by Michael Haulica
They call me Yumo. I can’t figure out the reason why, `cause my name is Sylvester. I hear them all the time: don’t forget, Yumo, Monday at 7. Or: tomorrow at 6, Yumo.
I’m a stalker. That’s the slang statement for a sort of a guide. Actually, they’d be lost without me. None of those who entered the 14th Knot alone ever came back. I don’t know why the hell they don’t reach the gates. It’s so damn easy. You look forward, wait 20 seconds, move along two steps and you’re already there. Then you look at your right, wait 8 seconds and, by half a step, you’re elsewhere.
You mustn’t take this tale quale, it’s just an example, cause every time it’s different, of course. But I don’t know why they never figure it out. Seems like they’re all half-witted.
Now I’m guiding a bunch of socketers. Instead of staying with the thrust socket in their heads and the eyes wide-open, they feel like walking. They’ve heard that from time to time a Chinese with some special sockets appears beyond the Dragon’s Gate. No kiddin‘! Once I’ve had a socketer in my group and I’ve almost lost my customers due to some ethical stuff. Fortunately, I’m the real McCoy, the Stalker, so they have no choice, they must hire me if they want to come back. And, in the end, aren’t their trips some kind of a drug? What’s different between their need-pleasure to travel through the gates beyond the 14th Knot and their hallucinations after sticking the sockets on their heads? They’re all drug addicts. I’m the only one sane and sound.
Still, you could ask why am I doing it. Why do I guide them? Well, it’s my duty and gratitude towards the human beings. This need they have makes me feel useful. You know the feeling, don’t you? It’s wonderful. I came to this world to bring trippers back home. Because they’d go anyway. There’s something out there calling them. I don’t know what is it, I can’t hear this calling. I just guide them and then take care of their return. I told you before, they can’t make it by themselves.
It’s time. They’re five, as we dealt. I never take more than five people, it’s hard to manage a larger group. The temptations are huge for them and their reactions can get me taken by surprise anytime. I watch my clients and they’re watching me fearfully; they are aware I stir rummage around inside and make them forget some thoughts. That’s why in their eyes lies a sort of fear combined with respect. These kids are so naïve! They know for sure that I always detect those who want to remain out there and still I find their escape plans, every time. Some of these plans are almost perfect, probably they’re made by those hooligans from the South, for piles of money.
We’re ready. From three of them I remove the idea of staying. Now we can leave. I tell them we’re leaving and they set an anti-emotional socket so they’ll be emotionally inert during the first three gates. I recognized the design and the color. It was me that brought them from the 6th Gerocco Gate yesterday. I’ve sold one hundred pieces within two hours. Naturally, this group of five couldn’t miss the opportunity either.
I don’t know what they took as currency. They all have plastimet bags. They must have found out that I couldn’t see through such thing.
One of them is smiling. Like, „You’re fritzed, Yumo!“
When he adds that statement I still don’t know what means and nobody wants to tell me. Whenever I ask, they burst into laughter. This is driving me mad and as a result they get a headache. They hit their heads against the walls and scream like a bunch of idiots. Usually I leave them alone. I can’t handle someone else’s pain. The truth is we live in a badly shaped world and people are, most often, very helpless. I never get hurt. It’s always them that gets hurt. How come?
We’ve left behind three gates. They’re all five around me, thank God! We’re near the Dragon’s Gate. I must be very careful now, the socketers will search for that Chinese with his sockets. Some of them might miss the entrance time.
Look! The gate! Now! This time you need to step into a puddle. There it is. I shout and chase them like rabbits. It’s not easy at all. Finally, they’re all in. Two more seconds and I would have missed the gate. I would have stayed like a fool in that puddle.
We’re in the Dragon’s Land. A narrow, dusty street. In front of the low houses with one floor there are many booths, where you can find whatever you want. Yesterday, someone filled up his pocket with sensation integrators. He wasn’t a black marketer, he just took one of every type. Each one of them would have helped him make love, no matter the race of his partner. I thought he was a sexual maniac. I should have called the police. I didn’t. I don’t like policemen either.
I manage to keep the socketers in my field. I promised I’d take them to the Chinese. And I really did. I get one hundred from each client. And they’re all gonna buy that socket with the Tonesian girl. To let yourself be clothed with that woman, to feel her with every square millimeter of your skin. That’s something! Last night I showed her to them. I let them sleep with her once. Obviously, none of them ever made love to a Tonesian girl before. They begged me to take them to buy sockets. That’s it! I find my clients as I can.
There’s the Chinese. At the bottom of his brain, he makes an accomplice sign to me. „Yes, here they are. Five socketers.“ I send him this thought and the thought seats on his sign. This way, I spare his memory. While my socketers strive to remember that the normal status of their jaws is „closed“, I carry on my conversation with the Chinese:
– 10%. Deal?
– Nothing more?
– We didn’t settle that.
– We can settle it now. Eventually, the kids can have second thoughts. Or have more demands. You never know what’s in their minds.
– Can you interfere?
– That depends.
– I have a collective socket. How does this sound?
– For what?
– Gang bang.
– Seppuku. For two, with roles changing facilities.
– That’s better. How much?
– 5% of the deal.
– Sounds fair to me. Let me see what I can do.
I wasn’t that fair with the Chinese. I knew I only had to list the themes. They loved that rape idea. Kids I’ve persuaded them that I could get a discount if they bought both the individual socket and the entrance to the collective one. I seized 5% from them too.
I actually drag them forward. I have to get into their minds, to insinuate into the socket program, in order to make them travel over the entire agreed itinerary. They’d be capable of going back home immediately. Somehow, I understand them. It’s hard to make love and walk in the same time. But nobody forced them to stick the socket on the spot. I’d better leave them leaning against the wall and pick them up on my way back. I must go to the Studios. Tomorrow I’ll guide a group of actors.
That’s exactly what I do. I tell them to wait a few moments and I get out of their minds. I see them trickling down the wall, with their idiotic and unconscious faces. Drug addicts!
The entrance to the Studios is the most stupid gate. It’s near a wagon that moves constantly. You have to fall down the wagon in order to reach the gate. When the time is right, of course, otherwise any idiot could reach it by chance.
Here, on this side of the 14th Knot, nothing happens by chance.
I’ve always had problems with the actors. They’ve been accustomed to be dubbed in the dangerous scenes. You realize that it’s not easy for me to make them fall from a speeding wagon. Whenever this happens, I throw into their brains the image of them winning the Academy Awards. Sometimes I even push them.
Where’s that bloody wagon?
Nowhere. I monkey around. It just ain’t anywhere.
Maybe it’s been stolen.
I must concentrate really hard to find it. For the time being, I see its track in the air. I walk up the street. I can hear its roll. I almost pass it, `cause the wheels‘ sound on the pavement is hidden by the leaves‘ rustle. Amateur work. Cheap stuff. Only Harry Longo, that tippler, has such poor wares. Or it’s just because I’m an expert and I figure it out easily.
I pass through a big green door; the wagon is spinning beyond it. There are about 8 guys on that wagon and from time to time they plunge outside, but they only get badly scratched and their bones get cracked.
Not this way, guys! If you don’t know how, don’t do it!
I’m in the wagon. Nothing at all. That lanky guy monopolized it. Five bucks per trial. He’s such a hell of a guy! You stuff the money into his pocket and then you go breaking your bones. They’re never gonna find the gate in this courtyard.
I hire the wagon for 15 minutes, go out and let myself carried down the street.
My nostrils are bustling. It smells like lacquered wood and sawdust and sounds like there’s someone talking to a megaphone. I know it’s only midday, but I feel like the evening’s falling. Now! I jump out the wagon and enter The Studios.
It’s evening. They’re shooting a movie. The wooden scene is freshly lacquered. You can feel the smell of the sawdust as well. The actors are pretending they don’t notice it. Moreover, the director’s yelling at them through the megaphone. The actors are looking up to me. I was the one that made all the arrangements. Five per cent. In their minds, I also find gratitude thoughts, ‚cause Il Maestro stopped yelling when I showed up.
The director approaches me. I know what he wants. Two actors and three actresses. Tomorrow morning.
– I want two men and three women.
I pretend I don’t know the answer. He wouldn’t understand, anyway.
– Tomorrow morning.
– How much?
– As usual, one hundred each.
– There’s something more. I need twenty babes for the evening. Beautiful. Humans.
– Twenty humans? That’ll cost you.
– I know. But that’s what I want.
I go out through the mirror in the bathroom. If I had stayed to negotiate the price for those twenty, I would have missed the return gate. I’ll settle the price on delivery.
I slip away among those two who pretend they don’t see me. They’ve recognized me, of course. What an idea, setting the gate in a hotel bed! Lucky me, I didn’t get under them. It would have been embarrassing.
The socketers were in the same place I left them. Some kids were staring at them. It’s really a picture to stare at. They’re so ridiculous! Judging by the way they snigger and shake their arses, I think they’ve put on the rape collective socket. Kids, I join the gang and they calm down, embarrassed. They look like they want to apologize somehow, but I get them disconnected so we can move on. They make wry faces and obscene gestures towards the onlookers.
We leave. At the first corner we meet a Zorgate woman and the memory of the collective program they’ve just performed disturbs their instincts. When passing her, none of them can refrain from touching her hump and she whistles gratefully, with all her openings. They’re so young!
We pass the Chinese booth. The socketers nudge each other and grin to him. He acts like they’ve never met and in his mind he thanks me. Next to the message I find another information. One of these days he’ll get some cool stuff from Kalotronia. Brand new stuff. Genuine stuff.
He’s lying. None of his people has ever had any original product from Kalotronia. But I send him a thankful thought and I reassure him that „I’d surely come“. I’ll see what I’ll do.
For the time being, I should get rid of these chits. Seems like they’ve lost their minds. They’re still thinking about that rape. I suppose they’d be able to do it in real life, too. I should talk to their demeanor teacher. She’s a Zorgate. At least, she should know what to expect of them. Who knows, maybe I’d give her good news.
One gate left. I go inside their minds and order them to put on the anti-emotional sockets. I don’t want trouble, not now. They’re looking at me, angrily. But what can I do? They need me to get them out of here.
They put on their sockets. They’re submissive. Too submissive. Look, there’s the well. One by one, I throw them into it. I’ve run a long way to get the last one, but in the end I’ve gripped him. First, with my thinking. Then I actually seized him. „You stinking ‘ron!“
Again. What’s this?
I’d been hearing them calling me this for a long time, but nobody wants to tell me the meaning of it.
I go through the gate and step outside.
I’m back. Those five kids are sitting on a ruined wall. As I show up, they display their whole arsenal of dirty gestures and then begin to run shouting out loud:
Yumo, ron! You moron!
I don’t bother ‚bout them.
Translated by Adriana Mosoiu
Copyright © 2011 by Michael Haulica
Michael Haulica is a Romanian writer and editor. He has published more than 70 short stories and novelettes in magazines and anthologies (among them one in English, one in French), and an article in New Weird, edited by Ann&Jeff Vandermeer (published in English, Czech, and Romanian). He is now senior editor of Millennium Books Publishing House and editor-in-chief of Galileo Online.
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