The blind organ-grinder turned the handle slowly, like in a ritual. He went forward with slow, hesitant steps, in a world which he only suspected was of the Light. The old melody was heard down the street, covering everything with its archaic tunes, mirroring in the faces of the passers-by, throwing its notes over them like a blessing… or a curse.
The asphalt cracked, unveiling a strange labyrinth beneath the sidewalk, hiding an unknown passageway to the subterranean world. The sidewalk was sizzling intensely, as if someone had just thrown sulphuric acid on it. Everything was melting around it, the smoke was rising to the sky, the water that remained became toxic, the curses of the old deckhands’ ghosts were starting to be heard.
I then raised my gaze, frightened, to the faces of the passers-by and I realised, stunned, that they were laughing. With large, unbothered breaths, deforming their features, with happy, playful eyes. Other, only smiling, but with a huge smile, flowing over their entire face, like in a photo captured by an ambitious photographer, who was set on playing pranks.
Ha-ha-ha-ha. Ha-ha-ha-haaaa, their laughs were being heard while the acid bit deeper and deeper into the sidewalk, and the old organ-grinder continued to turn the handle like in some sort of magic ritual pertaining to an initiatic ritual. He was walking forward, with shambling steps, but with his white and dead eyes fixed on the horizon… fixed on infinity.
I raised my gaze, shaking, toward the Sky. It was raining cats and dogs, like something was being set fee. When the drops started sizzling on the hot asphalt, I prayed for it not to be acid.
I abruptly woke up. I saw the walls of my cell, the bars, the Sky that was barely visible through the iron grates.
I was alone in a cold, damp, cursed cell. Cold drops were falling around me, where an ill-begetting silence was making itself felt.
I realised in a tragic, painful moment that I was being deprived of the most valuable thing a human being can have, apart from salvation: freedom.
Locked up in a cell, a prisoner to walls. Condemned to not be able to walk, to not be able to take in the pure air of heights, to not be able to enjoy life ever again.
“For what? God, whyyyyyyyy???”, I exclaimed, in a powerless scream.
A well-built guard appeared, then he gave me a lukewarm cup of tea between the bars. I wasn’t even summoned to eat, in a properly decorated room.
I bitterly spit in it and asked to speak to a superior.
I will have to clear things up as quick as possible, otherwise this would be the place in which my bones would rot.
After a long wait, in which I could do nothing else besides watching the cold walls, the dim light and to imagine the birds outside taking flight towards skies that can’t be seen, someone considered to pay attention to me.
A kind of officer, captain, couldn’t rally figure out what his rank was. Actually, it didn’t matter much either.
“Good day”, he said with a smile. “What can I help you with?”
“Well, let’s start with the simplest thing”, I said, somewhat ironically. “Why am I here?”.
“You really don’t remember?”.
“I haven’t the slightest clue.”
The captain watched me intensely, to convince himself that I wasn’t running any jests. When he was satisfied, he saw fit to give me an answer.
“It was a tragedy. You killed the vocalist of the band Pearl in Chains. The fans wanted to kill you, but you escaped their lynching and ended up here. You’re in here for life, pal!”, he concluded with a vague sense of compassion.
“What??? I killed who? I did what???”. I was properly taken aback.
“You shoved his syllables in the imagination of an eskimo frozen for millennia… you tortured the ballad of the dead bird at the birth of the lake... You broke the protective glass of the silica watch exterminated by the alien debt.”, I heard, as if what came before it wasn’t enough.
“What are you saying that I did? Man, are you insane, or what? I want out of here, as quick as possible!”, I furiously exclaimed.
“Oh, sorry, I forgot that I have to use protocol language. You probably can’t decrypt our expressions. So, you killed the vocalist of Pearl in Chains. You shot him in a head with a silenced revolver. I had no idea why you did it, maybe you’d care to explain...”.
“What is this tasteless comedy? Of course I didn’t kill anyone. And that band doesn’t even exist, two bands were active at one time, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, now what, did you do a hybrid?”
He looked at me as if I was the mad one.
“My friend, I don’t have anything personal with you. But here, as in every place, you must respect the law.”
“Here? But where am I, after all?”
He pat my shoulder, as an only gesture that he was allowed.
“Welcome to the world of broken dreams... there are some things that will seem weird to you here.”
I fixed my gaze on the ground, incapable of answering.
The blind organ-grinder seemed to address the whole planet through the chords of his time-forgotten melody. He was still laughing, everyone was laughing uncontrollably, but you could only see this on their faces, because they were mute, almost immobile, as if someone had just immortalised them in a diorama.
It looked like a pantomime of the absurd, like a recital of gestures frozen in time.
The handle still turned, mechanical, unstoppable, and the Sun could be seen, reflected briefly on the faces of the passers-by. They are luminous, happy. If only for just a few seconds.
Then the acid corrodes the streets, kills critters, threatens to invade everything. The rain drowns their dreams, the huge clock in the intersection, whose hands remained petrified, shakes from its core, as if it was touched by an earthquake.
From the artificial fog rise forgotten cemeteries, populated by ghosts, ethereal crosses that rise above the ground...inscriptions in an archaic language.
“What is happening?” I asked myself, before being sorrounded by a beneficial breeze, that miraculously saved me from the suffocating atmosphere around me.
Time stood still. The Earth stood still, a violent thunderbolt erupted from the Sky, the curses were once again bestowed upon humanity.
Souls suspended between worlds, a frozen spell, a forgotten season.
I am alone, right behind the organ-grinder. I try to lose myself. I hide myself behind his smile.
From them? From myself? From God?
Alone in my cell, sad, almost resigned, I went for a moment to eavesdrop on the guards.
“In a while, I’ll go smoke a bit of the hallucination of the nymph killed by noise...”
“I inhaled deeply from the burnt gas...soon, time will break in darkness’ mortified domino”.
“Do you want to fuel a piece of blue chalk? I have a lire of white fish left...”.
Incredible. Am I alive? Am I dead? Am I dreaming?
Who are these people and what language are they using? What does this cursed land really represent? What am I really in jail for?
What to do… I asked myself, nearly terrified. It’s almost certain that nobody will release me from here and I don’t think anyone will post my bail either. If this were a dream, I would have probably already awakened. The only contact that I had to the outside (well, my outside, to be precise) was the short escapes in the world of the organ-grinder and the laughing people, world that always almost ends up being drowned by waves of acid and magic.
And then, what am I to do to escape? I am the prisoner of a labyrinth without escape, condemned to endless torture.
“You can come in now...we finished beautifying the shadow...”, I heard, as if to convince me that I’ll end up understanding nothing.
Alone in a blasted cell, outside of the known space and time.
I wanted so much to run, walk through the sunny parks and charming museums of the Capital, to write, to dream, to kiss my girlfriend... to look at flyers, to eat pizza...that’s it, no useless egos, no barren dreams...I only ask one thing of life: to live peacefully. To have the chance to rise above my own passions. To be free.
I want to be free!!, I yelled, crushed by the size of the walls around me and by the hostile and absurd atmosphere of that land.
I remained collapsed in the musky cell, crying, tearing the bed sheets apart, then, in the afternoon, falling into a sleep that had a role closer to an anesthetic.
The following morning, the superior officer visited me again.
“If you want to be free...”, he started, as if he wanted to point out that he heard my words the preceding night, ”why don’t you respect the rules? It would have been so simple to do. Why did you kill Kurt Staley?”
I felt as if I’ve reached my limit.
“Are you starting with this again? Don’t you understand that I didn’t kill anyone? Plus, two artists existed: Kurt Cobain of Nirvana and Layne Staley from Alice in Chains. No singer is named Kurt Staley. They lived in the US anyway, and I do in this blasted Eastern Europe. And, anyway, according to official records, one of them committed suicide and the other had drugs, among other things, as his cause of death. How do you want me to believe that you story? Why are you keeping me locked up in here? Who is paying you???”. I asked, feeling that I was suddenly falling in conspiracy theory territory.
“You can’t believe my story? Ok, then wait a minute, please...”.
He disappeared for a short time in an adjacent room, then came back with newspaper clippings and photos.
There, astonished, I could see Kurt Staley’s funeral stone, of Pearl in Chains, photos of me with a pistol in my hand, press releases and others...The story checked out, down to the most minute details.
I remained motionless in the middle of the room. The shock had been too large.
The old organ-grinder defies death, the laws of nature, the Universe. He keeps going forward without fear in the middle of the busy street, through the cars that were doing hundreds of kilometers per hour.
He doesn’t see anything, but he isn’t afraid either, because an unwritten law, an unseen force helps him step between the cars unharmed, to further be able to bestow the archaic song upon humanity.. A small miracle done only for the sake of art.
He always laughs, with that unique expression, as he turns the handle... the passers-by stop in their tracks, with those big, beautiful, drunk smiles.
Are these people happy?, I suddenly wondered, while i was hiding, as usual, behind the organ-grinder.
Who am I hiding from?
Myself? Them? God?, I repeated my question.
Are they really happy?
The asphalt opened up in front of me, letting the gates to the insurmountable labyrinth open. A dense, acid rain poured from the Sky, drowning everything in its path.
We have to run...the Miracle can’t die so easily.
Instead of the colourful photo I had gotten so used to, the gates to the imaginary cemetery had opened up before me, and I felt the ethereal presences of phantoms come to greet me again.
If I could understand just for a second...
I then gaze upon a damned inscription, that bestows an incredible guilt upon me, an endless sorrow.
RIP Kurt Staley. A great musician murdered by a vagabond.
I wanted to reach the street again, but it was impossible. I had lost the way leading to the exit.
I had to continue to listen to the senseless language of the guards, who, when they were not addressing me directly, went on with phrases like “I extracted over five minutes a little bit of violet from that which is hidden”, I had to get used to not seeing anything else apart from those once white walls, full of rot, to be content with the slimy bed sheets and with the cheap, low quality food, which I ate nonetheless, to not die of starvation.
I buried myself in that horrible prison, lost in time and space, almost resigning with the idea of never getting out of there.
One morning, I asked the guard to fetch me the press. This right to information hadn’t been taken away from me, but I hadn’t made use of it up until now.
I went through the news that weren’t telling me very much, as they seemed written for a different age, possibly of the future, I had the necessary patience to read through an interview with a contemporary politician (of which I had never heard before), to finally stop at a scientific article that tackled the subject of parallel universes.
I sat and meditated upon its contents, absently looking at the title: Parallel worlds and their significance.
“Welcome to the world of broken dreams...there are a few things which you will find odd here”, I remembered the captain saying.
Then, in a split-second, I understood. Here lay the key.
Nothing made sense, everything remained unexplained, at least based on notions that I had acquired. It was not a dream (it had been going on for too long already). It wasn’t a trick or a set-up either (according to the evidence that the captain provided with those newspaper articles and clippings). Then, what could it be?
A parallel world, that could be the only explanation.
A parallel world in which I had arrived a long time ago and in which I suffered terribly, without knowing, however, how I got there.
After a few days, in which I thought intensely about what I had to do and I remembered lot of web searches on how to exit a parallel world, I called upon the superior officer again.
He sat before tactically, as if preparing for a confrontation.
“Good day...how can I help you?”
“You can’t.”, I answered without blinking. “Now I know that you can’t help me with anything. However, I’ll tell you my story. I’m an ordinary man, I have a home, a job and other things like those. In my free time, I write novels and listen to grunge music. I really am a big fan.
Recently, I had a revelation about what happened. Every man has an imaginary universe in which he escapes to be happy, a world unknown by anyone, in which he climbs up the social ladder, is never rejected by his lover, wins the lottery, in which his grandparents are immortal and so on.
It is an imaginary world, of course...but if his dream were to take form somewhere, without our man realising it? What if all of this happened in a parallel world?”.
“Interesting”, said the captain, watching me through his dark lenses. “Have you had this theory for a long time?”.
“From today”, I said shortly, then I continued my little demonstration. “But this is not the world of which I wanted to talk to you about, but its exact opposite. You don’t have to be genius to realise that the opposite is also possible. That is to say – a world in which the darkest fears take form, the most depraved obsessions unveil themselves, the most horrifying things take place. Here, on the contrary, you rape, kill, steal, do the worst things that the animal inside of you dictates. A parallel world which represents your worst nightmare”.
The officer watched me, silently.
“Well, this is the kind of world in which I came. I sincerely regret killing Kurt Staley – I honestly cannot remember what the motive was. Probably envy or something like it. I’m sincerely sorry for everything that happened and I hope that my short stay here served to alleviate some of the guilt that falls upon me. But I can’t take this burden anymore. I have to return to my world...to be free”, I concluded.
“Wait a second...”, he tried to stop me.
“I read about how to exit a parallel world on the internet. So, I sacrifice the hallucination of the nymph that was killed at dawn on the altar of the god of darkness”, I said and stuck a needle deep under my skin, which I had found in my cell and carefully kept.
The blood started to flow and a few drops got on the floor, right on an old symbol engraved in the concrete, in front of the captain that was restless, as if he witnessed a miracle.
In a few minutes, I was going to return to my world...
The old blind organ-grinder turns the handle evenly, slowly, while he cries bitter tears. He doesn’t go in the middle of the street defying cars anymore, but instead resigns to accepting the acid rain that came from the Sky.
Before, these streets looked like sunny dioramas, like small landscapes outside of time, in which people were smiling, laughing...now grey drops of sulphuric acid penetrate the cracks in the asphalt, feeding the starving mouths of invisible monsters.
In the time-forgotten cemetery, an ethereal cross rises slowly. It got a part of its due.
It’s Kurt Staley’s.
The passers-by do something that they hadn’t up to that point, filling the unique diorama with sadness: they are crying.
They are crying, and their tears flow unbridled on their faces, mixing with the rain drops.
Burnt time, dead hallucination.
A dream that suddenly stopped in its tracks.
It’s the silent moment that they keep because I left them.
Were these people ever HAPPY?