The Country/The Country

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8. The Fall of Kevin O'Rhule

Keel dreamed. He was a dreamer.

In his dream that night, he heard a voice speaking, telling a story. The dream intensified, drew him in. The deeper he went into it, the deeper he sank, drawn down as if into a whirlpool of magnetic imagery, sea monsters and old faces, spars from shipwrecks, treasure maps, undergraduate papers, hidden memories, seashells of desire taking him deeper, deeper, until -- as if from the other side of some cataclysmic waterfall -- the voice spoke, clearly...

... as if someone stood over him in a closed room and aimed words into his ear:

“Everyone was equal, but Mr. Pig was more equal than anyone else. He marched into the capital one day at the head of a vast army of the unappreciated and demanded to be given the keys to the sacred altar. He denounced the leadership of Kevin O’Rhule, and the era of peace and plenty that wise and modest man had presided over, shaking the order of the world like a giant shaking out a blanket. The pattern of light upon darkness was now reversed to reveal the checkerboard of the cloth’s other side, in which the dark squares now sat upon the light. That which had appeared fine and fair and upstanding was revealed to be poor and vice-ridden and driven by lower instincts. The lieutenants of O’Rhule were denounced and placed under guard; no one knew where the great man himself had disappeared to. Tribunals were erected, and many were imprisoned. Others who worked under the old regime, the now fast-tarnishing Golden Age of O’Rhule, were revealed to be profiteers, special pleaders, mere time-servers, men of lower character, and nasty women. They formed an unimpressive army of the discarded.

“The new class rising, greeted by outpourings of the forgotten people, men mostly, though many women also displayed their mannishness by behaving more ignorantly and rudely than their male companions. Such women as these favored shirts and jerseys with the mocking legend ‘I’m with Weakling!’ and sometimes dragged small children behind them by their hair. They gathered, the followers of the Pig, in huge campfire rallies, consuming entire woodlots to keep their fires burning -- the roadside greenie-thorny vines (it was said) pulled down trunks and branches at their command, cutting down the trees in the public parks -- and trees could be heard crying out in the wilderness for the loss of their brethren. But the capital of UCanna, Heyfolk, where those who had grown fat and sleek in the prosperous days of O’Rhule paid little mind to the advance of the Pigsters, whose approach was rumored by flocks of angel-crows leaving early (as some observers noted) for their winter homes far to the south....

“The new man’s advance was funded by huge withdrawals from the fortune of Pigster-Procto Mega-Corp, known to investors as Animal Firm, but at first little attention was paid to this gathering danger in the capital. There folk turned up their noses, made jokes about the bad smells that sometimes reached their noses on the wind blowing from the prairies. The smoke of all those campfire thunder-fests, as they came to be known, at which the Pigster himself thundered forth denunciations, stuck pins in large mockeries of the effigies of Chancel-Hold Favus Fynes and his Counsel of Economies, of whom the mighty of Animal Firm disapproved, calling them betrayers, race traitors, Glad-fools, Weeping Innards, Despoilers of Racial Purity, and Drive-Heads and Dome-worshipers... even though the Pigster himself had erected many such domes, including Pig Tower, the home of the First Family of Animal Firm, Mister Pig, his pigstress, and his beautiful pink children.

“It was only when the fires of the Forgotten People smoked on the horizons of the Capital’s Zine Towne that the regime of O’Rhule began to smell trouble, and not merely the posturings of those who claimed to be ‘left behind.’

“That night in the garden of the Capitoline, the graceful retreat the aging leader had built outside the city, O’Rhule gathered his appointed successors, the great secular clan of praters and believers, fund-procurators, tribunes of the various peoples of the Diverse Collation, many Deep Pockets among them as well. There, among the formal flowerbeds and the charmed voices of the fountains, he asked them for their opinions of the danger.

“What did they make of this strange, ill-smelling phenomenon? What ill tidings scented on the wind?

“Refugees were pouring in, they told him.

“Villages were burned.

“Other nations across the sea have hitherto been overwhelmed.

“‘What should he do?’ the old Lord of the Realm asked the dour faces about him. No one had any idea....

“They avoided one another’s eyes and meditated on plans for escape.”

In the morning, the pre-morning, the hour before dawn, Keel woke, remembering the impression left by the voice of the dream very clearly, but not the words the voice said. He knew how the dream had made feel, however, because he still felt that way.

Disturbed. Frightened. In the grip of a malaise he could not shake off. Sleep-walking through life.

The dream, or its voice, had bored its way inside him. He knew he would not sleep any more. He lay in bed, trying to remember the particulars of the dream more clearly, willing the sky to lighten.

Keel dreamed regularly; every night, he believed. Sometimes the weight of his dreams left him sad, downcast, depressed for the first hour or two after waking. But his turned on the radio, made his coffee, and the fog of inchoate mental burden slowly lifted as he read the morning news-sheet.

This dream, however, the Vision of the Fall of the Capital, as he thought of it now, was more upsetting than any dream he could recall. The strongest echo of the sensations he had felt now lay in sounds. Some of the words -- dream words; words that filled his thoughts once he woke from the dream -- still lingered in his consciousness when he woke in the dark and he had scratched them on the back of a bookmark by the narrow light of a bedside table lamp, words pulled from the rush of swirling sensation that felt like a whirlpool dragging a ship to its underwater doom.

“What doom was that? That which the dream foretold? Or the darkness of time itself? That inevitable slippage of time that drip by drip dragged all sentient creatures down in the end.”

The tone of the dream voice and a vague impression of recollected images -- mostly smoke and fire -- suggested a kind of vision. Keel was not given to visions, at least not by light of day. He was a daydreamer, not a visionary. Today, by ‘visionary’ people meant anybody who came up with a new idea, generally one that solved a technical problem. He was certainly not that kind of colloquial visionary either.

Visions, as he once read and was persuaded to agree, had long ago disappeared from human experience, at the dawn of what was still called ‘modern times.’ Possibly because the ever greater concentration of human presence and activity in our societies -- our industry, our science, our busy-ness -- infringed on the experience of highly concentrated isolation required to produce them. Or perhaps the gods simply turned their backs on human affairs altogether, having lost interest in the unsteady allegiances of mortals.

Even the ancients had pondered this question, Keel brooded, over a morose breakfast of Krifties, his unsweetened regular day-starter. “The Gods abandon Anthony”: he recalled this poser from his long-ago studies of the ancient civilization, the ‘Classical world’ he had once pecked away at like a scientist of words.

Had any rationale ever been offered for this divine desertion? The assumption being that the gods had earlier ‘chosen’ Anthony. Why? Were the gods simply amusing themselves by meddling in human affairs. The gods, Keel took it, required entertainment. The ‘Rise of Anthony, Hero of Romulo’ (he speculated) was a series they had tuned into for a decade or so, then they got tired of him. He lost them with the tired ‘romantic destiny’ plot. Who was this upstart Cleopatra anyway? She worshipped other gods, not the right gods, and, besides (judging from her chroniclers), she talked too much.

That might have been reason enough to abandon their onetime favorite, back when the gods regularly meddled with human affairs. In these later millennia, when supra-human vision was denied all mortals by their indifference, humans were wholly responsible for the well-being of their society. Or its lack.

But if you couldn’t blame divine favor (or interference) for what happened down here, then what forces were driving Pig and his ‘Animal Firm’ irresistibly to triumph after triumph?

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