Numb

The cello hums a warm melody through the laptop speakers.  I am no stranger to this sound.  My lungs move with the instrument’s faint swell-drop, characteristic of its hollow, wooden body.

The ocean undulates ferociously.  Waves crashing against the rock-hard barriers that keep water away from the shore.

Meanwhile, on land, all is dry.  The villagers have no embellished tales of fish, extravagant beasts washed to shore in the night’s storm.  They know the legends of mermaids and sharks as large as ocean liners, fictitious feathers of hope that something interesting might happen, if they pray hard enough.  They gaze at the black clouds above them: perhaps tonight is the night.

The floods come hard and fast, spilling jellyfish and bottles and unanchored ships onto the sand.  They bury themselves beneath the dust, sculpting homes of the wet, grainy clay.  The salty ocean swallows them before dawn.

***

            Bluish laser lights cannot penetrate the thick, graphite brick that rests somewhere inside my skull.  They can blind me all they want, but they will never disrupt the safe, neutral mass of minerals I have allowed to accumulate between my ears.

…or so I think.

The artificial sun is hot enough to form crevices where there was once a flat expanse of gray.  Heated rays spread lonely particles across the wasteland to where they, too, will transform this uniform object into something unsightly.

All the earth’s work, falling to waste.  This brick took years to form, fitting the mold just so.  At this rate it will never form a house; it will see the sad day where it is mechanically separated into slender cylinders and divided equally among the wood.

***

            The percussion of pots and pans affects me more than the steepest high note, the loudest shout to leave my lungs.  My vessel-lined alveoli shrivel into their pink mothers, asking why this chaotic noise has to happen to them.

Iron lungs are no longer iron, for iron rusts too fast.  They are bricks laid around a wooden frame, massive twelve-by-twelve squares too heavy to be mobile.  The patient must lie inside, wrapped in the safety of the oxygenated cocoon.

“What a sad way to live,” the villagers say. “What a lonely way to go.”

There comes a time when the patient must choose how or if he or she wishes to communicate, to know the humans outside without choking on their pollution.  To leave the lung would spell danger.

Collection, II

            The real Collection was about to begin.

            Semíh held the paper – or papers, as they made their continuous slide from the printer – in his stiffened hand, feeling their slim surfaces become damp with the perspiration of his palm.  He had no notion of the names, the faces, or the debts associated with the scatter of numbers littering the white; all of which he was permitted to be privy was that they were to die.

            On his computer, he directed himself toward the National Monetary Database.  The website, with its calming blue-and-silver color scheme, drew a curtain over the saltwater-diluted crimson that splashed upon the gray sidewalk at the close of every month.  The website was known among the citizens of Kozoc as the N.M.D, and was often parodied with acronymic equivalents such as the New Money Diet or the Necropolitan Mail, Daily.  The rewordings made themselves to billboards, as well, yellowed lights shining upon the hopeful phrases of Nullify My Debt! and Nix My Dues

            Still, there were values that not even the largest loan could cover.  The two at the top of the list, medicine and school, could bury families into holes of a million or more.  What had Semíh to say about the institutions, and what was his advice for groups who faced the wrath of the Collector?

            He cringed, the words seeping through his teeth, singing involuntarily to the script in the clutch of his leader, “Forego that degree, and don’t get sick.”  The N.M.D could tell if you were doing anything unnecessary, and would act accordingly.  Its blue-and-silver would streak through the city and collide with the wood of your front door, taking no mercy in its reaping.

            Semíh brought his gaze down to the first number on the list and, with a swipe of his fingers, punched it into the “login” bar that was at the top of the page.  Twenty-five dollars, three-hundred, three-thousand; he filled the accounts of the characters in his confusing, numeric novel. 

***

            Leo went prepared, with a gun and a bright-red warrant.  He was not sure what the warrant did to contribute to the situation, other than make it more threatening, an added shade to the colors that were to follow.  The number stared back at him:  01-191809.  It owed twenty-five dollars of unpaid credit, consisting of a leather-bound notebook and a tube of lipstick.  It was probably a woman, and it was probably poor.

            He knocked on the dark, hard door of its uniform, one-bedroom house and straightened his back.

***

            Before he knew it, noon had made its appearance.  Four hours later, and four pages to go.  Semíh listlessly thumbed his drying fingers through the tiny stack, and turned his pupils toward the topmost figure: 10-271932.  Ten billion.

            Semíh logged out, and moved down the list.  This man would have to meet his fate.

***

             Leo wondered what it was that made this job so satisfying.  The gun would not load, its face beaming ERROR.  There were people in the world who deserved that punishment, he decided, and those people were apparently not the ones whose numbers were etched in ink upon chemically-treated bark. 

            About four pages were left to go.  It was nearing evening.  Leo consulted grimly the sheet, then the sky, and then the horizon in a desperate attempt to believe the impossible was not going to happen.  How could he have been framed this way?  Certainly whatever he did with his bank account was for the greater good – he had been appointed, not elected, to his office.

***

            Semíh blinked himself alert after the monitor’s screen adopted a shady hue of black.  He stood, stretched, and re-entered the room from which he had left a lifetime before.

***

Boom.

All was over.

 

 

 

 

 

Collection, I

            The hulking metropolis of Kozoc had its share of millionaires, that was for sure.  Swimming alone in their outsized penthouses, they relied on prositutes, partygoers, and their own progeny to keep them company.  The passer-by would only feel the whisper of such a life, lifting his head in a ninety-degree arch to squint at the windows that blocked all but the power of the sun.

            Semíh Dovoric was one of those millionaires.  He was a billionaire, in fact, after having procured the inheritance from his recently-deceased father.  Needless to say, his money was not self-made and, by the time he was thirty, he had had his fill of prostitutes and partygoers, and had yet to find anyone who could create the semblance of progeny.  Alone among the echoes of his penthouse, he waited and watched the ever-setting sun, longing for night to envelope Kozoc into its bed like the unruly, flashlight-toting child it was.

            This child, though, was poring over charts instead of stores, and was tallying names instead of places.  Tomorrow was the Collection, and no person was going to slip through the cracks of his chubby, tiny fingers.

            The Collection was something about which Semíh only hoped to read, or to be discussed as a sick, dystopian theory around the smokeless bar table.  The act had taken effect, however, through efforts initiated by his own, elite kind.  He had seen it before with money; the twisted tequila talking its way into congress and pushing its way into grim realization.  His own father, Irving Dovoric, was responsible for its precursor.  Called the Review, it had assigned each and every citizen of Kozoc with a number.  “Too many crimes have been evaded,” Semíh remembered the booming voice of his kin, “and too many dues have gone unpaid.”

            The Collection took the numbers a step further, attaching them to every deposit, every transfer, every due, and every debt until one crumbled to his knees under its watchful eye.  Its silent calculator added and subtracted the days and the weeks, until the fiscal month came to its close and deposited the names to agents who would move, door to door, until all was settled.

            Semíh heard a sliding coming from across the hall.  It was midnight.  Gazing at the numbers, he swallowed as a grave lump of fear, hard and burning, swelled in his throat.  He tossed and turned in bed.  Today was Collection day.

***

The metallic clock ticked in mockery,

You live, you live, you live, they don’t, they won’t, make it.

            Semíh restrained his tensed arm and growing fist.  He had no choice.  There were people above him, believe it or not, whose words were more powerful than the millions that protested against them.  The paper in his hand held more weight than the thousands of petitions, the pounds of protest signs, that flooded the streets as the moon flooded the sky: once a month, and all at once, until they tapered with the rotation of the planet beneath them.

            The city of Kozoc rose beneath him, and knocked him to the cushioned comfort of his bed.  Lifting the phone from his bedside table, he dialed.

            “Hey Leo, it’s Sem.  Yes, it’s because I’m sick.  I haven’t been able to get out of bed.  I know, since about two this morning.  You could?  Thank you.”

            Semíh, with a touch of his hand, passed his list to the Leo in question.  The clock called out, once more;

You live, you live, you live, they don’t, they won’t, make it.

Semíh stood and gave the mechanism a sidelong glare, and left the room.

The real Collection was about to begin.