City X: A Novel in 101 Tweets
Alberto Chimal’s Twitter novel, Ciudad X: Novela en 101 Tuits, was originally published on Twitter on October 10, 2014, and subsequently in print version a year later, along with another short novel, Día común [Common day], in a collection titled Historia siniestra [Sinister story].
According to Chimal, the novel “is an introduction to something that’s about to happen, something catastrophic, that is marked by a series of signs, things happening somewhere, in a city, perhaps Mexico City or somewhere else, which the inhabitants themselves cannot see, but those of us who are watching from the outside can. Because we are readers, we can’t do anything to stop what is happening. We can only continue reading.”
In the spirit of the original Twitter publication, City X: A Novel in 101 Tweets was live-tweeted on October 31, 2018. The translation was prepared by graduate students in translation at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, under the direction of their professor, Dr. George Henson, translation editor for Latin American Literature Today and former lecturer at the University of Oklahoma.
100 people—women and men, young and old—say these words at the same time.
99 bodies appear buried in a clandestine grave.
98 schoolgirls missed their 7 o’clock class. They’re found lined up in the Main Square, standing at attention.
97 stray dogs wander into the cathedral, walk down a side aisle, and leave without anyone managing to catch them.
96 legislators look at their colleague, asleep in his chair in the Assembly. He squirms. A trickle of saliva falls from his mouth.
95, writes a seer, who doesn’t know what she is and thinks she’s only a secretary, stuck for the rest of her life in a shitty job.
94 stone figurines displayed in the Museum of Anthropology are found one morning ground to dust in their locked glass cases.
A student who’s in prison, accused of “social dissolution,” dies after receiving 93 blows to the head.
92 families arrive, at this moment, fleeing distant cities.
91 families leave the city at this moment, fleeing. They don’t know where they’re going to go.
90 years of peace! says the old man, as he pounds the table with his cane. It would have been 90 years if they’d allowed the death penalty.
A subway train stops for 89 minutes. Passengers see lights at the end of the tunnel.
Due to a printing error, in today’s copy of La Prensa the number 88 is superimposed over the graphic images on the front page.
I was born in ‘87, says the elderly woman. No, Mamá, in ‘30. It’s the Alzheimer’s, says her son-in-law.
Something—an explosion, an earthquake, strong but minute—causes a single building in a multi-family housing complex to fall, killing 86 people
85, said one of Don Adrián’s parrots in a clear voice; it then bit his hand, drawing blood, and flew away.
A woman begins to boil water and verifies, with a thermometer, that the temperature has reached exactly 84 degrees C and proceeds to stick her face in the pot.
83 girls, locked in the same warehouse, listen to their captors tell them how much money they expect from them daily.
At the embassy, 82 people have received visas with the same error: the same photo of a random person instead of their own.
81 people, says the father of the family when the waiter asks how many of them there are. He’s with his wife and two children.
80 spectators are watching a horror film in a theater when, at the same time, they feel a hand touch the side of their neck.
79 flies crash simultaneously into the same electric grid and die in a burst of blue.
78 hours after locking himself away to drink himself to death, a young man, an aspiring poet, is successful.
77 kilos of meat, bought recently for a restaurant, are infested with yellow and green maggots.
76 leaves from trees in a park, after falling to the ground, form a sequence of symbols: a message. No one reads it.
75, says the host of the variety show. He stops dancing. The other host and the bikini models look at him perplexed.
74 imprisoned activists leave jail. All of the doors open on their own as they pass by. Everyone looks away.
The producer makes a mistake and Haydn’s Symphony No. 73 in D major is heard for 73 seconds on a tropical music station.
One after another, throughout the day, without identifying themselves, the voices of 72 dead people call into the classical music station.
A woman goes into a store and buys all 71 wedding dresses available in the display window.
Doña Luz has died alone in her room. It will take days to find her. One by one, 70 grubs emerge from her mouth.
69 workers in the clandestine laboratory look at each other, terrified: their mouths are suddenly bleeding.
The Facebook post of a teenager who’s planning to commit suicide gets 68 mocking comments.
All 67 of you, the preacher shouts to the crowd, are equally bad, because you don’t give everything to the Lord. He then takes out the collection basket.
The patient’s already written the phrase WHAT WILL HAPPEN WHEN EVERYTHING IS OVER on the wall 66 times in his own blood. He starts over.
How old are you? someone asks the naked little boy as he emerges from the gutter. He answers: 65.
64 students from secundaria watch their teacher scream, then jump out the classroom window.
63 minutes pass before anyone notices the presence of a stabbed man, who all but dragged himself to the emergency room door.
62 nursing home residents cut their left hand. They then show their caretakers their red palms.
61 million dollars in gold are found in an SUV abandoned—nobody understands how— on the roof of a bank.
A stranger offers a young girl a deck of 60 tarot-like cards with strange figures on them: The Gardener, The Rabid Dog, The Black Flame…
59 feral cats, with big eyes and visible canines, give birth to litters of the same size, at the same time, on the same empty lot.
58 soldiers hesitate to line up in the military sector: they’ve lost their voices and can’t respond to their sergeant.
A secretary composes 57 pages that describe “the catastrophe to come.” Afterward, she doesn’t know what else to do.
An employee who enters a steam room to clean it finds 56 bones: human and animal.
55 cellphones, accidentally connected, form a single mind that perceives future horrors for a few moments.
The leaves at the bottom of a small cup of Turkish coffee read with absolute precision: 54.
Page 53 of every magazine sold at the stand on the corner of Compromiso and Pluralismo has Xs instead of Os.
The 52 white keys of the piano at Bar La Roca all begin to produce the same deep, sharp sound.
The women who left the prison walk for 51 minutes without anyone stopping them. They stop themselves in front of a church.
There are 50 skeletons in the temple’s basement. They’re yet to be discovered. Someone left a note by their side: a second message, in vain.
49 policemen reach the women, look at them and realize they’re outnumbered. They leave. Weren’t there more of us? one asks.
A restroom in a government office is exactly 48°C below zero. It’s attributed to a malfunctioning heater.
During cleaning, 47 pictures of butts are found in a file in a toy factory in the northern sector.
46 birds fall dead over Avenida Central in a V shape, just like a migration drawing.
A little girl says that the alphabet of a language in which it’s impossible to lie contains 45 symbols. No one remembers it anymore.
44 DVDs at a bootleg stand have a thick, translucent liquid on the inside of the plastic sleeve.
During a private party, shouting for all to hear, the governor toasts “to the 43 dead bodies.”
42, says the salesman in a shoe store. He repeats it. He doesn’t realize it. He thinks he’s having a normal conversation with the customer.
41 couples staying in a motel in the southern sector suddenly forget every memory of every pleasure.
Each of those who’ve received the message and portent is observed by exactly 40 people as they go out into the street.
39 cellphones, still in their boxes in a store downtown, receive the same message.
38 men in suit and bowtie get on the same subway car and look at each other, bewildered and amused.
Just as the autopsy’s about to begin, a body in the coroner’s office spontaneously heats up to 37 degrees C.
36 fake coins appeared at dawn in a fountain in Parque España (but no one saw a thing).
The custodian at Preparatoria 35 discovers that he’s a seer; perhaps he knew it all along. Red images are superimposed on everything he sees.
34 teenagers, all invited to the same party, drink what they think is really cheap mezcal. Later on, they begin to feel the effects.
Someone hacks the city government’s website. Visitors to the site read the phrase WHAT WILL HAPPEN WHEN EVERYTHING IS OVER repeated 33 times.
The volcano begins to spew vapor and ash, which falls over a 32-km radius around the crater.
The 31 partners, both men and women, of a man from the San Esteban neighborhood call him on the phone, one after the other: nostalgia, they say.
A crowd surrounds and tries to lynch 30 police officers who were sent to Colonia La Rosa to make arrests.
29 babies are given to the wrong parents at the maternity ward of the Hospital General. No one will know for many years to come.
Somewhere on an avenue, a millionaire’s escort detail separates from his car and runs over 28 people with their SUVs.
27 drivers in the underground parking garage on Avenida 10 suddenly feel an insurmountable fear of closed spaces.
26 policemen appear in the basement of a temple with their hands and feet bound. They don’t know what else is there. How did we get here? one of them asks.
A patient in a coma wakes up in the hospital. I won’t make it to 25, she says, although she’s much older.
A cat walks on a keyboard, causing a third warning appear in a dead language: 24 letters. No one reads them.
If they knew each other, if they talked to each other, 23 people would know they had watched of the seers walk by when they heard the first explosion.
22 drunks fall asleep at the same time in a seedy cantina, one on top of the other, like brothers… or like animals.
The housing unit Siglo 21 is set on fire by its own residents, who then fan out throughout the streets, carrying torches.
20 military transport vehicles arrive at the square and men get out and open fire.
19 public streetlights explode all at the same time. No one notices the increase in darkness.
For 18 seconds, a face, no one knows whose, appears on everyone’s television screen.
17 dinner guests in the restaurant’s most expensive private room die, choking on fish bones.
16 flights are held up at the airport: the pilots are crying uncontrollably.
15 of his dealers are executed in an alley, but the supplier doesn’t show up at the meeting: he’s seen the future. Now he can’t stop seeing it.
14 naked boys tremble on the edge of a pool, where a man shouts that they will never have another opportunity like this.
13 neighborhoods in the east lose power all at the same time. Screams can be heard in the pitch-dark streets.
In 12 neighborhoods in the city center, several new fires are started.
11 dogs fight over one of the first dead bodies.
Anchors from the 10 most-watched programs feel compelled to tell people to remain calm.
The city’s 9 main avenues are full of abandoned cars. No one will escape from here either.
8 vehicles crash into the same number of buildings: two bicycles, a motorcycle, three cars, a bus, a plane with passengers.
7 of the seers meet at the opening of the tunnel. Their number’s part of the omen: a number that the world clock strikes.
6 trucks that were transporting gasoline fall from an overpass onto a crowd.
5 soldiers decide to flee in the helicopter in which they were supposed to pick up several VIPs, who hurl insults at them from the ground.
People from the 4 points of the city surround the seers, amid the flames and the cries.
Speak now, a woman says: invoke the 3 powers, the countless spirits, I don’t know, speak, say something.
The others look at her but don’t understand. Either we’re all lost, she adds, or we manage to hold on a bit longer, another bit tomorrow, forever.
In an instant all is saved or lost, the oldest says. Speak. Look & see if you can find the word to save us.
Then he dies: someone in the crowd shoots or stabs him; he doesn’t know which: in fact, he doesn’t know anything anymore.
“Is this the end?”
“There’s never an end here,” responds the voice, which doesn’t sound human, amid the flames.
Translated by Sara Caplan, Rita Correa, Mónica Bravo Díaz, Rachel Echeto, Emily Gilmore, Lauren Hammer, Hannah Mitchell, Matthew Mogulescu Ross, and LaTasha Weston (pictured above with author Alberto Chimal, on screen).
Alberto Chimal is one of Mexico’s most celebrated writers of speculative and experimental fiction. The recipient of numerous literary prizes, Chimal is author of more than twenty books, which have been translated into several languages. His most recent book, Manos de lumbre [Hands of fire], was published in October 2018 by Páginas de Espuma. A frequent contributor to Latin American Literature Today, Chimal curated a dossier on speculative fiction for our May 2018 issue.
The eighth issue of Latin American Literature pays homage to Nicaraguan writer and politician Sergio Ramírez, winner of the 2017 Cervantes Prize and an important voice in a country currently gripped by crisis. We also feature poetry from Octavio Armand, as well as special sections dedicated to four indigenous writers of Mexico and Guatemala, bilingual sci-fi from Worldcon 76, and the poetry of Marosa di Giorgio, Olga Orozco, and Elena Garro.