This is an excerpt from Pandemic tales, by Jonas Gutierrez
In a world recovering from an epidemic, a collector is trying to find old books and movies to restore humanity’s knowledge.
Inspired by Giovanni Boccaccio’s 1353 masterpiece „The Decameron“, „Pandemic tales“ is a series of stories all of which intermingled and somehow blending together at the end.
It features stories about murders, isolation, exes stuck together in their tiny apartment all merging into a dystopian world where humanity’s dependence on urban technology has been suddenly severed after the Internet breaks.
After a few decades of pure survival, in a world rebuilding itself books became so rare that they are more valuable than gold, giving birth to a new profession – wild west style gunfighters who roam the globe collecting these valuables at all costs.
„Have you read the essay?“
The collector laughed.
„Head of the Council, man who has the power to send collectors all over the world to search for whatever book or movie he thinks off and yet there you are. Looking at me with a look of a young boy who aspires to be a writer and has just shown his first manuscript to his confidant and is now awaiting judgement. You must admit its ironic, you standing here in your gold tower, hoping for good review from me, your subordinate. If I say it is bad will you sent me to my death? I barely survived Rissani. Where will you send me next?“
Old man looked blankly at the wall.
„I am sorry for Rissani. I thought they will back down because of your reputation. Athens and all. The word is getting out about Rissani. I will be easier from now on. You strike fear into hearts of all the ilegal possessors. I didn’t want it to be a bloodshed, but we will make to most of it. We will push the story around the world. You are irritated with what you had to do, but you saved many people. After Athens and now Rissani, they will stop resisting. When it all started they were killing collectors all round. Now, everything goes more smoothly“.
It seemed old man got tired of speaking, he got up and went to the window. He watched the scenery of New York.
„There is much more green now. I remembered when I got here. It was in 2020. First wave of the pandemic. I wanted to do some freelance journalism, that is how I met you. Do you remember?“
He was still looking through the window and the collector was thinking how the old man has a habit of not watching at people while he speaks to them.
„I remember. You came to our house to talk about the murder. My aunt was killed with a hairdryer. Did you feel bad for exploiting people? Bringing their dirty laundry in public?“
„Many times. But I was good at it, I had the ability to make people talk, often I thought I would be happier if I choose a different profession. But, people very rarely change their occupation. Once you become an engineer, you end up doing engineering for the rest of your life. I became a journalist, I knew people love to read murder stories, so I was doing that. Often I daydreamed about going to the mountains, becoming a hermit, guarding sheeps, but that was just it, daydreaming. I had to do my job.“
„This is what Nazis were saying. They were just doing their job and following orders“, said the collector, interrupting an old man.
„I always thought world wouldn’t it be much different If Nazis won. But, this was something you couldn’t have said out loud. Losers oughta be demonized. But, I always thought my life would be the same if they won. Lives of others, also. But you are an American. I came from East Europe, our brains were calibrated differently. You were molded by your propaganda, my ancestors were on the losing side. But, that doesn’t matter. You didn’t responded what go you think about the essay. It’s bad, I know. I wanted to say something that will help people make peace with their decisions. If a divine creator truly exists and he knows what are we going to do next, this means there is no free will. If there is no free will, it means that we are not guilty for the things we do. We are just wind-up toys. Wind’em up and watch them run! We are running, twirling around, thinking we make the shots, but the path is predetermined. And if it is predetermined, then you shouldn’t feel guilty for Rissani. Your hand was forced, only problem is that there is too much variables for us to calculate it. But, point is that it was not your doing, you just a puppet on a string, like all of us. I find this philosophical view absolving. All the guilt is taken away from shoulders.“
„Oh, the essay. It was truly bad“, said the collector and old man continued talking. „Its funny how old man have the urge to talk and talk“, he thought for himself.
I know its bad. I am no Dostoyevsky or Orwell. But you know what. I wouldn’t change places with them. They are dead and I am alive. And as long as I live I am luckier then them. Do you know Ozymandias poem. Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Our works die with us, that is my opinions. There are indeed some, exception to the rule. Don Quixote, Don Juan, Karamazovs, Winston Smith, Javert, Holden Caulfield… But there are handful of them, their makers achieved immortality through them, but I would never change that kind of immortality for the life I have now. Yes, they are loved, girls are getting wet on Bukowski over his grave, but I bet you that if a Force so formidable exists that could wake up a great poet for few minutes only to ask him will he change his glorious legacy for a one more life, he would accept in an instant. Every beggar on this world is greater than any dead poet or an artist. All the Shakespeares, Henry Millers, Walt Whitmans and the whole bunch of them would sold everything they’ve done in exchange for one bit of life, even if its a life of a lowest humang being. What good is for them to be respected and loved when they are dead? I guarantee you, William Shakespeare would traded his talent for your life. This I why I am not disturbed for not having talent. I am alive, and they are not. This makes me greater than Shakespeare, Cervantes, Tesla, Lincoln, Napoleon and all of them. They have disintegrated long time ago, and I am blessed with the fact that I am still breathing and feeling and existing. This is why I wrote that essay. I was planning to embedd it into a novel. It will be bad. So what. You see, while I am writing I am happy. I am fantasising, creating new worlds, hoping someone will once read this and he will feel the way I felt while I was reading the Giants. Most probably this will not happen, my readers will be bored, I presume no one will ever reach the last page, but that is not important. If I had the talent, I would be able to motivate them to write. In every reader lies an aspiring author. I would tell them not to be afraid they will not be good as the Giants. After all, while Orwell was writing his masterpieces, hundreds of thousands were working on their novels and all of them are forgotten. But, journey is more important than destination. Only one earned world’s appraise, but all of them lived, they were nervous, they feared in anticipation of reviews, while they were making their own worlds, they were imagining this will be a masterpiece world’s been waiting for. Of course, it was not, but they lived their lives. This is what I would tell them if I had talent. To live, to write, to fall in love, to let their hearts be broken. Even these days sometimes I forgot about that simple truth and I have to remind myself.“
„It’s good that you think that. I am glad that you are enjoying writing, I feel less bad for not enjoying your work“, said the collector.
Old man laughed. He was leaving an impression of a man who relieved the weight on his chest.
„It would be too much to ask for people to love my writing. At least I am enjoying writing. You know, sometimes I am not sure is this a good thing we are doing. Art collecting. Most of the members of the Council don’t have much appreciation for the art. They think it is good to collect scientific literature, so we would know how to rebuild the world, but they are not too much into movies and books. I once believed it was important for rebuilding the soul of the world. Perhaps this was the chance for us to make new Giants. Perhaps I should have assemble all the wannaby authors like myself and we should have started writing new masterpieces. Thousands would fail, but perhaps one would succeed making something good. I couldn’t have imagined the world without the Old Greats. That is why I was sending you to find the artifacts I held dear. Blade Runner is my favourite movie and whenever I feel like I am dying and that I have done nothing I remember „tears in the rain.“ I remember a woman I loved, I went to her just before the first wave of pandemic started. We were trapped in Wuhan and it was horrible. Yet again, when I was leaving I remember I was feeling sad. I wanted to ran out of the plane, like in the movies and go back to her. I was afraid of life then. I remember when I gave a gun to my friend. He tried to tell me, what I am trying to tell you now. I remember I had a premonition something bad will happen, but I didn’t want to believe that. I remember a man who spent his whole life fighting and being ignored when he became an old rambling man. I remember how hard it was for me to make a decision to come here. I left that life behind and wanted to start over in a land of opportunities. I remember the fear, and the looting, and the riots. I remember seing cities becoming empty, I remember founding you wandering through the streets when your parents died. It was a good life. That is what I am thinking when I am looking back, but the fact is I was rarely realising that while everything was happening. My mentor told me it will happen, I am continuing the cycle, I am trying to tell you, and once you will try to tell to someone else.“
„You said you once believed in what we are doing? Why did you choose these words? You don’t believe in it anymore?“, asked the collector.
Old man released a deep sigh.
I feel that „The Council“ is a young’s people idea. We were young and we thought about fixing the world. He were enthusiastic and we thought we got a chance to start over, to make everything good this time. The idea was to recollect the world’s knowledge. To rebuild the infrastructure and to make everyone happy this time. We thought we will be able to remake to word without corruption, without crime and murders and lies. I know now this is impossible. It’s not even a new idea. Utopia. Now I think people need the struggle. Even if we were able to make the world where everyone will have enough food, If we restore money and ensure everyone will be enough paid, I fear that we will create a world of fat and lazy men. Now, I believe that poverty and hunger and social classes are necessary. Man needs a struggle. I was glad seeing men becoming interested in art again. After years of survival. When we started collecting items, the idea was to make everything free for everyone. But, there is something exciting in pursuing new books. I remember the struggles collecting my own library in pre-pandemic times. Behind every book there was a small story or an adventure. Either it was a gift of a girl I loved, or it was something I found on the flee market that turned out to be a catch. Sometimes I was hungry because I spent my money on books and while my stomach was growling I was frenetically reading and discovering a new world. Idea of a „Council“ was somewhat communistic. To give people all they need. Books, food, security in a new and better world. History showed this alread failed. Dostoyevsky once said that if he could go to sleep for a hundred years and would be asked upon awakening what is happening in Russia, he would say; People are drinking and stealing. Point is that not much is changing in the world. This new world will probably be very much similar to the old one. I have no more ideals when it comes to this job. It’s just a job. It gives us security and something to do while we are on this Earth. If you have lost your illusions don’t be afraid to quit. You could do something else. You don’t have to spend your life being a collector for the whole time. Whatever you decide, remember to enjoy the journey.
Collector often ponder about these words, but he never resigned. He had been collecting artifacts long after old Marijan died.
Being a collector was only thing he knew to do and he felt it would be a great inconvenience trying to find a new path.