Ink is in a phone booth. Outside there is a gorgosaurus.
It is a talking gorgosaurus.
It is one of the talking gorgosauruses that live in the backstage of Earth, where cardboard cutouts stand in for people and sets for places and time.
Its hands are thin and clumsy. Its teeth are very sharp. And it is given to it, as to all talking gorgosauruses, to appoint and dispense with the things of the mortal Earth.
In accordance to their great design do we have joy and liveliness. In accordance to their whims and errors did gold panning, disco, and communism fall.
From Ink’s Journal
Floor 93-A: I cried to the sky to open me a path to Hell, and a hole in the sky yawned wide; and said to me, “I will let you pass through into the realm beyond; but such pain as you know there is at my sufferance, and of my possession.”
I did not like the condition, but I went through; for it is my mission to explore. And since that time I have seen many of the strange worlds that are beyond Floor 93, but have not yet found Hell.
Ink opens the door of the phone booth. She is very hesitant. She walks out.
“You are less afraid?” the gorgosaurus asks.
The beast looks puzzled.
“Did the fall of communism or of disco somehow reassure you?”
Ink shakes her head.
“It occurred to me, is all,” says Ink, “that you are too cruel to eat me.”
She walks gingerly along the sidewalk. She is stiff with tension.
After a moment’s pause the gorgosaurus lumbers after her. It is trying and failing to catch up to her. It is stepping around the cutouts of people and cars that clog the street, which crowd in such numbers as to severely hamper its course.
“Too cruel?” it asks.
“The world is very hard,” Ink says. “People die in droves. There’s horror and cruelty and hunger and disease. Love dissolves. People fight. And being human means that you can destroy someone’s life without even hardly trying, and nothing you do can ever make up for it. It is very cruel. But it is much crueler if it’s all just some kind of freaky gorgosaurus art.”
The creature works very hard to step over a car without knocking it over, but it fails. That is how Mr. and Mrs. Stevens and their two children die: screaming, terrified, as their control of the car fails and it skews sideways into a telephone pole.
The gorgosaurus looks at its foot and the toppled car with some regret. Then it shrugs and continues its slow pursuit of Ink.
“I have explained,” it says. “It is clumsiness. We do not mean to break these things.”
Ink walks in the black velvet space between two sets, and then along a crowded street dotted with vendors and marked with Arabic-lettered signs.
“You make them,” Ink says.
“Yes,” says the gorgosaurus.
“It’s all some twisted game. What was gold panning really for?“
“There is treasure everywhere in the world,” says the gorgosaurus. “We wanted you to know.”
“It is healthy,” the creature says, “to dance.”
Ink hesitates. She discards several possible questions painfully relevant to her own life.
“Communism, then,” she says. “Communism and capitalism. They split the world in half. One of them’s screwy and the other one never worked and whole generations grew up in fear until some drunk gorgosaurus puttering around in Party HQ knocked over the USSR. Was it some kind of weird gorgosaurus metaphor? ‘Look how deep our political theory is! This side can wear Russia like a condom whose time has come and the other can kill nuns in Nicaragua to keep America safe?'”
The gorgosaurus’ great foot accidentally staves in a vendor’s stall and tips the vendor over. That is how Jalal Hameed dies: in an explosion, ill-placed and ill-timed, that crunches him crown to toe like the falling hammer of God.
“You misestimate us,” the gorgosaurus says. “First, you cannot evade me by traveling between sets; second, if you continue in this manner, I will hunt you down less civilly and eat you to prevent further chaos; and third—“
“It’s not the secret conspiracy of backstage gorgosauruses who are the problem,” the dinosaur says. “It’s the humans themselves.”
“You set us up!” Ink protests.
“You’re projecting your own moral failings,” the gorgosaurus says. The dangerous rumble under its voice has reached full volume now. It is moving faster, heedless of the risk that some of the cutouts may fall. “It is the defining human characteristic that you will ignore the lessons we send you and twist their meaning to suit yourselves.”
“What was communism for, then?”
“So that people would remember that the workers were important,” says the gorgosaurus.
“Oh,” says Ink.
There is a rising fury in the dinosaur’s voice, and its pace is far too swift. Cutouts tumble in its wake. Another man dies; a fire hydrant topples; a dog has a stroke; a cloud of insects, hanging in the air, ceases ever to have existed.
Ink staggers into the blackness between sets.
“That’s what both communism and capitalism were for,” the gorgosaurus rumbles. “That’s what everything is about. Everything we make. Every creed and every institution and more than half the events, simply and clearly to teach you how meaningful you and your fellow people are And. No. One. Ever. Wants. To. Get. It.”
The creature’s teeth come down.
“Egg-eating mammals,” the gorgosaurus says in disgust. It has her arm in its jaws. There is blood running down her forearm and onto her chest.
“Wait,” says Ink. “No. I’ll be good. What do you want?”
The gorgosaurus catches Ink’s leg in one hand and, without quite loosening the grip its teeth have on her arm, it jerks its head.
Floor 93-HG: On this floor bureaucracy made things more efficient, and not less. It was astonishing to see people pulling up at stop signs and filling out paperwork on their travel; to see the painfully precise accounting of time that each worker pursued; to watch the evolving bureaucracy of the birds as they winged overhead in a whirl of self-organizing committees. They laughed at entropy, on floor 93-HG, but I think it haunted them. They died not by slow withering but by obsolescence, when efficiency concerns rendered their physical existence redundant.
The spiderwebs on 93-HG were fractal. You could see each color in the sunrise. And when I stood looking back on everything in that world I realized that I could see the superstructure of its evolution, that I could make out the shapes of its ultimate destiny, that the struts of order already in place would grow stronger and not weaker as time went by. It had a future glorious beyond the dreams of man, and flawed.
I wonder if that is something intrinsic to us?
That even in our completion there are flaws?
The sound is like the tearing of dry cloth.