PRIMAL.

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Dear Erik,

How’s that novel coming along? Forget what I said last time. This’ll be your masterpiece, so you should probably make it perfect. I mean, if you’re only going to publish one novel, it should be the BEST novel, right? But I’ll bet if you end up with the Pulitzer you’ll wanna try your luck on a few more. One thing I wonder about. Will yesterday’s Pulitzers speak to tomorrow’s readers? It’s hard to tell. I don’t read Pulitzer recipients. I read terrible stuff, Erik. It’s starting to psyche me wrongly.

Right now, it’s Halloween in Canada. This Halloween is dark. Dokdo compound is a mold-infested cement dungeon when it’s like this. Whatever. I don’t complain.

IM000322Anyway. I’m not writing to you about my physical discomfort. There’s something that is messing with me and I just needed to tell someone. It’s a story about a particular Kazakh civilian, no one notable, except that he possessed a peculiar piece of information that a Russian convoy waiting in Hungary had an interest in obtaining.

The problem for the passengers of the humble convoy on its way back to base was how difficult a time they had extracting the information. They’d set up shop in old Budapest Compound, you know the one. Two interrogators had committed suicide. One had his nose bitten clean off. Another, his neck gouged. The rest were tight-lipped about what had been said to them by the Kazakh, save that they would rather not return to his cell.

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IM000241“Which one is Snitski?”

A guard doing his best not to betray his anxiety nominated himself as the convoy’s spokesperson by answering the Swede. “Snitski, Sir? We don’t have a Snitski.”

The Swede flashed a grin to make your eyes bleed. “I think you do. He is 180, twenty-four years, dark, lasts forty-five minutes to an hour and is waiting when I take bed in half an hour.”

The guard’s eyes widened. “Oh, that Snitski.” A raised hand sent four guards off to prepare as the Swede sat and drank alone before the fireplace. She finished meat and lit a pipe. The Swede was perched, satiated, and mesmerized in thought.

information
This is the first principle the Swede wrote in her leather extraction log before each profile. The purpose of civilization: to lower the threshold of resistance an enemy of the state has to revealing information. The more civilized the civilian, the more likely he is to betray any secret. To civilize is to weaken the individual for the benefit of the state.

This Kazakh and his atavism would be hard to reach. Some former districts, stans and their surrounding territories, now loosed from the Soviet empire’s control, had no true civilians left. Even old Persia was to be part of New Rome’s economic plan. What went wrong?

“Now I need a Litovich!”

The guard began, “We have no…” and exhaled quickly, letting his shoulders fall. “Litovich, Sir?”

“You must be he. I need to know from you what the men say about the Kazakh and further on the information in the dossier. The cypher is as well as useless, the message no more informative decrypted.”

The guard cowered into his words. “It seemed as clear?”

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“As it sounds, Sir. A ghost in words.”

“And Rus Prima wants it why?”

“A weapon, Sir.”

“But WHAT is it?”

“That’s what we’re trying to find out, Sir.”

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Evening descended further as muffled conversation emanated from the corridor by the antechamber. At first pleading could be heard. Eventually, it was desperation. This information was not easily parted with.

All information can be extracted.

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“On second thought, Litovich,” she began. The guard opened his eyes widely and held his breath. The Swede cleared her throat. “I’m weary from the day. Please keep these safe.” The guard pulled on the folder but the Swede kept a grip. He stopped pulling but kept his hold. “Litovich.”

“Sir?”

“I review them 7 AM over thick black coffee and rye toast with pig meat. Eggs are nice also, but I’m sensitive to your conditions.”

“Sir.” The guard nodded and pulled lightly at the chocolate brown. The Swede did not relent. She just looked into his eyes. He took a quivering breath.

She grinned, “Thank you for your help, Litovich,” and gently let go.

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“Snitski, out!”

The clump hastened to make a diaper of the white bed sheet it was shrouded in.

“Tell Litovich it’s 7 AM.”

“But it’s…” The Swede drew her lips together the same way she had last night when her entertainment said he couldn’t do a headstand. After a start, “…it’s 7 AM.”

“Why tell me? Tell Litovich!”

The diapered man hurry-scurried out the door. Soon breakfast came with the wafting smells of well-fried pork and fresh butter for rye bread.

The Swede finished scanning the reports as she pulled shells from boiled eggs. As she ate each part of each egg she pawed the Kazakh’s portfolio: a picture of him smiling with two children, a harsh typewritten profile, details, widower, children deceased, formerly a mechanic, now a derelict.

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The Swede shook her head as she concluded her re-briefing and finished her egg. “Useless,” she barked. “Superstition, conjecture, fairytales, melodrama.”

She rose to her feet, gave a scratch and let out a satisfied belch. She threw on a comfortable suit and rejoined the men. “Litovich! How far down does this compound reach?”

“It is one of former NPA headquarters so… pretty damn far, Sir.”

“Litovich.”

“Sir?”

“Mind the expletives. This isn’t a naval bar, it’s a military installation. We respect decorum.”

“Sir.”

“Take me there.”

“Sir.”
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Funny place for a Russian convoy to keep a Kazakh, don’t you think, Erik? You were in that one, weren’t you? You know how deep it goes. Oil wells in Texas are shallower. Fracking doesn’t go as deep. Gotta keep hidden, right? I just wonder why we don’t have elevators.
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“He is tortured now, Litovich?”

“Protocol is persuasion level only.”

“I know protocol. This is why I’m confused. Report states detention detail is five days for smuggling with interrogation at standard comfort, persuasion only. Release to embassy with report on our officers injured and concessions for reparation. So, why is he screaming?”

“Verbengeist, Sir.”

“Enough verbengeist! I want real answers!”

“I guess… I don’t know. You should see for yourself.

“Wait.” The Swede stopped right before the door to the room where the Kazakh’s bestial howling was a deafening, cacophonous gale.

“Sir?”

“How long have I been here?”

“Eight hours, Sir.”

“In that eight hours, Litovich, how many times have I told YOU you SHOULD do something?
“Oh, for our former glory. Please wait outside, all of you.”
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The Swede stood silently until the men, lifted by the dread noise, shuffled up the stairs grey and blunt like flung tools from an otherwise useful set of wrenches.
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There the prisoner flailed away, screeching nervously between gasps. The Swede shrugged her shoulders and entered briskly. The prisoner stopped screeching as she passed his line of sight.

The Kazakh broke the silence with a muted croak of a voice. “Thynally, thomeone who lookth thomewhat wathonal. It theemth a mithtik hath been made… AAAAAHHHHHHHRRRGGGHHHHHH!!!!”

The Swede blinked inquisitively. The Kazakh burst into spasms, rocked back and forth, and screamed his voice raw. The Swede’s face did not change as she stood, peering at the restrained ape. “How would you like me to loosen those ties?”

“RRRRRRRRAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHH… No, ma’am, thank you fo the denereth otho…BWAAAAAAAHHHHHRRRRGGGGGHHH… but I highly doubt that’th a… GAAAAHHHHHHHHH… wythe idea.”

“I could easily restrain you.”

“I don’t doubt hit… GGGGGRRRRRAAAAAAAAA… a womim of your builb… UGGGGGGGGGHHHH… but thomething tellth me… YAAAAAAARGHHHHHHH… he woul want to figh ta tha death.”

“You know what? This thing drives me nuts. Let me help you.” The Swede pulled out the mouth restraint. The Kazach’s eyes widened.

“NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO….” His mouth clamped shut on his tongue like a bear trap on a careless hunter. He smiled and squealed with glee, regret, satisfaction and remorse. The Swede had to move to the left to avoid the blood spray.

Soon the Kazakh was banging his hand against the arm of the chair violently. He balled up a fist and scribbled furiously in the air.

“A pen?”

He nooded and shook, refused and accepted. He leapt a bit. The chair came crashing to the floor, the Kazakh nose-first. The Swede calmly rose to her feet, walked to the other room and returned with stationery. She kicked the chair back to its original position and pulled up a desk. After a few broken pens, there was at least SOME result, though nothing very coherent.
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The Swede read through the scribbles twice. She looked at the Kazakh tied to the chair and blinked twice quickly.

“So, the convoy picked up a crazy Kazakh. Great.
“Superstition. Fairytales.
“Oh, for our former glory.”

She walked out of the room, her voice echoing through the hallway. “Don’t worry, you’ll be out in a few hours. I’ll tell them to sew you back up.”

“YYYYYYYAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!”

“Well, if you want to thank me, send me a card.”

The Kazakh just sat in the room, listening to the Swede’s footsteps becoming gradually softer as she ascended the stairs. He ingested blood, which he felt becoming dry as soon as it made contact with the back of his throat. He thought about angling himself so he could choke to death on his own blood. Then he realized something and thought better of it.
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cultural confusion holiday love

I am the mad story-stealer! I was given this tale by a coworker who began taking English classes last year. Since then, she has really taken to the English language through much discipline and practice. I was quite amazed to hear her tell this story. I’ll admit to adding some details, but the story structure is completely hers, and she told it completely in English 🙂

Min-hu was a retailer of children’s books back then. He led a quiet, simple life. He loved having conversations about interesting things with the people who came into his shop. He spoke a little English, but not much.

Greta was a teacher of English from Germany who loved to learn languages and explore new cultures. She had spent her life traveling, a life which had brought her here to Min-hu’s bookstore in a quiet little South Korean town in Jeollabukdo.

Greta began to speak with Min-hu this fateful day, partly in Korean and partly in English. Min-hu was happy to speak to this warm, kind foreigner who had a great love for her new home of Korea and children’s books. She was teaching kindergarten in those days and had come to select the right picture book for her students.

She spoke with the gentleman behind the counter. A conversation began to emerge about the season, the cold and snow, and how in Germany it is a custom to invite friends to one’s house to warm up with a hot beverage. Greta told Min-hu that she would love it if he came over to her home, as a friend, and enjoy some tea and snacks. Min-hu was delighted to accept the invitation from the stranger. He looked forward to having some practice speaking English and possibly making a new friend.

Greta went home and prepared the ingredients for tea and snacks. She wondered what Min-hu would think of the Christmas decorations she had put all around her apartment. At the agreed-upon time of 7:30 pm, Min-hu rang Greta’s doorbell. When Greta opened the door, Min-hu was overwhelmed by what he experienced.

In the air, he could smell baking ingredients like cinnamon, clove, and vanilla. The entire apartment was lit in rich amber light, and beautified with red, gold and green decorations. Awestruck, he slowly entered the apartment where there was a small tree on a table wrapped in lights in front of small fragrant pine cones sitting around to decorate the space. On each surface, a red votive sat and burned away. In bowls, there were piles of mandarin oranges, nuts and soft sweet bread. Candies sat in smaller bowls with mint candy sticks, and three large red socks adorned the window. There were lights around the windows, each with a distinct colour: one red, one green and one blue.

Greta served tea. The amazed bookseller wasn’t really sure what to say. This woman he had just met had gone to so much trouble for this evening. She loves me, he thought.

After the pleasant conversation and tea with snacks, Min-hu went home, unable to think properly. Here, this beautiful stranger had worked so hard to tell him she was interested in having a relationship with him, but he didn’t say anything in response. What she must be feeling now– hurt, rejected, unappealing– why, that would be terrible. He quite enjoyed her company, but he never expected foreign women to be so direct!

He had to show her somehow that he reciprocated her feelings. What does a man buy for a woman to show that he feels affection for her? He thought of it. Of course. Lingerie.

The next day he went and purchased some lingerie and wrapped it neatly in a package. He called Greta and told her he would love to meet again. She agreed. He went to her home the following Wednesday evening, and as before, it had been decorated and filled with sweets. He gave her the present and she thought to herself, “Oh, what a nicely wrapped present. He must celebrate Christmas the same way we do in the West.”

There was a little confusion on both sides. Min-hu hadn’t understood why Greta’s apartment looked, smelled and felt so warm and inviting. Greta didn’t think it strange to receive a present so close to the holiday. All this confusion would be unraveled with the pulling of the ribbon from the neatly wrapped, brightly coloured package. Once Greta opened the gift, she drank in the sight of the adult apparel. It was obvious how Min-hu felt, and she instantly realized how Min-hu must have been confused. “No matter,” she thought.

“I think you were confused, Min-hu. During the holiday time, it is common for Westerners to decorate their homes, bake, and put out goodies. But don’t be embarrassed. I want to teach you about another custom you might not know about. Do you see that little bundle of leaves above us?”

Greta pointed up to the beam above them where a little mistletoe was wrapped with yarn, hanging from a small nail. She explained the tradition, and then demonstrated it.

You know, Greta and Min-hu are married these days, and they still love to find out new things about each other’s culture, and other cultures around the world.

the long game

There was once a man of age who loved to play chess. He played every day and would play with anyone who challenged him. Many did not like playing with him, however, because of his unusual style.

by ~AllisonStanley http://www.deviantart.com

His style was to defend without attacking for many rounds. This is called the long game, but it only works if your opponent is also playing the long game. If your opponent is on the offensive, you need to strategize an attack lest you lose too many pieces to defend your territory.

The problem was that everyone knew he wouldn’t take the offensive. He would always play the long game, and always lose.

An opponent asked him once, “Why do you always play the long game when you know that you will always lose? You’ve played enough times to know that you need to take the offensive to win.”

He replied, “The reason I’ve been playing all these years is not to win. It is to find someone else who likes to play the long game.”

family stories: the broken janggu

Jason started taking classes to learn to play the janggu drum. He was not very rhythmic, and he didn’t speak Korean, but he was fascinated with the jangu drum. He picked up the sticks and he bopped the drum heads and the teacher told him to stop.

by ~FlutterbyKeir http://www.deviantart.co

He was holding the sticks incorrectly, his posture was erect when it should have aloof, and he played too heavily. He didn’t understand. He had memorized the beats. What was wrong?

The teacher tried to say, “Be like the lying tiger. Breathe into your center and stare at your instrument impassively.” But Jason didn’t understand.

The teacher tried to say, “Be like the eagle. Spread your wings and fly by flapping back and forth.” But Jason didn’t understand.

The teacher tried to say, “Be like the mosquito. Perch on skin without being noticed and stick in your beat suddenly, and then buzz away.” But Jason didn’t understand, and by the teacher’s hand movements, he thought she was trying to tell him a mosquito had landed on him. He tried to swat around his face and she stopped him, laughed, and shook her head.

She found the pictures on her smartphone. “Like this,” she said in English. “Watch me,” she continued. She played. Jason watched. He tried to imitate his teacher, and still he failed. He asked her, “Can I borrow a practice drum?” He motioned the taking of a drum.

His teacher shook her head, not because she wouldn’t have, just because the janggu drum is too loud to practice in an apartment. Jason’s apartment was very small.

Jason felt embarrassed for asking and his face drooped. He went to the corner where there was a janggu drum broken on both sides. He brought it to the teacher and showed her some money. “Uhl moayo?”: “How much is it?”

She pushed the drum towards him with his money. “Suh-vissuh”: “You can have it.” She told him that he was the drum. He was broken for now, but if he worked on it, he could become better. Jason didn’t understand.

“Ken-cheniyo”, said the teacher: “It’s okay.”

Jason took the janggu drum and went on his way home. He went to the paint store and found some chestnut-tinted stain. He treated the body of the drum in the park, and when it was dried, he looked at his accomplishment. He breathed into his center and out again, looking impassively at the drum. He was the lying tiger!

He then went to the hardware store, bought some strong rope and returned to the park. He looked at the old knot on the drum. He taught himself how to tie the jangu knot. Once he had replaced the old rope, he took his sticks in his hands and sat before the drum. He was now pretending to drum. He stopped when he noticed that he was drumming in the way a bird slowly flaps its wings in its majestic flight. He was the eagle!

He then went to the music shop and bought two new skins. He took them to the park and put them on each end of the drum. It was now time to play. He played subtly and gracefully. He brought the sticks to the skins delicately and then quickly made his beat. He was the mosquito!

Jason was so proud of himself that he did not return home. He ran to the music school. He showed his teacher the drum and she said, “Is it new?” Jason understood. “Aniyo”: “No.” It was the one she had given him. It was beautiful. He sat down and played for her. The teacher could not believe it. From then on, Jason was a valued member of the music school.

family stories: sixteen chungmangi

There were sixteen food stations. The caterer added a special treat to each bag of fried squid pieces: in each bag was one chungmangi.

A chungmangi is the best of all foods. It is so delicious, heaping with gobs of fresh foliage and crispy with golden flakes on the outside; it is the one treat everyone wants.

After finishing the game of Yunori, the group was ready to eat. Every station had a bag of fried squid, each with a chungmangi, many oranges and grapes, cola and orange juice.

The first person to notice the chungmangi in the bag was Han Mayor, who casually commented: “Oh, what a nice surprise, a chungmangi.”

by ~jemlith http://www.deviantart.com

But the mayor knew as much as anyone else that if he ate the chungmangi, he would be thought of as a poor leader, savoring the delights of which his people were deprived. So he did not take it. Everyone else at the food station, fearing they would be exalting themselves above the mayor, also left the chungmangi uneaten.

At another food station, there was Park Principal. He noticed the chungmangi and thought: “Ah, a delicious chungmangi. Surely I deserve it!”

But the principal had taught his students about humility and generosity, and a chungmangi was such a rare and expensive delight that he would not be putting his principle into practice. He left it alone. Everyone else at the food station, fearing they would be exalting themselves above the principal, also left the chungmangi uneaten.

At every food station, until the last one, the food station of Shin Director, the chungmangi was not eaten. The director found the chungmangi and thought to himself: “Oh, surely I will be the one to have the chungmangi.”

But every other station had an uneaten chungmangi, and the director had heard the murmurs of the people. No one felt they deserved the chungmangi, and if the director exalted himself above everyone, he would appear to be a tyrant. He did not touch the chungmangi, nor did anyone else at his station.

At the end of the eating period, the mayor, director, principal and teachers all filed out of the food room. Some of them commented on how generous the caterer had been, including such a rare and expensive treat, the chungmangi, in every bag. Many agreed that this caterer was very kind and he should be called upon next time for the food service, although not a single person there had eaten a chungmangi.

The janitor came to clean up the food room, and to his surprise, all of the food had been eaten but sixteen chungmangi. At first he was confused, but then he was elated.

He brought the chungmangi home to his family. When his wife saw the chungmangi in his bag, she swatted him on the head and said,

“You foolish man! Have you spent our savings on sixteen chungmangi?”

“No,” he replied, “I didn’t pay anything for them!”

She swatted him again and said, “You mean you risked our family’s reputation and stole these chungmangi?”

“No,” he replied, “They were left uneaten during the food period!”

Again she swatted him and said, “You expect me to believe that?”

He explained what happened and why he thought the chungmangi were left uneaten. Soon his wife was happy and the family gathered together and ate chungmangi.

The next day, the children each took a chungmangi with them in their lunches because there were many left over. Can you guess what happened when their friends saw them?

Perhaps I will tell you that story another time. Good bye!