All this week, SF Signal is running an excerpt from The Tel Aviv Dossier by Lavie Tidhar and Nir Yaniv.
Here’s what the book is about:
The wind picks up even more, pushing me, as if it’s trying to jerk the camera away from my hands. I spin around and the camera pans across the old bus terminal and someone screams…
Into the city of Tel Aviv the whirlwinds come, and nothing will ever be the same.
Through a city torn apart by a violence they cannot comprehend, three disparate people — a documentary film-maker, a yeshiva student, and a psychotic fireman — must try to survive, and try to find meaning: even if it means being lost themselves. As Tel Aviv is consumed, a strange mountain rises at the heart of the city, and shows the outline of what may be another, alien world beyond. Can there be redemption there? Can the fevered rumours of a coming messiah be true?
As the city loses contact with the outside world and closes in on itself, as the few surviving children play and scavenge in the ruins, can innocence survive, and is it possible for hope to spring amid such chaos?
A potent mixture of biblical allusions, Lovecraftian echoes, and contemporary culture, The Tel Aviv Dossier is part supernatural thriller, part meditation on the nature of belief–an original and involving novel painted on a vast canvas in which, beneath the despair, humour is never absent.
Experience the last days of Tel Aviv…
Read on for the first excerpt…
A DOCUMENTARY (VIDEO RECORDING, PART I-HAGAR)
I’m standing in the old bus station filming the refugees from Darfur when it happens. The sky turns almost imperceptibly darker, and where before the air was hot and still now a breeze picks up, running against my cheek like a wet tongue, and I taste salt. I am annoyed because I need to take another light reading now and the scene in front of me is shifting, but I have no choice. I am making a new documentary, my third. You might have seen my previous work- A Closed House, about that orphanage in Be’er Sheva, or The Painted Eyes, about the Russian immigrant prostitutes that I filmed right here in the old bus station of Tel Aviv. I take social issues seriously- I think it’s important to bring them to the public’s attention, even though it is hard to make a living this way and I still have to work as an usher at the cinema three days a week. I don’t mind, at least it’s still working with films, and at least I don’t have to be a waitress like all the wannabe actresses and singers and dancers in Tel Aviv.
I am here at the station to film the refugees that are smuggled into Israel across the Egyptian border. They’re from Darfur, in Sudan, and they came here looking for a place where they won’t be killed or tortured or raped. In response, the government locked them up. Our local human rights organizations petitioned the supreme court, which held that the imprisonment was unlawful. Following that, the refugees were abandoned in the streets of Be’er Sheva and elsewhere in the country, and today a group of them was being dumped in Tel Aviv.
While I am filming I can’t help notice that the sun seems to dim and the sky is no longer a bright blue but greying and there are streaks of colour running through it, red and black, and clouds are forming in crazy spiral shapes. It is all happening very rapidly. On the ground the refugees are just milling about, looking lost and hopeless, and the few civil rights people waiting for them are handing out sandwiches and trying to see if they can match people to the lists on their clipboards. I hope they can find everyone accommodation. I’d offer too, but I’m sharing a flat with two other people already. Anyway, now almost everyone is looking up too. The wind is picking up and the air feels strange, like there’s a raw current of electricity in it. It makes the hairs on my arms stand and I feel sweaty. I point the camera at the sky. Points of light are prickling in the swirling vista of a storm. They look like stars, but-
The wind picks up even more, pushing me, as if it’s trying to jerk the camera from my hands. I spin around and the camera pans across the old terminal and someone screams.
I don’t know what is happening. The camera is showing the refugees running, though since they don’t know where to go they are just shooting off in different directions. There is a low thrumming sound and the earth seems to vibrate. As I turn I see a shawarma stand and there is the sound of an explosion and I think-terrorists. It’s a terrorist attack. They always go for the old bus station. The front of the shawarma stand explodes outwards and bricks fly over my head. There are more screams and I am still filming the source of the explosion. The old walls seem to wobble, they move almost like jelly, and something is pushing out of them, vast and incomprehensible, something like glistening air and the smell of salt gets stronger and the wind pushes me and again I almost fall and all the angles suddenly become crazy.
Something, like a column of air, is moving through the bus station, tearing apart buildings, the road, lifting up people. I watch through the camera as a Darfur family gets sucked into the air and shredded-their bits like blood oranges fly in all directions and splatter the ground. I try to run but the maelstrom of air is sucking me towards it, more people are torn apart and I watch an old Chasid in black as he rises in the air and then explodes. There’s a rain of blood over the old bus station and the sky darkens further above and the wind moans between the buildings. Another thing rises slowly from the ground and then another one and now cars are flying through the air and I see one bus crushed with people inside it, flattened on the road and blood is sipping out through the cracks that are all that’s left of the windows. I’m running, I’m holding the camera but it’s not pointing anywhere, all I can think of is trying to get away. I weave a path between the things and the wind sucks me once here and once there but as long as I stay in a half-way point I manage not to get sucked in. Everywhere people are screaming and I realize I am screaming too. Something hits me in the face and I try not to look but as it falls I see it, someone’s hand, I even notice the wedding ring and the thick black hairs on the knuckles, a man’s hand. Is this happening all over the city? Does Iran have a new type of weapon and they’ve finally used it on us? Is it Hezbollah? Is it Hamas? The Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades? I run as hard as I can, away from the station, without direction. I think the camera is still on.
THE FIREMAN’S GOSPEL, PART I (ELI-APOCRYPHAL?)
It has been, all in all, a very good day, though it didn’t start like one. We rescued a kid who got stuck in a locked bathroom somewhere in Dizengoff street right after beginning our shift, and then spent the rest of the morning sitting in the station, doing nothing except arguing about the proper usage of axes in general and my own axe in particular, a subject upon which Avi and Yekutiel were rather too willing to dwell.
“Couldn’t you have at least tried to open the door in some conventional way before chopping it up like that?” Avi said.
“You almost hit that kid’s head with it, you crazy bastard,” Yekutiel said.
As letting anyone know that I don’t give a yesterday’s falafel about the life or death of children or anyone else is never a good idea, I didn’t bother to reply at all, just applied the old trick of lowering my head and staring at the floor.
“Oh, now you’ve insulted him, Kuti,” Avi said. “I mean, you’ve got to give it to him, he got the boy out of there in five seconds.” Less than five seconds, thank you very much.
“He almost scalped the boy in five seconds,” Yekutiel said. “I’m telling you, this guy is dangerous. He has no feelings at all.”
I do have feelings. I remember how I felt when I saw the Twin Towers falling, on TV. Or rather, when I saw the firemen working there. I envied them. I wanted to be in their place, every day of my life. Because if there’s one feeling I cannot stand it’s boredom. I’m an all-action kind of guy. And all I got so far today was this silly kid and a wooden door. I have feelings-strong feelings, you idiot-they’re just not like yours.
“Well, just leave it,” Avi said. “Is it lunchtime yet?” But it wasn’t, and when it finally came it wasn’t we who were eating.
“Too early,” I said, and just as I was saying it I felt something, a momentary loss of balance, maybe a tremor. “Did you feel that?” “Oh, so now you do feel something!” Kuti said.
“Enough, Kuti,” Avi said, and then there was another movement, a rumble, and all of us felt it.
“What the . . . ?” Kuti said.
Israel isn’t very big on earthquakes. The minor ones that do occur here are rare enough to be mentioned in the papers. The last serious one happened in the early twentieth century. We’re not used to them. We never expect them.
“It can’t be an earthquake!” Kuti said, and then, well, it felt as if the whole building went up, then down, and then all the windows broke.
“Holy-!” Kuti said.
“I don’t believe . . .” Avi said.
There was a terrific noise outside, that of crashing metal and breaking concrete and the eruption of a water jet, which promptly became visible through our second floor window.
“Holy!” Kuti said.
“We’ve got to get out of here!” Avi said, the most reasonable thing he’d said all day. We all ran to the firepole, which at that point was already leaning at a rather mischievous angle. Avi slid down first, and I followed immediately after. In the yard, our initial-response fire truck was belly dancing. The other, a Hawk fire truck, however, being heavier and steadier, was only gently moving on its wheels, as if contemplating its response to all this, its long ladder clanking loudly above the din. Pieces of wood and concrete were raining on us, as well as all sorts of equipment-hoses, gas masks, fireproof coats, axes, hammers, cutters and some light pornography. After a while, Kuti also fell down on us. He was never too good with the fire pole. Avi grabbed him and dragged him away. The air smelled funny. Everything looked funny. It was great. And I had just thought of something which could make it even better.
“We’ve got to get out of here!” Avi said again.
“Wait!” I shouted. “I have a better idea!” And I ran towards the Hawk. Beside it, the smaller fire truck was all but hula-hooping.
“You’re crazy!” Avi shouted, but dragged Kuti towards me and the Hawk anyway.
“Get in!” I said, and opened the driver’s door and got inside. “We’ll get out of here-in style!”
Bless the makers of fire trucks, they never have ignition problems. Avi pushed Kuti into the passenger’s seat, and he himself climbed over to the rear standing position. And so, tires screaming, ladders clanking, we drove away from the station, which was, by now, seriously breaking apart-and from the smaller fire truck, which was overturned and blowing water and foam in all directions. The whole thing brought to my mind the history of the old PetachTikvah fire station, which burned down twice in less than ten years. What a pity that I wasn’t stationed there at the time. But more than anything I was thinking: it’s starting to look like a really good day!
[Tune in tomorrow for the next excerpt!]