I am walking down the streets of neon lights and gleaming billboards. A huge greasy doughnut is following me up to the corner of the street, blabbering on about his lemon custard and chocolate topping. I run away. The sparkly billboards dazzle me. I squint, then close my eyes. Someone shoves a flier into my hand. It offers a seventy percent discount for a new haircut. I crumple the flier and toss it into a bin nearby. The bin is glittering with red and blue stripes: an ad for a sugar-free chewing gum. I scowl and keep walking.
A giant slice of pizza is waving its gloved hand at me. I need to try their new pepperoni with eighty percent discount, it tells me. If I bring a friend, the walking slice of pizza promises two bottles of beer.
I slog away through the forest of billboards. They are square, round, rectangular; they glimmer, they blaze, they glow and sparkle and hurt my eyes. They are offering me the best, the finest, the latest—all that I need for happiness.
I hang my head down and run.
I stumble upon a friend under a striped tent. He's smiling. He’s come across the best hot dog stand in the town and offers me a sausage drowning in mayonnaise.
“Give it a try,” he says. “I've just found this place. Saw it in my dream.”
I look at the hot dog in my hand. It’s big and greasy and smells of spice. Suddenly, the pink sausage opens its eyes and stares at me.
“Did you see me in your dream too?” it asks in a squeaky voice.
I gasp and drop that terrible hot dog to the ground. The billboards are still blazing.
“Get noticed!” says a blond woman from a banner. She's clad in a red dress, showing off her long legs and red patent shoes.
“Let’s shoot ‘em up,” says a muscular hunk with a smartgun. I think I know him, have seen his stony face on the posters at every movie theater.
“Get slim with magic tea,” promises a man with a turban on his head.
A little girl on another billboard is throwing a tantrum, her face a mix of rage and apocalyptic ire. The billboard blinks and the wild girl is replaced with a smiling little angel, pressing a gorgeous doll to her chest.
“Our toys change your kids,” says the caption.
The billboards begin to swell and rise into the air. I hear their endless buzzing as they fill the space above me, forcing me to retreat, making me feel small, insignificant.
“The best prices.”
“The biggest discounts.”
“Buy the cheapest.”
“Buy three for the price of one.”
The air is lacking, I can’t breathe. The billboards are choking me and the hot dog on the ground is telling me to pick it up and have a bite.
“Eat me,” it's yelling. “Twenty-five percent more meat. Eat me! Eat me! Eat me!”
* * *
I wake up covered in sweat. I know it's morning, but I can't see the sun. I have to trust the clock. I see very little sky. It's hidden behind soaring billboards. Hundreds, thousands of billboards.
I want to stay at home forever, to hide from all that glow. I need a space free from commercials, but home is not safe either. My doorway is littered with fliers, my post box is crammed with visiting cards. My message box is sinking in unread messages about vacations and Viagra.
I'm walking down the streets again. Buses and trams are advertising lipstick and toilet paper. I’m constantly chased by walking cellphones and anthropomorphous sausages. A food cutter and a talking tire join them.
There’s a familiar face around the corner, waiting for the doors of the movie theater to open. I know her, we used to work together in a discount store before I quit.
“Heard about this movie in my dream,” she says. “Can you believe it? Talk about mystery.”
Talk about trouble, I think, but say nothing. I have dreamt about that movie, too.
My head starts spinning, overwhelmed by the perfume odors, the smells of food, the sparkling jewelry and neon lights. Fish cans and mascara bottles chase me down the streets, trying to foist on me their fliers, testers, and discount cards. I avoid them. I walk faster. I run.
It’s night, but I don’t see the moon. The sky is shielded with blazing lights: red, blue, yellow, green, pink, purple; they mingle, they shine, they sparkle and lure me into the kingdom of commercials.
“You need us,” they say. “We’ll make you happy.”
* * *
I go to bed. I sleep, but don’t rest. I see them again. Fliers float in the air. People from the banners wink at me. Posters fill my last free space.
I wake up covered in sweat. I don’t want commercials in my dreams. My dreams are my last haven, they belong to me, they can't be rented!
I roll over in my bed and press the remote controller with my elbow. The TV turns on. The light pierces my eyes. Soon they adjust and I see commercials.
Someone on the TV talks about a revolutionary advertising method. I wonder what else they’ve come up with. Was there anything else left? There’s no more space. Every inch of this world is covered with billboards. Banners shield the sky, posters cover the streets and pavements. Everything talks, walks and sells.
“Yes, this is a true revolution,” says the man from the TV. “We need all the space. We need to use it all. Every inch of it!”
I wait impatiently for him to go on. I need to hear what they have done. No, I think, not that. Not my sanctuary.
“Yesss!” he yells. “We're advertising in dreams! An expensive service, but worth every penny.”
I wake up covered in sweat. Burgers and cupcakes chased me while I slept.
I pull the drawer open and take out my gun. I load it and press it to my temple. I don’t want to shoot. Once I loved life.
I lower the gun down and look out the window. I see billboards. Where are my stars? I don’t want these shiny banners, I want stars. Please, give me back my stars.
I run out, the gun squeezed in my hand. I try not to look at the banners. I don’t want a new hairdryer, a new microwave oven, a new car... I don't want their discounts, I don't care for their sales.
They have stolen my stars.
I wander down the streets for hours, but can’t find a free space. We need to use every inch, I remember the man's words from the TV.
Up in the air I see balloons with ads; hang gliders with commercials cross the littered sky. Flags flip over my head. Something crumples under my foot. Once autumn leaves, now just fliers and discount cards.
I shove the gun into my mouth. This time I don't hesitate.
* * *
It's black at first, empty. No sound. No smell. Nothing. I keep my eyes shut for some time, to be sure no one’s trying to sell me anything.
I open my eyes and feel them well with tears. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen the sky. It's beautiful. I see a sunrise, and I see the stars. I don’t know how it can be, but maybe the rules here are different. Or maybe somehow I have deserved this much beauty.
The breeze caresses my face. The hill I’m standing on is covered with daisies. They tremble with every gust of the wind.
“Couldn't take it anymore?”
I turn around. The voice belongs to an old friend of mine. He's been gone for three months. A suicide. He's leaning against the tree and smiling knowingly. Then he bends down and helps me to my feet.
“I needed freedom,” I say.
I look around again, to be sure I’m free. I take a deep breath. The air is clean, not stinking with perfume and roasted chicken. The tree is not plastic, the grass is not synthetic turf. The sun is up and is warmer than the light bulbs. I pick up a daisy. I haven’t touched a real flower for so long. They didn’t grow in my town anymore, they were imported and sold.
I want to go down the hill, but my friend stops me.
“Stay here,” he says.
“This is the last hill,” he says. “The last free space.”
The air clogs in my throat and my hands quake. “In the afterlife?” I ask.
“But why?” I yell. “Why in the afterlife?”