DiscoverDystopian

Buy or Die

By Theodor Ventskevich

Worth reading 😎

Intriguing futuristic society with the slight feel of 1984. Dystopian creation with great imagination and an applicable underlying message.

Synopsis

Dark dystopia about a world where advertising knows no mercy. The life of the people turns into an endless series of fights for their money, time, and convictions. These fights may seem petty and sad, absurd and funny, but in the end, the fights are always lost. The main character invents Jack of Air for his kids – an imaginary fearless hero who never loses. Will Jack be able to help his creator after the latter gets into real trouble?

Who will win in the end: the imaginary hero or the real evil? Fiction and reality, tragedy and comedy, absurdity and logic all intertwine in this story. "It was as if I found myself inside a huge kaleidoscope just before it was shaken properly," confessed a critic after reading the book. Don't miss your ride to the future. Get your copy of 'Buy or Die’ now.

I was rather intrigued with this one from the moment I read the premise. Buy or Die is a dystopian novel that came with a bit of a 1984 essence. The novel has been translated from the original Russian, which may have caused it to lose a bit of its lyrical nature and smoothness of prose, but overall the writing is very stylish and highly descriptive. In all honesty, the small speedbump of some "lost in translation" issues may have been the only reason for my downgrade from 4 stars to 3 1/2.


Citizens Z and Y are the main protagonists of the book and they are both such well developed characters; their individual portraits extending well beyond what would be expected in a society which may not value individualism. The general feeling of the environment has quite the creep factor, with a mass of AI robots and advertising in the form of all senses that continuously assaults the public. I found the fact that you can pay to dampen the advertising particularly interesting, especially when you stop to consider that those with less money would be capable of purchasing fewer advertised items. The whole premise lends itself to so much exploration and the world created is definitely one I would love to read more of. There is so much packed in to this novel that is amazingly creative and original.


There were some inconsistencies in structure that led to a bit of confusion here and there, losing me for a few pages until I figured out my time, place, and character. There were also many questions that developed for me over the course of the novel (particularly the second half). This may be due to my intense interest in the subject matter and wanting to more deeply probe the imagination of the author, but it did cause me to have some distraction from the story.


Overall, Buy or Die is a great read that is well worth the time. In fact, I wouldn't mind rereading it in the future. It would likely be an even better read in its original language, as it is clear that the author has some wonderful talent and the ability to string words together in a way that creates something somewhat magical. I look forward to keeping an eye out for more from Theodor Ventskevich in the future.

Reviewed by

I am a reader, mother, & farmsteader. I live in rural Minnesota on a small farm where we raise beef cattle & hogs. Books are heaven. I am a lifelong lover of books & enjoy finding new books & authors to love. I blog over at Erratic Project Junkie, where I complete a wide array of projects/posts.

Synopsis

Dark dystopia about a world where advertising knows no mercy. The life of the people turns into an endless series of fights for their money, time, and convictions. These fights may seem petty and sad, absurd and funny, but in the end, the fights are always lost. The main character invents Jack of Air for his kids – an imaginary fearless hero who never loses. Will Jack be able to help his creator after the latter gets into real trouble?

Who will win in the end: the imaginary hero or the real evil? Fiction and reality, tragedy and comedy, absurdity and logic all intertwine in this story. "It was as if I found myself inside a huge kaleidoscope just before it was shaken properly," confessed a critic after reading the book. Don't miss your ride to the future. Get your copy of 'Buy or Die’ now.

“It is half past six now, and you are running late. On such a day!”

Citizen Z368AT, or simply Z, opened his eyes.

“What day?” he asked sleepily.

“You forgot?” The servant was surprised. “Forgot about your own birthday?”

“What birthday, what are you talking about?” Z frowned. “It will be only …”

“Today is your second birthday,” the servant explained patiently. “The moistening cream Newskin endows you with new life and eternal youth. Watch the miraculous effect …”

Z deftly evaded the servant’s wet glistening finger and barricaded himself with a pillow.

“Stop it!” he commanded.

The code word forced the servant to retreat. He looked at his finger thoughtfully and, frowning, wiped it on his pants.

“Let me remind you,” he remarked with dignity, “that you promised to unsubscribe from advertising.”

“I have no money for that,” Z snapped.

The servant bowed.

“I see. By the way, it is thirty-four minutes now …”

“You better watch your people,” Z replied. “They have lost all respect. Our doormat was advising me to buy better shoes yesterday. Be so kind as to remind him of his place.”

“Of course.” The servant bowed. “But, you see, it is difficult to demand discipline from others, when you yourself are falling into advertising mode now and then.”

“I have no money for that!” Z repeated and, sympathetically patting the hollow plastic back, slipped past the servant into the bathroom.

“One could think you’d ever had it,” murmured the servant as Z left.


***


Z did not like his bathroom; the ‘I have no money for that’ stench was the worst here. The toothbrush, before turning on, pedantically read the rules for cleaning teeth, then, even more tediously and monotonously, narrated the news and novelties of dentistry. The soap dictated the address of the nearest nail salon. The water tap never forgot to turn off the cold or hot water for a second, each time apologizing that only Santa works flawlessly.

The towel was shocked with the state of his facial skin and abundance of dandruff and never failed to remind him that a single drop of Apollo cream would have eliminated both problems forever. As well as wrinkles. And early baldness. Not to mention bad breath. When the towel groaned menacingly, “Oh, how can you be like that?” Z crumpled it up and threw it under the sink.

But the main enemy was, of course, the mirror.

“You!” it exclaimed. “Again! How long are you going to torture me?”

The reflection in the mirror was dressed in worn-out underwear and a dirty white jersey. It was unshaven, unkempt, and smelly, with reddish hungover eyes, a low forehead, and greasy, sparse hair. Sure enough, it hated everyone and everything.

“What a nice day!” Z greeted him. “You look gorgeous. How did you sleep?”

The reflection belched, scratched its crotch, and suddenly disappeared, giving way to a smart middle-aged gentleman. The gentleman had nice pink cheeks, pearly teeth, and wonderful silky curls falling over his shoulders. Despite their differences, Z easily recognized himself in both reflections.

“Right from Hairy Fairy barbershop,” explained the gentleman carelessly. “It’s right there, around the corner and to the right. Highly, highly recommend.”

The gentleman half-turned, showing his profile and shrugged his shoulders.

“The suit, by the way, is from H&M&Son,” he added. “Oxford street, two minutes from …”

“Get out!” snapped Z, and the gentleman disappeared.

The mirror, having completed the trick, finally let the real reflection of Z come to the surface.

“Many thanks!” Z said.

“You are welcome. Have a nice day!” answered the mirror. “And do not forget: the happy man is not one who earns a lot, but one who spends a lot!”

“I remember!” Z snapped.

And, yes, there was hardly a man in the world capable of forgetting the main slogan of the millennium. Nobody had so much money so as to use goods entirely without built-in advertising.


***


When he was leaving the bathroom, Z bumped into the cook, who was waiting for him at the threshold.

“What do you want?” Z was surprised.

“Bread!” was the answer. “I need bread to make toast. Give. Me. The bread. Quickly!”

“Quickly?” Z flushed. “When will you learn the language at last? You have sufficient IQ for this, don’t you? Well, wait here, I will bring your bread. Quickly.”

He went into the hall, took out a loaf from the bag that was hanging on the door handle and, absently examining the wrapper, moved towards the kitchen.

“One loaf is good, but two are at a discount,” the wrap had time to state before moving, torn, to the pocket of the bathrobe.

“Bakery 1212 offers the best products at best prices,” the second wrapper reported. “Best flour from excellent grain that was grown on protected lands by the prettiest workers!”

Pictures of nude female workers appeared. Z, who was passing the bedroom, blushed.

“I wonder if they work naked, too?” he muttered, involuntarily looking at the door.

The wrapper with nude workers was too tough to be torn, so Z, losing patience, finished it with his teeth.

“Miraculous Ecclefechan tarts! Cures 1000 known diseases! A unique recipe that was stolen from Tibetan monks! Only here! Only now! Order today and we will add 100 extra cured diseases for free.”

Having shoved a fourth wrap into his pocket — “Edible statues, portrait resemblance is guaranteed!” — Z pulled out a loaf that was carved on the crust with inscriptions like ancient clay tablets: names of the workers of the bakery, of the transport company, of the mill, of the agro complex, and at least two dozen more names without mentioning their posts; obviously, those who had paid for the advertising, whether from lack of fame, or from an excess of money. Across them, a line that was printed in giant playful font declared: “I love you, Bunny. Your Kitty!”

“Two hundred credits!” Z gasped. “Where do all these animals get so much money?”

He handed the loaf to the cook and sat down to drink his coffee.

A second later something stirred behind him, and a broken string sadly rang somewhere very close to his ear. Z, as if stung, turned around.

The cook, turning white, slowly dropped a loaf from his weakening hands. Z watched closely as the loaf slipped out of the cook’s fingers, fell to the floor, jumped, and flew off into a corner. It calmed down there, rocking silently.

The cook stood several seconds, motionless, listening to himself.

“I beg your pardon,” he said in an apologetic voice. “I am dead.”

He gathered his strength, and for the first and last time in his life, said a complex sentence:

“Please do not tell the company. Maybe I will recover.”

The cook fell silent, dropped his hands, and his eyes went out. There was silence. Z waited for a little, looking inquisitively at the cook.

“No, you will not,” he decided and, standing up from the table, cautiously approached the loaf that was still lying on the floor. In the fresh cut, something glittered dully. The loaf stirred, and Z hastily recoiled. Something within the loaf hissed, clicked, and started to pour out silent sad music.


“The cook is dead and burning in hell

There is no use in ringing the bell

The Devil devours your breakfast now

You may choose to object but I wonder how,”


a sweet velvet baritone sang. Then there was a pause, after which both the music and the baritone became considerably merrier:


“You are making a mountain out of a molehill,

Cook is all dead and is not going to heal

We will remove that damned corpse for free

And replace with Kitchener at no fee.

Kitchener is great, Kitchener is smart

Kitchener is famous, state-of-the-art.”


“Each Kitchener cook,” confidentially informed the voice that had settled in the loaf, having finished with the couplets, “is guaranteed to have an IQ above sixty, thus easily detecting any foreign elements in food. Needless to say, this ability can substantially prolong both his and your lives.”

Three coins rolled out onto the table with a ringing sound — evidently a refund for the corrupted bread.

“And what about the cook?” Z exclaimed resentfully. “Or do you think it was free?”

The loaf, it seemed, was just waiting for this.

“New cook for absolutely no fee!” it announced. “Just bring your old cook to us and we’ll replace it with a new Kitchener for free! New Kitchener for your kitchen! Twice as fast, three times as delicious, four times more intelligent! Kitchener and your kitchen! Kitchener for your kitchen. The kitchen is Kitchener.”

“What insolence!” Z hissed.

With disgust, he lifted the loaf with his two fingers and sent it to the trash.

“Kitchener!” the loaf managed to repeat before his death.

Z looked anxiously at his watch. He was already late, and now he had to take care of a corpse. A corpse that was cooling down rapidly, and which Ness only yesterday, with great difficulty, taught to cook pancakes with apples.

“Where can I fit it?” Z looked around helplessly.

It appeared that to hide the corpse, even the corpse of the cook, in a modern kitchen was not that easy. All in all, it looked as if Z had to take the cook to work and then, in the evening, on the way home, replace it with that damned Kitchener. There was no other way.

Z looked at the cook. The cook’s jaw fell open, and both eyes rolled to the bridge of the nose.

“The perfect colleague!” Z sighed.

“Seven hours and twenty-four minutes now,” came a smooth voice from the bedroom. “Which reminds me about ‘24’ cafe, where every 24th visitor gets a free cup of coffee.”

“Oh, shit!”

He was really late now. He gulped his coffee and looked at Holmes, who was scrutinizing him closely from his corner. Z shook his head.

“Sorry, buddy, I do not have time. Ness will take you for a walk as soon as she is awake.”

“You are a stupid stinky goat!” the dog collar translated.

Holmes remained Ness’s dog. Neither half a year of living together, nor kilograms of sausage could soften his canine heart.

“I love you too,” Z replied. “Be a good dog: try not to bite off your balls when you wash yourself up.”

“Worse than a goat,” the collar translated. “Cat’s goat!”


***


Z looked at his watch: almost half past seven. A little more than half an hour before the morning instruction …

He put on a suit and, tapping on the lapel, tuned the color to his favorite dark blue. Then he scrutinized the back in the mirror. Today, the advertising space was filled by a trailer for the new thriller. Lately, the trailer was in a hot rotation, but Z had still not seen the film yet. He remembered only the name: ‘4981’. Or was it ‘1984’? After the film industry eventually gave up the bad habit of giving names to its offspring, Z constantly confused them. Might as well be ‘9841’. It’s a pity Ness is asleep. She would have known for sure. She has too much memory for one person.

As always, having remembered Ness, Z lost his vigilance and kept his eyes on the trailer a little longer than he should have. After viewing it four times, he finally pulled himself back together: luckily for him, it was only a trailer.

There was less and less time remaining. Z put on his spectacles (he’d rather forget their price right after he bought them), put on the headphones, poked new filters into his nostrils and, with cook under his armpit, quickly left the apartment.

He closed the door, and stood motionless for a moment, watching the gray walls of the corridor sliding forth, slowly dissolving in a soft, dim light. Then he leaned forward a bit, took off his spectacles, and met the wave that rushed towards him. He rocked back and smiled. It’s useless to oppose the sea. Because it was the sea: the same mighty waves, tearing each other in splashes and foam, the same invincible power. Only instead of water, there was onon, theon, zeon, and even good old neon and xenon. Waves of light rolled along the corridor, mixing and merging with each other, raving, clashing and bursting, wetting the walls and ceiling with spatters of luminescent foam. Advertisements of this and that. News, announcements, and trailers. Notifications and messages. Appeals, warnings, cautions. Pointers, inscriptions, graffiti. Holograms, instagrams, projections … Z knew that oceans of sounds and smells were raging on the same space at the same time, but he was not crazy enough to mix those drinks.

He gasped and hurriedly put his glasses on. The gray walls cut off the colored madness like a guillotine. The only reminder left was the barely noticeable logo of the glasses’ manufacturer — it was hardly visible but it was something that was always present and everywhere.

Z shook his head harshly to get rid of the colored spots that were floating before his eyes, and having adjusted the cook under his armpit, hurried to the elevator.


***


And yet the glasses were worth the money. They filtered everything except for the ‘ghost-walkers’ which, although forbidden, still crowded the streets. A passerby would change his direction suddenly and, with a friendly arm around your shoulders, whisper intimately in your ear: “Best sushi in town. Fifty meters straight and twenty to the right. I swear, you will eat your fingers with it!” and immediately melt into the air. It was near to impossible to indict or fine their owners. Z made it down to the garage and started to search his car. It was not that easy since the car had been granted the right to repaint itself at its own discretion: an award for a year of accident-free driving.

After spending several minutes futilely wandering around the garage, Z gave up and called out as loudly as he could:

“Toy, come here!”

A minute passed in vain. Z gritted his teeth, and turning the other way, yelled again:

“Toy, that’s enough! We are late!”

And then, finally, in the quiet rustling of tires, Toy came, slowly and proudly. A proud beast male, a thoroughbred horse, a car of Alpha class, which, of course, could only belong to the real male, that is (according to the Charter) to any Undo service officer, including Z. Could the real male’s salary be less than the cost of a single wheel of his car? The Charter was silent. As well as about whether his IQ could be less than that of his car. Officers suspected that they could not. So did the cars. Naturally, the relations between officers and their cars were tinted with mistrust, misunderstanding and poorly hidden contempt.

“Good morning, Toy,” Z greeted his car, taking a gloomy look at the acid green corpus with a picture of a very naked and very welcoming girl on the hood, “you look great.”

“Thank you,” Toy replied politely, “I found this print in the last issue of ‘The Wheel’. Do you like it?”

“Very nice,” Z agreed through clenched teeth.

“Really pretty, eh?” continued Toy, opening the door.

Every day Toy tried to choose the most disgusting color and picture, slowly but surely getting closer to the hidden complexes and fears of his owner. The game went into one gate, and Z had nothing left to do but endure it silently.

“Too skinny for me,” he said indifferently, “and tits are too small.”

“Really?” Toy was obviously surprised, “I was afraid they would hang from the hood if I enlarged them.”

“Well,” Z drawled in disappointment, “let it be like this. Be so kind, open the rear door.”

There was a silent buzzing of moving cameras: Toy was carefully examining Z’s burden.

“What’s this?” he asked suspiciously.

“The cook,” Z explained.

“Why does he travel under your armpit?”

“He broke down.”

“Died?”

“Broken,” Z repeated stubbornly. “He is ninety percent machine.”

“Okay,” Toy agreed. “So he is ninety percent broken. Still, as far as I understand he is ten percent dead.”

“Well,” Z laughed awkwardly. “What is ten percent? One has to score at least ninety to become a real corpse.”

“Не will stink up all the upholstery,” Toy said with disgust. “Where are you going to take him? And what for. And, finally, why do you not just throw it out?”

“Because I need it. By the way, I’m late.”

“You could get up earlier,” Toy said.

“I could if I knew he would die. That is, break.”

There was a long silence. At last, Toy said reluctantly:

“ОK, bring him here. Carefully!”

The door swung open and Z sat the cook in the seat. When he slammed the door, the deceased, turning over like a jellyfish, slowly stuck to the window glass with his face. His dead eyes were looking in completely different directions. Z shivered and sat in the front seat.

“Let us drive. We are in a great hurry.”

“Thirty units,” Toy said drily.

“Come on! The limit is still fifty.”

“It’s the second time in a week.”

“So what?” snarled Z.

Toy kept silent.

“Okay.” Z clenched his teeth. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe. I will think this over thoroughly in the evening, I promise. Now can we go?”

“No,” Toy answered calmly. “You must promise that you will radically reconsider your relationship with alcohol.”

“Bullshit. Are we in kindergarten?”

“Citizen,” Toy repeated, and he did it much louder this time. “You must promise that you will radically reconsider your relationship with alcohol.”

Z turned around in fright, but the garage seemed to be empty.

“Not that loud!”

He drew air into his lungs, opened his mouth, then cast a look at his watch and changed his mind:

“ОK. I promise.”

“What exactly do you promise?”

“To reconsider. Radically reconsider my relationship with alcohol.”

Toy grunted with obvious mistrust.

“Perfect. You can hardly imagine how sensitive the self-assessment module is in cars of my class. If the driver is as drunk as a marquis …”

“As a lord,” Z corrected mechanically.

“Lord,” Toy agreed. “If the driver is as drunk as a lord every other day, a car of my physique can easily fall into depression. Do you understand how this would affect the quality and safety of driving?”

“Of course,” Z nodded solemnly. “I hate myself for doing this to you.”

The car’s engine came to life, but the door remained open.

“I guess I’ll start reconsidering right now,” Z added.

“Good,” Toy noted.

“Already started,” Z said.

“Congratulations. We set off …”

Toy faltered and added in a strange, frivolous, voice:

“By the way, the best whiskey is sold in ‘Good Wees Key’ market, right around the corner. Discounts on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Free tasting on Mondays and Thursdays.”

Toy recovered his normal voice.

“It’s unbearable! Why? Even you with your tiny IQ must understand how humiliating it is! You promised to unsubscribe from advertising last week.”

“Surely I remember,” Z grinned, “but when, did you say, do they have free tasting?”

Toy choked.

“Mondays and Thursdays,” he repeated readily in that strange, sugary, voice. “Gentlemen who bring a lady are entitled to a free condom.”

There was a pause.

“Are you making fun of me?” asked Toy in his ordinary voice.

“Never! I just have a bad memory. Just imagine, I have already forgotten what days they have a discount!”

“Discounts are on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays,” Toy informed readily. “Stop it now! I am sick.”

“Oh, I am so sorry. But we are late, do you remember?”

“Fasten your belt then,” Toy growled with hatred, “Estimated travel time is twenty minutes.”

The door slammed shut at last, and Z, with a sigh of relief, got rid of his earphones, glasses, and nose filters. There was no need for them in the Alpha class car. Full protection was standard. “Feel like an embryo in the womb, like a chick in an egg, like a fish in an aquarium. And let this mad world wait outside!” And so it did: arrogant, loud, acidic. Quiet and harmless when viewed through Toy’s windows. Z glanced at his watch and frowned. Hell! Where did this traffic jam come from?

Time seemed to freeze outside. Cars, like drops of tar, flowed unbearably slowly along the gray plane of the highway. Toy was only a drop now, one amidst thousands of others. Inside, Z gnawed his nails with impatience, counting down the minutes before the beginning of the morning instruction. Fourteen … Thirteen … Twelve …

“Toy, is there any other way?”

“No.”

Eleven … Ten … And finally the source of the jam! A worthless fool unable to cope with the few remaining laws. An imbecile who stole time from hundreds of decent citizens. Toy was already passing an asphalt grave hill, and Z turned away. The hill began to melt, turning into intricate black lace on the body of the arrested car. One had to have good nerves to watch the contents of such cars: depending on the crime, a car with its driver could have been blocked this way for an hour, a day, or a week, with all the ensuing consequences. The latest novelty in the penitentiary system. Full exemption from arrest, investigation, and trial. No more doubts. No expenses. No human factor. And no more prisons. Caught on the spot — punished on the exact same spot. Otherwise — innocent. Z shivered and carefully moved his foot away from the gas pedal.


***


At two minutes to eight, Toy drove up to the massive gray cube, whose walls, it seemed, were repelling not only inscriptions but also paint. They needed no spectacles to do this. The Undo service building was the only one in the city that had neither advertisements nor color. Even the ubiquitous goggles manufacturer logo slid off its immaculately clean walls. The Service had always stood firm, an impregnable cliff of purity and innocence protruding from the raging ocean of colors, sounds, and smells. And, like smaller cliffs, officers of the Service drifted around the city, immaculately gray, perfectly neutral, resembling eerie cracks in the colored madness of the universe, where everything alive, colored, and warm disappears without a trace. The missing glass in the kaleidoscope pattern, the blind spot on an eyeball, the dark cloud in a clear sky — Undo officers were all this and more. People were afraid of them and avoided them. Not only because the number of human attributes was minimal in them, but also because, according to rumors, their powers were limited only by working hours. Z looked at his watch again and finally sighed with relief. He was on time.

“Good job, Toy,” he had time to say before hitting the windshield hard with his nose. The car came to a stop a few inches from a pedestrian who appeared in front of the hood suddenly. Rubbing his nose, Z glared at the pedestrian, trying to understand what he was doing on the roadway.

It turned out that he just wanted to smoke a cigar. Apparently, he was not able to light it because of the wind. So he was trying and trying and trying.

There was no way around a cigar lover. There was no success in setting that damned cigar on fire in the wind, too. Z beeped softly. The pedestrian did not pay any attention. Nobody would pay any attention to anything while wearing the kind of headphones the pedestrian had on. One could buy Toy with Z inside him for such money. Z looked at his watch again and, clenching his teeth, pressed the siren button forcefully.

The sound wave swept dust off the road, frightened a couple of clouds from the sky and carefully moved the pedestrian a few meters ahead. Once in his new place, the pedestrian stumbled, barely kept his balance, but still dropped the cigar. Having carefully examined the cigar that was floating in the puddle, the pedestrian slowly turned around and examined first Toy, and then Z behind the wheel in the same leisurely manner. Then he took aim and spit deftly and copiously right on Toy’s windshield.


***


The spittle, most likely, directly hit the button that switched Z’s brain off, because Z at once opened the door and jumped out of the car. A second later a baseball bat hit him hard on the back of his head. Something burst in his head, a red wave flashed before his eyes, and Z fell to his knees, exactly reproducing the picture from the educational poster where some unfortunate dude was experiencing failure of his protection kit outdoors. Z probably missed some seconds, because the next thing he saw was the sky full of autumn leaves, falling down slowly and solemnly, and a flock of stray salesbirds, gliding down to him with their sound holes wide open. Z was writhing on the asphalt, trying to protect his ears with his arms. A second later, the salesbirds attacked him, drowning him in furious sound waves. Not everyone can withstand the one hundred and fifty decibels allowed by law. Salesbirds, to break through the defense, could produce almost two hundred.

Through the reddish mist, Z saw the surprised face of a man with a cigar. He came closer and was contemplating Z curiously, obviously at a loss as to what to do next. Apparently, he had managed to evade Conscious Citizens Training somehow.

Z clenched his teeth. Here it is. You risk your life daily for the sake of these brutes, and they … well, they just remain brutes. He curled up like a worm and, having gathered the last bit of saliva in his parched throat, spat right on the shoe of the passerby. The shoe instantly turned purple, and wrinkled. The shoe’s owner turned purple too and, without thinking twice, kicked Z in the ribs.

Since no force would make Z remove his hands from his ears, he rolled back and used his legs too, having planted both of them neatly and heavily into the enemy’s groin. The passerby grunted and doubled over, and, at that moment, a silence fell. Real silence, not a purchased one. In a world that is soaked through, penetrated and stitched with sounds, this was as strange as if the air itself had suddenly disappeared.

The rivals, one on his back and the other bent double, exchanged understanding glances and began to part rapidly. The passerby bent over more than ever, but now holding his face instead of his groin, and, like a giant crab, moved sideways in swift tiny steps, and was lucky enough and had time to take shelter in the door of the nearest office before it was blocked. Z, hiding his face from the cameras, stood on his knees amid the street and looked around in bewilderment. There was ringing in his ears. There was a red wall before his eyes. There was a nauseous sickness in his knees. But there was not a single sober thought in his head. Moreover, he completely forgot where people usually take these thoughts. Painfully squinting, he stupidly looked towards the end of the street, where something was obviously happening, only he could not make out what it was. He shook his head, squeezed his temples with his hands and finally saw the invisible wind driving an asphalt wave towards him along the road. The wave was rapidly growing and was already beginning to spread, grasping Toy’s rear wheels.


***


An open car door and a running motor saved him. In one desperate effort, Z threw his body into the car, badly bumping his ear against the door and, pressing his foot into gas pedal, jerked the reverse gear fiercely. Toy crashed into a wave that was approaching from behind, barely surmounted it, and descended in the wake with a fearful clang and rumble. Without removing his foot from the gas, looking in the rear-view mirror, Z drove backward to the crossroad, turned left and, having done another two hundred meters, turned again and stopped the car on a quiet deserted lane. He simply could not go further. His hands were shaking so much they were falling off the wheel, there was a taste of blood in his mouth, and an awful throbbing pain in the right half of his head. Z raised his hand and touched his ear. It felt like his ear was not there anymore. Z leaned toward the mirror. Yes, indeed, it was not there.

Cut off by the car door, it had treacherously remained at the scene of the crime. In its place bubbled a small blood fountain, already clotting.

“Fuck!” Z said hoarsely.

“Citizen!” screamed Toy, “You have no right! I will have to complain to …”

“Shut up, you bastard,” hissed Z, “Open your eyes and give me the first aid kit.”

Having shifted his cameras to and fro, Toy gasped and hastily issued the first aid kit. Having shaken out its contents on his knees, Z found sticking plaster and opened the wrap with shaky hands: “Best prices for blood donors!”

And the next wrap: “Will accept lost limbs, gratefully and gratuitously.”

And the next one: “Bequeath your skeleton to the museum of natural history now!”

And the next: “The Freaks Museum invites you to the new exhibition.”

He stared at the contents doubtfully. A square piece of wet matter, like a leech, squirmed violently in the palm of his hand. Its size seemed to fit. Z took a deep breath and, straightening the matter on his palm, pressed it to the wound. There was a smacking sound, and the pain was gone. Z looked in the mirror. The plaster firmly adhered to the skin and trembled with satisfaction, making soft, sucking sounds. Z shuddered.

He took out a cigarette and lit it.

“I asked you not to smoke in the cabin,” said Toy peevishly.

“Go to hell,” Z replied.

Toy shut up, offended, but not for long.

“And yet, citizen, what was it?” he asked. “I will have to report inappropriate driving.”

Z inhaled tobacco smoke deeply, watching how the knuckles of his fingers on the steering wheel were turning white.

“Sure,” he agreed. “And I will claim that your processor has gone horny and makes you draw obscene scenes on the walls, pavement, and your own hood.”

“And I will explain that my processor went horny,” Toy replied gleefully, “because you practice promiscuous and dirty sex with colleagues in my salon.”

“Didn’t they tell you in your childhood that lying is bad?”

“I had no childhood,” snapped Toy. “Besides, if something is allowed by my program, it cannot be bad.”

“Sure,” Z said curtly, “But …”

He took a deep breath. It was no good to argue with Toy.

“ОК. I will explain. The dog. It jumped out onto the road right in front of us and I instinctively turned the wheel away. You know, I love dogs. Maybe I love dogs way too much. I understand that this is a serious flaw, and I am working on it, but … Let us move ahead step by step. Alcohol is the first item on the agenda.”

Toy was silent.

“You should visit a psychoanalyst more often,” he said finally. “Remember my word, citizen, these dogs won’t make you well. Unfortunately, your unhealthy love for animals will not be a surprise for the authorities. I see no point in informing them again.”

“Again?”

“Actually,” Toy replied calmly, “I have reported three …”

There was a barely audible click.

“… three percent discount for umbrellas today in honor of the birthday of the senior cashier in the ‘Bears and the Bees’ shop right near your home.”

Toy choked and coughed.

“Three times.”

He sighed.

“I hoped they would at least forbid you from carrying that hairy stuff with a tail in the back seat!”

He sighed again.

“How naive I was! Just see what I am carrying now!”

“Are you finally done?” asked Z wearily.

“Yes.”

“Great. Then take me to the doctor.”


About the author

Theodor Ventskevich (1970 - 20XX) is a Russian writer, the author of 'Buy or Die'. 'Spoiled Journey - his second book. view profile

Published on February 15, 2019

Published by

70000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Dystopian

Reviewed by

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