Ethereal Stories: Rebirth

A personal version of my favorite Andersen tale. I hope you will like it.

Rebirth

I

I am different. I have always been. For my mother, it’s as if I were an extra-terrestrial. But having no place among those hanging around on a mound of dirt doesn’t seem so bad, when you have the whole sea as your home…
If I could properly redefine the terms myself, I would say that they were similar to each other; not that I was different. They were the ones who looked nothing like me; who had neither my ardor nor my boldness.

At the first rays of the sun across the big blue, you had to be up already, doing the healthy breaststrokes of the morning, in order to thank the day for having put an end to one more night; in our beliefs it meant that the end of the world was still far away.
In this precise order, you had to let the whales, huge and graceful, pass first. Then came the turn of sea turtles, accompanied by molluscs. Afterwards, in a rainbow torrent, a whole flock of diverse, multicolored fish rained down, some more cheerful than the others. And finally, the parade of mermaids, in well-ordered rows, from our coastal cave to the coral reef, without forgetting to always throw the first fin stroke from left to right. Always ! This, orchestrated with the most perfect harmony in the azure and salty blue of an awakening sea.
“Stand up straight on your tail! I heard my mother grumble every morning. “Brows up! All, without exception, gave themselves up with grace and zeal to this abominable morning masquerade. And to close the show, it took hours to harvest enough seaweed for the day’s meals. Aren’t they fed up? As soon as I reached puberty, I withdrew from these activities. My rebellious behavior had ended up driving a wedge first between my mother and me, then between the other mermaids and me. The difference was scary. They didn’t look like me, so they kicked me out.

II

I liked it better in my corner of the sea, waving my massive tail softly, my beautiful brush set with precious stones in my hands, languidly combing my abundant hair. I had found a secluded, deep space not far from the reef where I could snuggle up in the hold of an old ship that had sunk. He was massive. Wonderful. He bore his name well; “La Santa Ma…” printed on its side. The Santa Madonna? Santa Marianna? Santa Maria…? That was all that was legible; “La Santa Ma”… The rest had been erased, and destroyed. I wonder what hair-raising adventure this boat has had… At its prow stood a magnificent woman’s trunk; she had a haughty bearing, her arm firmly raised, and her hair frozen in the direction of the wind. Sometimes I tried to talk to her, to find out her story, but she kept the secret of her eternity to herself, her gaze lost in the distance.
Time crashed heavily like waves as I hid in this haven. I contented myself with swallowing what fell under my fins; small crustaceans, worms, sometimes even shrimp hidden here and there in the hold of the boat. But no algae. I could no longer bear this vegetal taste which marked in bitter letters the dreary and monotonous existence of a siren. There had to be something more than just existing. And one night, I discovered it.
The Big Blue had fallen into a deep sleep that night. Inky night on land, and under sea. Only the distant glow of a timid moon glided over the almost motionless surface of the water; grain of light in my salty night.

III

Not a single small fish in sight. Everything was sleeping. Except those above….
Suddenly I felt a call. From the top. He was powerful. Like a punch to the heart. He was almost overpowering my own will. I perceived moreover, a metallic scent, delicious, new, that I did not know. I soared towards that call, cutting through the sea. I carefully stuck my head out of the water, dazzled by mysterious hymns emitted to the tribal sound of the drum, by a crowd of restless earthlings dressed in white. One of them saw me and exclaimed:

— There it is…the water spirit! She heard us!

Saying this, he grabbed an empty conch shell and began to blow with all his might. A bewitching sound made me shiver and prompted me to reveal myself then in full to them, erect on my large shimmering emerald tail, garlands of pearls at my belt. They were much smaller than in my memories, these earthlings. Dead silence. They all knelt down. Except one, waist deep in water, who seemed to implore me with a whimper. He was restrained by heavy chains. Looking at him I understood that he had been beaten. The metallic smell became stronger, more insistent, so I approached him, looking for the source of this intoxicating aroma that had pulled me out of my hole. Staring at his dripping wrist, I then discovered that red, throbbing elixir tickling my gills from the depths.

— What is your name, spirit?! I was shouted
— I am Simbi, I answered.
— Accept our sacrifice, mistress of the waters, and give us back the rain!

How? ‘Or’ What ? I was just a simple mermaid. What power did I have over nature to the point of extracting the rain from it alone?
I had never touched a hair of an earthling; but by the time I came to my senses, there was nothing left but chains reddened by the feast I had just enjoyed. I had crunched many times, while an explosion of new flavors made me vibrate from my claws to the tip of my cock. I cheerfully licked my fingers, my arms, my lips. I wanted more, I wanted more…I approached the shore, beckoning the other earthlings to join me in the scarlet water…
A flash of lightning streaked across the sky. And the clouds began to cry, the birth of a sea monster…

The End

Ethereal Stories: Of Ice and Swords

I found old fantasy books at a flea market and I had a strong desire to write some. I started a notebook with lots of little ideas that I think could make a good story, if one day I take the time to develop it all. In the meantime, here is something to give you a glimpse of a very small part of the universe in question.

Of Ice and Swords

I

Lyra put down her cold beer, sighing in relief. This truce in the fighting was a real happiness. Legs stretched under the small table ravaged by generations of drunks, she leaned on the back of the chair and savored the ambiance of the tavern. She always missed that warm hubbub when she went on a mission.

— Hey babe, would you like a…

The young woman suddenly raised her head and stared at the giant who had dared to disturb her tasting. He swallowed, cut short in his bluster. Behind him, his comrades were exchanging hearty laughs. Deceived by the slenderness of the leather-clad figure, they did not know what was hidden under the loose hood of the warmage, and had thought they could have fun at her expense. A common mistake.
Lyra tilted her head and raised her eyebrows, daring her troublemaker to add a single word. His icy eye sparkled, and the man stepped back, muttering:

— Sorry, I don’t… sorry.

He turned around, his neck stiff and his shoulders tense, then rejoined his comrades with a jerky step, containing his desire to flee as fast as he could to avoid losing face. He was greeted with a string of surprised questions, which he waved aside, before grabbing a glass and downing it.
Lyra allowed herself a small smirk, and went back to tasting her beer. She pouted when she noticed that the liquid had cooled in the meantime. She reached out with her right index finger, brushed the rim of the mug and watched the frost delicately settle there, then tasted again. It was much better.
A new shadow invades his bubble of tranquility. She smelled of rancid sweat.

— I’m sorry, my Lady, but I… A thousand pardons, but we’d be more comfortable if you avoided using magic here.
— I only chilled that donkey piss you sell like beer.

Lyra’s voice, low and steady, made the innkeeper sweat even more. His bald head began to glow.

— I don’t…yes, of course, but you make my customers nervous, and they…
— Good. I am leaving.

The spell was broken anyway.
The forty-year-old nearly fainted with relief. He stepped back hastily when the young woman got up, and returned to the relative shelter of her counter to resume polishing her glasses. Lyra took a few steps toward the door, then spun around sharply, her hand on the hilt of her shortsword, feeling someone tug on her cloak.

II

A little girl was staring at her, her brown braids all tangled, her nose encrusted with snot. She must have been what, five years old? Six, no more.

— Ma’am, can I come with you?

Lyra smiled, slipped her gun back into its sheath, and looked around for the mother. His gaze only caught terrified faces, which annoyed him to no end. Why, she was not going to eat the kid!

— Say, can I come? I too want to become a war mage!
— Really, baby? Do you want to live in the cold and the mud, be constantly hungry and thirsty, see all your friends die?

The girl’s eyes widened; this description must not match the stories she had heard.
Lyra suddenly wanted to please him, perhaps because she was determined to enjoy her few days off. She reached out and molded a tiny fragment of her power. An ice unicorn appeared on his palm. The mage offered it to the kid, whose face lit up, and took the opportunity to remove her cape from the sticky little hands. Her tranquility regained, she crossed the door of the tavern with a light step, and joined her horse tied to the terrace. The animal, immaculately white, snorts when he sees her come out, tinkling all the buckles of his pale blue harness. She freed him and straddled him lightly, immediately galloping him into the night. Now that she had betrayed her identity, she wanted to get away from this town before the rumor of her passing spread. So close to the border, the village must have been home to a veritable nest of spies.

III

The moon found Lyra still on horseback, and flashed armor in front of Raven’s Bridge. The mage tugged at the reins cursingly, stopping her mount in its tracks. She spun around in the saddle, and saw more soldiers spring up behind her. Trapped! They had been damn quick on that one.
She muttered a few bits of ancient language and a shell of ice covered her like a breastplate. Just in time. An arrow bounces off his left shoulder. The men fanned out to surround him. One of them stood in front of her, and held out a skeletal hand, which clothed itself in flames. Lyra grimaced. War Mage versus War Mage. A nice part of pleasure in perspective.

The wizard’s fire coalesced into an incendiary projectile. When he came face to face, Lyra countered the attack with a wave of ice, but could not dodge the simultaneous charge of the soldiers, who threw her to the ground, causing her steed to flee. She fell heavily on the stones of the path, biting her tongue at the same time, and distributed a whole series of spears of ice around her to buy time to get up. She jumped to her feet, and ducked immediately to avoid another incendiary projectile. He crashed into an enemy soldier and turned him into a human torch. Without worrying about the unpleasant smell of tallow, Lyra charged again: she froze the ground under the feet of the foot soldiers, and drew her short sword. She had time to pierce two unbalanced men, before having to dodge a bluish flame, which grilled an additional assailant and warmed the earth. The others took off.

After several passes, Lyra frowned. The incessant attacks prevented him from concentrating, and therefore from casting powerful spells. Even though they got in each other’s way, the alliance of wizard and soldiers was formidable; she couldn’t do both at the same time. She countered several sword thrusts with an ice shield, which the fire mage immediately melted. A blade slashed the sorceress’ forearm, another brushed her cheek. Good ! It was time to step up a gear.

In a few words, Lyra locked herself in a gangue of thick ice, which her enemies immediately began to break up. One second, two, three… the little iceberg exploded, but it had done its job: the young woman had been able to concentrate enough to shape a spell of greater amplitude. An arrow of ice left his palms and shot up into the clear sky. Its bell trajectory avoided the surprised infantrymen, who did not bother to eliminate it. They charged again, forcing Lyra to protect herself with a new shield, which the fire mage began to pound mercilessly. Lyra’s sword danced and bit into flesh, but it wouldn’t last long. There were still far too many of them.

Feeling his prey weaken, the enemy mage redoubled his efforts. With both hands outstretched, he showered Lyra with heavy projectile fire, forcing her to defend, defend again. He smiled and wiped his sleeve on his forehead. He opened his mouth to fashion a new spell… and collapsed face down, eyes bulging. A huge snow tiger, bursting out of the forest like a cataclysm of violence, left his back and finished him off with a well-placed claw. Lyra, taking advantage of the soldiers’ surprise, straightened up and modeled a volley of ice javelins. Now that they were no longer protected, the men were dropping like flies. One of them tried to run away, but in two leaps the beast was on top of him.

Epilogue

The young woman staggered and fell, kneeling in the earth soaked with vital fluids, dropping her sword. Covered in blood, exhausted, she forced her breath back to normal and felt her heart slow down, calm down. She lifted the spell that drained her remaining energy; the snow tiger once again became Yo’lbars, his placid steed, which immediately put its nose in the grass, indifferent to the surrounding scene of carnage.
Lyra surveyed the modest battlefield, and smiled. Eighteen to one. Not so bad for a first day off.

A few miles away, a tiny girl was dreaming of a magical battle and her lips, rustling in her sleep, practiced pronouncing the ancient spells. A tiny unicorn of ice adorned her frost-covered bedside table…

The end

Ethereal Stories: Shed 66

“ You’ll see, it works, I read that in a magazine of the time.” While remembering the advice of a friend, Ed Hill took a deep breath in order to bring down the anguish. Hopefully, the torment his stomach was inflicting on him will fade away in a saving breath of air.

The air entered his nose, bringing with it the scent of his freshly applied perfume, then rushed into his lungs and finally escaped from his mouth. This sensation, as new as it was, gave him an intense surge of oxygen to his brain, blurring his sight for a few seconds. On the other hand, his stress did not decrease, lack of pot.

Hidden behind the black stage curtains, he could already hear Brian Schmitt, the electrifying robot everyone was raving about. “ Welcome to New Encounters, the show where the world unfolds before your eyes… ”, he perceived from afar. Brian presented the most watched TV show in France and just before joining him, Ed dithered. He was just a scientist, not a star. Why inflict such pressure on yourself?

Nevertheless, the commitments were made, the distribution contracts signed with the hand of a wise automaton and the spirits heated to the bone. It was no longer possible to go back. Her life had just changed drastically and, deep down, Ed hoped that she would upset the lives of many others.

— Ladies and gentlemen, please give a proper welcome to Doctor Ed Hill! Brian declared with conviction.

A resounding thunder of applause rang out from the audience, while a tech robot made sweeping gestures compulsively for Ed to enter the stage. Hesitantly, the latter advanced towards the light, touching in the process the dark fabric which separated him from the tray. A gentle heat caressed his right arm before disappearing in a blinding glare.

— Welcome ! Can I call you Ed? Started Brian to relax the atmosphere, while asking his guest to sit down.
— Of course. he replied, intimidated.

Apart from the stage, illuminated by powerful lights, everything was completely plunged into darkness. The red sensors of the cameras were pointed towards the center, where Ed Hill was going to be filmed for the first time.

— How are you doing ? You look radiant to me.
— I’m glad to be here, Ed said, a grain in his voice.

— You see me delighted. I understand that the events we are going to talk about this evening have not been easy. Will you find it difficult to confide in yourself?

— Don’t worry, I’m ready. You have before your eyes the fruit of several years’ work, as tedious as it is fascinating, Ed confided while pinching his forearm in front of the lens.
— Ah! Was it painful? Brian asked, laughing.
— Let’s just say it tingles a bit, Ed ventured, smiling broadly.

— What humor ! Applaud him, ladies and gentlemen! Doctor Ed Hill! cried Brian.

Cheers broke out from the audience.

— Very well, then Ed, let’s not wait any longer! Tell us about Hangar 66? Brian continued in a calm voice.
— Do you remember your birth factory Brian?
— Like it was yesterday.
— I will put my hand to cut that it looks like two drops of water. In any case, hangar 66 is identical to mine, I was inspired by it. A particular atmosphere hovers there, full of questioning and doubt, but also of excitement and desire, necessary for the development of a marvelous future. The only difference is that it is not robots that come out, but human beings.
— And what a success, cried Brian, waving his arm at his guest.

Applause rang out, then the presenter continued.

— Ed, tell me, why did you want to be first?
— That’s a good question, Brian, Ed replied, brushing his hair with the back of his hand. Quite simply because I am the instigator of this experiment. I would have blamed myself if harmful side effects had occurred on people other than me.
— Precisely, have you had any side effects?
— Not yet, except ravenously hungry,” Ed joked, feeling more and more at ease.

The audience followed him in his euphoria.

— What did you prefer to eat, since your rebirth?
— When I woke up, they brought me what the humans called an Emmenthal ham sandwich.
— How was it ? asked Brian, microphones dangling from Ed’s lips.
— Delicious, I cried.
— Cried, you hear that! Brian cried as he stared at the camera, his voice laced with passion. New emotions overwhelm you? insisted the presenter.
— All the time. It’s only been a few days, but already I’m lost in the twists and turns of my sensitivity. Empathy overwhelms me when I see robots in distress, anger overwhelms me when I observe the price of electricity, and fear immobilizes me when I launch into an interview like this, my brain is boiling and my body reacts accordingly.
— Stunning! How do you handle all of this?
— For now, I suffer more than I manage, I’m not going to lie. We still have a lot to learn. This body is like an alarm bell on constant alert, it’s disconcerting. However, it makes you feel awfully alive.
— What hell ! laughed Brian, while throwing his arms in the sky.
— Nothing to do with god, I assure you, Ed joked.

The spectators burst out laughing.

— Everyone here wants to know Ed., how is the operation going? Brian asked, regaining control of his broadcast.
— The trickiest part is the making of the human body. They are so complex, it’s fascinating. Then just download our consciousness into the brain and you’re done, Ed explained proudly.
— It seems so simple. But, for what reasons? Why do you want to revolutionize the world in this way?
— This experience was born from an observation, which I realized after my first birthday bolts. Like many others, I understood that our mechanical eternity, as important as it is in our eyes, leads us towards a suffocating gloom, in which surprise and adventure no longer have any place. Our archives prove to us that at the time of humans, the world was full of creative energy of all kinds, making the slightest bit of boredom fleeting. Me what I want is to discover what the audacity of mortality can bring to our world in loss of imagination.

A long and heavy “Aaah” escaped from the audience, approving the doctor’s words.

— And do you feel a new energy?
— Just imagine that just this morning, I was wondering what I was going to be able to do with the time that was allotted to me. You see, the fatality of death has a spicy taste of adventure, it’s gripping.
— And what are you going to do with this time?
— I don’t really know, let’s say I’ll take the time to think about it, Ed said humorously.
— Funny! Brian stated firmly. Finally, do you have a message to convey?
— I must say that for the moment, I live an extraordinary experience. My body is only 20 years old, my senses are awake, my brain is fiery and I have only one desire, to share my life with other human beings. To know joy, sadness, love, melancholy and who knows what else. With our robotic wisdom, acquired over our millennia of existence, these emotions are real sources of inspiration, so don’t hesitate! If you feel like living life to the full and dying with panache, head to Hangar 66!
— Magnificent ! It was Brian Schmitt, with Dr. Ed Hill. The first human is reborn from his cybernetic ashes! I wish you a good evening, and see you tomorrow for new new encounters! concludes the presenter, under the ovation of a conquered public.

Ethereal Stories: The Ventriloquist

Today I bring you a horror story. The beginnings of this story were written some time ago, quite a long time in fact. I started writing it shortly after my accident. I found it in a pile of writings that my grandmother kept, then I reworked it to become what it is today. This story comes from the bottom of me so I’m very attached to it, but I know that it may not please everyone.

If you want something happier, I suggest you wait until next week for another much lighter story.

Attention:

This story was written at a time when I was not doing very well and is much darker than what I usually write. I’m talking about violent scenes that might shock some people and I use profanity there.

The Ventriloquist

I

The man wore an old-fashioned black suit, he sported a thin mustache and his searching eyes were like two balls of hot coals. He was tall and thin, almost inconceivably. Alicia cringed when she saw him on her doorstep. A strange apprehension gripped her, gripping her heart in a vice of ice.
The stranger entered the vestibule. Discovering a razor-blade smile, he said in a honeyed voice without even introducing himself:

To form a couple, it inevitably takes two, is not it?

Uncomfortably, Alicia nodded. However, she did not understand what the man was talking about. The young woman bitterly regretted the absence of her husband: Paul would never have allowed this individual to enter their house! He had a holy horror of door-to-door salesmen, especially when they were as intrusive as this one. Intrusive…and bizarre, with its long, spindly body, which reminded Alicia of a horrible stick insect with a human face…
In the hallway, the stranger gave her a wink.

“Relax, dear! he declared. You have nothing to fear. They call me Benitor, the miracle worker. My partner and I are here to help you…

Alicia winced: her partner? Until proven otherwise, the seller was alone. No one accompanied him. At least, so far…
The man reached inside his black suit. Alicia had the absurd belief that he was a pervert. The patient was about to throw himself on her, armed with a kitchen knife, a taser or an ice pick… But the intruder contented himself with extracting a soft and shapeless mass, similar to a mask of rubber. He quickly put it on his right hand. A rattling voice then rose:

— Bonjour, ma petite ! Je suis Compère, l’assistant de Monsieur Benitor, mon bon maître… Son bras droit, en quelque sorte ! Enfin, l’assistant, c’est un peu facile : d’un bout à l’autre des Mondes, comme à l’intérieur des Cercles d’ailleurs, c’est moi qui me tape tout le boulot !

The so-called Benitor raised his shark gaze to the sky, as if to say: “Ah! He’s starting again!”

A ventriloquist! Well, as a way of selling, Alicia had to acknowledge that it was original. However, she remained anxious, almost frightened, because the puppet was not reassuring. It was a head, obviously that of a man, with a pale complexion and blue lips, stringy hair and eye sockets filled with darkness. Morbid, was the word that came to the young woman’s mind, and it was the adjective that best suited this hideous figure.

The thing resumed:

— We are here to offer you a unique offer, which you cannot refuse. Yes, yes, I assure you: no need to play scared sluts!

Alicia doubted she had heard correctly. For a moment, she thought she would take to her heels. But, paralyzed by fear, she remained incapable of the slightest reaction. And something, in the stick man’s sooty gaze, nailed her to the spot…
Adopting the cavernous tone of his own voice, and wearing a serious countenance, Benitor continued:

— Be sure that we understand your sadness. We sympathize. After all, fate has befallen your husband. It’s natural for you to be upset…

Buddy spat on the ground, at Alicia’s feet. A reddish spit, within which a horde of maggots was struggling. The young woman felt her heart racing. But, stunned by what she had just heard, she found herself once again unable to make the slightest gesture. Paul had been in hospital for two weeks, in critical condition following a serious car accident. He lay in a coma, and doctors were pessimistic about his chances of ever waking up.
How did this stranger know her husband? And then, what did he want?

— You’ll soon understand,” the disfigured puppet gritted, as if reading his thoughts. We have come to offer you our services, because we are able to help you. Finally, it was he who insisted, above all…

The mask nodded in the direction of its master.

— I was just going to take it easy,” he continued. But hey: it’s the great chef who leads the way! Anyway, what you need to know is that your husband can be cured today…

Alicia blinked, but didn’t formulate her thoughts. Nevertheless, the human head belched:

— Of course it’s true! What do you think ? That we came to cut the piece of fat, while your stupid husband slaps?

The word “slap” was accompanied by a deluge of scarlet sputters.

— So, the mask said, like I said, he could come home and you’d be free to get laid again, and everything and everything… At least, if you wanted to?

The sentence remained suspended, like a slap in the face. Of course she wanted him more than anything!

Benitor took the floor again to exclaim cheerfully:

— Good ! In that case, all you have to do is give us your okay, dear, so that we can get your husband back on his feet. My partner and I have exceptional power, which I like to call a gift. The power of life over death.

Alicia felt her heart skip a beat. If it was a joke, it turned out to be in very bad taste! Nevertheless, somewhere deep inside her, the young woman knew that an incredible thing was happening. She felt it dimly in the way the stranger spoke, in his horrible puppet parody, and in that strange vibration that seemed to cloud the air.

In a calm tone, the Tick-insect-man continued:

— Know, however, that in return, I will come and take what is rightfully mine. This is an honest deal, made between well-meaning people…

Compère partit d’un rire éraillé.

— So, continued Benitor, I ask you again: will you allow us to save your husband? Without quick action on our part, he will die, I can guarantee you that.

The young wife was flabbergasted by the audacity of the seller. However, driven by despair, she found herself sketching an affirmative nod. After all, what did she have to lose?

Benitor then declared, loud and clear:

— All in good time ! Your wish will be granted, and we will exercise our special gift on your loved one to save him. As for us, we will see each other very soon!

Buddy laughed again, an icy croak that twisted Alicia’s eardrums and hammered her skull. Then the ventriloquist also emitted a strident air, a shrill melody reminiscent without question…
The phone woke her up and the dream slipped away like a thief. The young woman sat on the edge of her bed, her head in her hands. She remained shaken for a moment: what a delirious dream! So real… But she didn’t have much time to think about it anymore, because the phone kept whining.

Alicia walked fearfully towards the bell, not daring to grab the receiver. This call in the middle of the night seemed like an ominous sign. Before she could stop, she picked up the phone.

— Hello?

C’était l’hôpital. Paul était miraculeusement sorti du coma. Ses jours ne se trouvaient plus en danger. Alicia remercia l’infirmière, raccrocha, puis se laissa glisser sur le sol où elle pleura à chaudes larmes.

II

A few days later, Paul came home. Life then resumed its course. The couple took advantage of the smallest pleasures of existence. Both seemed happy, truly, because they knew ephemeral happiness.
However, a shadow marred this idyllic picture.

Alicia felt that her husband was hiding something from her. Paul did his best to appear comfortable, but he often looked distant, bewildered, as if lost in a trying memory. The young woman was burning with desire to know the cause of this hassle, without however daring to question it. Her husband had just recovered from a coma; she didn’t want to rush him.

Finally, one evening when the couple was comfortably installed in their little garden, contemplating a magnificent starry vault, Paul confided. Feverish, he seemed unable to contain himself from speaking.

— I don’t know if you’re going to believe me, Alicia. Perhaps you will take me for a madman? However, I must tell you what happened, just before I came out of the coma…

Her voice sounded hesitant, which surprised Alicia. Her husband had always been someone strong, thoughtful and collected. But this thing that had been gnawing at him since his return… “ He came so close to death ”, she thought, shuddering.

Enough to shake the strongest of men.

— I was in complete darkness, he began anxiously. An intense darkness, almost palpable, which seemed to stretch to infinity. I was vaguely aware of being awake, but not really. It was a dream, or maybe a nightmare, but it was also very real…

Paul secoua la tête, frustré de ne parvenir à mieux s’exprimer. Il cherchait ses mots, incapable de trouver ceux qui auraient retranscrit au mieux son expérience.

— Quand ils sont apparus, reprit-il en frémissant, j’ai d’abord vu l’homme. Il m’a fait penser à un colporteur. Ce fut le mot qui me vint sur le moment, même si j’ignore pourquoi. Il semblait anormalement grand et mince, comme un insecte répugnant…

Alicia felt a deep unease as her own dream resurfaced. Her mind monopolized by Paul’s awakening, she had completely concealed the insane dream. Now the stick man came back to him.

With growing terror, she listened to the rest of the story.

— He held the head of a puppet, horrible, repulsive. Both approached me. I still couldn’t move or run away. I didn’t want to, however, believe me!

Alicia thought about the paralysis that had taken hold of her, in her own nightmare. A shiver ran down his spine.

— L’homme a tendu cette chose vers moi, continua Paul d’une voix défaillante. Cette horrible tête boursouflée… La marionnette s’est mise à dévorer un truc noir qui sortait de mon corps. Un genre de mélasse, ou je ne sais quoi. La créature mastiquait en provoquant des bruits atroces…

Paul paused. Alicia took his hand, both to support him and to reassure herself. When the young man spoke again, he seemed a little calmer.

— The most delirious thing is that it made me feel good! he wondered. Gradually, I regained awareness of the real world. As if this strange duo took hold of the evil lodged in me. Then I woke up.

Alicia remained silent. What could she have said? Her husband lived, that was all that mattered. She was afraid of shocking him, even traumatizing him, by evoking her own dream. Then she was silent, and the two embraced each other tenderly under the stars.

III

The night after Paul’s story, Alicia dreamed again. The ventriloquist reappeared, alone this time. He was smiling amiably, like an old friend met on the street. However, his arrival owed nothing to chance.
Alicia thanked him warmly for granting her wish.

— It’s nothing, Benitor assured him. And then I didn’t do much. It is Compère who should be congratulated, he who courageously took hold of the disease from which your husband suffered. Unfortunately, the poor perished in the business. This is how…

Alicia wanted to tell him how sorry she was, but the man didn’t give her time.

— I’m here to remind you of our market, he went on. You allowed us to save your husband, and now I’m coming back to take what’s mine. It’s because, you see, I can’t practice without a partner. I need someone through whom to transmit my gift. Since you had my help, it only seems right to return the favor. That is why…

As he spoke, Benitor pulled an ax from under his long black coat. Alicia stared at the blade, horrified and fascinated.

— You will understand, and forgive me, what is to follow. I am sure !

The ax sliced through the air and sliced clean through the young woman’s neck. His work done, Benitor bent down to take hold of his head. He put it on his right hand, like an ugly scarlet mitten. The magic worked and the face took on a demonic grin.

— To form a couple, it inevitably takes two, is not it? said it in a nasal voice.

Epilogue

When Paul awoke the next morning, he discovered with amazement, lying in the bloody sheets, the headless body of Alicia.