Albania, Peru, Tanzania, Ghana, Papua New Guinea, Scotland, every country had a book of Satan but none as elusive as the Russian one.
For centuries, a wealthy few had attempted to pin it down.
Post-internet, the plebs tried too.
Got-Fuck-All-Else types would bus in to Tobolsk loaded with Rasputin lore, sure it was somewhere beneath his old church.
Poles rented flats near the original Moscow subway and tried to dig under.
Arcanists scoured spines in 2nd hand bookshops.
Opportunists tailed the Arcanists.
Cynics re-read Crowley.
When physical locations didn’t work, people turned to conceit.
The book wasn’t an actual book.
Or it was a book within another book.
But this way was dangerous.
Exemplar: an itinerant group of Russian Satanists read Ivan’s 2nd Dream, aimed for the 17th door of Kidič, and opened the 7th by mistake.
Verhnaia Gubakha was the price paid.
Chik Chun Ming Aleša eschewed all that and focused on WordPress.
Her theory: the book was sentient, it would evolve, strive to be found, but have no physical way to pay for a website designer.
If it could stratify.
Typing, naturally, was a closeted business.
On a floor with eight other flats, in a building with thirty-two floors, in a district that had that typical Hong Kong mix of middle and working class, all pulped together like clotted blood and stringy gristle and mm hai yat mo yat yeung geh…
A safe, suffocating skit of a place.
Her brother was there too, or his things were.
Most of the time he was out.
She didn’t ask if he was one of the helmets on the news, he was, had to be, but she knew him well enough to know he would stay somewhere around the middle.
Front lines were for lunatics and romantics
People comfortable with other people
And that wasn’t him.
Sitting with her back arched in the infamous Done by 40 posture, Aleša swiped away updates on lin dun and continued her search.
Book of Satan Russian
Russian version Satan Book
Russian Satan in book form where?
Book Satan Devil in Russian
Another message popped up, telling her in occasional capitals that a guy she’d gone to high school with had had his face smashed and was now in Camp Popo.
The replies were truculent,
as truculent as the odds deserved,
and for a second or two Aleša thought about adding to them,
but that way led nowhere,
to no achievable place,
so instead she put her phone under a cushion and returned to the Satan search on WordPress, occasionally BlogSpot, too.
After four weeks of sifting through gothic poetry and Why CHAKOTAY Should’ve Been CAPTAIN polemics, a new theory emerged.
The book itself wouldn’t be on WordPress,
but the key to it would.
Some wretch tired of being ignored in public would undoubtedly have written it all out – directions to the location, how to decipher the text, what paint to use – and then whacked it online.
The question was, would that wretch be Russian,
or something else?
The answer, apparently, was a Croat named Čoska.
Nineteen years earlier, on a Xanga site, they’d written a series of posts claiming to have communicated with the entity called Satan. The name itself was not mentioned, nor the traditional image used, but the essence of the Dark Lord was stark and insistent, telling Čoska in a language which should’ve been impenetrable that, ja, the book did exist, in a leatherbound state, yet was inaccessible to all except an honoured few who could sense and, by sensing, open the doors that transcended this planet’s grip.
The online few who replied focused on the obvious questions: ‘where are the doors? Who do we have to kill to transcend?’
Čoska’s response: ‘sense, comrades.’
After reading through all the posts, Alesa leaned back against the dead mosquito stain on her bedroom wall and assessed.
The results were not good.
For every glimpse of Satan, there was an attempt to predict football results a year ahead, or the claim that Nick Stahl was a grey in a skin suit, or a random slur against Serbs, or relaying a final vision where they were stripped and seduced by a demon masked as Remedios Varo…and all that in the space of two months.
Čoska was a fraud, had to be.
A bored troll with the Munich Manual wiki.
But then she read a little more and found codes in their posts that couldn’t have been there by accident, and the final post, the porno vision of Varo, did what ninety-five per cent of other theorists couldn’t; laid out the correct number of legions commanded by Prince Taob, aligned with his skill at mesmerising men with philosophical anecdotes.
At that point, it was done,
Čoska became truth,
an unmoored, gloved-up haruspex.
‘Where are the doors to the Russian book of Satan?’ seemed too obvious but Aleša tried it anyway and lost four days to blogs on Stalinism and Creationist Theory, so she refined her search, increased the specificity, pulled out gossip from chat rooms and settled on ‘Čoska was a fraud, probably didn’t exist, what doors?’
Then wrote a blog about it.
The translation must have been a bit off as the comments were fierce, showing old pictures of Čoska with UN soldiers, saying they showed up in historical documents in their town archives, demanding an apology for slandering a prophet.
There was one comment, however, that drew her attention:
‘I have discovered you, but have you discovered me?’
She replied, ‘do you know where it is?’ and waited.
As it was WordPress, the delay was infinite.
She got hungry and went downstairs, avoided the animals with pepper spray, got a choi yok bau and headed back up.
Still no reply.
She switched on the news.
Mama appeared, promoting the new textbooks.
Apparently they’d all been thinking wrong things, and now they were gonna be taught how to think right things.
The Education Secretary agreed.
Up until two weeks ago, even he had been thinking wrong things, but on some level he knew it and was able to modify. Plus he had an IQ of 165.
‘Will others be able to modify too?’ asked a reporter sitting on the floor.
Time drudged on, towing her along with it.
Her brother stopped staying over at his “friend’s place” and started watching old episodes of Star Trek, and occasionally they’d watch together.
‘When?’ he would mutter whenever the bald guy did something enlightened.
Never, she thought, too busy checking new Satan sources to say it out loud.
Another month passed.
Apart from work and bodily sustenance, she remained in her cave.
Satan-wise, there was a lot and there was nothing: thirteen more pieces related to Čoska, a review of The Devil Rides Out, an attempt at a Russian diary, and zero replies from the seventeen different people she’d messaged.
Were they dead?
Was all of this nothing but a co-ordinated attempt to derange her?
Reality returned, edited as farce.
People became objects.
Speeches became accusatory.
Soldiers performed dance routines.
Stability was good, even if you had a knife through your neck.
Star Trek, Star Trek, Star Trek, Mario walkthroughs, the Kuiper Belt, what would happen if you set foot on Pluto, porn, gay porn, platonic for a while then not porn, Bulgarian immigrant visas, life in Portugal pros and cons, ridiculous prices, romantic porn, how would transporters work, Duck tales, Doraemon, ecclesiastical porn, Star Trek: The Animated Ser–
‘There are those,’ Čoska’s third post stated, ‘who are prepared to die for what they preach, and then there are the rest…who know that they are not. These types retreat into science fiction and fantasies of historical past, claiming with certainty that they would’ve been rebels…in older times.’
Five months later, after drowning herself in speed-run vids and futurism [fusion only 20 years away!], she received another comment, possibly from someone she’d previously messaged, possibly not.
‘Go to the closest hill, 257m above sea level, wait.’
It was a ludicrous response, just what she needed.
She packed a bag with alcohol spray, hid a Stanley knife in her jacket, said goodbye to Ryukahr’s Sumerian beard and headed to the closest hill.
Passing topless uncles, dormant cops, maintenance doors, villages that looked like they’d been flooded a hundred thousand times, she made it onto the hiking path and checked the nearest sign for elevation stats.
‘190 metres above sea level.’
Not too bad, another 500 metres or so and she’d be there.
At 257m, she stopped, pulled out her knife and told the man standing on the rock with a toaster in his hand to stay where he was.
The man put the toaster down and said, ‘Satan…’
‘…is not of this planet.’
‘That’s why they struggled with WordPress.’
She lowered the knife, then threw it on the ground and walked closer to him, asking what was supposed to happen next, were there clues, did it involve travel?
‘I hate this place,’ he said, declaratively.
‘The people. The compliance. The lack of ideas. Even the trees, they don’t do anything. Satan does things. They comprehend black holes. They provoke nebulas. Circuits on Star-ships run for centuries on their craft. But…’
‘Do you know where Satan is?’
‘…I have been standing here for two days. Do you have food? No. I don’t want it. This is a test. Of course I know where they are. Up there. On a dwarf planet in the Kuiper Belt. Where else would they be?’
Aleša looked back at the knife, annoyed, but it was too late, a python had slithered out of the undergrowth and was wrapping itself around the handle.
There was still a chance…she’d seen videos of dog owners pulling snakes off their pets, but that was in Sai Kung, where the demure snakes were, this was a hill with a toaster-carrying-…
She turned back to tag him visually, but he was gone.
There was noise above.
A floating keyboard
Snatches of disgruntled Russian
It spoke to her, dealt with the snake, seared both eyelids with neon
then she was gone too.
You’re on a dwarf planet, stable gravity
You’re on a dwarf planet, stable gravity
You’re on a dwarf planet, stable gravity
Her eyes were open, had been open for hours, but now they were connected to her brain and she understood around 72% of what had happened.
She was on a dwarf planet with stable gravity.
In some kind of waiting room, with mostly Russians surrounding her, unthreatening, but stern.
There was no danger cos they were waiting too.
Ah, the toaster guy.
He was next to a patch of purple mist, muttering to himself. ‘Don’t say neutrino, don’t say neutrino, neutrino, don’t say it.’ She got up and walked over to him, but was intercepted by a section of the purple mist.
‘No intimacy’ came from somewhere within,
and somehow she was back in her seat.
Despite the novelty of the situation, she soon got bored. Everyone but her was progressing, the posters on the wall were poorly designed and the purple mist-stroke-bouncer had the personality of a Torrijos stan.
Worse than that, her brain was starting to double-track, attaching doubt to every sure thing she thought she’d known.
Was this really a dwarf planet with stable gravity?
Why would Satan build a waiting room?
Did she subconsciously loathe herself, or consciously loathe others?
Didn’t they deserve it?
There was no clock except the one on the Timescape poster, but if she had to guess she’d say it was five hours in when the all-seeing tannoy finally called out her name.
She wasn’t the last to go, three more people had arrived since she had, all of them Kenyan, and now it was their turn to stare at the walls and self-diagnose as she was off to the Satan room.
Or Satan Test Room 1, according to the ticket just handed to her by a floating metal claw. Turn left, third door on the right, no time-wasting.
She got up, mangling a ‘kwaheri’ to the Kenyans, and headed to the exit.
‘Don’t say neutrino,’ said the purple mist, dividing itself to let her through.
It re-formed, pushing her backwards into a corridor seemingly designed by Švankmajer, the walls drenched in surrealist Satanist motifs like bald men and pentagrams, and then scrawled text past the second door that said ‘conceptually Satanist cos no one truly knows them.’
The corridor itself was unceasing, eternal, the theoretical end of it prophesized by signs every five metres marking distance, but none of that mattered cos it was the third door she needed.
She found it, admired its verisimilitude, and entered.
The design was minimal.
Table. Two chairs. Painting of Siberian Landscape. Low ceiling. Satan effigy with a drawn-on face and plastic trident in its claw.
The latter was propped up on the chair, tilting slightly off to the left hand side.
When she sat down in the chair opposite, it coughed, then spoke, voice unsurprisingly tinny.
‘What…is your favourite Scientific word beginning with N?’
‘Nacelle,’ she said, going back over the word in her head, then saying it again with a little more glue.
‘Congratulation. You pass the first test. Go.’
Back outside in the corridor, the toaster guy was slumped against the wall, head on his left knee.
‘I said neutrino,’ he mumbled.
‘Now I have to follow you until you fail and then we both have to follow someone else until they fail and so on.’
‘What if I succeed?’
‘Yeah, but what if?’
A small panel ejected itself from the Ernst painting above his head and shot an actual-sized dart into Aleša’s neck. As soon as she moved, it hurt, and then the corridor started to expand, change shape, become greener until finally it just gave up on process and turned into a slide.
She slid in a Deleuzian state, the toaster guy behind her constantly putting his hand out and trying to stop her from removing the dart.
The walls turned into computer terminals.
An electronic beep sounded every two seconds.
Jagged things appeared, indescribable, similar to laundry hangers, floating past her head and sticking into the guy, who was telling her that there were other words in his head now but at the time, neutrino, that was it, and he didn’t even know what a neutrino was, no one did.
The ride stopped, or the floor did, forcing them forward through breakaway glass into a cave set full of wolfmen. They were all well-built, well-oiled, well-trained in the art of pleasuring other wolfmen without any sign of orgasm and that’s what they did and continued to do, some of them in Gummi Bear t-shirts.
A professorial voice came from the ceiling. ‘Three hours, starting now.’
Aleša rubbed her neck, still trying to get the dart out.
‘Leave it,’ said the toaster guy.
‘Focus on the sex.’
She tried, but it was tedious from a distance, so she got up and went round all the wolf couples, counting all the penetrations, asking a few of them if this was the second test and if so what was the point.
No one answered, no one howled.
She sat back down and asked the toaster guy.
‘Focus on the sex.’
‘As opposed to the wall?’
The voice said three hours but it seemed more like seven when the floor finally opened and all the wolfmen dropped down into a cluster of trees, some of them grabbing branches, others quoting Kant.
Aleša peered down from the cave above and saw the ceiling looking back at her and when she turned round she was in the forest.
All the wolfmen vanished except one, who wheeled a TV out from behind a tree and placed it in the middle of a clearing.
Then he vanished too.
‘What now?’ asked Aleša.
The TV came to life and an old Robin Hood serial began playing.
‘A rest period?’
Douglas Fairbanks pranced around a studio set, eating chicken, stabbing local law enforcement.
‘The idea…’ started the toaster guy.
Then Errol Flynn jumped out and sang, ‘wait, Marian, I’m clean.’
‘…is to endure all iterations…’
Patrick Bergin burst into the castle, not sure who to stab, calling for an end to simultaneous productions of the same premise.
‘…and that’s as much as I can tell you.’
TV actors never to be trusted again roamed the forest, looking for ass, solidarity, respect, shooting arrows at people without mud on their faces.
The TV went blank.
Extras came out from behind the trees, all talking about Robin Hood, discussing the mythology, did you know he slaughtered people, where do you shit in a forest, why did the sheriff never dress up as a nun and scream ‘HOLY MOUNTAIN’?
Then even more people appeared, also talking about Robin Hood, wondering when a new version would come out, desperate for it, a re-telling:
Robin Hood: the beginning
Robin Hood: redistribution man
Robin Hood: Muslim conversations
Robin Hood: yeah
Robin Hood: Robin Hood
Robin Hood: RH
Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood
Robin Hood Robin Hood
Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood
Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood
Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood
Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood
Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood Robin Hood
‘Robin Hood,’ muttered Aleša, eyes retreating, brain hanging off a cliff by its fingernails.
A twig fell from the canopy, hitting her shoulder.
Her neck moved slightly and so did the dart, bringing her out of the trance and back to the forest .
‘That was a close call…’ said the toaster guy.
‘But you must be getting close.’
The trees decompartmentalised and withered to ash, then rebuilt themselves as two eight feet tall Bangladeshi robots one metre apart.
Mist appeared, spitting out a man with long hair, who seemed to understand immediately what was expected of him as he climbed up behind one of the robots and placed himself inside.
Aleša moved to do the same, but something stopped her, possibly the dart, pointing out the pipe next to her feet and another pipe next to the robot’s feet.
Satan is anti-technology, anti-robotics
Pick up the pipe
Break the thing that killed farming
She wasn’t sure, Satan seemed quite adaptive, but points could be given for improvisation so she picked up the pipe and hit the legs of her robot.
Until a voice, tired and raspy, came from the mist, telling her to stop fucking around and get in the robot.
‘To fight?’ she asked.
She threw the pipe somewhere to the side and copied what the long haired man had done five minutes earlier. It wasn’t easy. The dart meant she had to tilt her head sixty degrees to get in, and the seat was the same type they used for cheap bicycles. And the panels were dusty too.
When she was happy with her position, she studied the controls.
Forty-odd buttons, none lit up, the signage all in Russian.
She looked over at her opponent, trying to see what he was up to, but he wasn’t up to anything, he was just sitting there, staring across at her.
She stared back.
At times, he tilted his head.
Other times, he pushed his face forward, as if he were shooting some kind of beam at her…a neutrino beam…ha…
Neither of them looked away.
If there’s a point to this, she thought, it must be pretty arcane.
Maybe he’s trying to hypnotise me?
But that wouldn’t work
His eyes were neither piercing nor swirly
Nor were his thoughts interrogative
In fact, they were a bit creepy
All he wanted was power over sexy anarchists
To make them strip in his HQ, which he would build later, when he both possessed and understood the Russian Book of Satan, how to utilize it to warp their minds, make them think it was cool that he used to like Karl Popper, and
The long hair was a trick
He was a monster
Someone had to stab him or blow up that robot or
The long-haired man jerked in his seat, clutched his chest, tried to stop the blood seeping out then stood up and said ‘how?’
His robot exploded, the fireball shooting backwards away from her.
A door opened nearby, next to the frozen-faced toaster guy, and a voice called out her name. She climbed out of her robot and strolled over, confident that there were no more tests.
‘He was a perv…’ she said, patting the toaster guy on the arm.
Beyond the door was a platform, raised on stilts that somehow didn’t melt the nitrogen ice surface below.
Was it Pluto?
She checked her breath, confused that it worked, then remembered that this was the work of Satan so either she wasn’t completely human in this place or Satan had temporarily altered the laws of physics.
She wasn’t sure which.
‘Hey, do you think this is really-…’ she started to ask, but the toaster guy wasn’t there.
Did he not move fast enough?
Was he the planet?
She waited two minutes, flicking dust off her jacket.
He didn’t come.
Ah, didn’t deserve to come, no big loss, couldn’t even block out the word ‘neutrino’.
Dwarf planet, stable gravity, unnatural physics/biology.
Advancing down the platform, she mapped out what she was going to say. Please don’t send me back seemed like the best place to start. Or kill all politicians who say, ‘let’s check into real town’.’
At the end of the platform was the same effigy from the first test, this time with a seven dollar crown on its head.
On its lap was a book, paperback, 9×6, weak cover.
The effigy spoke: ‘if you can read the title, you may read the whole book.’
Aleša looked at the cover text, frowning. ‘It’s in Russian.’
‘You have two more tries.’
‘No, it’s in Russian, I can’t read it. I wasn’t…’
‘Incorrect. One more try.’
Aleša put her hand over her mouth and focused on the text. She’d heard the Cyrillic alphabet wasn’t that different from English so maybe she could guess her way out.
It didn’t sound like anything she’d ever heard of so she switched to logic. What was she looking for? The Russian Book of Satan. What would the title be? The Russian Book of Satan.
‘The Russian Book of Satan,’ she said, a little shaky.
‘The book is yours for five hours.’
‘You may sit on the bench over there to read it.’
‘Wait a sec…is it all in Russian?’ She checked as she asked the question. ‘It is. Fuck. Do you have a dictionary? I can’t read this.’
A dictionary appeared on the bench, plus a pen and pad.
‘An electronic dictionary might be better…’
The effigy shot backwards into the atmosphere, arms wobbling, its crown slipping off and fading into the ice below.
Aleša hurried over to the bench, grabbed the dictionary and got started.
Thoughts of PRESTIGE and NO OTHER HUMAN went neuron to neuron, trying to get a foot in the door, but she kicked them away, focusing like Stakhanov on the translation in front of her.
After an hour and a half she had the first paragraph.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was Satan.
She put down the pen and read what she had:
‘Guise of an ape-trainer. Outside the castle walls. Each horn with a good knot, mechanic and good mechanist. Respect, so beat it, sleazy thing. Drillion did not promise drought and perfect obedience, notarized by humble pie. We left Minsk, diagonally. Dehydration in furtive strides, more topics for the machine. Police subset within the beast, taken to the station on unmarked horse, embellished, Calvinized. Can you cope without a Satan, psychology of it? Only pretending to weaken. Himself once again. Non-linear deck hands.’
Her first reaction was confusion, her second tears.
Was it…was this it?
She re-read it – unmarked horse, good mechanist, pretending – and cried a second time.
One paragraph…everything…every human thing.
But who could she tell?
Which fool would listen?