Krampus pats Stephen’s shoulder in an attempt to cool him down, but the touch of his colossal hand does nothing but adding some epinephrine drops to the cocktail shaking in his brain. He appears to be in shock, paper-white face, incapable of emitting a sound. So much ingenuity wasted in flattering the arrogant bureaucrats from General Citronics! Krampus asks some help from Odd-Legs to get Stephen into the team’s black van.
It won’t matter how far Stephen goes; for better or worse no one will listen. The collected data will be archived, and there they will remain, encrypted, hidden —it’s not a question of certainty but just some additional information. Let others navigate the rough asphalt as Stephen did in the old times, when there was nowhere to go and no one but Derleth awaited his return. Both Derleth and himself got a generous sum transfered to their bank accounts, although they were pre-allocated funds which can only be spent on certain things, like the monetary garbage provided by post-governments to simulate that “the economy” remains a thing. Stephen and Derleth wanted to ensure a minimum of lifestyle, much less than others, or perhaps very different, nothing like possessing the space surrounding them, only a few objects that would fit, only those they could easily get rid of. Stephen would rent a cabin on an island in the middle of a lake, something to set on fire without threatening neighbors or forests, all his things there, even himself, burning on the pyre as a heretic. Hot vibrating air would be inducing a mirage of navigation, as if the island slid slowly on the surface of the green lagoon, smoke mingling with the fresh breath of water.
The nagging vinyl stench of electrosuccubes wakes Stephen over and over from his false sleep. The beautiful arthropod in a purple gown could well be the effect of entomophiliac self-hypnosis. He feels his own body as a repetition, a chemical reputation, a constant reconstruction of cycles —polenta, pasta, rice, wheat… Instead of trying to continually think about the past, when the team was a congregation of perjure larvae devouring the tree of life, they should start doing something, go out on the street or make a phone call or search for information on the internet —but the plague is too pure and they slip on its varnished surface. Lily is unbearably bright under her purple dress, her exoskeleton still but flexible like walls enduring the shaking of the earth. Charioteers of chance, the team go hunting imaginary elephants to provide ivory to the tower. They are adorned with calculation and weighty military reasons.
Magnolias fall in a junkyard like rusty guns, the alkaline rain of chestnut pollen, the grass that knows how to keep itself always damp and disheveled as if to refresh the cover of a magazine. The nameless creeks are forest animals with a life of their own, mineral, composed of other small beings, as every life is made of lots of other lives. Withered roses in the garbage can. There comes a time when the body only feels itself in words, which is why Stephen understands those infected by the cunning citrovirus, which, in addition to transforming human tissue into plant thinking, blocks nociception and corrodes the nerve terminals, plunging the hosts in a peripheral anhedonia that ends up seeping into any sensation or idea. The body does not feel the ravages of deformity, as if deformity was nothing but an anamorphic projection —the lack of a proper mirror. Stephen does not perceive what breaks and twists and burns from within as result of his citrophagia —although, unlike opiates, there is no euphoria imbibing the flesh; that intoxication which favored dreams and had taught him the patience that lies at the heart of deep anxiety. Citroviruses have learned to turn human beings into their fruit, rolling spheres, feeding them at their convenience, keeping them alive instead of simply consuming them —that is why they look like a weapon or a work of art, the most sophisticated among artistic armament; the most demonic one; the one that, instead of killing, rebuilds at its convenience; the one that is capable of possessing… The most terrifying destiny conceivable: being possessed by abstract and absurd intelligences without a hint of melancholy.
So it was conjectured that citrosophy itself could have self-organized and spontaneously become a bioinfectious agent; that the very possibility of possession had materialized, coalesced, precipitated, coagulated; that it was a counter-simulation generated by simulations, crystallizing souls in minimal bodies, in just tangles of filiform molecules like the old paper tape impressions of telegraphic messages. Stop, stop, stop; thus the pause of the incessant phrasing is punctuated. The immortalization —or almost— of the metamorfruiting flesh had to be compensated with the destruction of supposedly imperishable objects —monuments, bridges, towers, cathedrals, artifacts from extinct civilizations. All their castles are made of cards or sand. There must be a balance in the time that happens to things, a recoil of the chronometric cannon.
They walk over the rotten waste of a light that once illuminated life. Immediately, as soon as Stephen got down to it, he detected the first publications describing the cheerful infection, considering that if Derleth —or someone else— had invented the agent which had citrofected the chief, they wouldn’t withstand the thrusts of academic vanity. It would be a matter of reading between lines until discovering the traces of a pinch of pride, of parenthetical parental love.
Long ago, Stephen’s father had gotten himself a tape recorder, but Stephen hated to hear his own child’s voice play back so he used it to pick up any other sound in the house or the garden: dishes crashing in the sink, birds screeching each other, the drumming of rain’s fingers on the wooden ledges, the vibration of the trucks stuck in traffic, the distant cries of other children playing football, the crickets chirping… He tried, unsuccessfully, to record softer and more subtle sounds, like leaves falling from trees or the buzzing of bees and flies. He hid it in the cemetery at night in the hope of capturing psychophonies. Ghosts, however, were mute, or they fell silent in the presence of that device that emitted its own purr of a small mechanical mill when dragging the tape. Perhaps the dead were impregnated with the almost imperceptible screeching, perhaps they could not avoid behaving themselves like tape recorders. Vibrations pierced them, remained permanently attached to the ectoplasmatic garments. Perhaps it was the noise what parasitized the spirits and not the spirits a parasitic noise, and that is why they pursued the most absolute silence and never materialized to Stephen’s crude and spectacular invocations.
The dead of this world do not find enough warmth in the souls of the living and fly away to orangination. But that is what the real dead do, not those who, for the moment, only imagine death from the outside, like a concert they have not managed to enter, with their faces glued to the cold window. Although the living are being invoked as if they were dead; although the chief is now nothing more than the wrinkle of a shadow, a crack in a ray of light.
After curling her antennae with a rusty fork, Lily lights a bonfire on the sand and stands still, listening to the lament of an instagrammatic sea she barely glimpses, a goldbergized variation on the constant bass of the abyss. Only the reflection of the dance of a thread of fire could be seen, as a ray of water, as the magnetic clamor of a wire threatening to pierce the night with the slightest carelessness. She didn’t learned the fear she should had, when everything seemed to consist on being properly scared. She didn’t perceive the horror on other people’s faces, only a pareidolia of fearlessness, the rise of an exhausted sun on the desert horizon right before the curtains were incapable of stopping the stab of light. She’s the corollary of an oasis. She does not grumble, she simply follows the instructions of a fiction that seemed kind and adequate to her, although she always kept herself on the margins, on the unwritten banks of the rivers.
The surface of a planet that could get rid of anyone with a slight tremor has just begun to scratch, and the team already think about themselves as demons for having displaced a little carbon. Such is the case with every new arrangement—putting things here or there seems essential, like ants obsessing over a grain of sand. Stephen remembers hearing the chief say that freedom is holding the reins of self-destruction, and thinking that he was right. The team stop the van in front of a shopping mall looking like a place of worship and commotion, a temple for their depraved practices. Odd-Legs helps Stephen out. He’s getting sicker, but they won’t take the risk of going to a hospital. Contrary to what Blanchot wrote, they’re pushed back by their determination to move on, simultaneously chased away and drawn, waves of electrons in a fermionic sea, like insects repelled by the perfumes of bystanders.
“Don’t feel guilty, sweetheart”, Lily whispers to Stephen, “we knew you were supposed to eat the guy.”