by Valery Oisteanu [USA]
The City Where It Was Illegal to Die
Standardland is hot and dry. The asphalt melts under your shoes and seems to float away into the traffic. Dilapidated cars sit abandoned on the central boulevard next to the fashion mall. In the city where it is forbidden to die, the inhabitants are in effect consenting hostages — consenting to absurd rules and regulations. One is the law of erectability. No one is allowed to be either standing or seated erect. We are supposed to be bent, squatting or leaning. all the time.
Sad people wait patiently in long lines under a blazing sun to receive their daily rations. Then a sad-looking bus takes them away, crowded sardine-style. In a garden, the occasional misfit plays music, which never fails to ignite the alarms of the still-functional cars parked nearby.
In a dreamscape on the shore of the Necromancian Sea, the vast trading city is built on the left side of a horseshoe peninsula, overdeveloped with giant walls of rough granite and filters covered with burlap and suspended on high beams. The city is rarely visited, except for barter and trade, and its artisans display gold and silver at a large bazaar in the main square.
The biggest building here is the maternity ward called Permanent Desire. At the entrance a sign pronounces: “We ignore time and eternity. Our guiding philosophy is Voluptuousness is Holiness.” The healthy women are encouraged to have as many children as they can, and often those children are adopted by childless families or singles.
What struck me most, entering Standardland, were the signs and numbers inscribed on the doors and windows of every building. The inscriptions report the age and health status of the occupant. If any residents dare to become sick, a special commando arrives and brings them to a sanitarium where they are forcibly treated until they promise not to die and put it in writing.
The air in the city is almost pure oxygen, with no other gases or emissions allowed. Even the walls serve as giant filters. In fact, Standardland operates entirely on energy absorbed from citizens during their sleep hours. As has been the custom for a century, the residents’ right index fingers and left thumbs are wired to a special circuit that sucks up bioelectric voltage.
Standardland’s authorities are designated in an obscure ceremony practiced behind closed doors by a committee of strangers.They in turn vote secretly to choose a grand masked figure called the First, who is trained and masterfully groomed as a bioelectrical vampire who can plug and unplug sections of the Standardland energy grid at will.
Food comes in the form of pills; minerals and vitamins are delivered only to the higher classes.
Along with the inscriptions noted earlier, windows are marked with red arrows, the number of which stand for various levels of bad behavior ranging from unsociable to raging mental illness. Along with the arrows, simple signs note various characteristics such as “This woman yells while making love” or “This patient has Tourrette’s Syndrome.” Another sign reads “Watch out for number 111 at the balcony on the top floor: attempted suicide twice.” Next to it another sign points out that the couple in residence are deliberately starving themselves: “This family is high on Food Denial. Citizens, please feed them. The city cannot afford the loss of energy.”
From time to time, someone actually does die and immediately is declared an outlaw and buried in a mass grave with no markings. To die is considered both a luxury and an illegal activity that has to be performed with the approval of a special commission. Otherwise suicide, euthenasia and indeed any help from doctors are forbidden. Hospitals are large processing plants occupying half of the city, centered around a mammoth Laundromat. In this mysterious building, there are twisting corridors going to myriad rooms full of beds holding anonymous patients with unknown diseases. The patients, identified by numbers, all wear face masks for hygiene and uniform assistance. They disappear and reappear daily.
Standardland is a structural society in which each class has its own uniform, and although social promotion is possible, it rarely happens. Each member of a low class has to undergo a strict physical and a disinfectant bath to move up to the next superior social step. The colors of the uniforms, in descending order, are off-white, light red, yellow, green, blue, gray and dark brown.
Everyone knows that dueling is strictly forbidden, and poisons are as hard to get as recreational drugs.
The city constantly monitors the citizens to detect anyone voluntarily getting killed or bent on suicide. The authorities didn’t like the abuse of privilege of death. Only when the committee decrees that someone’s output of energy istoo low, then he or she is granted permission to travel to the Village of the Dead.
Despite official strictures, the Suicide Society thrives, and members assemble illegally to discuss ways of helping each other in their goal. Due to technological advances, the Society can guarantee members a special express disposal, which can cost as much as $50,000 to cover a perfumed personal extinction by revolver, pill or injection, as well as preparations for a last meal and final photographs, with special effects and religious ceremonies optional. Simple hanging is the suicide of the poor, while the rich prefer poison. The middle class seem to favor electrocution, firing squads, drowning or drug overdose. Members and friends can attend the procedure for a small fee.
Founded by a suicide survivor, the After Suicide Village is a gloomy place full of unhappy and unsuccessful suicider attempters, including a few who miraculously escape death in accidents, and suicidal transients who have illegally escaped from Standardland — ex-cancer patients, the love-starved, and those bored and tired of Standardland life. After Suicide Village is located on the right hand of the horseshoe. The code of this village is More Fun Before the End.