Weekly feature by: Raphael Bastek
It was a glorious day for Peter E. Peater III. How long had it been – a millennium? Two? And here he was, sweat lining the ass-crack of his underwear, his ragged tee tie-dyed by vermouth and cheese stains, yet he stood triumphant – exuberant, even!
“Art is dead,” they had claimed. “There’s nothing you can show us that the Chinese haven’t yet painted. There’s nothing you can read to us that the Russians haven’t yet written.” And how! It was as if every newborn Commie was Dostoevsky incarnate. To think artists once complained of starving – in those days, Peter would’ve given anything to even be considered an artist.
But even those goddamn Cossacks couldn’t upset Peter today. For the first time in years, he smiled, prompting a tear of blood from the cracked folds of skin at the corners of his mouth.
Before him lay his magnum opus. Years of research and revision had finally procured from within him a literary epic so profound he could have sworn the pages exuded a divine radiance. When the Collective had first been granted their gift – a blessing of endless life, so long as they stayed within their designated underground studios and libraries, toiling ceaselessly on their art – Peter had been filled with ambition, guided by voracious passion. Each artist had their own self-declared mission; he strove to write the definitive novel of the century, a voice for all future generations to study and revere.
Peter started strong, writing for weeks, pouring forth what he wholly believed to be the best material he had ever conceived. When he first found himself weakening, the bores of banality and solitude settling in, he agreed to temporarily resign from his work, seeking inspiration in the writings of authors before him.
And so the first century passed.
“But that’s okay,” a young Peter assured himself. “The more time spent working, the more timeless this novel will be. Why settle for literary centurion when I could be a prophet for all future millennia?” He had no answer to disprove himself.
So it went, the perennial hourglass slowly tipping, turning, and refilling, Peter growing older and wiser, until this very moment finally came to be. His final revisions in place, proofreading complete – how fitting that the last novel he read in this underground library would be his own.
Slowly but assuredly, he changed from his soiled garments, carefully retrieving his finest suit, set aside seemingly a lifetime ago for this very occasion. For years, Peter had fantasized how this moment would play, dreamily humoring visions of himself twirling merrily, prancing to the tune of a favorite record, popping champagne in celebration. Peter had eluded death for over fifteen hundred years; he could not escape the weight of age. Once so young, now he was only tired: an artist, alive but resigned. He made his way to the intercom.
A single tone rang through his chambers. “Rodregos,” Peter coughed. He forgot the last time he had needed to communicate with another person. Fortunately his frequent conversations with himself had kept his muscles relatively intact. Clearing his throat, he tried again. “Rodriguez.” He patiently waited for the response signal.
“Been a while, Petey.” Peter swore he heard a muffled yawn. Rodriguez had been the first artist in the Collective to claim his work was finished. He had written a symphony; Peter hadn’t heard it. Reluctant to abandon a comfort built over centuries in the commune, Emmanuel Rodriguez accepted a position as gatekeeper, waiting for the remainder of the Collective to finish. The apathy in today’s response was not subtle.
Peter stammered a response, pausing to reconsider the formidable tome clenched in his hands. The epitome of over a dozen lifetimes of work.
“I…I’ve finished, Rod. I’m ready to come out.”
Silence. For a moment, there was no response on the other end. Had he been a younger writer, Peter would have remarked that this single moment felt longer than the entire past millennium.
A metallic clang resonated through his chamber as a hidden iron bolt dislodged and slid aside. Peter edged cautiously towards the exit, suddenly faced with the reality of what had only been distant thoughts for centuries. What would it be like being outside again? What had others created? Most importantly – what would people think of his work? He considered pushing the door shut, retreating into his familiar sanctuary. Perhaps another revision…
Peter closed his eyes. He thrust himself into the whirlwind, tumbling towards the unknown.