The days are long. My lover and I are sitting on our bed in our apartment, we are covered with sweat but there is no water in the shower, in the kitchen sink, in the dishwasher, in the washing machine. We are watching the news, it is telling us about the newest immigration country and I am remembering many years ago of the old immigration country and the news that it had been destroyed overnight by hydrogen bombs. At that time, the refugees came back to the old countries and swamped us, before they started dying of radiation poisoning and their stench filled the air.
A new immigration country is good, for our cities are exploding with people and we cannot put the ones that we have anywhere. Housing is the only problem that we have, but it is crippling. Murder is no longer a capitol crime if you kill more than one person. If you want to find a place to live you can take over somebody else's apartment by challenging them to a duel. When a child reaches two years of age, the father must commit suicide or kill his child. Homosexuality is encouraged, and women are sterilized by lottery unless they can provide legal proof that they cannot be sterilized. The laws are complicated. As we are watching the news on television, my lover tells me that he is pregnant. I am shocked at first, how can he be pregnant, but then I find out that he is in face a she, a very clever transvestite wanting a baby in a world of population control. She is armed with a knife and will attack me if I do anything to try to stop the baby.
I do nothing, for I love him, her, and I will wait the two years and resign myself to the fate that she has set me up for. In the meantime, she lets herself look like a woman again and I learn as much as I an about the new immigration country, the same place as the old immigration country. The radiation level from the previous attacks has gone down enough that some settlement can take place to relieve the stress of the old cities, unwanted members of society will go first, as it is still dangerous to live in this place. The jails will be emptied and will become emergency housing, the criminals will become nouveau pioneers. Among them political prisoners and fathers who don't want to end their lives. I fit into the latter category. We are put aboard a steamer and set out. When I overhear the crew members talking about the mission that they have to sink the ship and all aboard, I steal a boat and set out. I am a few miles away but I can see across the water the ship burning and sinking, the lights shining clearly across the calm sea.
I row and row for days until I reach the new New World, and there I run ashore and scrounge immediately for food to eat. For the last two years I have been preparing myself for this moment, and have trained my body and educated my mind in survival. I find cities emptied of people, overgrown with vegetation. Human beings are the only forces that can produce order and stop entropy and chaos. Without them the world returns to normal. I am here a week inspecting the relics of their old civilization. I find print in many languages, I find canned food, I find old mechanical goods. Some things still work. I find a grocery store with a full stock of goods. I break the lock and clean it up and open my shop. I wait for my first customer.
Nobody ever comes so I smoke the cigarettes and cigars, even though they are more than twenty years old, I eat the ancient canned peas and peaches. I exercise and train my body using the tools available to me, I read the print media that has been left behind. What trivial pastimes we used to have I thought to myself. The window panes are dusty and cracked. I work hard at cleaning and replacing them. My spot in the city is the only place that isn't over-grown and silent. I begin to sense the un-naturalness of this and move on.
The country is wide and vast and I begin to explore it and establish a colony of one. I don't know what I shall do to further civilization in this place, maybe I need do nothing. Who needs civilization?
There are many civilized things that I could find here and I wonder what they all are. Why did the old countries want to destroy the new immigrants? Did they want to avoid the mistakes of the last century? Were they afraid that the new lands were unholy and created corrupt evil empires? Did they want to use the land for their own secret purposes. All I knew was that I had an enemy in my old masters. Would I find secret military bases on this land? Would I find new cockroach civilizations? Would I find mutant monsters? Would I find underground survivors from the old regimes? If anyone survived the old days it would have to be those rich or clever enough to prepare for the eventuality that did come to pass. In this case they would be strong and resourceful people. I predicted another war.
Years passed and I did not see another living being besides myself. I had wanted to kill a deer and clothe myself in its skin, but even a living deer could not be found. The only life in abundance was the vegetable life, the roots cracking the old concrete, the leaves blocking out the burning sun. I would begin an arctic trek to return to the old countries to see my son and escape this immigration paradise...
The two protagonists stand on a cliff. With one false move both of them might pitch off into the darkness forever. Neither one knows if he will be the one who will be able to return to his loved one, or even if the loved one is still alive to return to. History is a terrible muddle and nothing is right. These men, these mortal enemies, they try to reason with each other. Perhaps they can both survive the night, as long as they can live with that...
The blade falls, a flash of lightning cuts the sky. A baby cries, strange music is playing in the theater. I have bought my ticket, but I know that I don't want to see this movie to the end. I walk out and try to adjust my eyes to the light of day. Nothing is as it seems or should be. This is a cliché by now, even in his own mind, and he knows he should treat people better... better than he has been treating them in the past. What can be done of this strange muddle of time and awareness? Leaves drift through the air, it is autumn and everyone is feeling hazy, laden with pollen, sleepy. There is a somber mood, and some people begin to feel like this will be their last Christmas. Christina, a young woman who is learning to read her own language after a lapse of many years is looking at a children's book and cursing her fate. She wonders why everybody else can do what she cannot even begin to do. She sees those book stores with their shelves and shelves of strange fiction, she only looks at the pictures in the magazines, she has other people to read what they say to her. This is how she has control. Does she grant sexual favors for literary advice? No, she doesn't have to, men are slaves at her feet. She walks into another ballroom and the men are cringing when she doesn't look their way and wave or wink or smile. I am there too, and I glide up to her and ask her why she is looking so lovely. Tonight she is feeling particularly aloof and she glides away from me after exchanging but two or three words. How can I make her feel better? He goes away and comes close to another girl who is dancing with her partner near the wondrous Christina. The man she has cut in on takes offence and challenges him to a duel. They walk outside and bare their swords. They climb the hill and the rain begins to fall, lightning to flash. They both begin to fear for their lives, yet they cannot stop their duel. At some point they both realize that they cannot go on, that they will both be killed. They forgive each other, forgive themselves, give messages to the angels for the loved one, and Cupid carries it away.
"Reason," it is said, "will not end insolution." As if anyone knew what "insolution" is. The rain is still falling down hard. The books that are written in the world today are most definitely peopled by intellectuals, for it is t he authors of the books writing for and about themselves, as if this could serve some sort of purpose. Why will reason not end insolution? Why will I end up in confusion? Reason and confusion are diametric opposites, and once you have confusion, what else do you need to solve it than reason? The words are strangling him, forming a noose. He doesn't understand the strange words, perhaps he doesn't want to. He can turn on a computer, he can read headlines, but what good does it do? He has money in his pocket, he can buy an audio book and listen to the tape. Books are never written about illiterate people, because illiterate people don't buy books. Books are written by author about authors, which is also what I am doing now, is what he argues, and books need not serve any purpose other than to be read by at least someone. An unread book is but a brick, but if only the first two pages are read, its raison d'etre is justified. The rain falls, it falls down on the pile of books in the yard, the two swordsmen tumble down it and almost bowl over the poor illiterate trying to make love to the maid of the house. A slash of lightning cuts across the sky and the four people are united in a bucket of mud. The one swordsman cuts the illiterate in half for being so bold as to talk to an employee of the house, the other swordsman cuts the maid in half for being out of the house at that hour. The two men continue fighting. I have a bet on the redcoat, but the odds are on the other. We are watching from the second story window. A man is smoking a big long cigar that is moving dangerously close to the curtains. The wind blows, the one swordsman loses his balance, and the drape is blown into the lighted end of the cigar. A fire quickly runs up the wall and soon the whole house is on fire. Because it is raining out and nobody has an umbrella, they all stay in-doors. Now they are on the second floor watching the fight from there hoping that the rain will put out the fire upstairs before it endangers their lives. Soon everybody is dying of smoke inhalation. A certain of plastics creates a dense chemical fog and all are killed. The swordsmen fight on. I am watching from the trees where I am getting wet. I have that gun in my hands and am aiming the sight. If I make the right shot I will be a rich man after tonight. A shot whizzes over my shoulder. I turn around to face my opponent. The swordsmen fight on. I throw down my gun and put up my duked. The other man pulls out a long bowie knife. On the hill a cry goes forth - the redcoat has won. Reason will not end insolution/ I will end up in confusion...
She is snooping around the police station still. Any murders today she yells in for perhaps the third time that evening. Noting yet, darling, the duty officer yells out, snickering, but we'll tell you when we do know of something, he snickers some more. It is another dark night and there must be murderers about she thinks to herself. She sits down in a corner on the street and thinks and thinks and wonders why she is so obsessed with murder and killing. It is not nice to kill, it isn't nice to murder, but for better or worse it is one of the things that sets us apart from the other animals in the animal kingdom. That and a certain nobility that comes with magnanimity and philanthropy. A shadow crosses her face. She thinks it is just another strange cop, so she closes her eyes.
The next morning her strangled corpse are found on the riverbank. The police who were working the night she was seen last are in tears. Slowly they are investigated and one of them is charged with the actual crime. A court processes the evidence with tremendous speed and the man is found guilty of the crime and sentenced to hang, which he does a week from the day of judgement.
For the next few weeks before and after there is nothing else that the people of the town can talk about. Strange feelings are amidst in the air of the town. People from out of town begin drifting back into town and register their names for the draft. The president is on television every evening discussing the war question. There is training and the big factories are all producing the machines of war and neglecting the industries of pleasure and good feeling. Murder is in the air again. Men are sent out, more and more men give their lives defending some murky freedom, although it is not clear what their freedom truly is and how it is threatened, or even if they indeed threaten other people's freedoms. War, in this case, is evil, although it is not clearly evil.
Outside the same police box, the officers notice some movement. One of them shines a flashlight and asks in a funny voice, officers, any murders yet today? It's the same girl. She's exactly the same, clothes and hair and attitude and voice, everything. The officers cannot answer, they can only look at her. Is she really a ghost? What's going on? One of them approaches her and asks her name. She doesn't tell them, says that her mom doesn't want her to talk to strangers. They tell her that they're cops, they don't do bad things so she shouldn't be afraid. She says, oh yeah? Well what about that little girl a couple of years ago? That was one of you, wasn't it? She says, forget it, and walks off.
The next morning her strangled body is found next to the river. The cops who worked the night before are all getting nervous. They decide to plan their own investigation, because nobody wants to hang because some stupid girl got herself killed and they just happened to be the last to see her alive. They decide to dig up the grave of the first girl. They can't get near the grave for some time, but one night when the people have been ordered to stay indoors because of wolves on the prowl they see their chance and they dig up the grave. Inside it there are two girls, looking exactly alike, neither one of them decomposed in any way.
Saints, angels, says one cop.
Devils, demons, says another.
In the weeks that pass, the officers volunteer for war service as a way to avoid the trial. They are separated from each other, but they keep in touch with each other by mail. This is of course all that they can do. Each of them reports the same thing, that they have been visited by a young girl asking if there have been any murders. Each of them has the same answer for her, that yes, there have been many murders. There are murders every day on the front line, but nobody will go to jail for any of them because it is war.
That is the last that any of them ever see of that particular little girl. When the war is over they all go back to their town and resume lives there. One by one they get married. All of them have daughters, all of them happen to have chosen the same first name for their daughters - Sofia.
As the years go by, the daughters grow up but at six years of age they all ask their fathers if there have been any murders lately. And when the father is tongue-tied for an answer, the girls slip away. They are never seen again, almost as if they never existed.
Soon it is time for another war and the men, dispirited, all volunteer again. They cannot fight since they are too old, but they can be put to use training the men. They put those guys through the most rigorous training that they have ever experienced. More than a few men are close to death, but they all pull through and at the respective graduations the trainers send their men out. And before they do one man in each company asks the same question, have there been any murders lately. The men stare at the recruit who asked the question, and their minds all converge on one, since they were always the same person...
The inspector picked up the journal and read from it. "This is what the journal entry says," he stated for the record: "I read this to him, 'The words are on his lips, "I understand that our minds are limited, but that we can conceptualize abstract statements and can build on these statements with time. Why this should be I do not understand, yet I will not undermine it either. If I accept it, there is no limit to what I can do. That exists which can be imagined = Truth is as strange as fiction = fiction equals truth."'"
We are in the study, the body is sprawled on the desk in front of us, and there is a book in front of him, the pen still clutched in his hand. I walk over to the bookshelf, thinking that I can find a clue there. There are primarily books on the major heretical followings of the dark ages, books about the Gnostics, as well as alchemy. This teaches us something about the interests of the deceased, or at least the interests of the person who bought his books, but it doesn't say very much about the case itself. All that we can see is apparent: the window at the far end of the room, the desk in front of it, the body sprawled on the desk with it's back to the open door, pinned to the desk by a knife through the neck, a knife which had been inserted from behind. He had been pinned down with such great force that the knife was imbedded over two inches in the hardwood desk. The left hand was on the journal in which the words had been written while the pen was still clutched in the right. I leaned against the bookshelf lethargically and dragged on a cigarette. This could all mean nothing, somebody had killed this guy and now owed a debt to society. We were to insure that the debt was collected.
"Hey, wasn't this guy left-handed? Look, his watch is on his right hand. Does this mean that the pen's been moved from the left hand into the right? Or does it mean that the journal and the pen were planted?"
"It doesn't mean anything," I spoke up with quiet but firm decision.
"If his body has been set up in this place, then we need to establish how he was placed here and what he was doing when he was overcome by his attacker and /or murderer(s)."
"We don't have to do anything until we have taken this man to autopsy."
Autopsy revealed that there was a large quantity of narcotic drugs in the man's system. Lying on the metal gurney I managed to get a look at his face. Gray hair, mustache, terribly pale and thin. Anything could have happened to this man. He could have committed suicide or died an accidental or natural death, then been placed in extenuating circumstances by a second party. Perhaps this had even been his dying wish. The real clues in the case probably lay in the note that was in the journal, if nowhere else. I had copied it out and went over it again and again as I waited for the final report. The doctor came in and told me some things about the body. The drugs, the neck wound, the head wound, the bad teeth, the ulcers, the poor digestion, the anal suppositories, the evidence of a lobotomy, evidence of several surgeries, the list went on. I looked down at the words again and tried to work them through. He had recorded that a second person had stated that the words are on a third person's lips (or perhaps it is reflected back to the first person's?). A more enigmatic statement I surely couldn't find anywhere, or could find nowhere for that matter. The bottom line must be the last statement, that truth equals fiction.
On the next day of the investigation I call my three associates into the room and read the words out loud over and over again. "That exists which can be imagined = Truth is as strange as fiction = fiction equals truth." We spend an hour reading those words until they become a very part of our character and we resume the investigation in this spirit. That fiction actually might equal truth, as the dead man considered these words so important that they became a part of him in death. I dream at night that I see that dead man. He is trying to tell me something, but what? The next day of the investigation proves very fruitful. Each of my investigators comes back with a different man. They have constructed scenarios that link the men with the murdered man, they have evidence, they have confessions, and they have the murder weapons. I tell them that they don't need a murder weapon, since the man was possibly killed by the knife that had impaled his neck, they tell me, no, that he was killed in another room and brought into this one. Each detective has the same story, but a different suspect. They begin to bicker with one another and I watch them and listen for them to slip up. I count them, one, two, three men squabbling, and I stop them at once. I release the men that they have caught and I speak up. "You have invented fictions to explain the involvement of these men who aren't murderers, but rather avid fans of detective fiction. You three men are in actual fact the creators of fiction. Each of you is the author of detective fiction in their part time. I believe that the dead man was either warning the world that his killers were authors, or it is a confession on the part of writers of fiction that is based on truth. Which one is it, gentlemen?"
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