The Immortal Fyodor

A short story by Amin Matalqa from the upcoming book Heroes & Idiots

They called him Fyodor! Well, actually, nobody bothered to call him that, but the name his parents gave him, Todd, didn’t have that flair of immortality that defined the great writers, like the dead Russians, for example. So after 35 meaningless years, Todd decided it was time to become important. On a wet windy afternoon, he marched down to the Social Security office and looked the clerk dead in the eye demanding he give him all paperwork necessary to change his name. “From this day forth,” he declared, “the world shall call me Fyodor!” The clerk, who was busy peeling a rotten orange with his decaying teeth, handed him a lump of documents and suggested he fill them out in the corner over there. Todd didn’t appreciate others telling him what to do, so he snatched the forms and laughed out loud, “I’ll fill them out on my own time and bring them back only when my very busy schedule permits! Hahaha Hahaha Hahaha!”

On his way home, inspired by his newfound defiance, Todd made a phone call and quit his job at the bakery then decided not to fill the forms out after all because who was the government to tell him what his name could or couldn’t be? It took him ten minutes to rip the thin (but durable) stack of papers up and another fifteen to find a nearby trash bin to dispose of them (throwing them on the ground would surely get him in trouble). It was next to this trash bin that he found himself admiring his blurry reflection in the stained window of a run down pawn shop, and in that moment, Todd announced his new name to anyone curious to hear it. “Call me Fyodor,” he roared with fire in his lungs. An old man across the street waved his cane and gave him a big thumbs up (which may have been his middle finger).

With a name like Fyodor, Todd could finally pursue his passion for writing great fiction and help heal the world (at least the literate half) from its agony. With a name like Fyodor, he could inspire nations, just like Tolstoy, Shakespeare and Jesus (or whoever wrote the bible). So what did he do? He bought a large tub of ice-cream from the store and locked himself up at home for six years.

Fyodor lived in a round room underground where he could contemplate humanity while walking in circles without running into corners. As the years passed, he let his beard grow while struggling to focus on the universe inside his head instead of the world out on the street, where he was susceptible to making friends. For example, he decided, if he received an invitation to someone’s wedding (he never did), he would eagerly apologize to the bride or the groom (or both) because he would be busy writing his epic, and as our dear reader surely knows, epics require incredible amounts of focus. But after six years of incredible focus, our hero was still looping in circles, searching for the first word to launch his masterpiece. The first word could be nothing less than perfect.

For six years, every night, Fyodor sat at his desk whispering random words next to the candle light while his shadow danced alone in the dark and his fountain pen waited to be touched by his tender grip. Like all the great defiant writers of the 19th century, Fyodor refused to use a computer. To merely look at one would taint the purity of his thoughts. He had to physically feel the essence of his ideas transform into the shape of words, ink on paper, with his own unique handwriting. The curves, the edges, the insecurities, they would all be preserved on the page for future generations to analyze at a museum one day. Long after his departure from this tortured world, people would marvel at the sheets of paper that were once touched by his fingers and say, “Fyodor wrote these very words with his very own hand.”

He sat waiting as the candle’s flame melted the wax trying to suffocate it, and the sound of merry children seeped in with the pollution from the streets above. Oh children! Fyodor had once considered having some of his own, at least one child to carry his legacy and pass on his genes, but he couldn’t get serious about procreation before finding a girl who would agree to love him, and he wasn’t ready to be loved before suffering for his art. To do anything less than commit 100% of his suffering to the written word would be betrayal. Betrayal to himself and betrayal to humanity, to which he owed so many important sentences. Yet here he was, wasting time, unable to commit to the first word.

The first word had to be honest and truthful. He couldn’t just splatter a random or unimportant word. If he’d started with the incorrect one, he could send himself down the wrong path and his grand epic of original untainted thoughts would collapse without the solid foundation it required, and what could be worse than starting a great epic with a weak foundation? Fyodor picked at his scalp. There were so many words to choose from. And once he’d made his selection, how could he know that he’d made the right choice? The universe was waiting outside his door, starving to devour the innards of his mind. Unable to take the mounting pressure, Fyodor put his pen down and rushed to the bathroom where he sat on the toilet and released the pressure trapped inside his body. And with that relief, his subconscious finally cracked a window and belched the word he had been searching for all his life: Me!

Of course. Me! Fyodor jumped off the toilet and ran to his desk. He took his fountain pen and started to write this spectacular word before it could slip away. He pressed the pen delicately, but nothing came out of its tip. He shook it and tried again, this time gently, like a lover, but it refused to cooperate. Without losing his temper, Fyodor condemned the pen for betraying him in his most inspired hour. It was the only pen he had kept at home. He unscrewed the tip realizing that it had been six years since he’d last filled it with ink. He rummaged through his drawers and found a bottle of squid extract that had unfortunately dried up into a hardened rock. He threw the bottle to the ground and cursed a series of colorful but cruel words.

Fyodor’s heart raced nervously, his body temperature rising, sweat eating its way through his pores like acid on his skin. He rolled up his sleeves to cool down and found the vein in his left arm ready to burst. Instinctively, without fear, he stabbed himself with the fountain pen, and like a mosquito, he let its head tap into his bloodstream, filling its belly with his precious blood. After a minute, he pulled the pen out, padded his wound with a sanitary cloth, and finally wrote, “Me.”

Fyodor’s blood quenched the virgin paper’s thirst as the first word of his masterpiece was completed. He sighed and set the pen down, admiring the way “Me” was manifested in red ink that slowly turned crimson. Who were all those people to tell him that he would never became a great author? He had chosen wisely and now he had a novel to finish. He picked up the pen again and prepared for the next word. He now had a solid foundation to build on.

He wondered what rituals the greats before him performed to arrive at the second word. What did Dostoevsky, do? Fyodor considered Dostoevsky the greatest writer of all time. He hadn’t read any of his books, but he empathized with the Wikipedia blurb summarizing the way he’d almost been executed, then sent to jail in Siberia where he served hard labor in the freezing cold after release, losing almost a decade of his life before he could write his first masterpiece, Crime and Punishment. Fyodor understood what it felt like to be outside in the snow (he was raised in the Wisconsin). As far as he was concerned, no author had suffered as much as Fyodor Dostoevsky, so no author was as great (and, if nothing else, no one had a more interesting name).

Fyodor sat at his desk waiting for the second word to arrive. What would come after ‘Me’? The room had become silent like a funeral full of mimes. He had to walk. He had to move his body. For hours, he went in circles counterclockwise around the room, feeling the impatience of the world and the rotation of the earth. Then when the spinning made him dizzy, he went running back to hug the toilet where acid rushed up his throat and broke the reflection of his enlightened face looking back up from the toilet water. He vomited chunks of his soul and instead of one word, a dozen poured out to form the entire first sentence: Men fought wars across the steppes of time not for the love of women, nor for the love of God, but for the love of self.

Fyodor had no time to celebrate his epiphany. He ran back to his desk and wrote the sentence with his blood, then pushed the paper away from his face to objectively evaluate if he was truly onto something or if he was a delusional fool. Self doubt had a way of always creeping in to sabotage his potential greatness. But now his thoughts were recorded on paper. He read the sentence out loud and waited for a sign.

“Men fought wars across the steppes of time not for the love of women, nor for the love of God, but for the love of self.”

There was a silence, like the calm before a sewage pipe explodes. And then the realization hit him: The first word was not “Me.” It was, “Men.” This word was not consciously chosen by his ego, but sent as a divine message from above. All the years of waiting in his round room had turned him into God’s vessel, a messenger for tomorrow. Like locust falling from the sky, words started raining into his thoughts. All he had to do was receive and transcribe. Through his very blood, a new text would emerge to speak to the human race.

Fyodor refilled his ink, closed his eyes and wrote the second sentence, and then he wrote the third, and then the fourth…and the floodgates of his mind broke open, sending ideas out like looters at a riot.

While he wrote without pause, Fyodor could see his name surpass the great novelists and philosophers. To hell with Rousseau, Sartre or Camus. Karl Marx had missed the mark too. This text, when completed, could sit comfortably in people’s homes next to their Bible (possibly replace it one day). Wars could end, civilizations could live in peace again, and society could restore dignity to the poor, if everyone read this book when it was finished. Fyodor could single-handedly eradicate social class and restore intercontinental harmony around the world.

For forty days, Fyodor sat alone sucking his blood into the fountain pen and writing his sacred text. His body became weaker, but his mind persevered until he finished the last word on page one thousand and one.

Two weeks later, his landlord came to collect the rent and found Todd’s corpse next to the manuscript. The police arrived to investigate and concluded that he had committed suicide using a fountain pen. They collected his body and preserved it along with his belongings for his next of kin.

Weeks later, Todd was cremated and stored in a little container. Experts tried to read his manuscript, but not a word could be deciphered due to his illegible handwriting. It was dismissed as a lengthy suicide note, but since no one came to claim his body, his manuscript was buried along with his ashes in a government-owned plot of land.