Dissections logo scissors body by Deena Warner

 


Dissections logo pterodactyl by Deena Warner


 

 

 

 



Painting People are Complicated by Will Jacques

Artwork: People Are Complicated by Will Jacques


The Town Has a Secret
Priya Nayee

Clouds were gathering. It wasn’t usual for this time of year. The summer breeze was beginning to turn into a gust of wind, throwing the people below in all directions. Above them, a man turned away from the window of his fifth floor office to address the presence of his colleague.

“I want you to cover something for me,” he said. “It means that you will have to catch a plane but I think you’ll like it.”

His colleague nodded. Outside it began to rain.

“A friend of mine, an anthropology student, was doing some research for a dissertation on colonial discourse and recently discovered this small town where the inhabitants are mainly white, possibly of nomadic Aryan descent,” explained the man.

“There’s nothing strange about that, but the number of people from the native race seems to be diminishing at a fast rate over there. The research however was left incomplete after my friend caught a virus and came home prematurely.”

The man, pulling out a file from a drawer, placed it in the hands of his colleague and looked at him, waiting for a response.

“Well, Ruben. Want to cover it?”

“It sounds like it could be a remarkable story,” replied the colleague, glancing at the pages. He then paused for a moment to think about the offer.

“Okay, I'll do it,” he said. At that instant a loud roar of thunder erupted from the heavy sky.

“Where’s the town?” asked the colleague.

“It's in Africa,” replied the man. He began to look out of the window again, staring at the prickly twigs of lightning in the distance.

“I think we’ve got a storm coming,” he said.

Ruben should have been pleased at being assigned such a prestigious task. It was an indication that he was being taken seriously by the publication he worked for, but his happiness was overshadowed by an unexpected attack of anxiety. He took a tablet from a bottle of medication prescribed to him by his doctor and while he waited to return to normal, he flicked through the report in his lap and looked at important points and questions he had prepared in his note book. He also went through a list of important people he wanted to meet: the police, doctors, librarians, business owners, council officials, teachers and the mayor, whom he had planned to meet soon after landing.

The plane journey had felt short. Outside the airport a car was waiting for him to unlock with the keys he had acquired from the vehicle hire office. As he jumped into the car, he felt a mixture of enthusiasm and inquisitiveness at the thought of discovering the town’s history. During the seventies, there had been so many attacks on black people there that the whole thing had turned into a massacre, leaving three hundred blacks dead. Some were hung from trees, homes were broken into and whole families butchered, people were pushed off bridges and so on. There was no real explanation apart from the belief that the white skinned people that carried out the murders were all racially motivated. Then nothing. All killings stopped. At the same time, the town hall had a reshuffle, added new employees and got rid of people that had been in authority for a longer time than they should have been. Under the new regime, black people prospered and were given help to come out of poverty. Many of them became educated and set up businesses, owned cars and had nice homes. Crime rates dropped and murder became nonexistent. Whites and blacks were encouraged to live in harmony with one another and gradually began to do so. This transformed the town into an award winner and it was given grants from the government for further improvements. The place seemed to be thriving until somebody began to notice that things were not as well as first thought. The suicide rate among blacks seemed to be rising, not really happening among the poor as one would suspect but among the well living middle classes. Unexplainable accidents seemed to occur and black families seemed to be migrating to other towns in droves without explanation. It wasn’t difficult to realize why Ruben wanted to know more.

With a crumpled map taken out of his hold-all and placed on the passenger seat beside him the journalist began to drive. The ride was also a long and an uncomfortable one with little to see. This was going to be a place entirely isolated from everything, felt Ruben, trying to grapple with the uneven, rural road that looked as though it was leading him to nowhere. When the town finally appeared on the horizon Ruben’s belief was precise. It was staggering to see the distinction between its pristine white buildings and the great expanse of desert that surrounded it. People also began to emerge. A few yards ahead of Ruben an old shepherd tended to some sheep that had briefly blocked the way. Ruben stared at the man, taking in every detail of his weathered smiling face. He was wearing shorts, sandals and a t-shirt and had white skin, blond hair and sharp blue eyes.

“Mr. Ruben Vanguard. What a pleasure it is to see you here. I must admit I was expecting you to be here a little earlier.”

Olaf, the town’s mayor, had been waiting for Ruben in his office for almost an hour. After leaving his things at the hotel, Ruben had somewhat lost his way to the town hall, probably because he had become distracted by how peculiar everything looked but also because the new, lavish office wasn’t on Ruben’s map. Olaf however was gentle in manner and the two men seemed to get on straight away.

“So, this isn’t some abandoned secret government experiment out in the middle of the desert where nobody can find you, is it?”

“No, no, Ruben.”

Olaf gave the journalist a smile, obviously amused by the comment.

“To answer your question, we settled here a long time ago, long before any government was even aware that we existed,” the Mayor replied.

“So, how did you all end up here?”

“Well, it goes far back to a time just before Christ, when people were more susceptible to believing all kinds of mythical tales such as the one that I am about to tell you.”

Ruben nodded, signalling the mayor to continue.

“It is said that a group of nomadic Aryan tribes people invaded an ancient kingdom in the region of Dorsten that would later become known as Germany. Unknown to the king these Aryans had an appetite for human flesh and would consume the inhabitants of the places they had invaded. By consume I mean eat, Mr. Ruben.”

“Hold on a moment. You’re implying that these people were cannibals, is that right?”

“Yes exactly that. It was also believed that they had supernatural powers and could control the minds of other humans.”

“Are you sure they weren’t vampires?” Ruben asked in jest, almost laughing as he spoke.

“That idea was popular at some point in history, some even thought that they worshipped the devil, but it was just a common deviation from the original story. They weren’t immortal of course and died just like the rest of us but lived long and well though. When they came to this new kingdom, they liked it so much that they decided to settle. As you can imagine these people spread terror through the land, taking any man, woman and child that came in their way and the king started to panic. While he began to think about what to do about the situation he discovered stories of a witch doctor that had the power to rid the kingdom of such complications. Feeling delighted, he sent his aides to go and find him. When the witch doctor arrived and understood what had been going on, he put a spell on these Aryans that was so powerful that the only option left for them was to leave. The Aryans had never been defeated before and were intrigued by this unusual dark skinned wizard. Admiring the witch doctor’s powers but raging from the pain of defeat the Aryans went searching for him. Their journey took them to Africa. They found the African witch doctor, took his spells and bludgeoned him and his whole family to death so that there would be no descendants. They also kept their bodies for feeding. It is at this point that the Aryans cultivated a preference for black meat and set up camp permanently, more or less undisturbed by the outside till about six hundred years ago.”

“That’s a fascinating story.”

Ruben spent a moment trying to take in what he had heard.

“It is fiction though, wouldn’t you say?” asked the journalist.

“It is all we have to go by, much like Rome’s Romulus and Remus myth. The real reason we ended up here is unknown. Some of the elders here say that the explanation was so deplorable that it has been wiped out of our memory on purpose. Nobody really knows, Ruben. I’m sorry to disappoint you.”

“What about the cannibalism? Did it actually happen?”

“Cannibalism isn’t as malevolent as you may think, Ruben. In the past it has been a necessity…”

“But, what about the massacre during the seventies? Did you have something against black people or was that cannibalism as well?”

This was one of Ruben’s star questions. To be getting a story on something like this happening, especially in the past thirty years amongst civilized people, would be one of the greatest discoveries ever found in the area of modern anthropology.

“In a town as civilized as ours it should never have happened. We had everything we needed but for the white people in our community it never seemed enough, so they turned on the blacks believing that they were the cause of the town’s ailments. While the tension escalated a few took it upon themselves to go out and commit murder and other crimes like theft, abduction and violence. This is how the massacre began. You have to remember though that racial tension was rife in many places during that time. In South Africa, for example, people rioted because of the apartheid which was eventually abolished in the nineties after a lot of blood shed; and look at what happened in Rwanda. After the president was assassinated in 94 his supporters, including the army, went on a rampage, killing people from the community they thought were responsible for the assassination, the Tutsis. The government even sent out messages on the radio urging people to find and eradicate them, and the people went berserk, trying to murder as many Tutsis as they could find as if it was their duty to do so. They killed the children as well and hundreds were herded into chambers believing that they had been given refuge but were then gassed just like the Jews in World War II. Do you know how many of them were slaughtered, Ruben?”

Ruben shook his head. “I’m not sure,” he said.

“In the space of about four months nearly one million of them were wiped out, murdered, making the Tutsis lose a third of their population. It was genocide. The difference between us and Rwanda, though, is that the eliminators were not whites, but blacks: killing other blacks.

“It was an unfortunate time for us and for the families that had lost their loved ones, but attitudes have changed a lot over the years. Some of us have even adopted the traditions of the local cultures here. People are a lot more accepting now and I can assure you, cannibalism does not exist.”

Ruben almost guessed that this is what the mayor would say, but he still wasn’t satisfied with the answer and carried on searching for explanations.

“How do you explain black people that have disappeared since?”

Olaf sat in silence, thinking about the direction that the interview was heading. Even though he had come to like Ruben he could not help but feel as though the journalist was trying to find a way to discredit his town. He looked at Ruben carefully with his sharp blue eyes.

“You seem to be very suspicious of us, Ruben. This is now a town with integrity. Are you implying that the murdering still goes on?”

In that instant Ruben’s anxiety set in. He tried to reply but couldn’t say anything and began to feel nauseous. He held on tightly to his waist and rocked forwards and backwards on his chair, clearly in agony by the look of his clenched face. Olaf continued to look carefully at the journalist, appearing concerned.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I think I’m coming down with a fever or something,” said the journalist, struggling with his words.

“I really need to go outside for some fresh air right now. I’m so sorry.”

“No problem at all,” answered Olaf as he got up from behind his desk with the intention of assisting Ruben to the door.

“I just hope that you get better, Ruben. Will you be alright?”

“Yes; I’ve got tablets in the car,” replied the journalist.

He staggered off through the lobby, eventually reaching the doors to the grounds outside. The mayor returned to his office and sat down by his desk in silent contemplation.

He was still young when he could remember the town being a little more mixed. Black people outnumbered the Aryans then, but Olaf was told to keep away from them by his family. When he asked them why they would simply reply: “someday you will come to understand,” and that would be the end of it. One day a black police officer came knocking on the door to ask questions about a child that had gone missing for about a week. Olaf had opened the door. As expected Olaf and his family weren’t even aware that a black girl had lived on their mainly white road but as the police officer stood there showing a picture to Olaf’s parents, the young boy stared and stared at the officer. That night the police officer took a gun to his head and shot himself. It was in the newspaper a couple of days later. The Mayor had lied to Ruben. In the depths of his mind he knew exactly why his ancestors had come to the continent and why people just seemed to vanish. He closed his eyes and began to pray.

Not wanting people to notice the state that he was in, the journalist walked round to the back of the building where he couldn’t be discovered. Seeing a drain along the wall, he quickly went to it, knelt down and threw up in it. There’s no way I’m going to finish this interview today, Ruben thought. He sat on the dusty ground, leaning his back against the cool cemented wall and waited for his stomach to settle, but directly above him the wall gave way to an open window. The sudden chattering from it frustrated the journalist but he still sat in silence trying not to be noticed, waiting for the chattering to stop.

“Olaf thought he was one of us at first,” one of them said.

“He was thinking about telling him about the crematorium.”

“That would have been a big mistake,” replied the other person.

“It's still too early. Can you imagine the look on his face?”

Two people began to laugh.

“Did he tell you about a bus coming through on the bridge tonight?”

“Yes, about twenty passengers, around nine.”

“Nice, but isn’t it a little too much?”

“Oh come on, this is Africa, who cares if a couple of dozen blacks go and disappear?”

The two laughed again.

“Does he want us involved?”

“I think Olaf is taking care of it.”

“Oh, I see. Want a cigarette?”

The conversation came to an end and smoke could be seen being blown out of the window. Ruben thought about what he had heard and instinctively pulled out a notebook to scribble down his conclusions. Maybe the two were talking about him, he wondered. The journalist decided not to go back to the Mayor’s office. Instead, with some new found knowledge and feeling a little better, Ruben jumped into his car and drove off to find this crematorium that the two people had been talking about.

The search took Ruben into a lush forested area some miles outside of the town, but the further he went the darker and more uninhabitable the forest became. It was as though the trees were trying to hide something that should never be seen by the rest of civilization. As he continued to drive through the dense vegetation, he could just about make out the edges of some kind of tall and dark structure. That must be it, thought Ruben, slowing down. The trees began to disappear, revealing a clearing where an old, decaying building stood, looking like it had been there for hundreds of years, probably assembled by the town’s earliest settlers. Its ancient stone walls were covered in moss and rose higher than the forest that surrounded it. It was complemented by windows made of stained glass in various faded colours. As Ruben looked at the imposing structure with greater scrutiny he noticed that carved into the stone were people dressed in cloaks, their faces showing bizarre expressions of agony and despair. His eyes wandered to the windows and its glass, intricately shaped into images of snakes, owls, jackals and other animals. This wasn’t built by natives, thought the journalist, moving his gaze upwards to the top of the building. It felt more like an old church than a crematorium. A raven was perched on its nest made in one of the crevices of a broken part of the roof. It was eating the yolk from its own eggs. There was an uneasy atmosphere about the place, as though a dark and ancient force had made its home there, but Ruben kept to his plan and began to walk to the front of the ancient structure to see if he could find a way in.

To the journalist’s surprise, some heavy, old doors swung open. Carefully peering through, Ruben realized that he had found his way into a great hall, constructed with pillars and arches made of stone and granite. Ahead of him were rows of wooden benches, probably enough to seat two hundred people. At the far end on a surface slightly raised from the ground was a small altar, covered in purple velvet cloth and surrounded by four brass candle sticks each reaching about four feet high. Ruben marvelled at the medieval magnificence all around him, but his concentration was broken by a sudden noise. He quickly hid behind one of the granite pillars so that he could not be detected. From the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of an old crippled white man coming out from behind a curtain, slowly shuffling towards the entrance Ruben had come from. In his quivering hands was a set of keys. The next thing Ruben noticed was a thud and a jingling sound. The strange old man had gone. Ruben felt compelled to follow him and rushed back to the entrance, but it wouldn’t open. In frustration, he pushed again but nothing happened. Realizing he had been locked in, the journalist turned round to see if there was another way out of the building. There was nothing apart from where the old man had come from. Ruben ran to the curtain and pushed it aside; discovering another door, but that too was locked. He felt as though he was destined to stay there the night until an idea finally came to him. Walking over to the altar, he picked up of one of the heavy, brass candle sticks with both of his hands and took it back to the door behind the curtain. Holding it high, he used all the strength he had to bash the door hard again and again. It opened up almost immediately with chips of wood falling to the floor from the impact. The journalist carefully climbed through the hole he had made into a dark room on the other side. Turning the light switch on, Ruben could feel his sense of curiosity slowly taking over again. He remembered the conversation that he had overheard earlier during the day and began to look for anything out of the ordinary. The room was covered in clean white tiles from top to bottom. There were four large trolleys neatly parked along one of the walls and iron hooks hanging up from the ceiling. Further along there was what looked like a furnace, but beside it was a large metal container. Ruben walked over to get a closer look. The container was filled with an array of knives, hammers and meat cleavers and took Ruben by surprise. He slowly picked up one of the cleavers and ran one of his fingers against its gleaming blade to test its sharpness. For a moment Ruben thought of what it would be like to cut up pieces of a human, the arms, legs, fingers, the head, imagining his clothes being soaked by red liquid pouring out of ruptured veins, but disturbed by the immorality of his thought he dropped the instrument onto the floor and forced himself into his normal consciousness. Never in his life had he thought such cruel things until now and it upset him to know that his integrity had been compromised. Standing in silent panic, Ruben also knew that these objects appeared unnatural in their surroundings; there was no stage in the cremation process where these things would ever have a use. His gut instinct was to find a way out immediately but at the far end of the room was another door and, just like an inquisitive child, he went to it. It led to some worn out stairs that went way beneath the ground and eventually took Ruben to a dusty old brick tunnel. He had come across tunnels like this one before, in Rome. Some stretched for as long as twenty kilometres out into the countryside and were used to protect early Christians from persecution. This one however was unusually cold, making Ruben shiver a little, but the curious reporter carried on for what seemed about three hundred feet before he reached the tunnel’s end. In front of him emerged a solid metal barrier made of steel. He touched it and noticed that it was as cold as ice. Without hesitation Ruben applied the full weight of his body against the barrier in order to see what he would find on the other side. It was heavy and began to open very slowly, releasing a breeze of cold air and triggering an automatic light. As he peered round it, the journalist quickly realized the sheer savagery of his discovery and froze. There hanging on hooks from the ceiling were rows and rows of human bodies covered in frost and sealed in clear sheets of plastic. Ruben stood there, staring. There must have been hundreds of men and women of all ages. There were even children, but not a single white person among them. Ruben, trembling with fear, carefully moved closer to observe a young man hung up from the nape of his neck. One of his legs was missing. Beside him was a new born baby, still connected to its umbilical cord. Ruben continued. There was a woman with her wrists cut open and then a man with knife wounds to his chest. He walked further, passing one body after another until he reached the wall at the far end of the ice cold ancient looking chamber. Noticing that there was something that had been painted on the wall, he reluctantly moved a body of a young boy aside to see what the rest of it was. It was a cross, painted in black and outlined in gold. It was upside down. With his heart beating faster than it had ever done, Ruben turned round and ran as fast as he could past the rows of frozen bodies, through the dusty tunnel, up the stairs and through the opening in the door to the hall. Grabbing the candlestick, he quickly went to one of the benches and pushed it against a wall. Ruben stood on it and tried to smash one of the stained glass windows. It shattered instantly, providing Ruben a means to escape and he pulled himself over the wall, leaping awkwardly to the ground. It had become dark outside but the car wasn’t difficult to find. He climbed in, started the ignition and drove away into the darkness, terrified by what he had seen. As he left the dense forestation behind him, he soon found himself on an open road surrounded by a dark, star lit sky. On the horizon a few miles ahead of the car clouds of smoke and flames emerged from something that must have happened while Ruben was still inside the building he had so quickly fled from.

The journalist awoke finding the strong African sun shining down on his face. Feeling the discomfort of the heat he reached for a bottle of water from the glove compartment, twisted it open and drizzled the contents over his face. For a moment he was clear of all thought and felt relief as he sat in the driver’s seat, but then the memories of the night’s events came back to him so abruptly that he broke down into hysterics and wept uncontrollably until all his tears had diminished. Trying to bring himself back to an ordered state of mind he began to think about what would be the most plausible form of action he could take next. His only concluding thought was to gather his belongings from the hotel and get to the airport as soon as he could. There was no way he was staying in this creepy place a day longer, Ruben thought, looking out of the window. He started the car, and headed back to the town in the distance.

In his discoloured little hotel room he started to pack his belongings into a suitcase but put his note books into his hold-all to keep them close by in case anything strange occurred. His passport went into his shirt pocket for easy reach. Lastly, he put on his sunglasses, took his things and left. On the way to the airport, Ruben felt a delirious sense of happiness at the thought of going home and longed for it more than anything else. He pressed down on the accelerator and drove as fast as he could until he reached his destination a few hours later. The familiarity of the airport was a welcoming sight to Ruben. Watching people of varied nationalities walk here and there, it was as though he had come back to normal civilization. He moved past the glass doors into a huge concourse where the check-in desks were but was immediately met by a man waving a newspaper. “It's free, sir!” shrieked the vendor and so Ruben took the paper, folded it neatly, put it into the side pocket of his hold-all and continued to walk towards the woman at one of the desks.

“What can I do for you, sir?” a young black woman asked.

“I am due to go back to England next week”, replied Ruben, “but due to personal circumstances I need to go immediately.”

“Okay. Can I have your passport please?”

“Of course.”

The girl took the passport to confirm the journalist’s identity and then began to press a few buttons on her computer.

“You’re lucky, Mr. Vanguard; we have a plane due to leave in two hours. There are three seats available on it.”

Perfect, thought Ruben, as he smiled back at the girl and put his suitcase on the ramp to be taken away by the handlers. For the remainder of the time that Ruben was there he sat in one place, trying to be vigilant, watching out for any strange people or behaviour. An announcement told Ruben it was time to board the plane. He then took one last look at the place that he was leaving behind him and made his way to the gate.

Stepping onto the plane, Ruben felt that he was safe at last. He sat down, shut his eyes, thanked God and fell into a deep sleep. The newspaper that had been folded neatly dropped from his tired hands onto the floor and began to gradually open, revealing the front story. A bus with 20 passengers was crossing a bridge when it swerved and fell into a five hundred foot gorge below, making an explosion so large that it could be seen for miles. There was a picture, showing wreckage everywhere with corpses scattered across the ground covered in rubble, dust and burnt blood. All throughout the early hours of the morning, the police and the local hospital were inundated with telephone calls from worried families and loved ones but there were no survivors. The cause of the incident had not yet been discovered although it was suggested that a charging animal may have made the bus driver lose control. All 20 passengers were identified as being of black origin. As Ruben sat with his eyes shut, two blond haired, blue eyed men smelling of cigarette smoke gently took their seats on either side of him waiting for their colleague to awake.

 


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Dissections logo pterodactyl by Deena Warner
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