Wolf and Balloon

Another old short story of mine…it was inspired by an illustration of the same artist as in the last story…unfortunately this illustration seems to have disappeared from the web entirely…instead you’re getting my own sketch of the main character (not a fair trade, really, but hey…)

 

Wilkolak_by_charonferryman

 

“I want to go to the moon,” said the balloon. Later, he said, “I will go to the moon.”

Wolf scratched his head, thinking about lice and how he hated them and ignored the balloon`s whiny and insistent tone. He was not exactly sure when the balloon had begun to talk to him, but it was an arrangement he found entirely to his discomfort. Wolf was very quiet by nature and he appreciated silence in others. He especially appreciated silence in things that were not supposed to speak at all. He had bought the balloon because it had seemed like a good idea, provided nobody rubbed it and made that squeaky, rubbery noise that made Wolf´s teeth tingle and his fur stand up like battalions of warlike soldiers. He had liked watching the balloon float across his cramped room and he had liked it very much to wake up in the middle of the night or too early in the morning and to see the balloon looming and turning like some indoor planet over his bed. Wolf remembered, he had been very sorry that one could not put a candle inside the balloon without melting it or having the flame eat up all the air inside. A floating light – such a thing he would have loved. A quiet floating light.

But then the balloon had begun to talk. The words had snaked halfway into his dream and upon waking Wolf had found his head swarming with words like so many ants, his skin crawling with them like so many lice. It was nonsensical babbling, so offensive to Wolf whose dreams were always filled with a clear and somwhat blueish silence.

“Take me for a walk,” the balloon said.

“No,” answered Wolf through gritted teeth. But eventually he did, hoping that outside, in the uncomfortable silence of the grey streets, the balloon would feel how misplaced it was, with its bright colour and its insistent voice lost in the fog and mortar, and be shamed into everlasting silence. When Wolf closed the door behind him, he felt himself swimming in silence, the streets were filled with the trickling moments when we consider a remark we never make and those moments lapped at Wolf´s fur like tiny waves. To Wolf, the silence seemed more substantial than the bricks and, indeed, if he could build a house from silence instead of bricks, he`d have done it in an instant. In this country, people called the wolf a melancholy beast, for its lonely howl it is assumed, but Wolf howled silence. He could open his mouth and scream silence across the world and for as long as his breath lasted him, all noise was lost. He screamed now and thought that even the snake-like slithering of the fog over the wet cobblestones fell silent. He was pleased with himself.

“Is it far to the moon? Do you think I could go there?”

The balloon floated above his head like a bright and merry offense. For a moment Wolf toyed with the idea of simply opening his paw, watching the nylon string slip through his claws and wishing the balloon a speedy end to his lunar voyage – at the beaks of curious birds, if he had his wish. But no, that was too simple a solution. Wolf was no coward. He shut his paw tight around the string and began to walk. He walked long, seething and boiling inside, the balloon happily bobbing in his wake, chitter-chattering from time to time. He walked long enough to reach that part of the city in which humans settled. Wolf disliked humans almost as much as balloons, but he thought that if somebody were to be interested in a mindlessly chattering toy, why, it certainly must be a human.

Wolf looked around. The houses here seemed more refined, the windows more glaring, the doors somewhat more shut that elsewhere. Everything seemed to be wearing a suit, even the mist that sauntered by, apparently ignoring Wolf who blew it away angrily. Wolf didn´t know it was possible to dislike mist, but he found he did. He disliked the very night around him.

“I have heard that you must cross a river if you want to go to the moon. Is that true?”

No human was on the streets, a fact that Wolf would have relished at any other time. Now he bit his lower lip. If he simply left the balloon here, he was certain it would return to him in mysterious ways. Caught by the drift of a passing plane and blown into a train carriage, caught by a little boy who gave it to a secret admirer of Wolf who then tied it to his doorknob, or something like that. Disgust is like a magnet.

There was one house that seemed less unsympathetic than the others, in fact the longer Wolf looked at it, the more he liked it. It was wedged between two big and haughty houses, small, a roof like a straw hat and tiles in wildly mismatched colours on the walls. It looked like it should not be allowed to dress itself alone. He looked up to where the balloon floated and noticed that the balloon seemed to look at that house as well. No further thoughts! Wolf loped towards the little house and hammered his paw against the door.

There came a clockwork sound from within, rattling machines, a metal cough, the crackle of electricity. Then the door swung inward and a tiny figure with an immensely heavy and immensely black frame of glasses and a goldfish bowl for a hat appeared. “You`re pretty hairy for a postman,” the figure croaked and blinked, eyes and lids magnified to fascinating proportions behind the glasses. “And pretty late.”

“This might coincide with the fact that I am not a postman,” said Wolf who was eloquent and soft-spoken whenever dealing with humans. He thought to see a huge and possibly wild beast speak in the mildest of manners might scare them more than bared teeth. “Would you, perhaps, like to have this balloon as an apology for my disturbing you so late at night?”

The man looked at the balloon, the goldfish in his hat pressed its side against the glass and stared at it one-eyed. “Is it filled with helium?”

Wolf was a bad salesman and seeing that his politeness failed to scare it failed him altogether. He stared at the man with disgust and grunted, “What do you care?”

“Well,” began the man, leaning back as though he had to inhale a particularly large amount of air. There was a pause. The pause went on longer and Wolf realized abjectly that it was meant for dramatic effect. He hated dramatic effect.

“Yes?” Wolf asked with badly faked interest.

“It so happens,” said the man, obviously happy that he was asked. “That I am building a rocket in my backyard. It is a good rocket, as you may well believe, but for a reason I have not yet discovered, it won´t fly. A helium-filled balloon, however, might help it rise a bit, just a bit, you see, until it has enough confidence in the thrust of its rockets.” He leaned forward, grubby fingers outstretched towards the balloon and whispered furtively, “It is a question of confidence, you see. It is a very sensitive rocket.”

Wolf snatched away the balloon just in time before the man`s fingers closed around the string. A second later he wondered why he had done it. “And where, dear man, do you mean to fly this sensitive rocket of yours?”

“Why, to the moon, of course!” The man sounded insulted.

Wolf was horrified. He looked up at the balloon which seemed to swell in size and grow deeper in colour. “The moon,” it said in a dumb, lowing voice. It sounded like a cow. “The moon.” The word was stretched out so long Wolf thought the balloon was emptied of all its air by the effort, but it kept on growing.

“Why, this is perfect!” cried the man, full of delight. “Come, quickly, before it has any second thoughts!” He snatched Wolf by the wrist, dragged him through a few cluttered and claustrophobic rooms into an equally claustrophobic yard, where the rocket stood. It seemed to be made from various kitchen appliances, scrap metal and assorted garbage. “I wonder if he doesn´t misjudge the situation,” muttered Wolf, “It must take an awful lot of confidence to hold something that frail together.”

“No time to waste. Hurry.” The man took the balloon, climbed up a shaky structure next to his rocket and knotted it fast on the rocket´s nose, which was the handle of an umbrella. As quickly as he had climbed up, he slid down again, grabbed Wolf and ushered him, through a creaking hatch, inside the rocket. “We must encourage it to grow more. You must help me.”

If that means I get rid of it, thought Wolf, I`ll play along with the lunatic. He was doubled over, surrounded by blinking lights and frayed wires. It smelled of burnt toast. The man took a piece of a garden hose and spoke inside it. “The moon. To the moon. To the moon. To the moon.” He took a break from his litany to explain. “I installed the speaker, in case I need to communicate with other rockets. If we speak through here, the balloon can hear us. We have to make it grow larger.”

Wolf took a deep breath. The man was excited, the damned goldfish on his head was excited, even the sensitive rocket seemed to hum with excitement – and of course the balloon who swelled and swelled. Its excitement could hardly be any greater. So Wolf bit down on his sarcasm and began to mutter, “The moon. To the moon,” along with the man. In his mind he already saw himself on a beautiful and very solitary walk home. The lunatic would be so smitten with the balloon that he would pay any price in order to keep it and Wolf would, after some deliberately exaggerated consideration, graciously give in to him and the two would sit next to their pile of rubble called a spaceship and low at the moon like dumb and stricken beasts. It was a pleasing image.

But then the cramped room began to sway, lightly at first but soon stronger. The floor felt very light and some feathery weight pressed on Wolf´s head. The lunatic gave a wild scream and hugged Wolf who simply coughed and looked away. His gaze fell on a bulkhead not larger than his head which, it seemed, had been the door of a washing machine not long since. Wolf was puzzled about this for a moment, but he was even more puzzled about the dwindling rooftops he saw through that window. He bit his lip, listened to the low chant, “the moon, the moon, the moon,” that came through the cardboard-thin walls. The thoughts that they had actually lifted from the ground and were rising, on an uncertain route, pulled by a monomaniac balloon, together with a man who built a rocket in his backyard, refused to enter his brain. He opened his mouth to say something and was unsure whether to be surprised when it turned out to be, “Say, when do we cross the river to the moon?”

The journey was, if such a journey can be said to be, uneventful. They reached the moon. The lunatic was blissfully prostrating himself on the pockmarked ground. The moon circled its way along the craters, driven by a slow and dumb joy that nevertheless was quite pleasing to look at and even Wolf found what he had always wished for – absolute silence, in the pit of a crater where the burnt and consumed piece of a meteor still smouldered as a source of light and warmth in what was to be his new home. Taking the rocket back to earth, proved to be impossible for, it´s confidence all used up, it fell apart while it landed, scattering kitchen appliances and household wares across the white dust. Wolf patiently picked them up and decorated his home with them. Sometimes, when he goes for a walk, he sees the balloon and the lunatic whose joy seems to be unending and then, when he is certain that they are not looking his way, he allows himself a little private smile and saunters on, often until earthrise or later.

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What is Modern Culture?

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I found these characteristics of modern culture summarized in a book by Ryszard Kapuszcinsky – they are from 1996 and I am curious how accurate they feel seventeen years later, so I will attempt a brief analysis of each point.

First of all – everything is provisionary. Everything is fluid. Everything can be questioned, changed, put into brackets, disregarded or discarded. Nothing is stable, nothing lasts, nothing is final. Relativism is the dominant mode of thought – a tendency to question obvious truths, a pragmatism without principles.

Scarily accurate and we are so deep into this mode of thought that we do not realize its danger anymore. To moor along intellectually, to be able to change at will is a useful ability, certainly, but by it intellectuals run the danger of forgetting who they are, constantly engaged in endless debates about potential that are merely an exercise of the imagination or an intellectual distinction that has little to no effect on social realities.

Questioning obvious truths is certainly good, but we have to do it without self-aggrandizing spectacle. Turning Julian Assange or Edward Snowden, who are examples of people who radically shifted public perception to a more relativistic attitude, into cult heroes is perhaps counter propaganda.

Pragmatism without principles…filesharing is a good example of this. While filesharers abide by a certain codex of principles, those principles usually only extends to themselves and not to the group whose intellectual or artistic property they share. If those two groups were to enter into a fuller discourse, a large part of the market would change…crowdfunding and crowdsourcing are examples of the beginning of such a shift, but the question that remains is, if everything is relative whose rules do we follow?

The second characteristic is the conviction that everything needs to be perfected. Nothing is perfect, nothing ever will be perfect and that’s why everything constantly needs to be perfected. Behind this is the idea of endlessness. Perfection has no end, progress is infinite. The idea of progress has turned into a Golden Calf.

True as well, as we see in the larger market. Success does not end if we perfect something, upgrade it, rename it, reboot it, rebrand it. This can even be extended to personal aspects…we need to get better or we lose everything and since our identity is fluid, rebranding and reinvention of ourselves is not so difficult to attain.

“He who’s not busy being born is busy dying”, as Bob Dylan sang. We are busy in frantic proportions because we fear death, to stand still, lack of progress, regression, unable to reconcile ourselves with these integral and unavoidable aspects of life. By turning ourselves into machines, we attempt to forget our mortality, because we are busy becoming better.

The third characteristic: The place of culture in her former sense of something that was experienced in mind and body has been taken by the subculture of spectacle. The attitude of modern man is best characterized by calling him a passive watcher. Tourism has become a symbol of our time because of that very reason. One wants to look at things without knowing anything about them. Looking at replaces knowledge and understanding, even more, it becomes synonymous with them. Culture no longer is a form and expression of life, it has instead been reduced to specialized fields which are gladly left to its specialists – it has become a restricted territory of professionalists.

Boy, oh boy, does that ever hit the nail on the head. And this characteristic has only increased. Youtube videos of everything exist and news come streaming in images. Words, especially extensive and characteristic words have become a rarity, because due to our endless perfectionism we have no more time to deal with redundant words or, God forbid, someone else’s character.

We have become scavengers of information, capable of reducing everything to what we take as its essence. Bland sometimes, sometimes piercing, but to the point. Or so we believe. A reductionist relativism necessitated by an overload of information most of which is redundant.

By doing so we quite often parse the essential from the information, stripping it bare of what may once have been considered culture and is increasingly labeled as baggage.

We comfort ourselves with the (probably erroneous) idea that knowledge has become too difficult and diverse (perhaps due to endless perfectionism on part of the different branches) to grasp all of it and, in the end, cease even to grasp the tiniest bit. Culture as a transmitter of often unspoken information is being lost in a global community that shares a lot but reflects very little and is often tied together only by financial and virtual strings.

Mab – A Story

Some of my older friends will remember – I used to write stories and I will again. Here is “Mab” –  it has a lovely illustration by a Russian artist named Oooli, who has – I believe – given up illustration in favour of design

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The child Mab was loud, quick to understand, flighty in her opinions and moods and astonishingly clever. Under her feet a stage grew and as she got older, she learned how to move and dance across it.

There were forty-six rooms in her parents` house and Mab ran from room to room and every doorframe was a portal and a gateway, and upon crossing it, Mab shed one role in favour of another and acted out forty-six different Mabs for her audience – furnishings, stuffed animals and an occasional guest of her parents´. Mab liked doors and soon she found it impossible to walk through a door without changing her posture, carriage, voice, demeanour, opinions or interests. Often the change happened mid-sentence, leaving her listeners confounded and irritated.

Whenever her parents wanted to speak to one Mab in particular, they had to lead and drag her all around the house until they found the corresponding room, where they had to keep her until they got a satisfying answer.

Mab`s memory was fabulous, albeit split. Friends had to win her over a hundred times or be treated as strangers. Whenever she did not like herself or the world, she walked through as many doors as were necessary until she could bear it again. When sickness visited one Mab, the other Mabs were seldom infected. When she reached a certain age, Mab fell in love and all the Mabs turned a little sadder.

After her parents had died, Mab redecorated the forty-six rooms in forty-six different styles, some very lavish, some exuberant, some austere and dark. Her love life grew rampant. At one point she entertained twenty-eight different lovers of both sexes (which worked out perfectly well, because it happened to be February).

One Mab got pregnant and managed to stay inside one and the same room for seven months, but then she got up quietly, smoothed her bed and ran across seventeen other rooms, screaming. When she stopped again, the child was gone.

At the end of her life – which seemed strangely short to her, but that must have been because memories took up so much room and made her life seem a bit cramped – she calmly crossed all of her rooms and lost her fear of death forty-six times over again. At last she dug her own grave under the tiles of her last room and stamped her grave shut.