Prose Header


by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson

Chapter 14
'Error' synopsis

One day, Jonas, who has recently migrated to the city, discovers that all his records — including his assets — have been erased somehow. No longer able to get work, buy anything on credit or sell his now legally non-existent car, his life becomes a unique adventure.

Jonas let the car’s engine warm up before he moved. There was no reason to hurry. The Bureau of Personal Information Protection would not open again till Monday. He had enough time. He put the hammer on the passenger seat and looked at it. It had seen little use. He had just bought it to hammer in a few nails, hang up a couple of pictures.

He turned up the radio to listen to and hopefully enjoy the music. He wondered why the programming always improved on the weekends. The programming on all days leading up to the weekends seemed to be made especially to make people look forward to the coming bacchanal. Even people who did not drink noticed this trend. Then, on Sunday, it all died down again into a sort of hangover, as though the programming were sympathising with the nation.

It is all one, the radio and the people. That is, the people as the lowest common denominator. You can’t afford to be different if you are ordinary. Just behold all the really strange people out there: Michael Jackson, the Pope; those guys have access to vast piles of money. Therefore they are allowed to be strange, each in his own way.

Radio stations cannot afford to cater to niches; that is, groups too small to be profitable targets for advertisers. This is why radio stations are the way they are:

As can be seen, purely “classical music” is not represented by a special station. Nor is rap; rap has to mellow down into R&B to get played — or to disco, hard rock or ambient music.

The reason is that it is not easy on the ears, none of it. All of it gets played at some point or other, but there is no one station for any of those genres of music. The only genre to have its own station is R&B, and only because 90 percent of all 14-year old girls seem to have exactly the same musical interests.

Jonas explored the variety available while waiting for the car to warm up. He came to the conclusion that classic rock was best suited to his tastes and just stayed with that. Even if some of the stuff they played was hardly classic or rock. You have to take the good with the bad.

Jonas put his car in gear, backed out of his space, and rolled out of the lot. Nobody was around. Everybody must be downtown having a few six-packs. That would be fun, Jonas imagined. To just sit at a bar, music blasting in his ears so loud he could not hear a word anyone around him uttered, so numb from drinking he could not feel his body, his head feeling stuffed with cotton, happiness coursing through his veins for no reason.

No happiness was coursing through his veins now. Some adrenaline, but that had little to do with being happy.

Jonas wondered if he should take a small tour of the town as he was out driving, just to look at the people. But he thought better of it. People stayed inside the bars and did not to come out till they ran out of money. The town used to fill up around 2:00 a.m., which was the mandatory closing time. That was a fun time to drive through the town. All the people spilled into the streets, barely standing on their feet. Fights broke out.

It was fun to watch. But it was all over now. The restrictions had been lifted, and that resulted in people drinking more slowly, less fighting, less vomiting in public: all in all a more socially acceptable environment, but less fun to watch. Let’s face it, we all love to see people fall down and vomit.

Jonas steered his car to the freeway, toward the Bureau of Personal Information Protection building. It loomed in the distance, towering evilly over other buildings nearby, a dark, malicious shape against the starry sky. At least it was not reflecting sunlight in his eyes, Jonas thought.

When Jonas approached the Bureau of Personal Information Protection building, he saw there was a car on the parking lot, a large mountain car, a Land Cruiser 100 on 38-inch tyres. Jonas drove slowly around it, trying to get a look through the windows.

He did not like the feeling he was having about this. Why would anyone park here? There was no residential area for almost a kilometre in each direction, only commercial buildings. Whoever parked here would have had to walk for a long time, wherever he lived. Or maybe there was a natural explanation for this?

The car had broken down. Yes. Those mountain cars are prone to breaking down. The axles break easily, like twigs, when forced to move the big bulbous wheels under these multi-ton monsters; a most likely story. Jonas moved toward the building and wondered where to park. While he was at it, he skimmed the front of the building with his headlights. He did not see anyone. Not a movement, not even a cat.

Not that movements themselves can be seen, as cats can be, of course.

Jonas thought about the seemingly abandoned mountain car. It was the right make, but the wrong model. His persecutors had been driving a Land Cruiser 90. But still he did wonder about the car; perhaps the security gurards would wonder about it also. And their wonder was bound to increase if Jonas parked his car in the lot with it. The guards could think only one thing: another car means more people; we must check this out.

Jonas exited the lot and parked behind a commercial building nearby. He exited his car, hammer in hand, and looked up the hill at the Bureau of Personal Information Protection building, looming ever closer, ever more malignant. He felt it was liable to slide down at any moment and crush him under its incredible weight.

Jonas began sneaking toward it. He hid in the shadows as much as he could, as if he were expecting someone to be looking for him. Luckily, this was one of the least-lit places in Smoky Bay.

It was a good thing it was dark outside. It made Jonas feel stealthier.

Jonas went up the slight hill the Bureau of Personal Information Protection building was standing on, and finally could rest his hand against it. It was cold to the touch — as big lumps of concrete situated out in the frost are wont to be.

Suddenly Jonas’ heart jumped and his blood ran cold; he heard something, something that stirred nearby. Jonas froze in position and quickly glanced to both sides. He could not spot anything. But he was sure there was something peculiar in the air — like breathing near by.

Was that steam coming from beyond the corner exhaled breathing? Jonas stood still and held his breath. This could be a good time to run back again. Or was it? Maybe whoever was behind the corner did not hear him... but why then did he not look around the corner, but instead stood there as if waiting for something?

An ambush! But how? Jonas wondered. It could only be... the guys he had told his story to. They must have spoken to the woman who worked for the Bureau of Personal Information Protection, and she had told them all about him, how he frequented the place in day... They must have guessed he would come here in the night, to penetrate the archives by himself...

Jonas stopped thinking about it when the wind calmed momentarily, and he clearly heard a breath from around the corner, followed by a small cloud of condensing moisture. A second later he heard feet patter on the ground. Whoever was waiting behind the corner was getting impatient.

His worries increased further when another sound approached: the sound of a diesel truck.

Thinking that it must be backup, Jonas did not dare wait any longer; he sprinted away from the wall and hurried as fast as he could back the way he came.

He could hear the voices behind him:

“There he goes!”

“After him!”

“I’ll get the car.”

Then followed footsteps running, stumbling after him. Jonas did not see a thing, and apparently neither did his chasers. He could hear them falling down behind him, spewing curses as they did.

Alarmingly, a car’s engine started up far in the background: another diesel. Engines were revved up. It seemed that the car on the lot had not been broken down. Jonas felt a bit lucky to be chased by such idiots.

To be continued...

Copyright © 2010 by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson

Home Page