Archive for March, 2013

We will not go to the country – Short tale in the style of Franz Kafka

Posted in personal works on March 31, 2013 by isidor
The Forest (R. Magritte)

The Forest (R. Magritte)

Living in the big city has never been my dream; it just happened that I grew up here. People used (before I became well known) to come and try to talk me into visiting the country. To move out of the city and see what lies outside its boundaries; to experience, at least once, the “idyllic” country life. I did not let them mislead me; to begin with, the big city stretches as far as the eye can see, and even if I were to discover its boundaries, by the time I had managed to cross them the day would be over, and I would have to make my way back. Let us, however, say that somehow I were able to see the country life, even if just for a few hours; how would I know where exactly does the big city end, and where the country begin? Is it not true that we, with our habits, our complex machines, our tailored clothes, we bring every time a little bit of the city into the country? If my reasoning is sound, and I haven’t had any reasonable challenges to it as of yet, one might as well stay in the reassuring humdrum of the big city, for it is no use to leave it and then lament the inhospitable weather, the insects, and all such discomforts.
After all, I suspect the only reason such individuals (“friends” they called themselves) keep suggesting such things is that there is something missing from their lives; that in planning their time in this world they mistakenly left out something fundamental. They cannot fathom that a simple person might be able to know himself better than they do themselves, and that he may know his inner workings well enough to organise his affairs in a sufficiently rational manner. They often, these friends, tell me to look at books and movies: that is how people desire to be. A life full of adventure, risks and romantic escapades. But I think they are mistaken, the purpose of fiction in the big city is to make people live out in their minds what they couldn’t possibly ever achieve in reality. People do not want what is in movies; they illude themselves that they do, and by doing so they become happy. The rosy coloured endings in these stories bring back order to a problematic situation, and those problems are the fulcrum of all good stories; stories that live out all the troubles in our place.

Truth be told, there is one trouble I would very much like fiction to take care of in my stead; it is, I believe, not a common topic in fiction, and I wonder why, as I suspect mine is a common ailment. As I mentioned earlier, my life is perfectly organised so that most of the time, I know what to expect and will not be upset by it; after completing the didaskelion at the age of eighteen I promptly completed an apprenticeship with a renowned accounting firm and began my career as a clerk. Every day, for seven days a week (the big city never stops on any given day) I used to take my seat in the office. However, it seems my weak constitution somehow never took to it; and with every day that passes I wake up exactly one second later. Initially, this didn’t bother me very much; I never had the need for alarms; I would wake up exactly at the right moment I needed to. But then, as the days went on, seconds piled on top of each other: in one month they became half a minute, and by the end of the year they summed up to the considerable amount of 6 minutes.

This insignificant but steady increment, I only managed to calculate it afterwards; at the time, I figured it might have been something in my food, or a dizzy spell. When I first experienced it, however, I did not notice anything at all, which is unusual; clearly, the time that every morning I had been waiting for the omnibus had been getting shorter. So it happened that one day I missed it, and with great shame, I was late at the office. I apologised profusely, even though my supervisor did not say a word about my late coming. It was then that I realised what had been going on for a whole year. I resolved myself to buy, for the first time in my life, one of those loud alarms with a big brass bell.

The first months ran smoothly; but then to my horror, I woke up one day, eighteen minutes late: this was about one year after the first incident. The alarm bell had been turned off. That was the second day I was late at the office; already I noticed a look of disapproval in the eyes of the supervisor, and if in the previous months I had been in excellent standing (possibly a candidate for advancement), I began to fear that my position was now compromised. What concerned me the most, however, were two things. Firstly, how had the alarm been turned off? Because I live alone, no one could have possibly touched it; I ruled out all possibilities except that of a mechanical malfunction. I promptly brought the alarm back to its seller, who, after reassuring me that nothing was wrong with it, provided me with a new model, at my expense.
Secondly, those eighteen minutes, one year from the first incident (when the delay had been six minutes) meant that my sleep was now increasing by two seconds a day, therefore twelve minutes a year. I would later discover that this amount compounded in a linear fashion every year. I couldn’t imagine that much just yet.

A profoundly disconcerting period of my life followed. Even though I had the new alarm, after six months the scenario repeated itself. I woke up late, the alarm having been turned off, and no recollection of anything happening. I was furious at the salesman, but quickly realised that an in-depth enquiry was in order. I didn’t want to get strangers involved: my resolution was to start sleeping with first two, then three alarms; it wasn’t long before I figured out that, much to my embarrassment, I had been turning off the devices myself, in my sleep, first one, then two, then the three of them. My deduction was based on the fact that all three were perfectly functioning: one malfunction is a coincidence, three could only be a conspiracy.
I still believe it was no accident: I couldn’t absolutely remember wanting to turn them off, let alone actually doing such a thing. The thought echoed constantly in my mind, not only because it was going to cost me my job, but because I couldn’t fathom such a thing happening to me. Everything in my life, up to that point, had been perfectly organised. Was my body letting up? Upon consulting a physician, nothing amiss was found. Being suspicious by nature, I did not tell the doctor of my peculiar predicament, to avoid being dismissed with generic medicine and the advice to take some time off and visit the country, panacea for all sort of troubles; I knew I had to look into something else.
Furthermore, my inability to be at the office at a given time was unacceptable; I took a brief vacation with the excuse of a visiting a profoundly-ill relative in a distant country.

It was during this vacation that I devised a curious little experiment: an innocent stratagem that would end up changing my life. I remembered that when I was younger (I was then attending the paideion) we had been introduced to electric circuits and their workings. It had proved to be a good idea, for we were presented such devices as puzzles, and the children took interest into figuring out voltage, the functions of transistors, resistors and so on; so much that in my late twenties I still remembered the basics. I procured myself a small electrical board and connected my contraption to one of my alarms, setting it up in such a manner that, if I were to turn it off, I would first have had to resolve a little puzzle written into the circuits.

My new solution worked off splendidly, with a small inconvenience: as time grew, and as slumber reclaimed more and more seconds of my life, I soon figured that the puzzles had to change. Just like I had gone from turning off one alarm to three, somehow I also began to be more insightful in my sleep. It wasn’t long before I started resolving the first puzzles. A challenge between my wakeful self and my mysterious slumberland opponent began, as I devised puzzles of ever rising complexity that he wouldn’t be able to resolve in the morning.
Even though this practice began to take up most of my time, it proved to be one of the most stimulating periods of my life. I had to give up my beloved fiction, all those perfect romantic stories that were on the mouth of every citizen of the big city; on the other hand, even my supervisor noticed a new light had gotten into me: I was no longer coming late into the office and the performance of my duties had risen well above standard efficiency. Half a year after devising the first puzzle I grew in rank in the company. In a few years I became the next in line to replace the supervisor himself, who was beginning to accuse the symptoms of old age.

With great dismay, the situation was not stable at all; fear (of what was to come) eventually took over. I realised that my enemy was growing stronger, and so was I. But what if he caught up with me? As a precaution, I had stashed away a collection of puzzles of increasing difficulty, but before the year was over I had to begin chipping away at my precious reserve. Thus, every day after the office I came home and dedicated myself fully to this new occupation. The inevitable did not take long to happen: he had become better at solving than I at creating new puzzles. This meant a drastic turn in my life; I had to quit my job, right when the situation was looking up; I couldn’t bring myself to wake up at the correct time, and would wake up with a handful of solved puzzles and broken alarms. At first I had tried not sleeping at all, so that the dreamworld would not cowardly steal more of my time, but it was clear that I could not keep up for long. My next step was to set up my own activity; I had it all planned out in my mind, the only obstacle being my fear of giving in to the monster brewing in my guts. To this day, I am not sure that was the right course of action; what other choices did I have?

People began to come to me with their small requests, be it a broken toy or calculating machine; all I had to do was hook it up to my alarms, and in the morning I would wake up to a finished job. Then, I would work some more, as the requests were many; but the disparity between his ability and mine kept growing wider, and all I could do was to confine the simpler tasks to the afternoon, for I now slept well past lunch-time. Eventually all I had left to do was the paperwork, for the mass of work he would complete in the morning was enormous; thus, I took up the very same tasks that I had been doing in the office, except this time I was working for somebody else altogether.
He, on the other hand, moved on to more complex devices that often involved magnetic fields, state diagrams and perforated cards; this proved to be far more remunerative than my previous job, and I (for nobody knew of my sleep-walking exploits) also gained quite a bit of fame in the big city, as well as several prizes and commissions. However, if my sleep was more sound than ever, my mind was not at ease.
In this period I was able to calculate the amount by which my time on the other side increased in the years. Alas, my fears were not unfounded: I discovered that before the age of forty (I am now thirty-one) I would not have had any waking time left at all! What will happen to me then? Will I simply fall into an endless sleep, or will I keep on living and creating circuits, without being conscious of it?

The fate of myself as an individual concerns me the most; I never was religious, so I cannot hope of somehow separating my soul from the entity that has emerged in these latter years. I began, for the first time in my life, to think about how the individual conscience comes about; if it is just memories, or if there is anything else to it. But I am not well versed in philosophy, and those who are seem to give only vague, verbose answers that are of no use to the common people, let alone to somebody in my peculiar predicament. My double, at the beginning, had seemed to possess the same memories as I; however later on he must have begun to access zones of the mind I could not.
I was able to confirm this fact, earlier this week, when I made a terrible discovery: in the morning he had completed the daily assignment, and to top it off he had also added an entry into this very journal! I have been writing here ever since my first accidents at the office; after quitting my job I also began to lock the journal away in a cupboard. On Monday evening I found it in its regular place, except these few lines (in a calligraphy indistinguishable from my own) had been added:

“Monday, October 21st:

The work is proceeding splendidly and is giving me many satisfactions. In a few days I will be able to finalize a new kind of engine; one that is faster and more reliable than anything ever seen before. I plan to have my first test run at the end of the week, and I will use it to go to the country, where I’ve always dreamt of going.”

Nothing could have shocked me more than this piece of evidence; evidence that this creature of slumber has nothing to do with me, and is in fact trying to take over my life. Yesterday I went to my laboratory, and after looking thoroughly, I discovered a trapdoor I had never seen before; inside I found the engine, which I promptly dismantled. Apparently he knew what was going on in my mind, but I too had an inkling as to his intentions. I did not go to sleep that night.

Today I have procured myself a gun. I will sit and wait for him, until the hounds of sleep will come and visit me. This might be my last entry.
We will not go to the country.


Apartment 4706

Posted in illustration, log on March 29, 2013 by isidor

More Montreal. In memory of my brave flatmates who still live in apartment 4706.