Ethereal Stories: The Song of the Bats

Earth is fucked. In Joshua’s opinion, there is nothing to salvage. The fields are dry, the limestone soil aborts its young before they bud. The sick sun only gives the city a handful of hours a day – or what’s left of it – to feed the plants. Either way, his meager heat isn’t enough to stimulate their wrinkled leaves. The stems lengthen desperately, the shoots become exhausted and spread out the better to return to the earth.
Since the Fall, this planet is nothing more than a big corpse.

— I disagree.
An old plastic bag full of dirt in hand, Eli shakes his head.
— There are solutions, he insists.
— Are you talking about your garden on the third floor?
— That works. I grow more and more stuff.

The third is the last part of the building that did not collapse. The walls are torn without logic, like cutting a sheet by pulling on its ends. It is reached by a staircase that lets in the rain – when it deigns to fall. Eli requisitioned it to start a vegetable garden there and, since then, it has disappeared for hours over his head. Joshua doesn’t care. He takes the opportunity to read old books that he collects from the common library, when he’s not fixing something old or testing his connection. In vain. Few still manage to access the NewWeb today.

— Hey, Josh.
— What ?
— You would not want to let go of your machines, sometimes?

His machines. That’s what Eli calls his tampered radio and the computer he managed to revive. With the energy he diverts, he manages to light them for an hour a day. It’s little, it doesn’t do him much good. But that’s all he has left of his great pre-Fall passion.

— Why ?
— I have something to show you.
Joshua shrugs. He abandons his things to get up.
— Can you take the pallets by the way?

He catches them without answering. The weathered wood is clear against its black skin. He strokes it briefly to check for splinters, then he loads them onto his shoulders. He is muscular, much more than Eli. Even if he never did anything for it.
Joshua has always preferred the silence of a bedroom to the sun of a summer day. It never really worked before. It was… complicated. It’s always been complicated. He is one of those who welcomed the end of the world with relief.
He climbs the stairs at his own pace. Outside, dusk awaits him. If the building they are squatting in was once a proud building, it is now nothing more than an amputated pillar. Broken walls and, in the middle, a pile of pots and planters where Eli spreads his plants.

— You can put it there.
Joshua drops his weight.
— Come.

He does not understand what the other expects of him. He was never good at gardening. If he tried to pull a shoot from his soil, he would probably break the stem. When he wants to water them, he drowns them, and he can’t guess what disease is turning their green leaves into funny yellow spots. No, Joshua does not understand plants. Their nature intimidates him.
But he likes the little cries of bats that rise as night falls.

— Eli?
— It’s over there.

He sees her blonde hair fluttering on her neck. Cut with tears, the rough locks are surly forms. Like leaves scorched by the sun. When he passes his hand over it, the material reminds him of the dead earth they tread on every day. This too hard soil where nothing grows anymore.
Almost nothing.
Every time he looks out the window, he sees only a dry world that is dying. He does not understand why Eli strives to plant his little seeds. Even if he likes the shape of the leaves of the tomato plants.

— here.
An empty dirt container. Good.
— Looked.

Since he’s the one asking, Joshua leans down unbelievingly. He observes and looks at this soft and humid matter which seems to be moving. She swarms. Move of his own volition. It’s weird, but he understands better what is going on by discerning the pink shapes which move in the middle of each other.

— What’s this ?
— Earthworms.
— It’s ugly.

Elijah laughs. His voice, more powerful than his, explodes in the night.

— It’s not made to be beautiful.
— It’s sticky.

Of course, Joshua knows earthworms. He’s seen it a long time ago. Several years.

— And it’s crawling.
— I say. It’s not very pretty to see.
— Why are you putting them there?
— For the compost.

Compost. He’s heard that word many times, but he realizes he doesn’t really know the definition. Compost. It looks like compote. Except he doesn’t want to bite it.

— I do not understand.

He never understands gardening, anyway. And he doesn’t understand why that makes Eli smile either. Instead, he would be offended.

— It’s for growing plants. To feed them.
— And after ?
— There is no after. We mix it with the soil and wait for it to grow.

He takes his hand to drag him to his pots. Not those who sleep outside, no. Those in the big greenhouse. Where he sees two small green circles which are probably future tomatoes.

— That’s life.

— It’s plants.

— Exactly.

Eli strokes the ceramic rim of a pot. Joshua does not imitate him. He hates this material which catches his fingers.

— We haven’t been able to plant anything for years now. The fields are bursting. But that… That, that pushed. With a little effort and patience.
He caresses the underside of an incredibly green leaf.

— Of course it’s nothing compared to what we could do before. It takes time and we don’t even have enough to eat. But it pushes.

There are zucchini, more, far. Their long serrated leaves make it think of teeth. Those of bats.
Joshua is very fond of bats. The curled up cocoon that their bodies form when they hide in an old parasol. Looks like a twisted seed ready to bloom.

— What are the worms for? he asks, pointing to the tray.
— It enriches the soil. They aerate the earth by digging holes, it also promotes the penetration of water, and… It’s complicated to explain, but that’s why the earth isn’t completely punctured.
Aeration, enrichment. It’s fuzzy in Joshua’s head, but Eli says it with such conviction. He sees him running off to grab a book – a big, heavy book with a cracked spine.

— I picked this up at the Chardons bookstore. Must believe that gardening did not interest the looters, he explains by turning the pages. There are things to do. Even if it’s shit, we can still grow plants, Josh.
He catches her eye. Eli has eyes that are too blue, clear as a glass of water. Eyes that can’t lie.
— And as long as you can grow plants, there’s life.

A gust of wind stirs the leaves around them. Those of the shoots that do not sleep in the greenhouse, under artificial lights. Joshua scans the material they have amassed here. These treasures that they struggle to keep alive with their stolen generator.
These little lives that sink their roots into a black earth.

— Maybe.

Most of the time, he doubts that anyone will ever be able to grow as many stems out of the ground as they need. He got used to old cans found in an abandoned apartment that hasn’t been stripped yet. But when Eli’s gaze lights up for a sprout that points the tip of its muzzle, it’s stronger than him.
He finds himself hoping.

Ethereal Stories: The Scream of The Banshee

Here is a little story that touches me a lot because there is a lot of me in it so I hope you’ll like it.

I

A shadow. Suspended above the void, I freeze. Breathe slowly, don’t move, don’t let go. Expect. Do not make noise. Behind me, Elton has stopped too. One minute, two, three, four. The shadow has not returned. Slowly, millimeter by millimeter, I advance my hand along the cable. I grab the next handle, then slide my whole body forward. The friction of my clothes against the metal causes slight vibrations that reverberate throughout the structure. I feel them under my skin, right down to my bones. Elton follows me. The platform is not very far away. The palms of my hands are sweaty, I need chalk. I tighten the grip of my legs then, feeling my way, I look for the bag attached to my harness, slip my fingers into it, grab some fine powder. It clings easily to the calluses and roughness of my hands. A few more meters before security.
I see the edge of the plateau, so close. With a contortion, I throw both my arms at him, grab the sharp edge of metal, and pull myself up on it, oblivious to the pain. On my knees, I catch my breath while Elton clings to his turn before collapsing next to me. A moment of calm, during which we both contemplate the great void that makes up the majority of our universe. It wasn’t always like that. I still remember very well what the city looked like before. Before my mother, before the creature, before fear, before death. Before secrets.

It is cloudy today, humid, and the mist is dense. The silhouettes of tall towers of corroded metal surround us, ghosts of the glory of the Hanging City. Rusty cables disappear into the gray of the sky, the remains of bridges sway gently in the cold, gloomy wind that glides over our skin and makes the hairs on our arms stand on end. The Hanging City, so beautiful, shining in the light of day, is nothing more than a rotting corpse, rotting at the slow rhythm of fear.
Elton pats me on the shoulder to make me turn to face him.

“Night will soon fall,” he signs. “Let’s hurry home. »

I nod. We get up, legs a little wobbly, then we approach the opening cut in the side of the tower. A bay window, surely, when the glass hadn’t yet shattered and disappeared, reduced to sharp dust. Cautiously, I step inside, Elton on my heels. Not much of the furniture remains, but the apartment must have been comfortable. Now it’s mostly depressing. And unsanitary. We sink into the bowels of the building, far into its depths, where the light is only a memory.
I light my torch, with which I sweep the shadows around me. The atmosphere is thick, the smell of humidity invades my nostrils, but I still prefer that to the mask. The walls, bare and dilapidated, torn in places, reveal their metal frame. Elton waves at me and points to a door to our right. We enter.

II

The apartment is not very big, in a surprising state of conservation. Most of the walls still have an identifiable color, which I hadn’t seen in a long time. I put my bag in a corner, scan the place of the eyes, before returning to Elton.

” So ?” he asks with gestures.
“It will be very good. »
He smiles at me, brushes his hand against my cheek.
” I will bring food. “

I nod and watch him walk away, then disappear into a narrow opening. I then begin to activate myself. I set up our meager possessions, the tent, the mattress, the blankets, the electric stove. We should be able to stay here at least a few days. I frown at our stash of batteries. It has never been so low, we will have to make an expedition to the towers of the northern zone. And the northern area is dangerous.
In the evening, we heat up one of the cans that Elton has brought back. Vegetables, no doubt, maybe ratatouille, it looks like it anyway. Elton cleans the pan while I make sure our bedding isn’t on a piece of ground that might collapse overnight.
I slip under the covers and Elton joins me. He settles against my back, caresses my hips with his hand, goes under my sweater to grab one of my breasts. I feel his hot breath on my neck, his erection against my ass. I shift, just enough to be able to take off my clothes. He kisses me, everywhere, on every piece of me that passes within his reach. I feel his lips burning on my skin, drawing marks of fire and making shivers of desire hatch in me that go up along my body.
Well, we’re both naked. I spread my legs and I feel him entering me, slowly, as he knows I like. I sigh, close my legs around him to pull him closer, arch my back, digging my fingers into his back. He accelerates, he always accelerates too soon. Never mind. I let myself be overwhelmed by the pleasure that I feel growing deep inside me. I scream. I bury my face in his neck and close my eyes. I can live like this until the end of time, with Elton inside me, forgetting the world and the fear.

A moment later, Elton is sleeping, his arms around me and his head in the crook of my shoulder. He always falls asleep like that, as if to protect me from the world, or maybe for me to protect him from what’s outside, I’m not sure. I stare at him for a long time. I wonder about him, about me. And as always, my mind drifts and ends up returning to the past. To my mother.

III

I was born deaf, a genetic anomaly whose name I have forgotten. It never really bothered me, because I didn’t know what I was missing, so I turned down the hearing aids. But my mother did not accept it. At that time, the Hanging City was at the height of its glory and its laboratories were state of the art. For years my mother worked on crossbreeding and genetic manipulation of guinea pigs to try to find a cure for my deafness. It did not work. And then one day there was an accident. One of her creatures mutated in a way she hadn’t expected, in a terrifying and destructive way. My mother was his first victim.

I don’t know exactly what species she encountered, but the result caused the downfall of the entire city. The creature fled and hid in the cloudy depths of the city. No one ever saw it, or no one lived long enough to tell. A shadow was just a shadow, impossible to find, impossible to eliminate. On the other hand, everyone heard him. And his cry became the nightmare of all that lived. For that scream was so horrible, so strange and monstrous, that it drove everyone who heard it mad. Most people preferred to die. Many are those who have jumped into the void. Some began to kill others. Madness or mercy, opinions are divided. They called her banshee, because nothing could protect her from her cry, that cry which brought death.
In the end, those who remained preferred to pierce their eardrums. In a few months, the Hanging City, the pride of men, a marvel of technology clinging to an endless cliff, sheltering several million souls, had become a ghost town, populated by a few hundred deaf people surviving as best they could. I might have laughed if it hadn’t been so tragic.

I feel Elton’s steady breathing against my ribs. He’s the only one who didn’t abandon me after the disaster caused by my mother. He had already learned sign language for me. When he took out his hearing with a few drops of acid so he couldn’t hear the banshee’s screams, he told me he didn’t see it as a sacrifice. I almost believed him.
To fall asleep, I think of my memories of the Hanging City, as it once was. Its sparkling towers, its white, wispy clouds, its air bridges that sway gently in the breeze. No one knew what was underneath and no one wanted to know. My mother said that the sea was there, I had chosen to believe her. As for knowing where above our heads the sheer wall on which we were clinging finally ended, everyone also did not know. Perhaps our ancestors knew this a long time ago, but this knowledge had been lost. Our world of metal and wind was enough for us. Some elders claimed that our people had come from the stars in the distant past, but these stories only served to make the youngest dream.
I think of the reflection of the sun on the chrome, of the slow swaying of the bridges under my feet, of the smell of snow on winter mornings. I think of things more easily than of people. It’s been two months since we’ve met anyone in the City, and I’m beginning to wonder if there’s only us left. Just Elton, me and the creature.

IV

I must have fallen asleep. When I wake up, Elton is no longer with me. He must have gone to search the surroundings to see if there are still objects that could be useful to us. We haven’t found much lately. Almost five years since the creature invaded us, perishable foodstuffs are becoming increasingly rare, and equipment in working order is beginning to look extraordinary. Yet we were good builders, I really would have thought our creations would last longer, at least long enough for the monster, fear, hunger or loneliness to kill us all.
I straighten up when a figure frames itself in front of the window opening, letting the covers slip off my shoulders. Elton raises an appreciative eyebrow, walks over to me, leans down to brush my lips with his.

“Get dressed,” he signs, “I think we’ll have to go to the northern zone. »
” I say. We’re almost out of batteries. “
“That’s not the only thing we’re missing. And the northern zone is the only one that has been almost spared since the disaster. “
“Because it is his territory. “
” Yes. “

We look at each other for a long time. We both know it’s dangerous, as we also know we have to go. Our survival depends on it.
The northern zone scares me. She scares everyone, but my reasons for fearing her are different. She scares me because of my secrets, she scares me because of the truth. And above all, she scares me because of Elton. But I can’t tell her, so I get dressed and, with a shiver, strap on my harness. We are going to the northern zone, we need it.
In the pale morning light, the City seems to have changed during the night. The wind has calmed down and the chrome of the towers shines in the sun like the torn chrysalises of oversized butterflies. The air is fresh, crisp, the cold grips without the rays of our star warming us up. I take a deep, almost painful breath, I hold my breath for a long moment before exhaling slowly. I check the straps of my harness, plunge my hands into the chalk bag. The shortest way will probably be to go through the lower floors.

V

I go first. It still is, I’m a much better climber than Elton, I better be the one testing our route. I’m very good at feeling good grips under my fingers and I have a good eye for sections of cables that are in danger of breaking.
With caution, I venture onto a piece of bridge that is still intact. With my toes, I test the solidity of the ground in front of me before moving forward. After a few tens of meters, the bridge disappears to make way for a maze of large rusty cables. Some are in better condition than others, I have to choose well. I run a hand over one of them, up to a huge rivet that I cling to. My other hand follows the same path to another rivet, on the other side of the cable. I secure my hold then hoist my legs up and wrap them around the steel rope. So, slowly, I drag my body along this uncertain line of life. Below me there is nothing but endless emptiness. I can’t afford any mistakes.

When I have progressed a few meters, I wave to Elton and he takes the same path after me. We move slowly, to the slow rhythm of our fear, the sweat running down our foreheads and into our collars. I regularly plunge my hands into the small pocket at my side. Magnesia is one of the things we’re starting to run out of and hope to find in the northern zone. Because without magnesia, there is no climbing, and if we can no longer climb and move along the cables, we will remain stuck on one of the towers, doomed to starve in a long agony.
Our progress is facilitated by the absence of wind and, a quarter of an hour later, we reach the next tower, a few floors below. With any luck, we will have reached the northern zone for lunch.
Around noon, we almost reach the goal. We crossed eight towers and descended a few hundred meters into the City. Here, the clouds are permanent and the sun’s rays struggle to pierce the thick misty layer to illuminate the sad surroundings.
I look at the dilapidated tower in front of me. The northern area is just on the other side, past a new chasm. I shiver, then jump when Elton’s hand lands on my arm.

“Ready?” he signs.

I nod and he shakes my hand briefly before walking past me. We step over a pile of rubble to get inside the building. Despite the lack of light outside, my eyes take a while to get used to the darkness. I don’t prefer to light my lamp here, not unless it’s really necessary.
It is an old hydroponic greenhouse. Its large windows are drowned in greenish mold. The automated systems must have survived for a while since some rows of plants are still green. The others are just cracked skeletons, some crumble into brown dust at the slightest touch. Elton has already stepped forward to pick those that can be eaten. It’s a valuable find, but I can’t help but find this display of half-dead plants gloomy. Roots ventured out of their domains in search of nutrients they couldn’t find, but that didn’t save them. They hang from the bins above our heads, brown and withered, making the place look like a huge spider lair.
It is however not the only greenhouse nor the first that I see. Devoid of any solid soil and cultivable land, the Hanging City subsisted exclusively thanks to greenhouses like this one, with others favoring agriculture by aquaponics or aeroponics.
We cross quickly, recovering on our way all that we find edible. I’m uncomfortable, I feel like hundreds of phantom eyes are looking at me and judging me. I am responsible for the state of the City, responsible for the dead who populate it. Me and my mother’s madness.

VI

“Sin? “

I focus my attention on Elton. I didn’t realize I had stopped. I have the impression that this is not the first time that he signs my first name without my reacting. I give her a smile and set off again, no need to worry her with my stories of ghosts and guilt.
The cable that should lead us to the northern zone is slippery, the descent is difficult. Every time my hands grip against the metal, I feel like I’m going to let go and fall into the void that awaits me like a voracious being below. Finally, we arrive.
I straighten up on the platform that I have just reached, look around me. It’s even darker here, the humidity clings to my skin, which no wind comes to dry. I don’t want to be there, I feel naked, exposed.
We move forward with caution. This is banshee territory. Elton wants us to split up, to cover more ground, to stay shorter. I hesitate, I’m afraid. He reassures me with gestures that make no sense in my blind fear. He moves away. I remain alone, alone with my secrets.
I have to pull myself together. I have a part of the tower to explore, if I want to be able to get away from here as soon as possible. I start moving again, walking slowly towards the back of the hall in front of me.

Suddenly, something moves, on the periphery of my vision. A form, which appeared then disappeared. I freeze, my heartbeat echoing in my head like the pounding of fear. Wide-eyed, I wait. Another movement, perceived out of the corner of the eye. And then, a cry, echo of the dead it contains, tearing of an endless agony. Then she is in front of me, still far away and yet so close.
She doesn’t look much human anymore. Her long hair forms a shroud around her slender, pale limbs. She looks wet, as if her skin is oozing thick liquid. Even at this distance, its smell is strong, the smell of the sea, of fresh iodine. The yellow-green tint of his skin gives him a sickly appearance, the darker green of his hair makes one think of a sheaf of seaweed torn by the tide. She looks like a drowned woman, come back from the dead to take us with her.
The creature didn’t kill my mother, I always knew that. I was in the lab that day, the day of the disaster. I don’t know what she injected. She had no human guinea pig other than herself, no other choice in her obsession. It didn’t work out the way she had planned. My mother became the banshee.
I never told anyone. This secret, I kept it deep inside me for all these years, certain that it would be my downfall, the end of everything. I ran away from the laboratory, I told that my mother was dead. Then I fled, as far away from her as I could. Far from the truth.

For a very long moment, we remain facing each other, separated by the large empty and dark room. We look at each other. In some of her features, I still recognize my mother, the one who raised me, who watched me grow, who loved me. And what does she see when she looks at me? Does she even recognize me?
She doesn’t move, seems frozen, anchored to the ground, her bulging eyes with huge pupils fixed on me.
Footsteps behind my back. Elton. I feel panic rising in me. No no no ! Not now ! They grabbed me by the clothes to pull me back. I let myself go, eyes still riveted on her.
Elton drags me to the outer platform and then starts shaking me, his eyes full of storm. He then lets go of me so he can sign violently, his face twisted.
“Sin! What is that ? It’s the banshee, it’s her, isn’t it? It’s your mother, I’m not blind, it’s her! You knew it ? Tell me you didn’t know that! »
I don’t answer. What could I tell him? He will forgive me, he has always forgiven me. He continues to gesticulate, screaming silently with his hands. I am watching him. He’s no longer afraid of the banshee, now that he knows the truth. No longer afraid of her scream either, since he is deaf. He’s not scared anymore, but he’s angry like I’ve never seen him before. A doubt grips me. What if he didn’t forgive me this time?
A howl rings out behind me, so mournful, full of unspeakable pain, like the song of the end of the world, the sound of the victory of death over life. I turn quickly. She is there, at the entrance to the tower, looking at us with her shark eyes, cruel and soulless. She seems to be waiting for something, or maybe someone. Maybe it’s me she’s been waiting for, she’s always been waiting for me.

I turn to Elton again. He’s calmed down, he’s looking at me funny. His eyes go from me to the creature, then to me again. I’ve never seen that expression on his face. Very slowly, he raises his hands and asks the one question that shouldn’t be asked.
“Sin, you hear, don’t you? You heard her scream, that’s why you turned around. You couldn’t know otherwise. »
I don’t know what to say to him, but he doesn’t need to. He understands that it is the truth. I’ve been hearing for five years. Five years since the scream of the banshee gave me back my hearing. From my mother’s first scream, that scream that drove others crazy gave me back the sense I was missing. I’m the only one to hear beauty over death. She wasn’t so insane, my mother, after all. His experiments eventually paid off. She healed my ears, as she had hoped, even though it didn’t happen as she had planned.
Elton stares at me, as if seeing me for the first time. As if he didn’t know me. As if he didn’t like this stranger in front of him, this stranger lying to him. I don’t like his look, I don’t like what I see in his eyes. That hurts me. His eyes always said he loved me. Now they say he’s gonna leave me too.
I raise my hands, caress his cheeks, place them tenderly on his chest and smile at him. Then, with force, I push him.
He doesn’t let out a scream as he topples over and falls into the endless abyss, as if he’s forgotten how to use his voice. His eyes no longer seem to want to leave me, they only express surprise, the immense astonishment of death. It’s better, better than the eyes that leave me. And very quickly, it disappears in the clouds.
I stare into space for a moment, staring at the slice of mist in which I lost him. My eyes then return to my hands. They don’t shake, it’s strange. I turn to my mother. She is still waiting for me. Very well. At least I won’t be alone.

The End