Caligari’s Children by Rose Sand & Ann Powell

BOMB 7 Fall 1983

Home of the Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Company


You find yourself thinking (in Los Angeles)
a lot about what the future will be like.
You yourself put the past behind you when you came here.
And anyway the white light of the sun on Pico Bouvelard
at 6:00 PM when you’re driving west will do the rest
for you. There won’t be anything left of the past.
You better make a future up.

So you write a script about a future world.

Centuries go by.      Bombs fall.      The world ends. Then
starts up again like a car with a rusty motor. Mankind
survives, running on empty.      There’s a strontium 90
in the bones of the survivors, though, a terrible loss.
They call it Memory.

Nobody knows what Memory really is. Just that it is gone.
They think about it all the time. They dream about it.
They dig for it, go to war over it.
Sometimes it has a shadowy face, sometimes mechanical
moving parts. A toaster oven could be it, a hula doll.

Sometimes it glows in the dark
(the way your own past does when the temperature
suddenly drops and the night turns deceptively Eastern)

But it’s a fraud and they know it.
Mankind is dying of this loss that’s worse than a million
trillion white blood cells multiplying like crazy.

Caligari’s Children is the story
of how the Past was won.

* * *

 

This story takes place, oh, let’s say the time is 150 AB that’s after the bomb, you know. And let’s imagine a world of fierce red sunsets, purple dawns, black sands contaminated areas where no man goes, glistening sheets of green glass underfoot, fused by some long past nuclear war. Skeletal towns rising out of the endlessly blowing winds, parched desert outposts, broken highways leading nowhere, nomadic tribes of lost people, frightened people, ignorant people, the wogs. AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL 2482 …

Nobody in the story knows when the world ended. No one can remember back that far. But they do know that one day the dust settled, the people looked around and didn’t like what they saw.

CAMERA scans a blood-red sky, gutted ruins of a city. It sweeps to the outskirts of the city. We see, in a ring around the city, a kind of no-man’s land of debris, a giant garbage dump. The debris rises into a high man-made hill of wrecked steel and iron from an earlier age: pieces of cars, buildings, ten stories high. The hill of wreckage serves as the walls of the city.

Inside the wall rise the outlines of what were once housing projects. Only the frames and stone fire stairs of the buildings remain. The gutted buildings now serve as virtual cliff dwellings for the wogs. They have improvised their tiny hovels right in the buildings connected by the stairs and by a series of ladders. On the ground, shanties have been built out of scrap materials and cloth, forming a casbah of stores selling potions, charms, old scraps. Scrawny animals roam the streets.

There is no electricity. Bonfires blaze everywhere, by day and night. By day, the smoke combined with the fierce sun, makes the town scorch with heat and mist. Even so, it is always cold here; as though human bones have been so chilled during the long night of this dark age it would take more than a fire to warm it.

Maybe two hundred people live in this town. It is a kind of way station on the way to somewhere else and there is a market for bartering. The people wear rags, layers of them, to protect their bodies from the dust and smoke.

The town square is concrete set into the ground, ten feet down: ruins of a former swimming pool.

And so you see things had indeed changed and nobody likes that. Oh most people were the same, not agreeing on anything, fighting all the time. That was nothing new. It was the children that were new. A few of them at first then as time went on more and more. Not animal. Not human. Not anything anybody’s seen before.

Evil, the people called them.

Evilution was the word they had for it. It meant change. It meant terror. It meant death.

We see MEN AND WOMEN, coarse looking brutes, running through the ruins. All are armed with clubs and rusted guns. They stop, having reached the tenement building.

CAMERA races ahead into the building till it stops in the corner of a room where a child huddles in fear. A black haired girl of five with a big head and fierce eyes.

She crouches in fear, this little girl because she is one of the new ones. A mutation. Her name is Caligari.

As the people enter the room, Caligari stretches out her hand and a wall of fire rises up to separate her from the mob.

She could do magic this child, they all could. Magic right out of their heads. They could just imagine a thing and bam, zap there it was.

A MAN sticks his hand in the fire, removes it unscathed. The wall disappears and the girl escapes.

She was powerful but she was small. This was to her advantage because being small is like being a needle in a haystack. Just pile that hay on over you and the needle is safe. And that’s how they came to survive, the CALIGARIS. They just piled that hay on. Years and years went by and they stopped hunting the children, thinking they had wiped them out. They had better things to hunt for, Memory for instance. The one thing that could save them. But nobody ever did find it and a rumor came about that Memory would be found by a child belonging to a tribe of children. The hunt was on again, for the children, but some were grown, like Caligari, and ready to capture Memory for their own.

INT. BUNKERS. NIGHT. SOMEWHAT LATER IN THE STORY.

The boy walks down a passageway painted all around in dazzling colors. To his right a landscape, all green and blue, filled with happy romping figures.

Then as he moves on he passes blackness, fire raining from the sky.

Next comes a section of wall painted fiery red and yellow like a big sun come down to earth.

Then a black landscape in which a seated figure—wog obviously—sits with a big caligari baby between its teeth.

More hunt scenes: wogs chasing caligaris. Caligaris hiding underground. The paintings are bright, simple, and crude.

A first he’s so engrossed that he doesn’t notice Caligari herself sitting on the floor near the end of the passage. A crudely fashioned paintbrush is in her hand. Pots of color surround her.

BOY: Did you do all this?

(She nods her head yes.)

CALIGARI: It’s what we’ve been and what we’ve come to.

(He sits down on the floor, watches her paint. He eyes a blank wall behind her. Points to it.)

BOY: There’s nothing there.

CALIGARI: That’s memory.

BOY: But there’s nothing there.

CALIGARI: That’s right.

BOY: If you don’t know what it is or ain’t seems to me you ain’t never gonna find it. It could be anything now, couldn’t it?

(a beat)

Could be that thing around your neck. Anything.

(She stands, points to a scene of happy life.)

CALIGARI: You see this? This is what it was. Everybody knew everything then and everybody lived in perfect harmony. That is, ’til they burned themselves out during the Trouble Time.

(she leans closer)

Now tell me, what was the difference between them and us?

(He doesn’t know.)

CALIGARI: They had Memory.

(excited)

Memory knew what was what. If you had problems, no trouble.

(snaps her fingers)

Just step right up and ask Memory.

(cutting motion with her arm)

Zap! Zap! Problems gone.

(hugs belly in pain)

Oooooh, I’m so hungry, I ain’t got a thing to eat, poor me. Zap! Food coming right up sir, on the double, courtesy of Memory.

(beat, mournful air)

Feeling a bit under the weather, don’t worry. Memory’ll fix it all up.

(The boy laughs.)

CALIGARI: (expansive) Zap! Zap! That’s memory. Plenty to eat, lots of fine rags, perfect harmony. It was something alright and it didn’t go away. It’s there. Just waitin’ for the smart guy to find it and start the whole ball rollin’ again.

BOY: I’ve seen the world. All that’s left is wogs and bounty boys.

(a beat)

Pictures don’t mean nothing but dreams.

(There’s a long pause between them. She bends down close.)

CALIGARI: That wasn’t no dream …

(points to painting)

and this ain’t no dream. It’s all one thing. And you can’t wake up out of it.

The Music Lovers by Susan Friedland
Related
Simon Critchley’s Memory Theatre by Nova Benway
Liam Gillick Combo

“Who speaks in the work of Samuel Beckett?” asks Simon Critchley in his probing 1998 essay on the nature of the Irish writer’s narrative voice.

Angélica Gorodischer by Marguerite Feitlowitz
Gambaro 02 Body

“Life here is surreal” writes science fiction author Angélica Gorodischer in a letter to Marguerite Feitlowitz. Here she discusses the writing life in a time and place where independent thinkers face the risk of anything from torture to death.

Double Lunar Dogs by Joan Jonas
Joan Jonas 01

Location: the spiral museum as space ship, audience below in the past looking up at a scroll unwinding on the different tracks, the ramps, the corridors, where illusion occurs …

Originally published in

BOMB 7, Fall 1983
Read the issue