a year in stories::thirty three

I was reading about Rasputin today and today’s story is about him but it’s inspired by him and parts of it are just stolen from his life, or from the myth of his life. I’ve discovered this is sort of where a lot of my fiction is coming from this year: I learn about someone, but only in broadstrokes, and then I rewrite their life as I imagine it was, or should have been. Like my novel about Roberto Bolano that isn’t about him or my novel about Justin Beiber that’s also about Hitler or my novel about Wittgenstein that’s also not about him. None of those are finished and only one of them’s actually started, but I’m hoping to get them all done this year, though the Bolano one may not be done for several years, since it’s going to be about 400k words long.

Anyrate, our government has declared a permanent war on terror where the entire world is the battlefield and the executive branch can do whatever it wants without even having a discussion with congress or the public so that’s cool. Oh, too, they’re spying on the press, which is also cool. The Nobel Peace laureate president who promised transparency is maybe the worst president for transparency in decades. Somehow he’s even worse than his horrible predecessor.

Who’d’ve thunk it?

But, anyrate–story:

The Mystic

 

Poisoned, shot, drowned, buried, and he sat up even as we burnt his remains. The Capital erased, the Revolution over, we dug him up. We dug him up to burn him again to make sure he stayed dead this time. During the Revolution and the subsequent Civil War, reports had surfaced all over the State that he had been spotted. Seen healing the dying or leading insurgents, Nitupsar appeared over and over again. What did it mean that he was leading revolts and troops and continuing to serve the gods in the ways he did? A heretic and madman, only Nitupsar could return from Death to fight another day. Spread lies and chaos in a land torn apart by it. And then, that day, the Capital was there and then the Light and then it was gone. In an instant the entire city disappeared leaving only an immense crater where once stood the center of civilisation! All kinds of reports surfaced and people were saying any number of things. After all, this was a Civil War following a Revolution! There were so many factions competing for power that it’s hard to say exactly who did what or how or why. But one thing just about everyone agreed on is that they saw him there. Praying the way he did. This tall dark figure praying at the circumference of the city and then the Light and then nothing but the tall dark figure walking away and disappearing into our memories. I may just be a simple man but it doesn’t take a politico to know that Nitupsar would want revenge for his murder, and he was crazy enough and wild enough to take it out on the whole State in this manner. And when all the dust of the Revolution and War settled, we dug him up. His body remained there but it hadn’t decomposed the way it should’ve over two years underground, so we burnt him. I was there. I watched it. No one knew what would happen so first we bound him in chains as we pulled him from his grave, then built a pyre around him. I remember the glow of the flame, the roar it made, can still feel its heat against my skin as it reached three meters into the darkness of the night. There through the flames we saw him sit up, the chains binding his limbs but he managed to face us. His mouth open and roaring at us to unchain him. Then his eyes appeared as two flames deep in caverns and a third appeared where the hole in his forehead was. Terrified, people began running while others stayed. I stayed, but not from bravery. I was frozen. Caught in his stare. He watched me and I watched him and then it seemed as if I was alone and he laughed. He laughed until the flame was embers and he was ash.

 

He was a simple man. A holy man. Grew up on a mountain deep in the north, past the wilderness and wild in a small town at the edge of the world. As a youth he was quiet but like many who live off in a land of nowhere, he fell to drinking. The drinking led to various other excesses he would become famous for later in life, but he was a harmless man all the same. When yet young, perhaps seventeen, he met a Monk of the Mountain and disappeared for two years. When he returned he was changed. He no longer drank or ate meat and began spreading good deeds. Simple things. Healing the sick and the poor, helping with the flocks and the crops. Many were afraid of him when he returned. None who meet the Monks return living but here he was. The tall dark boy then a tall dark man. The only real change was he became kinder and softer, his hair longer, and his beard grew in. After that the wild suited him best and he rarely slept beneath shelter. The birds and the wolves is what they used to say. He belonged to us but he preferred the birds and the wolves. That is, until he married and his reputation began spreading. The man who returned from the Mountain! He became a sensation by the time he was twenty five, even way across the wilderness. News of him came to the Capital, or so they say. And that’s where he went. That’s where all his troubles came from. You know how it is for a man to be different than all other men. Hard enough in a small place like this, but at least we knew him! In the Capital his every word and action became suspect. He slept with the poor and cleaned their pain and for this he was a heretic. It didn’t help him, though, that those who took most to him were wealthy women who spent their husband’s and father’s money on him. What he did with the money, none really know. Barefoot and unkempt ever since he returned from the Mountain, the Capital didn’t change him. But he changed it. Boy did he ever change it. He continues to change it even still, all these years dead. His shadow looms over the crater it became and the Council that now rules. A spectre on all they do. No one says so, but that’s why they moved the Capital and why they left the old one in desolation. It’s why they killed him three times in the same night.

 

First we poisoned him. That was the easy part. We told him my wife was having a dinner party and so he came along with us. He was talkative and cheerfully oblivious. He never knew I knew what he did with my wife. With all of our wives at his orgiastic ceremonies. The Ecstatic Monk they called him. He preached that we needed to save ourselves from the corruption of the physical world. The only way to reach the level of the gods was through leaving the body behind, and this happened when Death took us. He said the way to leave the body while yet living was to give into its demands for pleasure, and in doing so reclaiming your mastery over it. Or something. He may have even known we all knew about his little cult. So in love with himself and full of his own nonsense, he never considered anyone would want to do him harm or even that people could disbelieve him. Anyway, he thought we loved him. He was drunk, as always. We gave him wine laced with cyanide but after four glasses he only got drunker. Telling jokes and laughing at them, he wanted to know when the women were coming. The women. Our wives and daughters. We fed him cupcakes full of arsenic and after three all he said was that their sweetness didn’t agree with his stomach. So we shot him. FIrst he was merely shocked, then he grew violently angry so we shot him again, and then again, but he came at us, beating O– with his fists until they were covered with blood. We pulled him away and I shot the Mystic right in the forehead. His head jolted back and then drooped forward, his eyes still on me even as the back of his head colored my walls. His jaw fell open and his eyes disappeared in shadow and he began cursing, wiping the blood from his eyes as he launched into me. His hands round my neck, he screamed curses upon me and my progeny until K– and L– beat him into submission. Sputtering on the floor, his face caved in, blood pouring from his shattered skull, he still breathed. And so we took him to the river. It was winter then and we threw him in. After all that, he died from the drowning. We buried him two meters down in case his tenacity lasted through Death but he stayed dead this time. The peasants burnt his remains several years later and cast his ashes in concrete and buried it back in his grave. There’s a temple there now in his honor. Such is the folly of the postrevolutionary world. All the villains become heroes and all the heroes become villains. He became a god and I rot here in this cell for the crimes of a State now buried with that deranged madman, Nitupsar.


He had the ear of the emperor and, if the rumors were true, the heart, and perhaps more, of the empress. It’s funny how time turns on people. He was a debauched fool who climbed his way artlessly and haphazardly into the good graces of a superstitious and dying ruling class where he was hated almost universally. After his Death he was feared everywhere. Now, in this new world we’ve built, his teachings have found new life and his theology of the soul spread over the State. For all the rumors about him during his life and potential reign, the one that lasted after all the violence of the Civil War was his opposition to violence of any kind and his generosity to the poor and infirmed. He may have been a heretic and a charlatan and a lascivious drunkard but he also made true reform in the final days of the empire. Of course, that’s if you believe what they said back then. The emperor was failing, the empire was crumbling from constant Revolution, and he stopped our participation in the international war, began a policy of reparation, and even began to free the press and the economy. Nitupsar, the Mystic. The Reformer. The Ecstatic Monk. The Man from the Mountain. The Undying. That’s what they call themselves, his followers, as if to negate the laws of life. The Undying are still only a fringe cult but in a couple generations they may be the theology of the State. If this State lasts that long. It’s a fragile thing, a tenuous peace and collaboration between the many sects, but it’s all we have for now. When it falls, perhaps we’ll simply be known as the Undying Land and Nitupsar will be our godking! It may seem unlikely now, but stranger things will happen as they have always happened. It’s often the weakest and most unlikely that succeed and the cult of the Undying grows rapidly and they’re politically motivated. Their pacifism is especially popular with youths and women, for it’s a woman’s theology. It always was, and it’s why they hated him. He spoke to their women and turned them away from their patriarchal control. Perhaps that will be his legacy: the Matriarchy of the Undying. It’s almost beautiful to think about.

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