In the Antechamber of Death the walls are lined with rows of plastic chairs, held together with little chains (probably so no-one can steal them). Or rather not the walls but the canvas and tubular sides, for the antechamber is not a room but a narrow, khaki-coloured tent, stretching miles away down the road well beyond the “Shop-till-you-drop” supermarket and the “Buy-till-you-die” pharmacy. Both are just shutting and their lights going out. Everywhere is dark. Except inside the tent, which is filled with a faint cream-cheese-coloured glow like thousands of fireflies and silkworms strolling amourously through a cloud of candyfloss on a summer’s night.
Near the entrance to the tent, its flaps still, not flapping (it is misty and damp but there is no wind), the doorman-cum-bouncer (he serves a double purpose – ushering them through the doors and making sure nobody gets away) stands immobile and silent on the sidewalk in front of the nightclub, the “Way To Go, Baby!” nightclub, his big hands clasped, his thick military head perched shaven and neckless over the collar of his pure white shirt, adorned with a neat red bow tie, his silky black dinner jacket stretched over his well-wider-than-normal shoulders, his goat legs bent at their bony knees and again at the hooves.
“Way To Go, Baby!” curves over the doors in led letters – individually, collectively, constantly, randomly changing colour and rhythm – blue red white green black pink fuchsia sunflower bougainvillea vermillion sunset lunar… a quantum rainbow bouncing off the shaved and shiny man’s head like a big white snooker ball in a disco.
But it also falls bright on the damp glistening street in front of the tent.
The metal tubes holding up the tent sides are three metres apart and two metres high. At their tops they meet and join the horizontal tubes which form the base structure of the pointed tent roof. Painted on each vertical tube are five short horizontal lines, above which are one or two letters – XL, L, M, S, and XS – from top to bottom. XS is halfway down the back of the chairs.
On each chair sits an ectoplasmic figure, fidgeting, shuffling, shivering or shaking in its own faint cream-cheesy glow. Nearly all are levels M, S, or XS, but tonight most by far are S or XS. Occasionally there is a taller figure. One such, about half a mile down the row, is an L, although he seems also to qualify for an S as another clothes peg has been clipped to the tube there. He is shaking his head and waving his hands and through the confusion of muted criss-crossed frequencies that pass for sound, you can sense a deep sad humour as he bawls out “Good Morning Vietnam! Gaza! Syria! Egypt! Libya! Ukraine! Iraq! Fuck you, you bunch of child killers, maimers, slaughterers, destroyers of souls and our future. Outrage, thy name is yours, mother-fuckers, and all the sick bastards who help, defend and support you with arms, money, fancy words and lies”.
When he stops shouting the muted confused frequencies that pass for sound return to their default level, mostly in the mid- to high-frequency range. Here, there, up, down, words like peaks on an audio waveform pop out and in. A tent of babel is a bad pun and an even worse joke, but here it really is. “Mummy”, “Hurts”, “Where?”, “Daddy”, “Help”, “No!”, “Please”, “Grandma”, “Cold”, “Why?”, “Grandpa”, and many others too confusing to recognize, intermelded in more languages than you know or could recognize.
Back on the sidewalk the doorman is now holding a megaphone six times the size of his head and shouting into it over and down the interminable length of the tent. “All right you lot! Time to boogie! DJ Overlord is tuning his turntables, revving his rhythms, and sampling his sonics for you and you only. The night is young and is forever yours. So come and ecto-shuffle yourselves to oblivion!”
The tent flaps open and two by two the figures come out in a floating shuffle and pass through the rainbow. Into their mat ectoplasmic creamness it shines, and every colour from dawn to sunset picks out their smallest features and reveals them for who they have been – their small faces, eyes and mouths, their hands, legs, feet, and smiles, before these became dust and blood, or missing, torn stumps. For one last time the beauty and light of the world shines into and out from them, and then is gone, as they leave the rainbow and climb the two stone steps from the street to the sidewalk and float-shuffle past the bouncer through the open doors of the nightclub.
It goes on for hours, this floating shuffle, then the line comes to a stuttering halt. Up at the front the agitated man is facing the doorman, a breath’s length from his face. And a strange sight it is – the quantum rainbow bouncing off the doorman’s gleaming head, nothing more, but shining into and out from the agitated man, and those behind him in the line can see every detail of his face, head, body, hands, and his raw soul, and the pain, and the love. There is so much colour, so much, so near to the lights.
He is calm now, no longer agitated, and speaks softly. “I chose. I chose! Not happily, not willingly , but sadly, inevitably. They didn’t. You chose for them, you sickos! A century back you had millions of kids in their teens come through here, but at least they had chosen – sort of. They wore uniforms, the universal cover for killing and being killed, and had a vague idea of what they were doing. But now you pick kids whose idea of a uniform is a Man United T-shirt and Reebok shorts, who’re playing football on beaches or backstreets or schoolyards and – whoooosh – here they are, wondering what the fuck is going on, confused, lost, hurt, terrified. So what’s next, you pathetic apology for our fate ? Howling new-borns? Umbelically-bound foetuses? You’re a very sick fuck, you know that?”
The doorman stands immobile, impassive, reactionless, not even the slightest hint of a twitch.
“You read ‘Childhood’s End’? Don’t suppose you have, not a big fan of Arthur, I don’t think. Well at the end all the aliens take the last kids and leave earth and there’s no-one left but adults who can’t have kids – the aliens have made sure of that – so these people know what the future is, and isn’t. Without kids there is no future, no present, and no past to tell.”
He shuffles slowly forward through the doors, followed all night by lines of S’s and XS’s.
They are the Lost Boys and Girls, they are Peter Pan, condemned forever to remain children, never to grow up.
You may have been wondering who I am.
I’m the Observer.
Every night I sit in a big canvas and wood folding chair (army camp or director’s – you know the type) facing the entrance to the tent but some distance away, so as not to freak out the shuffle-floaters, because to them I’m what they know as a gorilla (male, silverback mountain type, nothing less). I chose this magnificent beast as my avatar because it somehow represents for me, after all these years, the perfect stage of what humankind was before it became what it did. I’ve had many other avatars before of course, but I’ve kept with this one for several centuries now, and don’t see myself changing in the very near future.
Anyway, what I do is I record the facts and figures, the numbers and sizes, the old and the new, the changing data, and I give my reports daily to my boss, DJ Overlord. I have no feelings. I only observe and report. I’ve performed this task since the beginnings of humankind.
As millennia became centuries, and centuries decades, humankind also began to make observations, and these facts, figures, data have grown over time.
But I’ve observed something else which has grown – the transformation of observation by some mechanism in the human brain. And I’ve found that it’s often these transformations which are more real (I know, a meaningless word) and which have more truth (idem) than the factual observations made by both myself and all those billions of humans. Humankind has given many names to this transformational process, and created a whole load of sections and sub-sections to accommodate it.
I became interested in the process many millenia ago when some proto-humans started transforming the animals they’d seen during the day into pictures, or rather daubings, on cave walls. Wow! That was something, the first time I saw it. And I’ve followed and studied the process ever since, as it’s got bigger and more complex (I have very little to do during the daytime – although I have become very fond of the leaves and fruit in the jungle over behind the “Shop-till-you-drop” so I occasionally pop over there for a quick bite) and at some point – probably about a millennium ago – I decided to deepen the tenor of my observations with some transformations of my own. And while I was at it I started throwing in references to humankind’s own works.
But I don’t do this in every report, only those times when events have a strange effect on me and set off vibrations which I find hard to control or understand. I’ve come to realise that these are crucial moments in the life of humankind. And I make sure these special reports go not only to DJ Overlord, but find their way – officially or leaked – to human readers. You’ve probably read some, although you didn’t know it was me who wrote them … .
The report you’ve just read is one such (you’ll have noticed my attempts at vivid descriptions, the mixing of words which shouldn’t be mixed, and the references to human entertainers, books and theatre plays). And it’s a really crucial one, this report. For in this moment humankind seems to be throwing away the rules and conventions it has built up over millennia to deal with inter-human conflict, and in so doing it is destroying its own young. And without the young there will be no future, no present, and no past to tell. There’ll only be me to tell it, but what will there be to tell, and who’ll read it, except my boss, DJ Overlord?
So please read this and pass it on. Who knows?
The Observer, Year 2014, Month August, Day 11.