The End of the World is Late
By J.M. Erre
Translated by Joseph Patrick Stancil
In the 5,115th year of the Hindu calendar, some eighty thousand inches north of Paris, protected by thick walls from extraterrestrials, beets, and neighboring Picards, sat an establishment of high standing that offered the poor being who had lost his sense of direction a new way to look at the world. It was a place of peace where the stressed city-dweller could take a break from the infernal rhythm of daily life; a humanist space where man accepted his neighbor without discrimination; a timeless Eden where immaculate angels brought you back to the important things with the help of acid-colored magic potions. A place far enough removed from the daily grind.
The Saint-Charles Psychiatric Clinic. Three nutheads in the Lonely Watchamacallit guide.
At the head of this miniature utopia reigned the eminent Doctor Mendez: fifty years of self-satisfaction, 5 feet 9 inches of self-righteous arrogance, 3,457 friends on Facebook - the coolest. Always anxious to use his exceptional expertise in the service of the general population. He was, for that matter, the mayor of Maroilles-en-Forêt, the General Advisor of Oise, President of the Departmental Federation of Hunting, Honorary President of the Maroillais Soccer Club (let’s go MSC!), and author of the collection Treasures of My Psychiatric Consultations: Let’s Laugh a Little with the Neuropaths (2010 grand prize at the Maroilles-en-Forêt Book Festival).
Doctor Mendez had transformed the dilapidated insane asylum of Saint-Charles, where Benedictine nuns cared for the retards of surrounding villages with smacks of prayer books to the head, into a high-tech rest home. Drawing inspiration from American methods that had proved themselves in the penitentiaries of the Middle West, Mendez advocated for a behavioral therapy through personal investment in one’s living space. After fifteen years of implementation, the results were remarkable: the residents had dug the doctor’s pool, constructed his tennis courts and mini-golf course, and renovated every room of his company mansion at the far end of the grounds. As for the “Construction of an annex in the Luberon” project, for which the residents seemed very motivated, they were still waiting on grants from the General Council, which wouldn't take much longer.
But on this summer afternoon, the event that was rallying everyone’s energy was the celebration of the clinic’s centennial. In just a few hours, hordes of guests would squeeze into the grounds for an unforgettable evening. All of the notable locals had RSVP’d “yes,” the regional president had confirmed his attendance, and Doctor Mendez was convinced it merited mentioning for the upcoming nomination.
Preparations were in full swing. The Creative Schizophrenic workshop was perfecting the design of paper lanterns to brighten up the grounds, and the Manic-Bucolics were starting to hang them in the trees. The Handy-Depressives Club threw itself into the construction of a gigantic stage that would see a succession of speeches, songs, and magic shows (Johnny Hallyday's and the magician Garcimore’s lookalikes had confirmed their attendance). Lastly, the Paranoid Gastronomy community, in charge of preparing drinks and hors d’oeuvres, stretched their imaginations with the creation of recipes using potato chips and olives that were — more or less — pitted. The common rooms were all abuzz and the nurses maintained the troops’ morale with generous distributions of multicolored pills.
Everyone was participating in the banquet’s preparations. Everyone? No, not everyone, because of one hardliner who resisted the general elation. At the very far end of the north wing, reserved for patients who suffered from amnesia, resided a killjoy who was ruining the mood full-time. A young thirty-something named Julius who refused to participate in all community activities out of fear of possible “spy infiltrations.” Since his arrival, he had stayed shut up in his room and spent his days drumming away at his computer to supply his website with crucial revelations. His mission was simple: to reveal to the world a terrible conspiracy against humanity.
At Saint-Charles, this was called routine.
The Allegory of the Cave: At the Root of the Conspiracy
Every good citizen who left high school philosophy classes, more or less unscathed, remembers hearing about the Greek philosopher Plato and the famous Allegory of the Cave that he relates in Book VII of The Republic.
In the story, there are men chained to the back of a cave. To them, who have never seen the light of day, reality consists of a wall, the shadows that move around on it — projected by a fire lit behind them — and the distorted echoes of real life that is unfolding behind their backs. For next week’s pop quiz, you’ll remember that what we have here is a beautiful metaphor for the human condition, a story that questions our relationship with reality and warns against illusions that we harbor through ignorance and passivity. Yet, the allegory of the cave has another part that we talk about less: the story of the man who frees himself from his chains, who leaves the cave, who witnesses the painful experience of the light and who returns to the others to pass on his knowledge. This bearer of truth is going to upset the established order, be treated as a liar, persecuted, and threatened with death.
Today, this man is me.
I alone have the answers to questions that you don’t ask yourself, that they don’t want you to ask. That’s why they’re after me, why they want to silence me. In fact, what does the allegory of the cave actually tell us? Nothing other than a conspiracy. An age-old plot intended to restrain the capacities of man, to limit his way, and reduce his ambitions.
Beyond the meaning of this story, one question remains unsolved after reading it, a question that no one is ever interested in and yet is fundamental: who chained these men to the back of the cave?
Answer to come in the next installment.
Julius straightened in his chair and began to reread what he had just written. To straighten: there’s an action he carried out daily, as much physically as morally. And this was a sacred work, he’d known it since childhood. Why were the few memories he’d kept since his accident always painful? The ones linked to his notable size…
Physically, Julius had been tall very little. Spurred by the demanding love of a mother who knew how to handle the carrot, the stick, and the bare-ass spanking —he was keen on growing intensely. From atop his 3 feet 9 inches in pre-kindergarten, he looked scornfully down at the Lilliputians of his class with a princely detachment and camped out on the swings during recess. Boasting 4 feet 5 inches in kindergarten, he could outsource the making of his Mother’s Day gift and was at the origin of an increase in cafeteria prices. As for the 4 feet 9 inches that he brought to the big leagues for his arrival in first grade, it earned him the nickname Goliath (because, in those days, grade-schoolers were cultured), intense salivary exchanges with the cheeky Benedicte Japinet, and a prominent place in the operation “Steal the Dwarf’s Snacks” organized by a gang of held-back fifth graders.
And then, everything stopped.
Was Julius’s body distraught by the excessive efforts to stretch its bones? Or paralyzed by the idea of very shortly facing an apocalyptic puberty? Or else, modified by the DNA of Benedicte Japinet that he had so copiously ingested? The fact remains that his body took a permanent break. 5 feet 10 inches he was, 5 feet 10 inches he stayed. Mother Nature, in her infinite goodness, thereafter consented to make a few hairs grow where they should and some zits where they shouldn’t, but nothing else. The Gulliver of elementary school became the Smurf of middle school — then the laughing stock of high school. Benedicte Japinet went looking elsewhere to exchange fluids. Julius’s mother took the insolence of her vertically challenged son very poorly. After a few ineffective spankings, she turned her affections towards a Labrador who was a little boneheaded, but still loyal.
Thus, Julius began to see the world from a new angle. From below.
History of Conspiracy
Children say they are afraid of the monsters that live in their closets or under their beds. Parents listen to these stories, are touched, and reassure their offspring by reminding them that the only monster in the room is in the bed, or the only real horrors that can be found under a box spring are the shoes of a pre-adolescent soccer player. However, we are lying to ourselves.
All throughout his life, even if he isn’t aware of it, man gets the feeling that monsters are crouching in the shadows all around him. He’s always believed that evil beings are responsible for his misfortunes. He’s always believed in conspiracies.
In antiquity, the gods secured the role of the occult power lurking around humans with vile intentions. Their favorite pastime was to play with men like marionettes, at the origin of all plagues. Incest, parricide, epidemics, floods, and hay fever all came from the goings-on of childish and sly gods. The very idea of conspiracy begins in Antiquity, at the heart of myths. The power is transcendent, the monsters are in Olympus, and the victims on Earth, powerless.
That makes up Phase 1 of the history of conspiracy. It didn’t last long.
Julius stopped writing and turned towards his bedroom door. He was under the impression that he’d heard a suspicious noise, as if someone were on his doormat. A discrete, almost imperceptible noise, so strange. Because the beauty of a psychiatric clinic is that oddity is the norm, eccentricity is everyday life. A self-respecting resident doesn’t walk straight, speaks loudly and bumps into the walls. If agents from the Organization trace me, Julius says to himself, and if they manage to get into the clinic, their normality will betray them.
Julius rose from his seat and walked with wolf cub-like steps towards the door. He looked out the peephole and saw no one. He pressed his ear to the lock, but heard nothing. In the present state of his technical possibilities, he was furious at not being able to do more. But in the end, none of that mattered, because in a few hours, Julius would be far away. Everything was ready for the beginning of the adventure.
Beginning with his escape from the Saint-Charles Clinic.
History of Conspiracy (continued)
Centuries pass and the gods grow apart from man, yet tragedy continues to plague us, the poor creatures that we are. Conspiracies endure and the culprits are identified. They are no longer above us, but all around us. We are entering Phase 2: the gods are no longer the cause of our misfortunes; now it’s the infamous strangers, scapegoats with many faces who plot their evil attacks in the shadows. The witch who casts spells on the villagers, the heretic who threatens the Holy Church, the Jew who wants to take over the world, the Freemason who does nothing but help the Jew, the immigrant who slits our daughters’ and our companions’ throats, and it goes on. Inquisition, pogroms, genocides: History is merely a litany of xenophobic massacres.
Recent years have opened up a new era of conspiracy. Occult power is still there, though the contours of its face are becoming clearer. Conspiracy no longer comes from above (the gods), nor from the outside (the foreigner) but rather from the inside. In current discourse on conspiracy, suffering comes from our fellow man, deception is generated by our own kind. Who is responsible for the attacks on September 11? Not the Islamists (as some would have us believe by using old scapegoats), but the American government itself. How did Lady Di die? Not at the whim of the god Chance, like every foolish road accident, but by the order of the English Secret Service. Why do new epidemics threaten us? Because the big Western pharmaceutical companies deliberately mutate viruses. It’s what we read on the Internet today.
Conspiracy has drawn closer to us over time. This new proximity instils doubt within our society, our families, and our fellow human beings.
We’re living in Phase 3 of the conspiracy. For how long?
A new sound captured Julius’s attention, and he approached the window. In the park, a few residents excited by the party’s preparations were working on flattening one of their own with hits of a shovel. Good-natured laughing, cheeky mischief, nothing serious. Julius returned to his seat, annoyed. For a week now, he’d felt troubled (general consensus is that he was always troubled, but this was worse). He had difficulty concentrating, he wrote with less efficacy, all since a new resident moved into the room across the hall. “Her name is Alice,” the nurse who brought his meals had said to Julius.
Julius ended up admitting something to himself about this Alice: he liked her a lot. For a week now, he thought about her all day, keeping an eye on her comings and goings through his peephole, and couldn’t sleep at night. He was a victim of Cupid’s arrows, enchanted by a priestess of Eros, or more simply equipped with receptors sensitive to the pheromones released by this female organism named Alice.
He was in love. And it was a catastrophe.
While he should have been thinking only about tweaking the final details of his mission, Julius was invaded by parasitic images of feisty salivary exchanges and perhaps with Alice in the role of Benedicte Japinet. He had to get hold of himself as fast as possible, because he knew the golden rule from the little heroes’ manual: when it’s your destiny to save the world from a terrible conspiracy at the risk of your own life, it’s not really the time to go courting.
Cave Quiz - Calculate Your Blindness Coefficient
Question # 1: Who controls the world?
A. The Judeo-Masonic Lobby;
B. The Extraterrestrial-Bolshevist Lobby;
C. The Luxembourgo-Monocan Lobby;
D. No one. It’s a complete mess for that matter.
While Julius was trying to concentrate on the methods of his escape, the famous Alice, wearing the elegant greenish imitation shower curtain nightgown provided by the clinic, was reading a few pages of a notebook under the tender glow of a buzzing fluorescent light.
Alice was twenty five years-old with a physique that resisted description. Despite possessing the required number of limbs and external organs, Alice was difficult to characterize. One of those people whose image leaves your mind as soon as she’s left your sight. A caricaturist in Place du Tertre even moved on to the fruit and vegetable business after he found himself unable to sketch her, so we won’t dwell on it. As for her thoughts, her interior world and intimate feelings, even the most omniscient narrator doesn’t have access to them. Alice was elusive, take it or leave it. Let’s reread with her the pages she just wrote in the soft warmth of her room with the temperamental thermostat.
“People should visit psychiatric hospitals more often. They are establishments that unjustly suffer from a bad reputation. Before my admission, I was full of inherited prejudices from the film One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The cliché of the sadistic nurse not taking the monomaniacs out of their padded cells except for cold water workshops or a lobotomy. I was wrong. After my eight weeks spent in a coma, I discovered at the Saint-Charles Clinic a haven of peace where the residents blossom in comfortable rooms and a verdant park, pampered by motherly nurses. And I don’t say that just because Dr. Mendez will soon read these words.
Dr. Mendez is the one who advised me to write. He’s certain it will help me to get better. Dr. Mendez is always certain about a lot of things, which must be reassuring for his patients. He explained that to me with a heap of Greek words because the dead languages always impress. I said that it seemed interesting, but it’s mostly to make him happy. Actually, I don’t need anything to get better, seeing as I feel absolutely fine.
The nurse’s aides talk to me like a sick child. No matter how much I tell them I feel great they just nod their heads with a sad smile, the nurses do as well. The one this morning handed me a notebook, telling me that writing was an excellent therapy and that I should listen to Doctor Mendez. I responded that I wanted to, but I didn’t know where to begin. He invited me to write down the events of my life that I remember them, to try to place them in space and time, and on each occasion mention my feelings. As it was good advice, I told him I would gladly marry him. He had quite a big laugh, then left me with the notebook and exited my room.
I have nothing special to do, why not try? The first thing that comes to mind, well:
Place: The party room in Chevrefille-les-Eaux
Date: My wedding day.
Event: I killed two hundred and sixty two people, in three seconds.
My feelings: In my opinion, it can’t be too far from a world record.”
Alice stopped reading and turned her eyes towards her window which a bird had just smashed into. It was still warm when Alice picked it up. It was a pigeon with a remarkably ugly white collar that was missing a foot, an eye, and the better part of its feathers.