Everywhere Local by Blanka Šustrová

A man called Richard starts to experience strange out-of-body consciousness-related phenomena during the pandemic that are later explained by a bearded humanoid cryptid in a purple anorak with a passion for strong Polish lagers that Richard meets in the abandoned main postal building in Brno.

There still wasn’t much to do. I have turned a lot of my kitchen appliances into highly effective weapons already, sometime in June I think it was. Yes, right after the vaccination riots ended. I wasn’t going to rely on the government anymore. That was the first mistake we made. We should have gone full Mad Max months ago.

The town has been cordoned off since April and nobody knows when we’ll be allowed to travel again. I like it here; I have no reason to move out. I still have a job, I like the vibe, the feel, the je ne sais quoi of this city. Citizens of Prague wish they had what we have; all the donut shops in walking distance from each other. Strategically placed penises disguised as art.

I want to go to a pub and have a couple of refreshing pints. Just feel normal for a bit. But everything is closed, so I have to share Lužánky Park with a thousand other people, which makes being outside and looking at trees absolutely unbearable.

I can’t handle being at home all the time anymore. Go outside, get some vitamin D, says every article on the web. But at this point I hate going out because it’s dead everywhere and the sun does nothing for me and all that is left of people are angry eyes and muffled sounds. I wish I could go somewhere else. Just for a little while.

A phone rang. Our main character stopped eating a caramel-coated raspberry jam donut while skimming through a low carb recipes website and looked at his mobile phone.

“David?” He answered the phone and licked his fingers one by one, making a sound so disgusting that sampling it and playing it at raves would make people kill themselves on the spot.

“No, not really.” His eyes wandered from a bacon salad recipe made solely out of bacon to the diary entry from yesterday written on a limp see-through paper covered with tears – water, I mean water. He writes his diary by hand; he is afraid he will forget how to write in cursive and also because he fears that after he dies he will leave nothing behind. Somehow he also thinks that a diary comprised solely of self-pity and pretentious references is something worth keeping for future generations.

“The old post office by the main train station?”

The person at the other end of the telephone line, a slightly overweight bearded man with silver-framed Buddy Holly glasses, is a civil engineer called David. His main task this year is to demolish the rotten and decrepit functionalist jewel designed by Ladislav Fuks. No wait, sorry, Bohuslav Fuchs. Well this is embarrassing. Where was I? Yes. David, a slightly overweight, bearded – wait. I already told you what he looks like! Well, anyway, he is supposed to tear down the main train station post office. Not by himself, of course. What I meant was that he is in charge of the demolition. I can’t believe I had to explain that. Let me get to the point – David has just informed our main character he’s got the keys to the building and would the main character go with him there to have a look around maybe? And that’s how they found themselves outside in the scorching sun.

 “Why are you checking it out now? Why not during your work hours with the team?” mumbled Richard through his facemask. What? Who’s Richard? Well, the main character, of course. Didn’t I…? Oh I see.

“I just couldn’t wait until Monday, I was so excited. It’s my favourite building in the city! Do you know there are many rooms that weren’t used by the post for years? Can you imagine what we could find there?” said David elatedly.

“Like what, besides old boxes and paper?”

David shrugged as they marched with purpose towards Česká Street. “What if we find some important documents or old machinery? Something of a historical significance, you know?” They passed two heavily armed police officers eating ice cream with considerable gusto. Richard grimaced.

“I wouldn’t be able to just muck about with my team, you know what they are like…”

“Yeah, a bunch of stuck up arseholes.”

David sighed. They paused in front of a closed pub and looked inside through the window, into the darkness wrapping around the oak chairs resting upside down on the tables.

“I think I’m going mad,” Richard whispered.

“Pardon?”

“Nothing.” 

He decided against telling his friend how he’d been feeling for the past six months. How he’d been stuck in strange cycles of mental absence and heightened alertness. How in December he was sitting behind his desk at home, working, and suddenly he had a feeling that his arms weren’t his. He saw them being attached to his body but he felt very far away. It happened a couple of times after that, but he decided to push it away like everything else in his life so far, push it away to some dark corner of his brain, lock it up and leave it there to rot.

They finally reached the decrepit grey building and David pulled a thick bunch of keys out of his pocket. Richard never liked this building; every visit made him think of death, impending doom, you know, that sort of stuff. As if the postal workers there could never leave. As if they had to stay there for 35 years stamping envelopes and looking mopey. A demo version of hell.

Richard heard a soft hum. The paternoster lift was still working!

“David!” He pointed to the lift. “Why didn’t they stop it?” He turned to his friend only to discover he had disappeared somewhere in the meantime. “David?”

“Yeah?” David’s voice echoed in the distance. He had wandered off quite far already. Richard went closer to the lift. Despite having visited this place many times, he never took the lift; always the stairs. Now he could have a proper look at it without being an obstacle to other people. Cabins kept appearing and disappearing in a steady tempo. He stood there, transfixed by the smoothness of the machine. Suddenly, he saw something in the corner of the cabin. Two seconds of something… Something small and purple-ish? He blinked a couple of times. What was that? Was he starting to hallucinate? Was this another step towards madness? He furrowed his brows and decided to take the lift for the first time.

Richard got off the humming paternoster lift on the third floor and went through a long grey corridor, cautiously looking into each little dusty room, until he finally saw it. Well – him.

In a former office of a divorced rachitic postal accountant, now full of old cardboard boxes, a little man, not taller than Richard’s knees, dressed in a bright purple anorak and a green pointy hat, sporting a phenomenally bushy ginger beard, was leaning against a wall, peeling off bits of a cardboard box nearby and eating it. Their gazes met mid-crunch. The little man sighed with annoyance and rolled his piercing grey eyes.

“Ugh. You saw me in the lift, didn’t you?”

Richard swallowed with difficulty. “Yes. Who-who are you?”

The little man finished the last bit of the crunchy cardboard, sniffed and dusted off his hands.

“I’m Bob.”

“Hi, I’m Richard. Nice to meet you, um, Bob.”

“Yeah, I know who you are,” Bob said plainly. Richard felt a pang of panic at the back of his dry throat.

“What are you doing here?”

“I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” said Bob and cracked open a little tiny can of a strong Polish lager. He slurped the bubbly white foam and sighed again.

“Ok. Fine.” He threw his hands up in a resigned gesture. “You shouldn’t be able to see me. But something is clearly happening so you can. To put it simply, you are now experiencing a phenomenon called consciousness multiplication.” He made conspicuous air quotes around those last words. Richard noticed he was wearing a lot of massive rings and a Casio watch. “You are now very close to realizing you are at several places at once.”

Richard blinked. “What do you mean? I’m here on the third floor of the post office.”

“Yes, you are. But not exclusively. You are also in another part of the building with your bespectacled friend, looking at an old parcel sorter from the fifties.” Bob shrugged and took a sip of the beer.

“OK, what? I – What? Is this some sort of a quantum fever dream?” Richard’s confusion and panic started to amalgamate into anger.

“No, not at all. You have experienced something like this before. In December – remember when you thought your arms weren’t yours? As if you were positioned out of your actual physical self?”

“How do you know that? I never told anyone about that.”

“I know many things. Anyway, here’s the thing,” Bob stretched and pinched the bridge of his nose. “How do I put this? The electricity in your lump of flesh – your body or whatever you call it – makes you think you exist at one place, alright? But at that moment it felt as if you weren’t aligned.”

Richard started to sweat. “I don’t think I understand.”

“What I mean by that is you can’t trust your cognitive system. If you weren’t aligned with your flesh lump, as your cognitive system was telling you, where were you really then?”

And then suddenly everything went dark. Richard felt cold and smelled dampness.

“Oh, hello.” Bob’s surprised raspy voice cut through the darkness. “Very interesting.” He took a little ball out of his pocket and shook it. It started to emanate a warm orange glow. Bob looked around and put it on a table nearby. Then he jumped on a chair and sat down, little legs dangling from the edge.

“Richard? Are you here?”

“Yes,” Richard squeaked quietly. “Bob? I’m really scared right now.”

“Why?”

“I don’t –” Richard’s voice trailed off in fear.

“Calm down. We are now in the basement of your local from 2015. Remember? Meet and Beer? Or was it Meat and Beer? The one that got closed after the sewage accident.” Another crack and hiss of a tiny beer can cut through the silence and Richard’s anxious breathing.

“Just tell me why I’m here.”

“That’s a rather personal thing you should resolve yourself, don’t you think? I mean I’m no philosophy expert –”

“No I mean, why am I now in the basement of my favourite pub? Is this another of those multiplications?”

“Yes, it happened quite quickly after the previous one. I mean you are already multiplied a lot of times but you are now becoming aware of it. You see, you have been leaving informational traces of yourself behind all your life. Your body is largely made of various bacteria you spread around, on surfaces, on other people; you leave your skin everywhere you go, leave digital traces all over the internet. People know you, remember you, think about you, share your traces with other people – be it physical or mental… What I mean by that is this: your flesh lump is being crumbled around all the time in the same way your ideas are. There are parts of you – physical and mental – everywhere you’ve ever been and on everyone you’ve ever met, on everything you’ve ever touched. Only, electrically speaking, you are mostly here in this basement – for now. But, and we are finally getting to the interesting bit, you are now able to be electrically mostly anywhere you left a trace in the past.” Bob crushed the tiny beer can. “It’s very much a rare thing for a human, you know.”

“But why? Why me? Why is this happening to me?”

“Lord… You just always… You people always think it’s all about you personally. ‘Oh whiney-whine why is this happening to me?’ Can you just stop being so self-centred for once? ‘If only I knew what I could do to stop it.’ Well, you see, you can’t do anything! And neither can I. Multiplication just happens sometimes.”

“These jumps – they’ve happened before, then?”

“Oh yes, albeit only a few times,” Bob nodded.

“What causes them?” Richard asked.

“I never bothered with that,” said Bob plainly.

“You never really what –? This is an insane phenomenon within space-time and you never bothered yourself to find more about it?” Richard couldn’t believe his ears.

“No. Not really,” Bob answered matter-of-factly. “Because once I identified the cause, I would tell you and you would again be like, ‘Oh well if we know what causes it we can try to stop it.’ And it would be annoying and exhausting because you people would come up with nonsense like, ‘Oh, if only we hadn’t allowed capitalism to go that far!’ or ‘Oh, if only we had taken global warming more seriously!’ But it wouldn’t help anything. You just can’t accept the fact that things just happen sometimes. Just like that. Things happen. Why are you collectively so obsessed with the idea that you are the ones who can change it? Like – get over yourselves. You’re not special.” Bob frowned into the damp darkness.

They sat in silence for a while.

“So what do I do now?”

“What do you mean?” Bob was playing with the glowing ball on the table.

“Well, how do I get back to what I perceive as my normal reality where my, um, lump of flesh is… aligned with my electrical impulses?” asked Richard.

“Oh that. I don’t know. I don’t think it will happen.” Bob sniffed and coughed. “Do you have a cigarette?”

“I don’t smoke,” said Richard sadly. “Are these jumps just going to happen until I die? Am I imprisoned in some sort of liminal space?”

“Liminal space? Come on, this is not a Jiří Kratochvil story.” Bob gave a piercing look to the narrator, whose rambles hadn’t made an appearance for a while. The narrator swallowed slowly. “I guess your flesh bag will decay eventually. But why not be optimistic for once in your pathetic little life? Maybe you’ll finally feel all the places at once. All the places you left a trace at, all the places where you are local. You’ll feel being duplicated on the internet over and over again, you’ll feel all the places where you left a memory, a piece of conversation, bacteria, hair, dead skin – maybe you’ll finally feel them all at once. Maybe you’ll finally be whole.” Bob shrugged and jumped from the chair.

“Are you at all places at once?” asked Richard.

“All the time.” Bob lifted one corner of his mouth into a cheeky smile and winked at Richard. “I am local everywhere.”

And with a slight plop he disappeared and stopped writing this story.

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