Endings are always bittersweet, even more so when you’ve learned to love your Ukranian slave dwarf like a second cousin or a friend’s cool older brother. Ryan and I knew Re:Generator had to end, that our secret underground bunker had to be emptied of all evidence we were ever there and filled in with concrete. These measures will come soon enough, but for now, we’re pondering just what is to be done with Федір.
To be honest, we have no idea.
When we found him near the docks of Дніпропетровськ in early 2006, the timing couldn’t have been better. He spoke just enough English to be hilarious. “You vant be blown?” he solicited to Ryan. Ryan did, and while Федір went to town on him, we offered to sneak him into our fabled land of plenty in exchange for further services. We were trying to get a new publication off the ground, we explained, and if we could convince him to be our assistant, working for very little – for free, really, other than the promise of food and a cage in a closet for shelter – the United States was his for the taking. He agreed, towelled off Ryan’s potent seed, and joined us on an unforgettable journey.
Those early years, we were inseparable. Some may argue it’s because we chained him to the workstation in his claustrophobic closet during business hours and locked his cage at night, but I like to think we formed a strong emotional bond. While we took all the credit for our evolving project, it was Федір who kept Re:Generator running smoothly, found our stories, and wrote first drafts in his pathetic pidgin English. Truly, he was a gift from the gods.
And then, the divisive Democratic presidential primaries of 2008 happened. We should have noticed the red flags sooner. Федір had always been a workaholic, but as the Clinton campaign amped up its desperate tactics, he went days without any sleep. We would have enforced his rest but the output from our little man was some of the best material he’d ever produced, and readership was skyrocketing. As they say in his homeland, why look a gift dwarf in the goggles?
Bill Clinton’s “race card” comments before the Pennsylvania primary were what put poor Федір over the edge, pushing him into a comatose state. Instead of being revived by the Ukrainian Honey potion, he plunged deeper into a coma. The doctor we brought in – at least, we think he was a doctor; he wore a white coat and made grim faces – informed us our Slavic slave was all but done for. We were on our own, and without his invaluable assistance, Re:Generator began to flounder. So when he revived this past May, it seemed like things were finally on the upswing.
Something is terribly wrong with Федір. He rarely speaks now, and when he does, the subject matter has a touch of the apocalyptic. He speaks distantly of the lakes of fire, of creatures never seen by mortal beings so terrible he often cries uncontrollably as he describes their blood-caked carapaces. He doesn’t help, he doesn’t write, he seems uninteresting in fellating Ryan, he rarely eats, he never sleeps and his involuntary howling can even be heard on street level.
Ryan says the only humane thing to do now is end his life. “He’s seen things in the spaces between this life and the next that no one was meant to behold. That, or we broke him with that concoction full of mercury. Either way, I can’t stand to see him like this.”
I’m grasping at straws, looking for any other way to deal with the problem. “What if we free him?” I implore, my voice breaking. “What if we unleash him on the glorious cacophony of the outside world like we always promised we would? It’s not too late.”
“Robert, look at him,” Ryan says gently. “I was right in May and I’m right now. There’s no hope for him.” Федір has his left index finger in his mouth, gnashing his teeth animatedly. Blood is running down his face like a sanguinary goatee. He stops, shudders, and spits something onto the ground. It’s his finger. He chuckles with unearthly amusement.
In that moment, Ryan knows I’m on his side. Wordlessly, he motions for me to herd Федір into his cage. I heed the battlemaster’s command, and for his part, Федір offers little resistance. It’s heartbreaking, but letting him continue like this is even more so. Ryan returns with his antique English Brown Bess musket. He loads the longrifle, aims, and… nothing. Tears cloud his eyes.
“Do it, damn you!” I scream. “I can’t take it any more!” Eyes closed, Ryan squeezes the trigger. An ear-shattering thunderclap fills the room for a moment, then passes, as if it had never been. Федір lies motionless on the floor, the space where his head was now akin to an over-ripe cantaloupe. “It’s over,” Ryan says hoarsely, “and so is Re:Generator.”
Truly, there is nothing left to say. We leave the bunker for the last time in uncomfortable silence, the knowledge of our deed obscuring any relief we might feel at the unshouldering of a great burden. Федір has been freed, in a way, and it is up to the living to contend with what, if anything, that means.