by Maxym Dupeshko
Translated from the Ukrainian by Dmytro Kyyan
Katrina lived at the foot of Berda. Berda is a mountain north of Chernivtsi, blanketed in woods as if by some sort of comforter. Having climbed out from under the comforter, not Berda’s now but her own, Katrina got dressed. Today she was going to the woods to pick mushrooms. It wasn’t that Katrina was such a diehard mushroom picker, but something needed to be canned for winter. Katrina didn’t can a lot of mushrooms, but she had made arrangements with her friend Nastia and her brother Stepan that they’d go together. But Stepan, who had drunk way too much the day before, was asking for a lot of water in the morning, and that meant that he wouldn’t be going to pick mushrooms. Nastia wasn’t a bad friend, but she got scared of going mushroom picking without her brother. And Katrina was no Little Red Riding Hood, but into the woods she went, even though it was dark and frightening.
The girl had been walking for almost an hour already amidst the beech and spruce trees when, lo and behold, she stepped out into a small clearing, where she saw a little stump on which someone was sitting. Drawing closer, she was astonished to see something very strange in front of her. On the stump sat a creature that seemingly resembled a human, yet somehow didn’t. First of all, this creature was half a meter tall. Its lips were red, as though painted with lipstick, and big, as though pumped up with Botox. Its nose was, in effect, nonexistent, and a curly black-colored mane, like that of a horse or a punk rocker, grew right from its mouth and ended all the way at the bottom of its spine. It had four eyes, two on its face and two on the back of its head, but all of them were closed: the creature was sleeping. Its skin was orange, with greenish streaks. It had two arms and legs each, and out of all the parts of its body, they looked the most human. On its right hand was something that resembled a watch. Last but not least, and Katrina had noticed this first, this creature had sexual characteristics which indicated that it was a man. It was hung with a most ordinary, only orange-colored, penis and balls that were covered in a thick pall of hair. Katrina noticed too that the creature had no bellybutton, though it did have two green-colored nipples.
It should be mentioned that Katrina had lucked out with her nervous system because if she had had a weak one, the girl could have lost consciousness, begun shrieking, smashed open the sleeping creature’s hairy head with a stick, set off running, cried, bawled, howled, whimpered, hidden in the bushes, scampered up a tree, trembled in fear, twitched nervously, torn at her hair, fallen silent for a few years, slipped into a lethargic slumber, gotten overcome by stress, lost her mind and, last but not least, she could have un-creatively peed herself. That Katrina was no sniveler.
So it’s not worth being surprised that the girl reacted calmly when it – or, to be more precise, he – cracked one rear eye open. When he cracked open another one, Katrina merely opened her mouth in surprise and delight, but did it so vigorously that a bird could have flown in there and made a nest. Then these two eyes shut, though at that very moment the ones that were on his face opened.
“Who are you?” he asked in a normal human voice.
“Hurricane Katrina?” asked four eyes.
“No. Just Katrina. That’s my name.”
“Are you a person? Homo sapiens?”
“I’m a person. What, don’t I look like one?”
“You do. And I’m a Copy of Manhort.”
“A copy?” Katrina was surprised. “So what, is there an original somewhere?”
“There is, but not here. It’s far away.” With his right hand Manhort’s Copy scratched first his mane and then his balls, then finally asked. “You’re not aggressive?”
“I guess not.”
“Look, because I’ve got an anti-aggressor,” the Copy said and pointed at a little device that resembled a small watch. “An IP 700, the newest version. With a freeze function.”
“Is it Samsung?” asked Katrina somewhat reflexively.
“No, Samsung specializes in plasma balls and virtual processors these days.”
Upon uttering these words, the Copy lifted his hairy little behind off the stump and walked up closer to Katrina, who didn’t quite understand what it was that Samsung specialized in these days after all. When Manhort had walked up to within a meter of her, the girl once more confirmed his very short stature and also noticed grey hairs in his mane, yet more important was the fact that she didn’t at all get scared of this little monster. It’s possible that it was because he had passed off his watch as an anti-aggressor and not the other way around, or it’s possible that it was because the Copy of Manhort had pretty, delicately narrow and, most importantly, kind eyes.
“Are you a woman?” the Copy asked, looking upward into Katrina’s face.
“Well, in general, yes. A girl.”
“I noticed that right away. When I had opened just one eye. You’re beautiful…”
“Ok, but there’s no need to be flirting with me here in the middle of the woods,” announced Katrina, well-versed in such unexpected attempts at striking up relations. “What’s more, it seems that our physiques don’t suit each other.”
“You’re tall. And your grass is tall. We don’t have grass like this,” said the half-meter-high orange man, pointing to the trees. Then he asked, “So what century is it?”
“The twenty-first,” replied Katrina, as if she was queried daily what century she lived in.
“Since Christ’s birth? Did I understand correctly?”
“Yes. Since he was born.”
“Do you have televisions?”
“You need to take me to the television people,” the Copy of Manhort announced with confidence.
“I don’t know where to find the television people.”
“Katrina, that’s of no interest to me. I’m supposed to appear on television. That’s my mission. Lead me.”
In such a way Katrina, in the woods at the foot of Berda, found herself not mushrooms, but this little, beautiful monster. On her way home she at first walked along the path in front, with the Copy behind her, but then he grew tired, the ground was cutting his feet, so she had to carry him in her arms like a child. Manhort told the girl the tale of who he was and where he was from, and explained why he could use the television people. The girl fell into a state of shock from what she had heard, but, as they say in these parts, not a single hair on her brow showed it.
When they had already reached the edge of the woods, Katrina decided that it was worth hiding the Copy in a basket and covering it on top with a blouse since people in her village weren’t prone to standing on ceremony: he could get beaten up, bitten up by dogs, pecked at by hens, and then you go on ahead and try to explain to someone that this isn’t a devil, it isn’t a mutant, it’s just Manhort’s Copy.
At Katrina’s house Manhort’s Copy grew inquisitive about the beings that he was seeing through a hole in the basket. The girl explained that these were cats and dogs.
“We haven’t had them in a long time,” the copied Manhort said with sadness.
“And how can you live without cats or dogs? I don’t understand,” Katrina replied and sat down next to the Copy, who was admiring a potted ficus. “We need to figure out what we’re going to do next. First, you need to put on some clothes. You probably feel uncomfortable walking around naked.”
“It’s normal where I come from, but if you find some kind of pants, I’m game.”
“I’ll find some. Second, my parents are out visiting relatives and they’re going to be gone for another week or so, so you can stay here for a while. Third, we need to find the television people while they’re gone.”
When Katrina was preparing lunch, it became Manhort’s turn to marvel. His narrow eyes widened markedly, nearly rolling out of their sockets. The eyes on the rear of his head did the exact same thing. Katrina placed some rice porridge and fried eggs in front of Manhort.
“What is this?” the surprised little monster asked.
“Rice with eggs,” explained Katrina.
“With eggs? From what?” asked Manhort.
“From a chicken.”
“Really? And you can eat this?”
“Yes. It might not be very good, but I wasn’t ready for the arrival of an unusual guest.”
Manhort’s Copy picked up a fork, took some rice and put it in his plump-lipped mouth. The guest’s eyes began darting, and the girl grew concerned that he didn’t like it, but he blissfully exclaimed, “Wow, this is so good! I’ve never eaten anything like this in my whole life.”
“There’s no need to exaggerate, it’s just normal rice with butter.”
“For you rice is ordinary food. But we, where I live, don’t eat anything even close to this. The most popular dish where I come from is couch grass soup. We also eat root salads, bacteria broth, thyme gruel and sandwiches made out of oat bagels and yarrow, and drink humus water. But none of it tastes nearly as good as rice. Once upon a time we had rice, but it disappeared a very long time ago, back before the new era.”
It’s no wonder that the Copy of Manhort almost fell into a euphoric shock from the taste of chicken eggs. When the Copy had finished eating, Katrina’s cat walked into the room and began to rub up against the miniature-sized man.
“You can take him up in your lap and pet him. He likes that,” Katrina said. But she warned, “He may prick you lightly with his claws. That’s just from pleasure. So just make sure not to hurt him with your watch.”
The Copy picked up the cat with his little hands, placed it on his knees and began to pet it. After a minute or two, the cat did actually latch onto the guest’s thigh with his claws – not viciously, but noticeably. The Copy of Manhort felt a mild pain, but didn’t push the cat off his lap. He appeared to be getting some kind of pleasure out of the pricking.
In the meantime, Katrina made up her mind to go find her friends Nastia and Stepan, aware that she wouldn’t be able to manage her mission to “Have Manhort’s Copy Appear on TV” on her own. Asking them to come back to her house, she promised Stepan that she would pour him a beer, otherwise he wouldn’t go, and stressed to Nastia that she had a surprise in store for her, but told her not to get too scared. But when they entered the room where Manhort’s Copy had already lulled the cat to sleep in his lap, Nastia passed out (her nervous system turned out to be not as good as Katrina’s) and Stepan forgot about the promised beer. Slapping his sister on the cheek a few times so that she would come back to, Stepan asked Katrina, “Was it at the Kalynka Market that you got yourself this little toy?”
“First of all, this isn’t a toy, it’s a living creature that can talk. Second, no I didn’t get it at Kalynka, I got it in the woods, at the foot of Berda.”
“Hello,” Manhort’s Copy said, and Nastia once again fainted.
A few minutes later all four of them were sitting at the table and having tea with cookies. Manhort marveled that there could be something even yummier than rice, while Katrina explained the situation with the television people.
At night the guest didn’t sleep because his stomach couldn’t digest all that food, and the little monster felt ill as a result.
But by morning the Copy felt a little better, having arrived at the conclusion that he simply needed to eat less. Then he began badgering his new friends to show him the Earth. Stepan got his car, they disguised Manhort as much as they were able to, and the party set out on a sightseeing trip of the Earth. They drove around like that for three days, during which Manhort saw a lot of things new to him: livestock, trees (because at first he had thought that this was a type of grass), and a lot of people in all types of clothes and of various ages. He saw the town of Chernivtsi, because where he lived there were no cities like that, the towns where he came from where all significantly more horrible. Manhort took a liking to birds, then they all went fishing. They went swimming in the Prut River even though it was pretty cold, then they went for a walk in a field where Manhort saw a sea of various flowers, many different types of grass, bees, butterflies, ants, snails and even one lizard. Next they stopped by a grove where apple, cherry, plum and mulberry trees were growing. He couldn’t believe his eyes that such things could exist. Such diversity, vividness, variety of types and forms. At one point they were driving down a road and Manhort’s Copy cried out asking to stop. He had seen a horse. He had never seen a more perfect and beautiful creature. Manhort sat down on a small wooden fence and cried. Tears ran down his orange face like a thunderstorm down a rain pain. He repeated the same words a few times: “I can’t understand any of this… I can’t understand any of this… I can’t understand any of this…”
The following day a notice from the STB TV station arrived. Oksana Marchenko, one of their representatives, was on her way to meet with Manhort. She entered the room in a lavish evening gown with questionably deep cleavage. The wedding seamstresses in the village of Voloka mass-produced this sort of thing and sold it for two hundred bucks a pop. As Oksana said hello, her left breast popped out of her cleavage. Stepan let out a cackle, and Nastia kicked her brother in the leg. Stepan stopped cackling, and the TV host shoved her breast back in place.
“Would you have any interest in appearing on X Factor?” began the TV star. “It’s a tremendous event in the history of mankind. It’s the most watched show in our country.”
“That’s not what I came here for,” Manhort replied, rotating his head in order to have a good look at this strange lady with all four eyes.
“You can’t even imagine, this show has the highest ratings. Your chances are great, I can feel it. I’m going to root for you, keep my fingers crossed for you.”
But Manhort firmly rejected the proposition.
The next day Savik Shuster, the famous political talk show host, arrived. He was most interested in who Manhort would be voting for: Yanukovych, Tymoshenko, Yatsenyuk or Tyahnybok.
Manhort replied that he didn’t know who these people were and that he didn’t give a damn as big as Berda itself about them.
Next arrived the local television people, from the TV station TVA. Shashko Horsky, the host of the show Anatomy of Culture, launched into questions right off the bat: “Tell us, if you will, about your anatomy and your culture.”
Manhort explained, about his four eyes, about the fact that his biological species homo posttechnus had previously had only two, but then specifically began artificially altering their DNA because life had become so dangerous that they were forever needing the ability to see in every direction. After these changes they created an additional heart, which is why he currently has two. That change was necessitated by the polluted air. And as to their culture, there’s a post-technological culture where he comes from: no one travels anywhere, they just gather couch grass and thyme. Computer, hybrid and virtual games are also very popular, as is music, the harbinger of which became Mykhailo Poplavskiy.
“Our Mykhailo Poplavskiy? The retired Soviet folk-pop singer?”
“Yes. At one point after the cataclysms, when over the course of a year all the libraries had been ruined and all the servers had burned, the entire recorded history of world music vanished. Then, amidst the ruins, a single intact CD was found. It was a CD of Mykhailo Poplavskiy with the songs Young Eagle, Nettle and Little Varennyky.”
Sashko’s interview with Manhort lasted almost two hours, after which the journalist, having learned about Manhort’s mission, recommended that he record his whole message in a speech and put it on the Internet. Because it was only there that the whole world would see and hear him.
The following day, as the Copy was preparing for the recording, he heard the din of a helicopter that had landed not far from Katrina’s house. The guru of the post-technological era Mykhailo Poplavskiy walked into the yard, followed by the head chef of the traditional Ukrainian restaurant Father’s Home and a dozen of female students from the Institute of Culture with shorter miniskirts than the region of Bukovina had ever seen. Manhort’s Copy burst into tears of joy for a second time. What they ate and drank, what kind of “nettle songs” they sang, no one knows.
But on the next day already, the video with the message of Manhort’s Copy was recorded and uploaded on YouTube. Forty-eight hours hadn’t passed when tourists, preachers, sects and journalists began to appear in in the Horishni Sherivtsi village of Chernivtsi. Political leaders began making statements. Putin was ready to lower the price of gas by one hundred dollars, not only for Ukraine but for all of Europe too, to entice them to send Manhort to Moscow. Obama announced the possibility of the annexation of Bukovina by the US, while Merkel and Sarkozy announced the fast-tracked acceptance of Ukraine into the EU. North Korea announced that Manhort’s Copy is their citizen and requested that he be returned to his fatherland, presenting a fake passport under the name of Kim Chen Manhort to the world community. Such was the havoc that the four-eyed guest of Bukovina created with his statement. This is what he said:
“I, the Copy of Manhort, address you with a message from the future. In the year 368 of the post-technological era, the scientist Nikola Teslenko built a time machine and sent me here. But since the real Manhort remained there, in the future, I am his identical copy. I, no matter how strange this may sound to you, am a person, homo posttechuns. As a result of various circumstances that developed on our planet over the course of multiple centuries, I currently have four eyes and two ears, and am forty-eight centimeters tall. All the people in the post-technological era look like this. But that’s not the worst part. Aside from people, a handful of plants and plain old grass, there is nothing living left on our planet Earth. There are no animals, no birds, no fish – nothing. We don’t even have trees or bushes. As a result of our limited diet, we decreased in size over the course of centuries and right now look like this, half-meter people. We have a lot of technology, but it doesn’t make us happy. Very few people live up to their natural death, since most of us commit suicide out of boredom. My friend Stepan, whom I met still during your time, showed me this movie, it’s called an adult movie here, where I saw people getting pleasure from sex. But we post-technological people don’t get pleasure from this. The nerve endings in our organs have atrophied. We’re incapable of feeling even the most natural form of pleasure.
“I’m telling you this because I saw many a wonderful thing in your world. Trees, cats, dogs, chickens, flowers, dew. We have no dew. And even you, homo sapiens! You are so wonderful! You live so harmoniously. Regardless of whether you’re a little fat or too thin, regardless of whether you’re a child or an old man, you’re all very beautiful. So love one another. Love Mykhailo Poplavskiy and his head chef. But love horses the most, value them. Because they’re drawn by the hand of the Lord himself. Don’t seek fortune, just be happy. Run while you can run, jump while you can jump, go swimming in rivers and in oceans and even in puddles, kiss each other, walk barefoot, climb trees, fall down (just not from trees) but be sure to get up, get up in the morning and sing. Even if you don’t like Poplavskiy, though I can’t understand that, sing all the same. Hold hands, tickle one another, chase one another, love one another, love one another, love one another… And care for one another. Take care of our planet. Because there, on the other side of the fence of centuries that’s not so tall, are we. And we also want to be tall and to stroke a cat on our lap, feeling its sharp claws, and pick mushrooms, and feel pleasure from sex, and give each other flowers, and see horses, touch their strong backs and look into their sad eyes, and lie in the shade of trees, and eat apples or rice or potatoes. The Earth and everything alive on the Earth are the only things that are of value. That’s what I wanted to say.”
The next day Katrina woke up early. Manhort’s Copy wasn’t in the room. He had said that he should return to his time and report on his work, but she hadn’t thought that it would happen that quickly. She ran out of the house, past the crowd of journalists, past the tents of religious fanatics and vendors, and ran off in the direction of the woods. She ran without stopping, but didn’t at all get tired. She wanted to say goodbye to Manhort. She very quickly found the clearing and the stump where she had first seen the homo posttechnus. A little piece of orange skin lay on the ground. That was all that remained of the visitor from the future.
The grey slender beech trees stretched upward, trying to reach the height of the Tower of Babel, small mushrooms were stubbornly sprouting through the ground, the leaves were losing their color, and a small fawn tried to catch up to the swift sprint of its mother. This was the planet Earth, the woods at the foot of Berda, the year 2012.