Petr Stančík: Mlýn na mumie (Mummy Mill)
Translated by Melvyn Clarke
All at the same moment:
Superintendent Durman lit his cigar.
The anarchist Varanov lit the fuse.
Libuše Hedbávná bent her head at an unusual angle, suddenly resembling a little lightning-struck birch tree.
Emperor Maximilian placed a moth in a killing jar. It had drunk up so many of his horse’s tears that it could not even fly.
While leafing through a book, Canon Oul cut himself on the paper.
In a giddy twist of cosmic energy, without a father or mother, the Lord was born of an ordinary human. No star was blazing above his cradle and he was not brought any kings’ gifts.
He did not feel comfortable in his body, which was tired and run down. He lacked all sympathy, because he had not known the love of parents or innocent children’s games, but had come into being old and surly.
And in the background of all this the sun was setting. A bottle of champagne was the first to explode, followed by the bomb.
That is how it all began.
Lament of the boiled water
Inventing a cheap, safe and totally efficient means of preventing conception during sexual intercourse. Then instead of reflecting, people will rather copulate whenever they feel like it, regardless of the consequences, like animals and just as amenable. Physical pleasure that is inexpensive and always available will corrode traditional morals and substitute for spiritual pleasures. Who will want to get to heaven by the thorny path of virtue when he can easily fornicate himself there several times a day?
(Alchemical tasks of the Ordo Novi Ordinus Order)
His maid always had two lovers – that was her only principle. Of course, these gentlemen did not know of each other…
Just now they were a soldier and a chimney-sweep.
When the soldier was on leave, she would meet up with him on the path to the market in a dense thicket at the bottom of Petřín, just next to the Újezd barracks, where without further ado he shagged her as she leant against a tree, while the bayonet swinging from the belt of his uniform rhythmically slapped her meaty backside, which satisfied her more than the act itself.
The chimney-sweep came down from the roof to the ground, where washing was hanging out. Because he was always covered in soot, and there was no time at all to wash, she kept a home-sewn, white cotton diving suit for him behind a joist, which except for four apertures sealed up his entire body together with his brush on his back. When her dear chimney-sweep put it on and did up the row of buttons at the back, only his eyes, ears and genitals could be seen, while all the dirt stayed nicely inside.
Then both lovers’ sperm waged endless wars on the way to her vagina and womb and each time the whips cut each other up before they managed to get to the egg, so that when the maid went to sleep of an evening in her closet, hundreds of millions of foiled semi-souls and unbeings, which had had the opportunity but not the luck to achieve existence, weltered out from her womb towards the stars through the little window open ajar; and the astral planes trembled beneath their desperate lament. At a time when the only contraception in use was an oiled fish bladder or raw lamb’s gut, and when it was a superhuman task just to get the slippery membrane on, this was ingeniously simple contraception, which the maid did not actually have the least idea about.
It was after midnight when the Lord knocked on the closet door.
“Boil me some water. I need lots of hot water.”
“Do you mean you need it hot or you need lots of water, Lord?“
“Very well, I’m on my way, Lord.“
She obediently got up, and in just her night gown poured water into the stove water tank and made a fire beneath it. In the cold of the night her nipples stood to attention, but her Lord did not notice. Or he pretended not to notice. Or he noticed, but he wasn’t interested.
At last the water came to a boil and she was able to go back to bed.
With a pail of hot water the Lord went down into the cellar, where overshadowed by an enormous stoneware barrel of sauerkraut he unlocked a tiny iron-studded door that only he had the key to, and he just managed to squeeze through.
Behind the door another steep, narrow stairway led down into a low but broad Romanesque crypt. Its shallow grey-white argillite vaults were supported by two rows of thick sandstone columns, coiled around by carved monsters from long-forgotten legends. Mould covering the bleak walls and caustic salt efflorescence illuminated the dark weight of the rock.
All those who knew of the crypt were long dead. Years ago the Lord had discovered it when he leant against what he thought to be a wall and fell in through the rotten doorway. He carefully repaired it and then used it as a secret workroom.
There was much blood here now. There was also bone, flesh and other mess, but above all blood. Blood on the floor, blood on the walls, blood on the ceiling, even blood in such unexpected places as inside the petals of a dry rose bookmarking a breviary, on the rear side of a mirror hanging on the wall, and dried into the fibres between the teeth of a comb. And he had to clean it all up himself, because that silly maid would not understand the exalted nature of his mission and would shop him to the police as well.
Or, heaven forbid, she’d want a pay rise.
When it was all clean the Lord prayed fervently and after a long time he again felt at peace and rest. All the instruments lay perfectly sharpened, polished and lined up in geometical shapes. The letter had been sealed and dispatched.
Now there was nothing for it but to wait for the reply.
Shepherds of history
Pastoralists take useless wild animals and breed them to make obedient givers of meat, milk and fur. Their work bears fruit for hundreds and thousands of years, so it demands great patience and fortitude extending beyond the horizon of a single human lifetime. Likewise our Order is refining history, cleansing if for many thousands of years of all that is harmful, and fostering all that is beneficial to our plans to rule the world.
To ensure that the existence of the Order remains hidden to the uninitiated, our agents work so secretly that we ourselves often do not know which events have happened of their own accord and which ones we have helped along with money, extortion, poison or the dagger. Hence we shall describe the events of this year as briefly as possible in the knowledge that whether or not we were instrumental, exactly what we wanted to happen actually did happen:
After four years of civil war in the USA the North finally defeated the South.
As a result the USA was able to move its army down to the border with Mexico and so threaten the French, who are helping the Mexican Emperor Maximilian from the Habsburg dynasty in the fight against Republicans. Meanwhile in Europe tensions have increased between Prussia and Austria. Both great powers have the same objective – to rule the other German states. No agreement is possible, so winner takes all.
(Ordo Novi Ordinis Annual Report for 1865)
First they tried to gain possession quite unobtrusively and brazenly as if it were a matter of course, just as they had once made off with the Weitra region from the Czech crown. As soon as they came unstuck then they promised they were just borrowing it for a while and would give it back immediately, just like Upper and Lower Lusatia. When this wouldn’t wash either, then they tried to take it by brute force out of desperation like Silesia, but they were gloriously repulsed and the last free seat in the entire saloon remained unoccupied.
It had not yet grown dark on the last day of 1865, and at the Sign of the Dismembered Snake on Celetná Street, noted for its food and drink, it was already literally full to the last seat, except for the aforementioned chair. Beneath the ceiling, stormclouds of tobacco smoke were gathering, the blind woman harpist on the small podium was alternately playing patriotic Czech songs and melodies from Wagner and Mozart operas, the waiters and cellarmen were darting among the guests like colourful butterflies on wings that were trays full of beer, wine and spirits of all colours of the rainbow.
Sitting at the high table as always were the Cat Lovers, that is, members of the Silver Cat Admirers table society: Canon Oul, Police Superintendent Durman, pharmacist Kostkan, Baron Slannina, Captain Hruš and wholesale steam pork butcher Loskot. Out of the usual sevensome of merry companions only Privy Councillor Čtvrtpán was missing today, because when he was having a hot bath in the afternoon, in which all his limbs were so nicely relaxed, the steam tickled his nose and he sneezed in the bath, causing a spinal disc to slip. So now he had to lie in bed at home without moving and have horseradish pancakes placed on his aching back. Poor fellow, he had been so looking forward all year!
Hence his seat remained empty, and even though (as already mentioned!) those from neighbouring tables kept asking for it, the Cat Lovers did not give it up. It remained empty in Čtvrtpán’s memory, respectfully covered with a tablecloth decoratively embroidered with its owner’s name.
“Saint Sylvester, Pope and first martyr, whose festival we celebrate today,” Canon Oul spoke ceremoniously, “was drowned by the pagans in a butt of wine. This took place on the last day of the year of our Lord 335, when albeit close to death, Sylvester did not cease to praise our Lord so fervently that he succeeded in converting all his executioners to the true faith, so they then drowned themselves alongside him. Hence it is fitting for all true Christians to drink on Sylvester’s day as if their life depended on it.”
The Cat Lovers raised their vessels, and glass clinked with glass. They then each placed the glass brims on their lower lips and blew hard, so that six white caps of foam fell with a smack onto the tray in the middle of the table. It was only after this ritual that they started to drink until their Adam’s applies fluttered like angels’ wings. Oul was the first to place his empty half litre glass back on the table, cheerfully whispering, more to himself than anything: “…and the word was made flesh.”
“Talking of martyrs,” Loskot interrupted, “I cannot help but get the impression that as well as true Christians they were also often perverse people who did not fear suffering, but actually sought it out, perhaps even obtaining some gratification from it and thus actually cheating on the Lord. Just like my former accountant, a man by the name of Holásko. It recently came to light that he was inviting loose women to his private abode, but not just to have intercourse with them. There would be nothing wrong with that after all. While a bachelor is unattached it is better for him to let off steam now and then with some wench than to sully himself with the viscous sin of self-abuse. “
Pharmacist Kostkan chuckled in agreement at the latter. Oul frowned a little, but did not yet object. Encouraged, Loskot continued:
“And these sluts are whipping him and beating him. They even burn him on his sides with candles, and probably not from malice, but because he is asking them to, as it gives him pleasure. Pain gives him pleasure, gentlemen!” Loskot repeated for emphasis. “So I wonder, if Holásko got in amongst the employees at my wholesale butcher’s business, could not similar monsters get among the real martyrs and actually give them some unfair competition, because unlike the martyrs, pain gives them pleasure, so they are not actually being persecuted but indulged, and they are not martyrs but hedonists. But then pleasure should not open up the gates to heaven, should it, Reverend? “
That was a loaded question, so Oul used a little key that he had hanging on his pocket-watch chain to open a little wooden case covered on the outside by dyed-black fur and inside by red velvet, he took out a pipe skilfully cut from meerschaum, calmly filled it, tamped down the tobacco and asked the cellarman for a spill to light it, which gave him time to consider.
Oul’s pipe was truly fine, admired by connoisseurs all over. It was said to have been imported from as far as Eskişehir in Turkey and evidently depicted some legend: At the front of the pipe a bearded man was moulding a human figure out of clay with all his might, and although the entire scene was barely larger than a prune, the engraver had portrayed the effort and passion on the bearded face in a masterly fashion. “He is creating a man out of mud, so is it Mesopotamian Enki, Greek Prometheus, the Jewish Rabbi Löw or even Jehovah Elohim himself?” Durman wondered. Strangely, he had seen the pipe at least a hundred times, but it had never occurred to him to consider its decoration. So why now?
After the Canon had crackled away for a while the entire room was suffused with the rich, heavy aroma of Latakia tobacco and Oul finally came up with an answer:
“It is not possible to cheat on God, my dear Loskot. And suffering and pleasure are gifts to help man distinguish between good and evil. If there are indeed people who are so perverse that they find pain pleasurable, but the Lord chose them to be martyrs then he would surely have them suffer some pleasure. But as there is no such case described in the history of our church, we must presume that most people find pain to be unpleasant and pleasure to be pleasant, and anybody who does not is a monster and does not belong in human society.”
Now the pipe turned a little sideways towards Durman to reveal another part of the myth: the bearded man, who had previously (or was it subsequently? — there was no actual clue as to which direction time flowed in the story) been kneeding the clay, was now drawing (or lighting?) fire with his bare hands at a pile of burning wood. “Hence we can rule out Enki and Rabbi Löw,” Durman quietly rejoiced, “so it’s either Prometheus stealing fire from Zeus’s hearth, or Jehovah bearing fire for Elijah on Mount Carmel.“
“Or it is something completely different,” Baron Slannina meantime took the opportunity as Oul fell silent to tamp his pipe with a special instrument resembling a steam engine piston, known as a tamper. “Perhaps God miraculously exchanges the martyrs’ perception of pain for perception of pleasure, in order to relieve their suffering. Just for a while, of course, until they die.”
The cellarman exchanged the empty glasses for full ones and the gentlemen again weighed them in their hands and started emptying them.
“A person who finds pleasure in pain, let’s call him an algophile, will surely go to hell after death?” Kostkan came back to the conversation having barely wet his lips.
“Surely,” Oul responded circumspectly. “Even though Saint Augustine said that evil does not actually exist, and what we consider to be evil is in fact merely a lack of goodness. However, the prophet Isiah said “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” And Matthew relates that Jesus said: Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” So God gave us free will to perform good or evil. And because it is sometimes difficult to distinguish what is good from what is evil, we are rewarded with pleasure for good and punished with the repugnant for evil, so that we may know which is which. And he who finds goodness bitter and evil to his taste cannot be saved, and so must be damned. Amen.“
But Kostkan was unrelenting: “Except that for an algophile, hell will be more pleasant than heaven, so that a reward instead of a punishment awaits him there. In other words heaven and hell might be one and the same place, depending on how the Lord sets each individual to perceive it. It would be enough to have a switch, perhaps just like the reverse lever on a locomotive. Have you been good? Thwack! You are going to like it here. Have you been bad? Thwack! You are going to suffer. Have you improved your ways? Thwack…”
“So we might also say straight out that God and the Devil are the same person,” Slannina rubbed it in. Canon Oul placed his tankard on the table with such a crash that the beer sloshed around. “Gentlemen, you are now seriously spinning my head like a piano stool. Come let us speak of other matters.”