture, her boots landed in the water of the ocean, sinking slowly into the depths of the water. With her bare feet pressing into the sand, she crinkled her toes against the cold, wet grains, feeling a numbness slip into her feet, as the cold penetrated her skin.

A sudden gust, and a wave’s white cap, sprayed and carried on the wind, flinging itself against his raincoat, salting the waxed cotton canvas, which stiffly protected him from the elements. Rain pelted against his face and ran down chilled, rosy, wind-burnt cheeks, while rivulets of rain tickled his neck, soaking the collar of his shirt. Walking along the wharf, swells struck the boulders which footed this artifice of land, the large cuts of granite impervious to the howling weather. A seagull alighted from the wind torn sky upon a barnacle covered rock, barely jutting from the tumbled sea. In the distance, Hog Island was scarcely visible through the white slurry of winter’s gale. A seagull cawed from a distance, laughing at the weather, mocking her attempt at destruction and chaos. At the edge of the wharf he peered into the whitening distance, out across the ocean, which darkened in the slow extinguishment of day’s light, as the looming clouds developed an ominous sable color.

Her pale skin seemed to irradiate in the eventide as she slipped off her bra, the last article of clothing on her body, dropping it unceremoniously to the ground. A lapping wave washed over it, and seemed to pull it toward the sea, every lick of the rolling surf pulling it a little closer to the murky waters. Stepping into the water a shiver ran through her body. Blood pumped furiously through her arteries, instinctively forcing warmth to her chilled limbs, which, as her skin pimpled and colored paler than normal, seemed a lost cause. With every step deeper into the frigid ocean, her resolve strengthened, and her body slipped away into an encompassing numbness.

Torso deep, she could feel the rocks underfoot, as the uneven, stony floor of the harbor caused her ankles to collapse, as her foot rolled off them, finding only a jagged surface to walk on. Her cadaver feet could not feel the barnacles digging deep into her skin, as they moved mechanically along the sea’s bottom, yearning for an accommodating depth. As the water came to her chest, waves met her erect nipples, her skin a reddish hue of blotchiness mixed with the milkiest white of pale. A deep and thoughtful breath, she expanded her lungs till they felt as if they would burst, and she dove under, the waves thrusting over her as she swam below the surface of the tempest roiling over her head. In the pale light, which penetrated the murky abyss, she saw strands of kelp reaching up at her from the bottom, as she swam out farther to depths beyond her knowing. She felt as if she had swam forever, all the way to Harbor Island, to find herself climbing across the rocky beach, to the lone house which would be her home, all to herself.

Surfacing she took a breath, a deep breath, and felt her ribs convulse and her lungs scream, as they sought for air in the rough sea which swirled and shook about her. The salty water entered her mouth and lungs as she tread water, and looking up at the sky, found nothing but a charcoal blanket covering the coming night sky. Waves crested over her face, and she fought for air, as Neptune thrust his trident into the sky, unrelenting in his torment of the seas.

Her body no longer hers, she lingered there in the tenebrous gulf, treading water, awaiting her fate. Her corpse moved with a rhythm unknown to her, as sensation having left her, she moved with a purpose that was not hers, but a response linked to oxygen and survival. She could see, for a second, the shore over the waves, and then she realized, her legs and arms had stopped moving.

A crumpled pile of clothes lay on the shore, just at the water’s edge. He stared at this pile from the wharf, and not seeing her, ran to their location, with a nauseous sensation of fear and panic. In a frenzied hysteria, he pawed through the clothes, as if he were to find her at the bottom of the pile. Holding her shirt in his hands, a plastic bag was pinned to its wool material, a small piece of paper visible inside. Rain ran the blue ink, the sleet and rain clung to the thin paper in his hand. The note spoke of love and regret, but most of all, a fear of lose and the unknown.

He stood on the edge of the water, an inky wet meridian, and yelled into the howling wind, the only response a whistling gust from the sea, deriding him with her fury. Wading into the water, the night darkening overhead, he stood in the cold abyss, staring at the oceanic haystack where his needle rested. A chill came over him, as waves broke at his legs, plashing frigid water on his chest. Diving in, he swan on overwrought by panic, searching for her erratically, in a state of delirium. Waves crashed over his head, the salt water weighing on his lungs, and he gasped for air between the each wave, which battered against him. Defeated, he swam back to shore, and lay supine, staring at the onyx sky, as waves washed over his hypothermic body.

The night darkened, and sleet turned to snow as it swirled a turbulent dance, twirling in a discordant, diaphanous mist. A street light blinked on above the wharf, illuminating the white blanket which languidly fell. Shivering, he saw her form in the snow, moving toward him, covered all in white, as the large flakes clung to her icy skin. She lay down in the surf, her cold body pressed against his, as the chilled surf washed over their bodies. The snow fell with a steady force, accumulating on the beach, covering all surfaces with a thick, white, chill.

The darkness faded to a grey sky, and a red glow brightened the horizon, as dawn broke the morning. The earth was coated in a thick white blanket, and the chill air bit bare skin as fisherman made their way to the wharf. Casting their glances down the beach, they marveled at how the boulders on the shore, covered thickly with flakes, took on shapes. They tried to come up with a word for this, as they sipped on their coffee, steaming into the air, the hot black liquid burning their tongues and warming their throats.

“Pareidolia”, an older fisherman said from the back of the crowd, “Pareidolia. The occurrence when you think you see an image in an object, whether artificial or natural.”

The crowd of fisherman parted and looked at the old man who did not actively fish anymore, but came every morning to have coffee, as he did for the last forty years of his life. Very proudly at how he baffled the crowd, he spoke with a smugness, that even surprised himself.

“I read it in a magazine.”

They went back to sipping their coffee, shaking their heads in concurrence, leaning against the railing, as they looked down the beach. Cigarettes were smoked, and fresh coffee poured from thermoses as the morning light stretched across the beach, highlighting all the boulders and rocks covered in a fresh blanket of snow.

One young fisherman spoke from the end of the line.

” Pa. Rey. Do. Lia. Huh. That boulder looks like a man, curled up on the shore. Pa Rey Do Lia.”

Looking down the beach, the group agreed, and shook there heads slowly as they sipped on their coffee and smoked their cigarettes. A smile crossed the young fisherman’s face, his contribution to the group approved by the head nods, and he felt a pride swell in him. They looked down the beach, and like picking shapes out of the clouds, random objects and shapes were thrown out by the group. In the end, though, they all agreed, it definitely looked like a man.

Cultural Insanity

This is a continuation from The Last Romanov, which was the last post before this. If you have not read it, I would encourage it, so you understand.

 

The old man stood there with a haze over his eyes, and stared ahead as if in a stupor, mumbling to himself in the quietest whisper.  He repeated the same words, and continued this way, as if stupefied by the question. He was looking for the answer, but could not summon the words from his consciousness, so he rolled this question around his tongue, “what happened to all the books”, an incantation of sorts as he repeated in a subliminal manner, as if unaware the world around him. Reaching forward, Orwell touched his shoulder, a sympathetic touch, realizing, in a way, he broke him, as if he had physically climbed inside his mind, and smashed the contents of his memory.

“Anton.”

Turning his gaze back to Orwell, a flat smile came across his face, as if he looking upon were some pathetic creature, asking childish questions for which he should already have the answers.

“Sorry. It has been a long time since I have spoke on this topic. It…it all flooded back to me so sudden.  What happened to all the books? Thats your question. They’re gone, kaput. No more. Just memories fading in time, disintegrating one vanishing brain cell at a time. They are nothing but ghosts wandering the halls of our fading memories.”

“But, what happened to them? Where did they go? How did we get to here, an building empty, filled with nothing but stale air and dust?”

“Now you are asking the right questions to achieve the appropriate answers. The answer is, they are gone, no longer filling this room, but the story goes back farther, most likely when your parents were young.”

“It was 2052. The world was in upheaval, and we stood upon the edge of a precipice. You see, Orwell, we were the creators of our own destruction. Every one of us was guilty in some fashion. We all had our hands on the axe which severed the head. We all contributed to the collapse of our society. It was a slow progression which very few of us noticed. And those that did, that voiced their concerns, were deemed false prophets of doom, misanthropes with too much time on their hands, naysayers against happiness. If we had only listened to these individuals, but those were different times. We were prosperous, we were educated, we were on top of the world, none of us suspected that the carpet was about to be pulled out from under our feet. So we went about our lives, in a fog, living unawares of impending doom.

First it was the small things, closet activities, things which people were ashamed to protest for out in public, that was how they slowly altered our lives. Pornography was the first industry to go. The courts deemed sexual acts as just that, sexual acts, and removed them from freedom of speech. It was easy really, very few people protested, and like a candle’s flame snuffed out, it was instantaneous. This small act, allowed a greater demon to crawl out of the muck and destroy our lives.

This was the first affront to free speech, and it was a quick descent into a pit which seemed to swallow up individual’s rights. It was one thing after the other, and writing was at the top of the list. Christian groups lobbied to ban certain books, and like the Nazi empire, they marched as mobs into libraries, schools, and even some homes, and burned these books on pyres, blazing bright in the centers of many towns. The police and the government seemed to reserve their position on these acts, and the responses seemed eerily vacant from the discussion of politics.They ignored all these acts blindly, and answered questions on the topic with a willful ignorance. It was as if all in the government was involved, even at the lowest level, but the scariest part was, how many citizens joined the ever-growing mob.

It was a few years after this happened that a national religion was founded, and of course it was the same religion that lobbied and backed the pornography act, making all materials illegal to own, sell, or buy. This national religion, banned all other religions in the Federation of United Sovereign Nations, and as a result, a boiling point was found, and the temperature of the water was rising, one slow degree at a time.

Amazing, was how people so readily accepted this new religion, how they did not question this as infringing on their rights. The most troubling part was how other religions were vilified. Their gods, sacred texts, ceremonial garbs, structures, and anything else found to be associated with worship were all burned to the ground, razed in fiery plumes of thick black smoke rising from the ever growing, sacred bonfires. It was as if standing there, breathing in the smoke, you could inhale the holiness escaping the objects, and the despair and loathing of millions. On the grounds of these previous holy buildings, where their foundations were once rooted deep into the earth, mega churches were constructed. Big white marble structures–the ones you know today–would gleam in the dying of the afternoon light, and just at dusk, as the sun dips below the horizon and the sky bleeds, so too did these churches, their white structure hemorrhaging corruption right through their walls.

The world was in chaos, and the reform was swift. The followers of this church were zealots in those early years. You know them now as Lazarian’s. Their real name, their anointed name, is The Church of Christ Lazarus. They believed they would resurrect the world in Christ’s image, and save the whole global mess by restoring them from their heathen ways. Like a cult they chanted in church with a blind devotion that bordered on catatonic recitation, yet no one could realize this, no one could put their finger on their sheepish platitudes. So religion became homogenized, and that’s when we began to lose ourselves, one small freedom at a time.

As time went on, and people eased into the Lazarian’s reeducation of the public, as they so politely named it, people fought less and less about anything. People no longer needed to process the news, because television host’s told the public what to think about the news. Information was digested and spit up by news anchors like William O’Rahilly, telling the public how to think, while spewing forth the Lazarian’s agenda. The problem was, people willingly leaned in for the kiss, taking it all in, not thinking twice about it, well, not thinking at all. Newspapers became extinct, their lengthy worded columns fraught with information having to be digested by the mind, and then coherently shuffled around to have ones own thought on the topic at hand. When newspapers fell, the medium for news was now monopolized by television–why read, when someone can tell you the news.

This became the stepping off point, the springboard for disaster. Some of us began to march, to fight back, to rally against these absurd changes occurring around us. The problem was, there was so few of us, and without the newspaper anymore, our information became limited. Yes, I know what you are thinking, we had the internet. This is true, but, I am getting to that. So we marched, to no avail, and we became enemies of the state, not deemed enemy by the nation though, but by the people. The public judged us, and became our enemies. Where we saw ourselves fighting for our and their freedom, they saw us fighting directly against them, interrupting their happy lives. We were isolated on our own little island amidst a sea of cultural insanity.

Books, yes books. I know. Books. So it began as a slow trickle. First one library closed, then the next. Eventually funding for libraries were cut completely, and we saw a see of books without homes. This was disconcerting at first, but we believed we could fight this tide, so we lobbied, we fought, but as time went on, we lost ground. Books became old, and antiquated, and as such, people eliminated them, purged them from their homes, for more available space so the new wall sized televisions could fit. People like your parents began reading in the streets, out loud on street corners, trying to gain public support. They became performers, much like the living statues of cities or jugglers plying the crowd for loose change.  Criticized and ostracized by the majority walking past on the dirty cracked sidewalks, the only positive attention they received was quickly beaten down by peer pressure. The world had become a dismal place, a place with a lack of options for many.

Reading was replaced in school by computer programming. Many said they did not need words to program, and communication could be taught orally, without books. Many even hypocritically cited indigenous peoples and their culture’s ability to pass on language which was unwritten. They said this even as the last of their nations were absorbed back into the country, their sovereignty no longer recognized by the Federation. The words were replaced with symbols, changing the whole education system, reading no longer required, and then completely eliminated from the curriculum. Manuals, books, the ability to write dissolved into memory as previous generations fell to the reaper’s scythe. Sure it didn’t happen all at once, this occurred over tens of years, which made the process more acceptable, and the detractors of this process became the minority. When libraries began to shutter, some of the buildings just sat there barred and vacant, their only occupants the bound pages, the words of authors, and any animals who took refuge in these pantheons of literature. Some of us, such as myself, took up the position as resident librarian, maintaining the collection as best as possible with the limited resources available to us. A few underground movements spurred some in the population to take up the cause of literature again, but those were quashed with a quick and repressive force.

While the world began to eat itself alive, I remained in here, hidden behind the large brass doors, only a lingering thought for anyone else outside this building. I rescued as many books as possible those days and stored them in here, in this massive monument to the literati. And then the world descended into chaos, it all fell apart, and I find myself here, protecting these books, everyday, till my last day.”

He sat back and with open arms gestured to the building that surrounded them. Orwell furrowed his brow in a pained and puzzled look, and turned around in his chair to make sure he was not missing something that he had missed before.

“But, where are the books? Are they here?”

As he said that a noise came from outside the great room, and the sound of boots echoed through the building, followed by a screech which ran chills up and down Orwell’s spine.

“We have to leave now. Come on, Anton.”

Grabbing his arm, Orwell stood and began to run, but Anton was like a ship’s anchor stuck in the ocean floor, secured in sand and rock.

“Anton, come on.”

“I told you. My job is to protect these books, to my final day. I will be nothing but cinder and ash, a bag of bones, when these books are gone.”

“There are no books. None, there is nothing here but shelves filled with dust. There is no literature, no words, no pages to be flipped, just emptiness. So come on, we have to leave before they realize where we are.”

“No, you don’t understand. I must protect the books.”

Pulling his arm away he pointed to his head, tapping his finger against his temple, and walked toward a corner of the room, which was hidden in abject darkness. Backing up, with a slow and determined step, Orwell glanced over in the moonlight which spied through a piece of broken stain glass, and noticed something white in a fireplace along the wall. As he approached the brick hearth, heedless to the screeches which found their way echoing through the building, Orwell knelt down, and picked up a charred piece of paper. Turning he whispered with a soft, yet firm, tone in an attempt to get Anton’s attention, but as he did this, his body seemed to pass between the meridian of light and dark, dissolving as he entered the shadowed corner. Focusing his attention back on the paper, he shoved it, and others into his bag.

A screech louder, and more ominous, due to its closer proximity, pierced the great room. With that Orwell stood up and began to walk away, stopping when he saw the figure slink out of the darkness. Out in the open of the floor, at the bottom of the black marble staircase, stood the creature from which this insidious noise emanated from, his head white, appearing to glow phosphorescent in the darkness. A cacophony of boots reverberated through the hollow open space, and made it sound like people were walking right next to him, their shoes clunking against the dirty tile floor directly under his feet. Before he knew it, the same large group that had passed him on the street, was now filling this room. His heart pounded as he stared at the crowd just standing there, waiting their next move, as more screeches filled the air.

Orwell took a step back, trying to mask his figure in the darkness, but it was too late. Before he could dissolve to shadow, the horde began to flock toward him, this sick pale creature screeching as it led the pack. If it wasn’t for the bright light that emanated from the corner of the room, he surely would have been dead, eaten alive like that poor unsuspecting soul on the streets.

A flash of luminosity filled the room, and all eyes, even Orwell’s found their way to the corner. From abysmal blackness to the brightest light, Anton stepped out of the corner aflame, his body seeming to melt lava flesh as he walked toward the group with undue composure. His screams were the only tell which gave up his pain. Their shrill pitch and quivering words told all.

“I am the protector of books. I will save the books, which you would destroy. These books will stay forever protected inside me.”

This human torch barreled toward the screeching leader, and with open arms, Anton grasped him around the shoulders, setting him afire. Their bodies seemed to melt together, a flaming pool of flesh as the smell of gasoline and rendered fat stunk heavily in the air. The massive crowd had dispersed, but still lingered in the room, lost in their momentary autonomy, their leader a ball of flaming muscle, sinew, and skin curling on the floor as the petrol fueled fire ate through his body like naphtha, their bodies crackling and sizzling like grease in a pan.

In the sudden radiance that enveloped the room, an object caught his eye, and laying next to an old, split leather, wingback chair was a pile of books. Knowing that this distraction would only last a little longer, Orwell stuffed as many book as his bag could fit, and grabbed as many as his arms could hold. As the luminescence began to die in the room, it reminded him of dusk on a cold wintery day, the light eking down along the wall, his shadow projecting high upon the stones. Exiting a door opposite the room from that unrecognizable, chaotic mass of charred flesh, he made his way out into the greying morning.

As he stood on the granite steps at the rear of the library, he watched the sun peak over the horizon, and knew he was safe. He thought back to the charred remains, curled up in a heap on the tile floor of the great room, and knew that he must protect the books, like Anton had for so long. Wandering away from the building, Orwell noticed people wandering into the street, picking over garbage for food, rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. Moving to a corner, Orwell found a box, and overturning it, he stood upon it, elevating himself from the sidewalk. Book in hand, he turned to page one, and with a tear that dropped on the page, moistening the crisp paper in an oval shape, he began to speak the words that were on the page.

 

The Last Romanov

Trash blew down the street, rustling against the empty pavement, as he stood there enveloped by the darkness. Streetlights overhead stood like frozen sentinels, their light having died long ago. Glass broken on some, others just no longer functioning, they stood there as monuments to a different era.  People once felt safe to walk the streets at night, a time when they felt that artificial light illuminated the darkness, protecting them from what lurked in the shadows. Light can only do so much now. The orange glow of these large lamps would expose and highlight one’s vulnerability in the night, working contradictory to their true purpose, exposing rather than protecting. Their absence was welcomed, their state of disrepair, the veil of which masked his movement.  He wandered down the street, hugging the brick walls of decrepit vacant buildings, keeping close to the alleyways to duck within. The buildings offered cover, they offered a safety from the open street, from the revealing sidewalk.

Stepping over bags of trash, which cascaded out vacant doorways onto the street, he navigated the refuse of the masses, stumbling over heaping piles of bloated black sacks. His steps were deliberate, as he positioned his body, his balance, with each movement. His calculated actions maintained a stealth on the dead street, where only the loose trash showed life. Shadows cast by the moon overhead, beaming down brilliant rays of the lightest blue, coating the world in an ethereal light, became his refuge, and allowed him a greater comfort on his journey. Resting against the husk of a deceased maple tree, in one of these black voids, he found himself staring out across the landscape, and thinking how beautiful all this entropy was, blanketed in the soft moonlight. The dead hay, where once was green grass, was blue in the lunar rays, and the buildings scars were rendered moot in the contrast between light and dark. Realizing he lingered too long, he darted his eyes to and fro, and then moved on, advancing  shadow to shadow.

In the distance he could see the monolith of a building rising into the night sky. Its oxidized copper domes were still intact, and sat upon the granite structure, which rose from the street. He could not help himself, and stepping out into the open street, he took in the grand view of this building, allowing imagination to take him to another time. In the few seconds  standing there, he envisioned the construction of this building, and could see the grand architect, with blueprints in hand and pencil tucked behind his ear, standing where he stood, overseeing the creation of this marvel. He envisaged, this view was chosen so the street ended at this structure, that this building was so important to the community, a road led to it. And then he heard it, off in the distance, a noise like a screech owl, sounding prey in the dark lit woods, on a snowy night.

Frozen in place, he stood there, a sudden rush of fear taken hold of him. Hearing the screech again, he bolted off the road, and found a small hole in the side of a building. Moving debris from the opening, brick and mortar scratched against each other, as he frantically moved the materials away till he could fit in this small space. Fearing what could be inside, living in this recess, he dove in, knowing what was out on the street, producing that sound, was far worse than any animal that could fit in that hole. Cramming himself into that small space, he pulled back some of the brick, and forced his body as far back into the void as he could. As he pulled back the last brick, a screech, louder and far more ominous than the first, rang through the air, and seemed to amplify in his small hovel, ringing loudly through his ears. Watching out through the small opening, he waited for the parade he suspected would come.

Slowly a body walked down the street, with deliberate strides, each one so long, it seemed inhuman. In the moonlight his face was bright white, like a sun bleached skull, and very much like this image, the hair was vacant from his head, not even eyebrows to show. Stopping in the middle of the street, the man craned his neck like a bird, his body still, his legs in a lunge position, only his head and neck moving. He opened his mouth and screeched again. And with focused movements he made his way down the street, till he was out of view. The screeches continued as he walked down the street, and they eerily mixed in with the sound of boot heels which followed close behind.

First one, then two, then uncountable numbers arrived in the street. Their bodies forming one dark mass in the dull light. From that horde, individuals broke off, scouring the alleyways, poking the garbage heaps, swinging spiked sticks at any object that resembled a human figure. He lay there, his breathing even too loud for his liking, and watched as a silhouette sifted through the heaps of garbage directly in front of his hiding place. As the black figure came closer to his refuge, he could see this creature’s club poke the loose brick, which covered the makeshift entrance. He began sweating in nervous anticipation of the horrors that would descend upon him, and his imagination raced with all the torture that flashed like a slide show through his mind . Like a rabbit wanting to run, waiting till the last second, muscles tensed, and ready for flight, knowing full well it wouldn’t matter, he held his breath, even the beating of his heart thumped so loudly, it rang through the air.

A screech cut through the night, and the black figure turned, and pulled his club out of the rubble, knocking the unsecured bricks away, exposing him to the world. The figure ran through the pale light toward the group, while the screech came again, and again, until it was a succession of shrill sounds. And then he heard it, heard the man screaming as he ran away from this armed swarm, pleading for help. Some unsuspecting person, hidden in the shadows like himself, was rooted out, and now being chased like quarry, as if it were all part of some dystopian fox-hunt. The pack followed this poor soul down the street, and the screeches faded off into the distance, as this already dead stranger ran for his life. This fortunate, yet tragic, event was a boon, and crawling out of his hole, entered the street, knowing his path was clear up to his destination.

After a short while he reached the tall marble steps of the building looming in front of him, and began to ascend them, one at a time. With each step he could feel the concave marble worn by weather, use, and time. The black, which swirled through the white stone, seemed alive in the pale light, dancing as he alighted each step. Reaching the top platform, he turned around and looked out upon the dismal world, and saw nothing but buildings jutting up into the dark sky, a jagged world of stalagmites, wasting away in the chaos. A wind pulsed by, whispering across his face, and he felt his cheeks flush against the cool air. Turning, he stared at the prodigious bronze doors. Reliefs cast in the metal contained clusters of grapes and vines, Roman and Greek gods, ancient philosophers and Caesars. He ran his hand across this door, and he felt insignificant, dwarfed by the enormity of this treasure. Tracing his fingers across a relief of Pan playing his flute, he could not help wonder, how many hands had touched this door before his? How many people had entered these doors with a deep yearning for something so far from their own lives? He could not imagine it in better times, because he had not been alive to witness it, instead he could only recollect on what his parents had passed on to him in stories.

Leaning his shoulder against the massive doors, he pressed into them, exerting his body, flexing his muscles, tensing his back, pushing with all his might against years of neglect. Straining against the stubbornness of the hinges, the door began to open, inch by inch, until it crept ajar enough for him to slide though sideways. Entering the building, it was like a massive crypt, a mausoleum built for kings. High vaulted ceilings could be seen as the moonlight streamed through tall stained glass windows, and small eyes, inserted just below the roof lines along the walls. Standing there, slow and deliberate, he panned his vision, and was awestruck by the enormity and beauty of the architecture. Moving one small step at a time, allowing his vision to acclimate to the darker conditions within this building, his feet moved amongst the dust and dirt collected through time. Large cobwebs filled whole spaces, masking corners and whole walls with their white filament. These massive webs hung like large white, wool blankets strung from looms against the wall.

Standing before a wooden railing set atop iron, he found himself on a grand staircase, overlooking the main room. On each side of the landing, upon which he stood, a large set of stairs, formed of black marble, descended into this great room. In the gloom of the night, only rays of blue eked through the windows, illuminating very few details. Carefully he descended each step, making his way to the floor. In that cavernous room, he came to find himself staring across long wooden tables, with oak chairs strewn everywhere in a discordant mess. Some of these chairs were smashed along the floor, pieces missing, laying there like marionettes flopped on the ground, lifeless reminders of what once was. Others were pulled up to tables, left in a row, as if someone had neatly come along, spacing each chair equally one from the other.

Making his way past a shattered chair in the middle of the floor, he walked to the end of a shelf, and ran his hand along the tall piece of wood. He closed his eyes and felt the grain of the quarter-sawn oak under his fingertips, and rubbed his thumb over an imperfection, a small divot, and felt an electric sensation run through his body. His excitement was palpable, and turning down an aisle between two oak monoliths, he found himself staring at nothing, empty space. Even in the dim light he knew he stared at nothing. Frantically he ran his hands along wooden shelves filled with nothing but years of dust. The soft pillowy grime, collected under his fingers like skin schluffing off bones. He ran from stack to stack, and found nothing but the same. In his panic, his disappointment, he ran from aisle to aisle, shelf to shelf, and searched in the emptiness, looking for his reward.

“No,” he yelled.

A single word he uttered, he yelled, echoing off the vaulted ceiling of the empty reading room.

“No,” he whispered.

Slumping down in a chair, he fixed his eyes to the ceiling, examining the cobweb filled chandeliers, and trying in vain to identify the images painted on the ceiling. He did this for quite a while, and with his eyes transfixed on the ceiling, he did not notice the old man enter the room.

His long, thick, grey beard hung low, and ran down his chest, like foamy water churned over rapids as it cascades down a waterfall. His clothes were tattered, and ripped, their life lasting well beyond the intended use. Suddenly a noise alerted him, as the old man shuffled across the room, and spinning in his chair, he fell over the table backwards, landing on the ground like a turtle on its back. As he lay on his back, a face wrinkled with time, and hidden by thick hair hovered over his, and spoke.

“What is it you want?”

He felt a sharp object stick into his side, and saw the metal poker gripped by the old man’s right hand, sharpened to lethal point, jutting into his ribcage. Speechless he just lay there, the force of the object getting stronger and more painful.

“Come. Out with it. There is not much meat left on the bones of this old man, but I will not be eaten. Speak your words, or death will find you quickly.”

Wetting his mouth with what little saliva he had, he finally spoke.

“I’ve come for…books. Books. I’ve come for books.”

“To burn I suspect. Like those heathens that burned so many before, disagreeing with the topic, you will seek to destroy the written language, so none other may share in it. Well as you can see we have none, so off with you, before your heart is pierced.”

“No, not to burn. To read. I’ve come to read.”

“No one can read. Don’t lie to me.”

“My parents. They taught me, long ago. They were Livrelutionists. They read in public, created poetry circles, their intellectualism was subversion, their literature traitorous. They fought against the demise of literature. The state. The state executed them, along with all the others. The public saw fit to accommodate, and so they cowered in their homes, while my parents hung in the street. The state saw fit to let me live. They sent me to reconditioning school, taught me about the image. The digital word. The image and the oral, but the word, literature, they tried to erase that from my mind, but they could not.”

“And you have come here to read?”

“To read.”

The old man took the poker from his chest, and stood back, giving him his hand. Helping him up, he held his hand firmly, and shook it up and down.

“What is this?”

“A handshake. It is what civilized people do when they meet. It was a greeting long ago. And now, in keeping with old customs, we introduce ourselves. My name is Anton Romanov.”

“I am Orwell Bradbury.”

Anton just stood there gripping the man’s hand with his aged and gnarled fingers. And then with a squeeze released it.

“That is a strange name.”

“My parents named me after two revolutionaries in literature. They told me that surnames did not matter anymore, so they gave me one which they felt reflected the times in which I was born.”

“They could not have picked one more appropriate.”

They both sat in wooden chairs facing each other. As Anton sat down, it was as if the creaking of the chair mimicked the sound of his bones, and Orwell wondered if it was really the wood or the ossein that shuddered so.

“What happened to all the books?” Orwell said.

“What happened to the books? That’s a questions that I have asked myself many times. What happened to all the books?” Anton shifted in his chair after saying that and sat in silence staring at a stained-glass window directly behind Orwell.

To be continued……….

Stone and Mortar

He clawed his fingers against the stone walls, like a rabid animal seeking escape. The cold rough stone walls abraded his fingertips, and in his bewilderment he continued until it felt as if his fingernails would snap off. The abject darkness of the cell swallowed him whole. No light to be found it was as if the abyss that trapped him devoured any bit of light. He sat back, hunched over, his bloodied fingers clutched to his face as he wept into his hands. His intermittent sobs broke the air of the stolid room as he rocked himself back and forth, muttering in the vacancy of the void. Standing up, he pressed his hands against the cold walls, palms flat against the rough stone, and probed inch by inch, centimeter by centimeter, as his bloodied fingers probed crack, crevice, and mortared joint.

No shades of grey, no shapes formed, the darkness consumed his eyesight. The image of the darkness, one large globular mass, he never knew to be so black, so consuming. A feeling of emptiness washed over him, and closing his eyes there was a comfort in this, as if he were asleep, as if he were not really there, and this was all a dream.

In the onyx darkness he probed each nook, each minute crevice in the rough stones, searching for something, anything, other than the cold rock of his prison. As time passed, unknown to him, he found each corner, forming a square room, only four corners where walls join together. Through this search he found nothing, no door, no window, no entrance into the room.

He could not recollect how he came to this place, this dark dank prison, where darkness seemed to be his guard, the emptiness his warden, the stones his cellmates. He could not remember any events before his consciousness of the darkness, all he knew, was he was in a stone prison, with no way in, and no way out.

He probed the low hung ceiling, and could feel the disgusting slime of moisture clinging to the stones above. Looking for metal, a joint, a piece of wood, anything to signify a trap door, a hatch, an entrance. His greatest fear wasn’t his entrapment, but a lack of access. He realized if he could not escape, no one could enter, and that he was sealed within this crypt, as if buried alive in this stone tomb. He probed the darkness, he clawed the walls, he bloodied his fingers. The darkness, as black as coal, consumed him, it ate away at him, till nothing was left, but a bag of skin and bones, and a crazed laugh which echoed around the room, in the darkness.