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.
The man turned behind. He saw a sea of sand. Dune after dune. He opened the bottle he was carrying and took a sip of water.
He continued to go forward as his legs were falling through the sand, making it harder to move.
A thought emerged in his head. A thought of dying.
To distract himself, he turned to math.
- Rissani is 13 miles away from Erfoud from where I started.
- If I am walking at approximate speed of 20 minutes per mile, this means I needs 4 hours and eleven minutes to travel that distance.
He looked at his wrist watch.
He has already been walking for two hours.
All he has to do is to follow the straight line and everything will be ok.
- I just have to stay cool and go forward.
While he was going forward, he thought about does that city he is going towards even exist.
How nice would it be to see the contours of Rissani emerging from the sand.
Rissani. There is the last known copy of Blade Runner.
If someone told him 30 years ago he will be walking miles through the desert in order to obtain a movie, he would have thought this someone has a vivid imagination.
He pondered how did humanity ended up here.
The great pandemic of 2020. He was a kid then. As everybody were freaking out because of a government issued quarantine, he was spending his days in his room. He was sharing memes over the Internet and playing video games on his laptop.
He often heard loud noises of his parents in the other room. It seemed that all they did in the last days was worrying and yelling at each other.
They worried because there was no toilet paper, because there were no masks, because there was no money to buy food, because the government stopped working.
When the food first ran out, father went to loot. He vividly recalls his mother. She was walking all over the apartment that day, just going back and forth, for hours. When father got back in the evening, he was breathing heavily. He talked how some people are roaming through the streets, how the need to eat is stronger than fear. He began to cough few days later. All the alarm buttons were on. He suddenly lost sense of smell and taste, he complained of chest pains.
He was told to go into his room and not to go out. He recalls sounds of sex from the other room. They weren’t even trying to hide the sounds.
Love and death. Two greatest themes in existence. People cling on to their lives even when they are so unbearably boring and monotonic the very existence feels like suffering.
Even in the face of Armageddon, they don’t feel fulfilled. They still cling on. Even though they have finished the game. They still hope something fulfilling and meaningful will happen, something worth living for.
This is what he was thinking when he saw something that resembled a building on the horizon.
Rissani. There it was.
They have seen him from afar.
When he came near, he saw that a bunch of them was already waiting in front of the first building.
- Are you tired?
The man who spoke to him first was probably someone important. Others were the muscle.
- Yeah. The desert can be intimidating. They told me that despite that thousands are coming here to see the Blade Runner. It’s been a while since I saw that movie. I still remember that blonde guy crying talking about moments lost in the rain. Powerful stuff, ain’t it?
- Yes. Powerful stuff indeed. „I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain“, recited the group leader. While he was talking it was like he was in a trance of some sort, like he was performing some sacred ritual. Quickly, the tone of voice changed.
- We know why you came here, „collector“.
The collector. They know what is his job.
- We will take you to Anton. You can talk to him, but we have to frisk you, said the leader.
They have taken his gun and he let them lead him to the center of the city.
He was put in a room where he waited for hours until he heard the sound of the door screeching.
„You are Anton, I assume“, said the collector after seeing a man standing on the door.
Anton looked at him, turned his head to the guard standing behind him and said: „Leave us alone. I can handle this guy.“
The collector continued to sit on the floor as he watched Anton entering the room and closing the door.
They looked at each other for a while until Anton broke silence.
- I was waiting for you for days. Ever since I heard that a man involved in „the Athens incident“ is asking around about the Blade Runner. Why did you killed these men in Athens?
- This was a misunderstanding. Nobody needed to die. I just defended myself.
- You stole a man’s property. Of course they tried to get it back.
- This book was a public property. We are working hard to reestablish the society. Knowledge belongs to everyone and he privatized the book. I told him I will return the book to him after I make a copy.
- Bullshit! The book was his and you stole it. What gives you the right to go around the world stealing people’s property. You are the villain here. Saddest part of it is that you and your collectors friends don’t even realize that. You believe you are doing some divine service to the world, but in reality you are a bunch of murderers and thieves. I cannot stand your Council. How did you named themselves. „Council of restoring knowledge to the world“. What a bullshit name. Looters were more fair. At least they didn’t hide behind some bullshit proclamations and declarations. They were honest. The Blade Runner is my property. I had this movie for years. No one can make me just give it away. It’s not for sale and I will defend it. The punishment for theft in this city is death. If you want to forcefully take it, you will die.
Anton’s face changed. He stopped shouting and continued.
- However, I am a generous man. If you want I will provide a free screening just for your eyes. You can see the movie and then you can go freely out of this town. I don’t want no business with the Council. Any collector that comes to Rissani will be able to watch the movie. I am giving you a generous offer. You should accept.
The collector was still seated on the floor.
- You know I cannot accept that. Blade Runner is a part of a public domain. Everybody has a right to see it. I don’t want that things here ends up like Athens. You must understand that you are one of the last artefacts holder. This is illegal. We have successfully restored most of the other items from pilgrimage sites across the world. You can kill me, but you someone else will come. This will not be tolerated. I’ve seen the abuses. A man in London was asking for girls to suck his dick in exchange for 30 minutes of reading the first Twilight novel. All those nostalgic girls were lining up. I have intel that you also are involved into prostitution. Pilgrims come here all the time, they risk their lives in the desert so that they could see this movie, they bring offerings. Soon, everyone will have access to it and this practise will stop.
- Who died and make you God. Why are you allowed to decide what is moral and what is not. I own this movie. I do not force anyone to do what they don’t want to do. People come here, we barter, sometimes I ask for sex if it happens that a hot girl has come to see the movie. Some refused, but no one was ever injured. This is the law of supply an demand. I have something that they want, they have something that I want and we negotiate. Sometimes we cannot make a deal and people go back to the desert.
Anton saw into the collectors eyes and saw no empathy.
- I did not break the Internet, I didn’t cause the plague, I didn’t cause society to crumble, It is not my fault that cops and doctors all scattered like mouses when the virus mutated, when everyone was just trying to find the place to hide. I had this movie in my possession before the coronavirus, I paid it. This is my property. You and your kind are the looters and killers. You killed seventeen men in Athens. You stole „Praise of Folly“. You are tyrants of the worst kind. I cannot stand your smugness. It is palpable. All i want from you is confession. Stop pretending you are noble. Admit you are a killer and a thief. You have been going around the world threatening people, taking away their books, movies and paintings. I will give you for the guy who stole „Mona Lisa“. He took it from a museum. But what gives you the right to take Erasmus of Rotterdam. I know the story. A women from Athens moved here a year ago. She saw you killing them. She still sometimes wakes up at night screaming. Your face is carved into her memory. Admit that you have no right!
The collector just sat on the ground while Anton was ranting. Even after Anton has finished speaking, he was still sitting staring blankly into Anton’s face.
It seemed like an eternity.
Then he finally spoke out.
– These are the first times. After the world has recovered, it took years for people to get interested in higher forms of life again. We must collect all knowledge. We will restore the internet again. We have already found engineers who know how to setup servers, the grid will be remade. Our member are reading scientific literature. We will teach people to run power plants and factories, nuclear plants will run again. Look at this town, you are lucky you are still getting electricity. Do you know how many across the world do not have it. Without it, your Blade Runner would be worthless, and our members were there when electricity grid in Morocco was reopened. If we didn’t spent years searching for books and manuals, none of this would exist. Even then, some refused to help. If we had stopped then when we were collecting only technical literature, we would still live here like Neanderthals. Thanks to us, you were able to display your movie in the theater. You lived good for years thanks to the people who wanted to see that movie. You ve had your five minutes. Now we will normalize the world. We are already working on reopening a car factory in Germany. Wait for a few years, and people will have cars again. There will be no more people coming here through the desert. Now the time has come to collect the art of humanity for safekeeping. It has to be available to everyone. We will let everyone again to fantasize, to unleash their creativity. You are a reactionary. You cannot stop progress. You should be happy and grateful for the time you were given. But, no you want power. The fact that this movie is so rare and wanted gives you power over other people and you cling to that power. You are the villain here.
When he later returned home, Anton thought about the collectors words. He didn’t know what to do. He was walking from one side of the room to another until heard gunshots.
Something happened there.
Either the guards killed the collector or he killed them and now he is coming after him and his movie.