Steven, a father-to-son unicorn breeder for 18 generations, was upset. The breeding season was not looking good, but then not good at all. Already, Lucette had started making milk way too soon—all that wasted colostrum was frustrating. And then, for a few months, they had all had aberrant requirements for their end of gestation. Strawberries in the middle of winter, a great classic, it was just the warm-up; afterwards, we had moved on to a cup of eternal snow sprinkled with Aji Charapita peppers picked on a full moon night, or three grams of cerberus skin diluted in original fruit compote, these kinds of little cravings that are easy to satisfy. Steven had been limping since his encounter with the Cerberus in question, he had been bitten by a snake and was still nursing his chilblains; frankly, he was sick of it. On the verge of dropping everything to convert to a quieter job, Steven. Anything would do, horn polisher for Minotaurs or toilet paper keeper in a supermarket, anything. He sighed. He needed air, that’s all.
— Steven, have you finished changing my litter? — No, Leontine, not yet. — So, what are you doing daydreaming on your pitchfork? These edelweiss are not going to distribute themselves! — Yes, Leontine.
Nah, frankly, there was no worse job than raising unicorns. Especially since they had unionized. In Grandpa Robert’s time, they would never have dared to ask for anything other than straw in their unicorn boxes. Edelweiss, frankly! The price per kilo was staggering, and it didn’t absorb anything, either! Steven suspected them of testing his resilience. Or his bank account. And then what an idea, frankly, to breed creatures whose gestation time is twenty-two years. Twenty-two years ! We had time to clean out the boxes before having the privilege of seeing a unicorn! Fortunately, unicorn hair sold very well on the black market. As long as they didn’t find out, he could easily avoid bankruptcy.
— Steven, tell me, with the friends we would have liked to try… Steven, sweating from the effort of stirring the edelweiss, painfully sat up and barked: — What now ? — Still ? How so again? We didn’t ask you today!
Steven opened his mouth to deliver a scathing repartee, then snapped it dryly. Appealing to Lorette’s intellect was a bad idea; it had been fallow for a good two centuries already, apparently. Arguing with her was like playing chess with a pigeon; no matter your level, the pigeon will just knock over all the pieces, shit on the board and proudly strut around like it’s won. Steven sighed; Lorette pinched her nostrils and continued, stubbornly:
— With the friends, we would like to test the Kangoo Jump. — The what? — The Kangoo Jump, you know, the springs you put under your feet? We saw that on TV.
Ah, yes, TV. Installing the small screen for them in the stables was not the idea of the century, it was confirmed day after day. Fearing the worst, he followed the matriarch to the TV, then waited for the commercial to agree to reappear. Between two day creams with Aloe Vera, he finally discovered the machine, terrified.
— But… it’s for humans! — You’ll manage to adapt that to our clogs. — And have you seen the price? You need four of them! — Yeah, oh, it’s not that bad. We will each do it in turn. — And you’re sure it’s a great idea, at the end of gestation, like that? Aren’t you supposed to preserve yourselves, be reasonable?
Lucette contented herself with staring at him in silence. All the air from the Himalayas circulated between his two ears, without encountering the slightest neural obstacle. Steven lost himself in the visualization of a snow-white pigeon, decked out in a golden horn, trying to move a chess pawn. He snorted to come back to reality, ran a sweaty hand over his face and capitulated: — Pink or blue, the Kangoo Jump?
— Hiiiii look, Steven, they are there! — Yeah, great, wow… Insensitive to the overflowing enthusiasm of their breeder, the unicorns jostled around the box just placed in front of the stables. The air sparkled, filled with the sequins they let loose in their glee. — Go Steven, opeeeeeeeen! Obviously, it was up to him to do all the work, since they were incapable of holding scissors, these devils. He tore open the tape and pulled the coveted items out of their cases, like Arthur pulling Excalibur from the rock. A ray of sunlight illuminated the pearly purple of the shoes. The unicorns sighed together, conquered. — Well, you have drawn lots who will start? The tension rose suddenly. Steven realized that several unicorns bore traces of hoof kicks, even bite marks. His instinct for survival screamed death; he raised his arms and bellowed, just in time to avoid the carnage: — OKEYYYYYYYYYY, calm down, it’s up to me! And the first that jostles me will go last! They stopped. — Splash, splash, you’ll be the one to start, one, two, thriiiiiiiii… Lisa-Rose! — But… — And all those who discuss will be deprived of compote tonight! Thirty-four adult unicorns sulked, while young Lisa-Rose waddled contentedly. Steven stuffed the toes of the shoes with cotton, then equipped the unicorn with the Kangoo Jump.
— Above all, be careful, huh? — Yes yes… — Don’t go too fast or too far… watch out for the lake… — But yes… — And if anything happens, you come get me, huh? She rushed forward without deigning to answer, dropping sequins and rainbows, hopping even more as she passed in front of her upset comrades. — That’s awesome!
Steven, reassured by his apparent balance, went back to shoveling his edelweiss. It was Loralie who came to alert him, about twenty minutes later. — Steven? Lisa-Rose still hasn’t come back, and yet it’s our turn! She cheats! Steven frowned. — Let’s not be too quick to judge. Where did she go? — In the forest ! To hide and go on all afternoon, I’m sure! She cheeps! Leaving Loralie to her pigeonish hysteria, Steven went in search of the big offender. — Lisa-Roooooose! Youhou, Lisa-Roooooose! After a few minutes of fruitless searching, he twisted slightly and put his hand over his mouth to change the sound of his voice:
— The stupid-unicorn is called to the reception, I repeat, the stupid-unicorn is called to the reception! Her hysterical laughter made all the birds in the area fly away. — Hey, Steven, it’s not very nice to call me that… — Lisa-Rose? But where are you ? I do not see you !
— Look higher. Steven looked up and launched into a very interesting part of “Where’s Wally.” Searching for a white animal in a birch forest, frankly… A burst of purple color caught his eye on the only ash tree in the corner. Lisa-Rose hung from a branch, her legs dangling, her horn deeply planted in the gnarled wood. — Steven…Steven! Can you stop laughing for five minutes, please? The rancher wiped away his tears and stood up. Unable to keep his seriousness, he fell back into laughter.
— STEVEN! — Yes, yes Lisa-Rose, sorry. — You come look for me ? His voice broken by his efforts, he shook his head no, then explained to her: — First I’m going to need to go back to the stables for a ladder and a saw. I’m coming back, above all, don’t move! He gave her a bright smile and walked back to the building. Before getting her out of there, he had one urgent thing to do: order two pairs of Kangoo Jump for each unicorn present at the breeding, as well as a camera. The week was going to be fun, after all.
This week, I’m bringing you something a little different than usual. My cousin Alice had an accident. She’s fine but she has a broken leg and was entitled to a long recovery time so to keep her busy I offered her a little collaboration. She illustrated this story and the story you are about to discover was written by our four hands.
The story is a bit more childish than usual but I hope you’ ‘ll enjoy it.
The legend of Lilfire
Lilfire stomped forward. He had just argued with his father again: Burninflame was a 625-year-old Great Ruby Dragon and he couldn’t stand that his youngest son didn’t have a job. “Learn from your brothers!” Roarloud has worked at the forge since he was 193 years old. When Fierelmet enlisted in the royal guard, he was just 181 years old. Even Brurn found a job at the mine before he turned 207! And you, at 212, you’re still here! Lilfire would have liked to make his father proud of him, but he was not like his brothers. He wasn’t tall and muscular, and his flames were barely enough to start a wood fire. Every time he applied somewhere, a stronger dragon got the job. When he passed the forge, Roarloud called out to him. “Fuck it!” Did you argue with Dad again? Anyway, I have good news. I registered you. Lilfire grabbed the yellowed sheet her brother held out to her, on which was written in gold letters: “Hear, hear dragons and dragons!” The king is looking for a dragon to defend his treasure. In order to choose the strongest among you, a big sports competition is organized. At the end of the latter, the dragon with the best score will have the immense honor of becoming the guardian of the royal treasure. If you are over 180, register with the palace steward. » Roarloud had signed him up for a sports competition. Organized by the king himself, what’s more. And that was supposed to be good news… “Roarloud, I can’t go. I will make a fool of myself. What would I do in a sports competition? “I’ll train you!” And then imagine how happy Daddy would be if you won! “But I will never win!” There’s only one way to find out…
They had a month to prepare Lilfire for the tests of the competition: acrobatic flight with a block of stone, camouflage, spitting fire on moving targets, and finally, the fight against knights. Unlike his brother, Lilfire was far from optimistic. They started with camouflage since it was the only test he felt capable of tackling. Indeed, he had inherited his mother’s dark gray scales, which made him look like a big rock. For the other events, Roarloud called upon the skills of Brurn and Fierelmet in order to prepare Lilfire as well as possible. Brurn for bodybuilding and endurance, Fierelmet for combat techniques; himself would take care of the fire-spitting. With such a demanding training and such demanding teachers, Lilfire did not see the time passing and one morning, without warning, the sun rose on the first day of the competition.
A colorful crowd crowded the drawbridge to enter the huge arena of the castle. Wooden bleachers stood all around, set up for the occasion. Five large rocks were arranged in a circle in the center of the arena. Lilfire paid no heed to the cheers of the crowd and headed straight for them. Four other dragons did the same. Lilfire didn’t dare meet their eyes, he concentrated on his block and remembered his choreography. He had to keep his rock in the air for more than three minutes by performing as many tricks as possible to score points. A sound of the gong announced the start of the test. All the dragons took off at the same time, except Lilfire. He climbed on his rock, dug his claws into the roughness of the rock and flapped his wings. Gradually he rose. During this time the other dragons had stung to recover their block helped by their momentum. Lilfire, meanwhile, continued to climb. When he was about six meters above the ground, he dropped his rock. He flew another ten meters and swooped down after the huge stone. He passed her, spun around and picked her up on her back. The shock took his breath away and nearly knocked him off balance. He hovered for a few moments then, mobilizing his last strength, did a loop. The boulder fell right back to where it started and Lilfire landed right behind it. Another sound of the gong announced the end of the first round.
A huge blackboard had been set up to record the scores. For each event, the first earned 50 points, the second 40 and so on. When Lilfire looked up at the painting, he couldn’t believe his eyes. Missia, a female mole who failed to lift her boulder, was last with 10 points. Feurlet, a dragon with electric blue scales, followed her with 20 points. Foudre, another dazzling golden female, was third with 30 points, while Veryfierce, a large pine green male, won the class with 50 points. Lilfire was therefore second and gained 40 points. Unbelievable !
For the rest, a section of the arena had been dismantled, so that it was now open to the forest. The camouflage test was simple: the dragons had one minute to blend into the landscape. The first to be seen lost. The five competitors lined up at the edge of the forest, and, at the sound of the gong, dashed between the trees. Missia, who thanks to her dull dress had blended in with the earth, came second. Veryfierce, who had melted into the foliage of the trees, finished third. Lightning with his golden scales was the penultimate, ahead of Feurlet and his dazzling blue cuirass. Lilfire, transformed into a rock, won the test. He was now leading the competition with 90 points! He couldn’t believe it. But his joy quickly waned. The last two trials to come were the ones he dreaded the most.
Thirty yards from the five dragons, targets were mounted on rails. Feurlet passed first and hit seven out of ten targets. Veryfierce burned nine, Missia five. Lightning burned them all at once. It was Lilfire’s turn. The sound of the gong startled him. He inflated his chest to the maximum, felt his fire pocket fill up and spat as hard as he could. He didn’t hit any targets. However, he didn’t have time to mope because he already had to prepare for the last test, the fight.
Lilfire was the second to pass. Three knights in armor were waiting for him on the sand. At the sound of the gong, the first, equipped with a flail and a shield, threw himself on him. Lilfire curled up on himself and leapt above his opponent, without the flail touching him. He landed right next to the second knight who was pointing a spiked spear at him. He mowed it down with a swipe of his paw, while sweeping the first one with his tail. Seeing his two teammates on the ground, the third, armed with two long swords, slowly backed away. He was trying to buy time to allow the others to get up. Lilfire didn’t let this fool her and instead of attacking her directly, he knocked out the other two once and for all. Alone with his two swords, the last knight rushed at Lilfire. As Fierelmet had taught him, he blew out a thick plume of smoke from his nostrils to blind his opponent before ripping his swords off with a sharp claw movement and putting him out of action.
The king stood upright on the dais as he addressed the crowd to close the competition. “At the end of this historic sporting competition we have a happy winner! I would like to congratulate you all for the magnificent show you have given us. Without further ado, the name of the new guardian of my royal treasure: Veryfierce! Congratulations ! » The crowd cheered cheerfully but the king resumed, silencing the cheers. “However, my dear friends, he was not the only one to impress us! Another competitor stood out for his originality and above all for his vigor in combat. Thus, I decided to reward also the second of this competition. You see, my daughter, Princess Iloa, needs a valiant protector. So I designate Lilfire as Princess Iloa’s official bodyguard! Kudos to him! » Lilfire choked at this announcement. Roarloud at his side gave him a strong slap on the back to congratulate him. Fierelmet and Brurn spat flames into the sky to proclaim their joy. The crowd cheered him and Veryfierce, and among all these people, Lilfire saw a large ruby dragon. Burninflame looked at him and in his eyes shone a gleam of pride.
Alice is 16 (well soon 17 years old) but she is already quite a talented artist. She just start her blog but I know it, there will be soon tones of good sketches and photos and other amazing things. If you wanna discover her univers, please go check her blog :
Have you ever had a friendly crush? Someone you meet one day, by chance and after 5 minutes, you might as well have grown up together. I consider myself a bit lonely and gruff. It takes time to tame me but when I met Mitch, it was as if he had walked into the fortified enclosure of my friendship with all the keys. There was no resistance. One moment I’m ordering a drink at the bar next to a stranger, and exactly 4 minutes later I’m screaming with laughter at the table with my best friend. That was 8 years ago and since then, not a week has gone by without us seeing each other, nor a summer without us going on vacation together.
My wife Carole gets along very well with his girlfriend Stephanie and we see each other as one big family. Our children are like brothers and sisters. And incredible vacations, we took some, Hawaii, New Caledonia, the coral reef in Belize, the sea atoll in the Maldives… You see the theme here, I’m an avid scuba diver and Mitch is my instructor. Every year we look for a place where we can leave our little family on the beach and where we can explore the depths of the ocean. I made phenomenal progress with him. We are starting to make deep spots. This year we are going to Egypt, on the edge of Damascus on the Red Sea. We will dive in the Blue Hole, a 120 meter deep basin nicknamed the divers’ cemetery. Not a corner for beginners but I’m not stupid and I’ll have the best of the best with me, my old Mitch. So there is no danger.
Arrived on the spot, the show is up to par. We are floating on the bluest, most translucent water I have ever seen. The sea goes from bright turquoise to dark navy above the tank without losing its transparency. Mitch reminds me of essential security measures and adds:
“Okay man, let’s go. I’ve been here before and I’m really not kidding, it’s sublime but extremely dangerous. If you walk away, there is a kind of arch at the bottom which is a death trap. Above all, you don’t even try to go there. I’ll be right behind you but we stay careful. »
His fatherly tone makes me laugh. I solemnly pledge to be his obedient little disciple and not to let go of his hand, then we get ready.
It’s like floating in space. I have never seen anything so beautiful. We have incredible visibility. I see other divers tens of meters away, small particles suspended in the rays of the sun and schools of fish passing like silver rockets around us. Mitch has pulled out his amphibious camera and is taking pictures. As he bustles around the fish, I begin to circle a little wider, that’s when I see the light a little further down. There is a huge arch and sunlight filters through. This must be the thing Mitch was talking about. We are very close, I tell myself that I will move forward a little. While staying at a very careful distance, I swim for a while and stop to enjoy the breathtaking spectacle. It’s gigantic, I miss the adjectives. I find myself in front of what seems to be the entrance to another world. Imagine being floating in the heart of darkness when suddenly, a monumental arch opens in front of you from which emanates a soothing blue light. It is an unreal spectacle. In width alone, it must be around 25m. I stare at her for a moment.
There is something that stands out from the place, a feeling of serenity, of fullness. It makes your head spin a bit. I hear something, it starts slowly, like harmonies in the dull rumbling of the water, a kind of musical breath that gradually increases in intensity, like an orchestra tuning up. I don’t know if it’s a phenomenon related to the shape of the structure, but it’s absolutely incredible. This music from the depths makes me want to laugh with happiness while bringing tears to my eyes.
I know it’s not necessary but I want to get a little closer. I have air reserves that can last a little over an hour, I risk nothing as long as I stay at a distance. I walk a little further and the music becomes louder, more catchy. Do I hear someone sing? Sounds like a woman’s voice.
My reverie is interrupted by a repetitive noise above my head. I look and I see that Mitch is back up, he is very high above me and he seems to be tapping his knife on the side of his bottles. As if to get someone’s attention, he gestures. He must try to communicate with the group of divers from earlier. Maybe they are in the field of his photos. It’s a bit painful to look up after long minutes staring at the soft light of the depths. The sun through the surface is like an unpleasant spot in the eyes, it hurts the head.
Well, I promised Mitch to be careful, I decide to check my monitor. The sun blinds me, I struggle a little, I feel dizzy. I finally reach the box which beeps continuously. I didn’t pay attention but on the screen there are big letters flashing:
G O U P G O U P?
Goup? It means nothing ! “Goup” is the funniest thing I’ve seen in my life. Goop when I tell Mitch that…
I try to focus on the numbers, but they fly by and I still chuckle at “Goup.”
OK better go back up. I head towards the light, I swim quietly, but the current pushes me aside, it’s more and more painful. The opening seems to be shrinking more and more. It’s weird.
The music is still there, louder. In the light I finally see her, the one who sings. She is a woman, she is naked and extremely pale. Her long hair floats around her like a huge halo. She’s so beautiful it feels like my heart is going to implode. I feel my eyes swell with tears. The current continues to pull me away from her, to the side. She holds out her hand, her eyes are sad, I start to panic. You shouldn’t panic. Panic drastically reduces oxygen stores.
Nothing make sense anymore. I realize that I, that I don’t think normally anymore. It’s getting harder and harder to fight. I feel like I’m swimming in thick mud and my aching brain is full of cotton wool. I have a flash of lucidity, I activate the emergency button of my safety jacket to go back to the surface. I know it’s dangerous, that we have to take steps, but I will react in due time. For the moment the urgency is to go up quickly.
I hear the air filling my jacket but nothing happens. I don’t go back. The current continues to push me sideways. A shock ! I hit the side wall, I’m stuck against it. Holy shit, why won’t my jacket work? Why is there current in a closed basin? I keep pressing the button with all my might
“Inflate you fucking inflate yourself! »
My monitor is screaming, I don’t recognize the sounds it is making. The screen flashes. The scrolling information might as well be written in Chinese. I do not understand anything anymore. The sound of air in my jacket slowed. I breathe harder and harder. I close my eyes.
” Nope “
I refuse to die like this. I think of Carole and the children. I want to find them. We have reserved a restaurant for this evening, there will be seafood, we will watch the sun go down before returning to the residence. Up close there is the sun, Up close there are people who love me. There is music, smells, life, what am I still doing here in the depths of darkness sleeping against stone?
In a last superhuman effort, I start kicking my legs as hard as I can. My muscles screaming in pain, I try to propel myself through this molasses. Each breath is more and more difficult, more and more painful. The sides of my field of vision darken. I scream in rage and frustration at my gear. I hit the wall again. I am incapable of making the slightest gesture. I wait. A faint blue glow appears. She approaches. God she is beautiful. How can she be so beautiful? She caresses my face.
I realize I’m not wearing my gear anymore. I’m naked too. I am breathing normally again. She opens her arms and I snuggle gratefully. Mitch must have come back up now. He will explain to Carole, Everything will be fine. They can go to the restaurant without me. I’ll just rest a bit, just a minute or two and then I’ll join them. Everything will be alright. Everything will be alright. With a big sigh, I close my eyes.
As far back as I can remember, He’s always been there. When I was at the park with my parents, he was standing on the hill, when I was looking out my bedroom window, he was under the lamppost at the end of the street. He was very small because really far away, but I knew it was him. Mister Fog.
I don’t know at what age I gave him that name but it stuck. When we were in the car, I saw him several times along the way, always standing, always in grey, always far away. He was doing nothing but standing there, at a distance. I had called him Mister Fog because when I squint to see him better, his outlines became blurred and hazy.
One day while I was on a school trip, I told my friends about Mister Fog. The teacher heard me and told the class that I was making up stories. I got angry, I wasn’t making anything up, he was there, standing on the low wall at the end of the park, but everyone pretended not to see him and I got punished for telling a lie. My mother is worried, I had to go see a shrink who spoke to me as if I were a baby and I then decided to stop talking about Mister Fog, but he stayed. When I entered primary school, when Grandpa died, when I entered college… He was there every day of my life. If I looked into the distance, I knew that he would be faithful to the post there. Which was oddly both frightening and reassuring.
It took me years to realize that he was getting closer. It was really subtle, a few centimeters a year I think. I was in high school when I realized that when I looked out my bedroom window, it was no longer under the lamp post at the end of the street but under the one before. It’s crazy that I didn’t hit it earlier but it was so progressive that it escaped me. I should have succeeded in distinguishing it better but its contours were still so blurred so that day I decided to go see it. I left the house and I walked towards him with a determined step without taking my eyes off him but without realizing it, arriving under the lamppost where he was standing when I crossed the threshold of my door. , he always stood at the same distance from me, at the level of the church square. I tried again to join him but again, without my understanding how he had maintained the distance between us, he was now on the other side of the cemetery so I gave up, contenting myself over the years to see that he was approaching very very slowly and then one day there was the accident.
I was in the car, tired from my day, on the way home that I knew by heart, I mechanically crossed a crossroads. When the light turned green, a blinding light and a horn made me turn my head to the right and there, a fraction of a second before the driver who had fried the game ran into me and everything went black. , I saw him, on the passenger seat, was sitting Mister Fog.
I woke up days later in a bad state, I couldn’t speak or move but I could see him, at my bedside standing by my bed, day and night without anyone worrying about it, nor the nurses , nor my family. Gradually doctors became more reassuring. I slowly recovered my motor skills and day by day, Mister Fog regained some distance, first one meter from my bed, then in the corner of the room and finally in the hallway.
Today I am 82 years old. He’s been standing in the room with me for several years. Although he never answers me, I talk to him like an old friend, knowing that the day he will be close enough to take my hand, it will be the last of my life.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the early morning, the nightclub had nothing of its superb. Lieutenant Hansen pushed aside the protective strips that barred the entrance, clumsily placed by a policeman who was unaccustomed to crime scenes. He hadn’t had time to drink coffee, having been woken much too early by the sergeant’s call. He’d just put on his clothes, grabbed the car keys, and arrived on the scene as his watch hand hit six o’clock. Not an hour to start the day this way, he thought, rubbing his eyes at the remnants of his hangover. Once through the anonymous doors, in front of which a nonchalant cat had replaced the line of revelers waiting their turn to enter, it took him a few moments to adjust his gaze to the semi-darkness that reigned in the room. Under the gray light falling from a ventilator, the track looked seedy. Lieutenant Hansen moved quickly towards the back of the room, without lingering on the bar on his right and its mirrors, which only reflected emptiness. Hard to believe in the silence that weighed on the place, that a few hours earlier, a crowd of people moved in the middle of the track, moving to the hypnotic rhythm of techno hits, while others came and went from the bar with a drink in hand, after yelling their order to the bartender who nodded his head to signify that he had understood. A discreet door opened at the end of the room on the spaces reserved for the personnel. Brigadier Andersen was waiting for Hansen:
«Hello my lieutenant. It’s this way. “Hello Andersen. – I warn you, it’s not a pretty sight. »
Hansen made a vague wave of his hand, to signify that he had seen others. The two men entered a corridor which led to several doors.
« It’s at the bottom, my lieutenant. In the boss’s office. He had finished closing, and he went to look for his car keys in his office, like every day. That’s where he came across… the corpse. »
The door was ajar. You could hear men talking behind. Hansen pushed open the door cautiously. At the same time, three gendarmes turned their gaze towards the newcomer, and greeted him briefly, as if conviviality could have no place in such circumstances. The lieutenant’s gaze was immediately drawn to the figure lying on the ground. A woman, as the brigadier had told him. Still, his heartbeat quickened as if he hadn’t expected it. With her sequined dress pulled up to the top of her thighs, her cheap shoes with oversized heels lying on the floor and her hair dishevelled, she looked like a stranded wreck, thrown up by the sea like trash.
Hansen closed his eyes for a moment. A flash. The same woman dancing with a greedy frenzy in the middle of other dancers. Men pressed against her, irresistibly attracted by her provocative swaying, her eyes full of innuendo, her seductive mouth. The lieutenant chased away the image. The woman now had her eyes half-closed, with a frightening stare. Purple markings marbled his pale neck.
« Strangled?” Hansen asked in a voice that sounded weaker than he wanted. – Affirmative, my lieutenant. »
Andersen, who had remained in the background, took a few steps towards him. “We have started the surveys. The body should soon be taken away for examination by the coroner. The team should arrive soon. We didn’t touch anything, of course, but in my opinion, it’s strangulation, we have no trace of blood.
« And the boss, asked Hansen with a dry throat. Where is the boss? – To the gendarmerie, my lieutenant. Fergusen takes his statement. – Good,” Hansen said. Then, not knowing what to say, he repeated, “Good, good.” »
To keep himself in countenance, he took a few steps towards the victim. The headache that had been smoldering since he woke up now rumbled furiously between his temples. Hansen wondered again what had gotten him such a hangover. He really had no memory of his evening. It was happening to him more and more often lately, and if he had never ended up in the salad cart of his colleagues, he had to thank the lucky star that was watching over him. I have to stop my bullshit, he thought, looking at the woman who had gone too far, there was no turning back. Mechanically, his gaze went around the room, and he immediately noticed discreet but very real traces of struggle. Papers had slipped on the floor. An ashtray was overturned not far from the victim.
«The boss of the club is our main suspect, of course,” continued the brigadier, who did not seem to have noticed his superior’s slight discomfort. Or an employee who would have had access to the premises.
Was the office locked?
I don’t know, Lieutenant. You will have to ask the owner the question. “Let’s go out,” Hansen said. There are five of us suffocating in this room. »
The two men retreated onto the dance floor. The blind walls, without the illusion of the play of lights, were squalid, coated with a dark paint peeling and stained with various splinters. The broom that had been used to clean the floor sat in a corner, next to the pile of dust that no one had bothered to pick up.
«I wish I had a little black one,” Hansen said, feeling his legs wobble.
– What’s wrong, Lieutenant? Anderson asked. You are quite pale. »
Hansen gestured that he wanted out. The room revolved around him. Dull shocks hammered his skull. Boom, boom, boom. He put his hand on the sergeant’s shoulder for support. He closed his eyes again. A new flash. The woman was there, right next to him, laughing lasciviously. Around her, the other dancers melted into an indistinct blur. The deafening music stunned Hansen with its repeated pounding. The woman had grabbed the lapel of his jacket, and was pulling him towards him. The cool early morning air made her open her eyes. Andersen watched him with worried eyes.
“Are you all right, my lieutenant?”
– Yes, Andersen, it’s better. A moment of fatigue. The night was short, I believe. »
Today I am posting a somewhat special text. I lost my grandfather earlier this week. He was a pillar for me so I had to do something to honor him. I hope you’ll like it.
Grandpa died last night. Dad and I drive towards Jørlunde, eyes moist. My father hits the steering wheel every time the traffic slows down, grumbling: “What a jerk! What an idea he had to go up on the roof! Images from my recent vacation come to mind: colorful kites tearing through the gray sky. I wipe my nose again with my soaked sleeve and shout silently: “ Grandpa ! Why ? »
Dad drops me off in front of his childhood home, a tall, five-story building that survived World War II. He asks me if he can leave me, the time to go “ do what is necessary ” for grandfather. I accept, of course, without realizing that for the first time I will be alone in this house where I have spent all my summers, as far back as I can remember.
As soon as I walked through the door, the smell of waxed wood brings a few tears to my eyes – I imagine my next vacation away from this soon to be lifeless place. In the living room, I linger over the photos placed on the sideboard: grandmother; grandfather and her, little piece of woman, hand in hand on the beach; my father on a racing bike; me, very young, all smiles in the middle of a huge sandcastle. I fix these images and engrave them in my memory. Standing in front of the large library, I take the time to recognize the books that I have seen a thousand times near the armchair next to the fireplace. A book with a golden cover, which I had never spotted, caught my eye. I climb on a chair to grab it; the title surprises me: How to age well – not the kind of reading for this house. I open the manual, a feather falls. I pick it up, and notice the wet ink on its end. After a few seconds, I finally sit down in front of the thick wooden table to read these tips that will no longer apply to my grandpa. All pages are blank. Not a single sign, not even a date, nothing. What good advice, congratulations! In rage, I take up the pen and almost engrave my recommendation to myself, on a random sheet: “ Do not walk on a slippery roof ! I slam the book shut and put it back in place before running upstairs to throw myself on my mattress.
Dad comes home a few hours later, dejected. Little talkative, we dine quickly then go up to bed to put an end to this cursed day. From my bed, I hear the wooden floor creak – my father is approaching. The creaks stop – short pause behind the door. He finally comes in, draws the curtains of my room and wishes me good night without looking at me.
The next morning, rays of light stream through the new shutters and wake me up. I hear my mother stirring the kitchen utensils down the hall. Strange sensations, feeling of having braked suddenly, that my memories collided with the walls of my skull. I slept at my house, not at my grandfather’s. I tumble in pajamas in front of my mother, my eyes still glued, and ask her:
— Where is dad ? — In the garden,” she replies. I do not understand. — And grandpa Michel? — Grandpa, I don’t know. At his place, or at the beach, I imagine. Call him if you want. I sit up abruptly, afraid my legs will wobble and let me fall.
At noon, I insist with my father throughout the meal: I want to eat at grandpa’s this evening. He gives in – the privilege of being an only son of an only son. My grandfather, always very happy to receive us, simmered his famous roast for us. After dinner, while my parents are washing the dishes and tidying up the kitchen, I take out the cards to play belote. When I close the drawer of the sideboard where the photos are enthroned, I turn around and ask my grandpa a question, without thinking: — Do you think of grandma sometimes? — day. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. — And are you talking to him? — Nope. Not directly. I talk to myself, and since she is etched in my memory, she may hear me. — What was the disease that took her away again? — A hereditary filth, banal and sad, which left him no chance. — Could we treat her today? — Quite a question! I do not know. I do not believe. Do you have any funny ideas tonight, big boy… Shall we play? My parents arrive at the same time.
Restless nights for two weeks, intense reflections, I think I know what happened, without obviously understanding. I alternate between fear and joy at having brought my grandfather back. I didn’t tell my parents. I often have a headache. Dead, not dead, that’s a lot of emotions.
Rainy Saturday, dark gray early afternoon. I’m trying to solve a puzzle when the phone rings. My mother picks up and wipes her hands on her apron. I see her become livid, she cries to me: — Go get your father, quickly!
Grandfather died this morning in a car accident. Dad and I drive towards Jørlunde, eyes full of water, like the road. My father hits the steering wheel every time the red lights of the vehicles in front of us come on, grumbling: — What a jerk! What an idea to drive in such weather! Images of beaches, kites, roofs and feathers cross my mind. I blow my nose in the crook of my elbow, my head is spinning – want to vomit.
My father stops in front of grandpa’s house. He tells me that he will “do what is necessary” and that he will be back soon. Raining cats and dogs. I walk across the yard, go around the puddles, protected by my yellow raincoat. I slam the door, drop my jacket on the tiled hallway, and rush into the living room. The golden book has not moved. I take it gently this time – I don’t want to damage it and make it unusable. I open it to a page drawn at random, and with the quill already inked, I write diligently: “ Do not drive in torrential rain ! “.
My father arrives a few hours later. I come to meet him in the hallway; we hold each other in our arms. We don’t experience the same emotions and he doesn’t know it. During dinner, I chatter a little more than the circumstances would require, but he notices nothing, haggard.
The next morning, my mother comes to drag me out of bed with the promise of hot pancakes. The sun pushes aside the curtain of clouds with vigor. With my mouth still full, I ask if we can eat at grandpa’s tonight; my mother replies that it is already planned.
In Jørlunde, when I set the table, I hear my father talking low, but with intensity, with my grandpa. I only catch snippets of the discussion: it’s about degeneracy and relentlessness – I don’t understand a thing. The evening ends with a game of cards; my grandfather and I, with a smile on our lips, we beat my parents to the hilt.
Another week passes. I fell back to sleep. I feel like I have a super power. At times, that scares me.
Sunday noon, my father comes into my room with tears in his eyes. I can’t believe him when he tells me that grandpa fell off the roof. ” Still ? I want to say, biting my lip. Three accidents, including two falls from the roof in one month, that’s not possible. I curse all the gods I know, and get in the car towards Jørlunde.
My father drops me in front of the house and I run into the living room. When I take the magic book and open it, a postcard falls on the ground. The photo looks like an advertisement for Lake Filsø: a black and red kite crosses the azure sky. I recognize grandfather’s handwriting. He left me a note, very short: “Big boy, I know it’s difficult, but please let me go. I am very sick and I prefer to leave alive. I put my atoms back into play and I join grandma. I like you. Grandpa. »
Last night grandfather died for the last time.
Jeg savner dig så meget bedstefar. Hvis jeg blev den kvinde, jeg er i dag på trods af mors fravær, er det takket være dig. Du vil altid være i mine tanker. Jeg elsker dig rigtig meget.
Take care of yourself and your loved ones, tell them you love them and see you soon!
Wednesday night with Priya and her boyfriend, we watched old movies including Modern Time with Charlie Chaplin. I love this movie but I was exhausted and I fell asleep in front of it and I had a funny dream which inspired me to write this story. It deserves to be a little more worked but I hope you will enjoy it anyway!
I had just taken my service, behind the machine, as usual, like everyone else. On my right, in place of John, in front of the machine, stood another machine, this time sophisticated. An android. It had been a good two months since John had been at the factory. Unfit. It could no longer keep pace and the experts who had come some time earlier to improve space management for better performance had been unable to do anything. The diagnosis was clear: “ Performance disorders ”. From now on, the health services took care of him. Take the chicken, turn it over, remove the giblets, put the chicken on the conveyor belt, take the chicken,…, eight hours a day. John receives the chicken on the chain, hangs it on a hook. He cuts thighs, wings, fillets, thighs,…, eight hours a day. With John, we were able to adapt to the rhythm of the channel. Sometimes I slowed down, didn’t send the chickens too fast. It was only a few seconds gained, but over eight hours it was felt especially when the pain appeared. But that day, the android was going fast, very fast. He was waiting for the chickens. Each time, for a moment, he stared at me with his eyes like cameras. The same as those suspended from the ceiling. When the siren announced the end of the day, I returned home. The android stayed. An immense anxiety came over me. His gaze had something strange. The next day he was still there. The chain started, he came to life, turned his head, looked at me, waited.
— 35 years in the shop and 75% organic matter, John regularly threw at me with his smile tinged with a slight bitterness.
He was a funny guy. Still a little angry and a little disillusioned. It seemed to belong to another time. He often spoke to me about a guy from the beginning of the 20th century whose name I have forgotten. It’s called an artist, I believe.
— You see Louis, this film tells our story. The guy, he screws bolts on an assembly line and the line goes faster and faster. So he accelerates, but he can’t keep up. Suddenly, he finds himself caught up in the cogs, turns inside the system and comes out mad. This guy was a subversive genius. But you see, he was also a comedian and we only remember that, comedy. So everyone laughs, everyone applauds, and everyone goes back to screwing their bolts. But shit, that guy was an anarchist!
A loud beep snapped me out of my thoughts. It was off again for eight o’clock. This android was going really fast. The channel is the boss. She sets the pace. It’s hard on the body. John said that it was called Taylorism around the middle of the 20th century and then Toyotism at the beginning of the 21st.
— The right gesture in the right space. Make the gesture as precise as possible, the most effective, avoid useless movements, limit the loss of time, limit space, erase the singularity, eradicate the error, adapt to the chain. But do you think Picasso could have painted all his work on a chain?
Artist ? Anarchist? Picasso? Taylorism? Toyotism? Where did all this come from? I tried to find out about the web. Since I couldn’t find anything about it on the official corporate websites, I wondered if John was going off the rails a bit. The buzzer sounded again. The android was waiting.
— Louis. May I call you Louis? Our studies show a drop in performance in your job. It looks like your pace has slowed down a bit. In front of me, they were three. Malfunction department agents.
— But don’t worry, we’ll help you find your initial skills. We see in your file that you have already received treatment for your knees.
— Yes, I started with the orientation of the goods. The knees, it was from bending down to lift the boxes.
— Hmm, I see. We have spotted that the failure would now be located in your wrists. You will be received by the health services so that a diagnosis can be established.
With my new biotechnical wristbands, I thought everything would be better. But I kept thinking about a discussion I had had one day with John, at his house, after work.
— I don’t understand John. The guys when they work, they yell at the bosses and when they don’t work anymore, they still yell at the bosses.
— I’ll tell you Louis, it’s very simple. They yell because they are morons. Yes morons. Frankly, to spend eight hours a day with your nose in a chicken’s ass really has to be a moron. But the worst is when they get fired. After all we’ve done for this factory. I spent thirty years of my life there. And now ? Which ass am I going to put my nose in? No, but what do they believe? That we’ll roll out the red carpet for them for service to the Corporation. Yes you are right Louis. When they work, they yell at the bosses. When they don’t work anymore, they yell at the bosses. I’ll tell you. It suits them. Like that, they tell themselves that they are not responsible. But you know, to put your nose in the chicken’s ass, you have to lean forward a bit, sometimes you even have to squat down, and there generally you don’t get a nose. Can you see the painting a bit? At first it hurts a little, and then you get used to it, maybe you even end up liking it. But there is something that really hurts them. That’s when it stops. Because there they find themselves alone in front of themselves. Forced to make the sad statement of their miserable condition. And that is unbearable. So they look further. A guy sticking his nose in the ass of a cheaper chicken. And there it’s even more unbearable, because he has at least an ass he can stick his nose in. So they choose a leader. A manager who will save them. They even vote for him. That way, if the manager doesn’t save them, they can always say it’s his fault. So Louis! Ask yourself! Whose ass do you stick your nose in?
John stood in front of me, his elbow resting on the table, his forearm vertical. In his hand, a life-size, wooden, carved rump.
— Take it, it is for you. And do not forget. The truth is in the chicken’s ass.
On my way home, I looked for this rump. I couldn’t remember where I put it, but I found it in the back of a drawer. I took a hammer. I typed sharply. Inside was a gigamax hard drive. Quite rare and rather expensive. I slipped it into the plug provided for this purpose, behind my right ear, and there: An infinity of data, an immensity of knowledge for which a thousand lives would not be enough to go around.
I no longer have the heart to work. The buzzer sounded three times today. — Louis. Allow me to call you Louis. The corporation has decided to offer you a “ Performance Rehabilitation Program ”. The health services will come and get you. I went to the workshop to pick up my things. As I left, I turned one last time to the android. We looked at each other. It seemed to me that he was crying.
Today I offer you a science fiction story inspired by the latest IPCC reports. It’s not very optimistic. For me it is high time that we move our ass to act but I have the impression that most world leaders do not give a damn because it won’t affect their generation. I promise I’ll try to be in another mood for the next story.
A single tear that will never fall clearly stands out on my right cheekbone. My name is Tear. At least, that’s what the inhabitants of the Burrow call me. I have long forgotten the first name chosen by my parents, perhaps I never even knew it. — Tear! Tear! Bring your butt, we found something! It’s Cio’s voice. I wonder what they could find this time. I take off at a run. I descend the steep slope overlooking the Burrow. A mixture of sand and loose stones rolls under my feet, I will soon have to think about getting back on the road. Cio is waiting for me at the bottom of the drop and leads me towards the crowd. I jostle the pock-faced twins Rari and Tul. They let me pass without flinching.
— What is that ?
— We do not know. We thought you would know. I lean over and look at the metal box pitted with rust, it almost crumbles to dust. “How did you find that?” — It’s little Marr, he fell to the bottom of a crevasse. We tried to fish him out, but it was too late, he was in bad shape, his legs where his arms were, if you know what I mean. I nod in silence, I’ve seen too many bodies dislocated by the fatal falls that are repeated at each bivouac. Rari continues by cutting Cio off: — At the bottom, we discovered a kind of very hard piece. Half of it had collapsed, but we were still able to get in. There were plenty of empty boxes except one, and inside was this. Another box. I look again. They have just opened the small chest. Cio protests: — I’m the one telling! It was me who found the box, so it’s me who tells… Do you understand? Rari and Tul start laughing.
— Ok, chief, it is you who tell. I really like both boys, they live by their own rules. They follow the Walkers, but rarely mix with the Pack except when rescuing one of our own. This time, unfortunately, the rescue came to nothing. Petit Marr went there, like many. Cio is carefully taking out a rectangular object wrapped in a sort of dry, cracked skin, and opens it very slowly, as if he was afraid that the inanimate structure would suddenly come to life. — Oooooh! marvels little Lota. A book, a real book, as old Roy described it to us. This one is different: instead of the words we can’t decipher, there are color drawings. Everyone tries to see over their neighbor’s shoulder, the jostling begins, and it’s still the twins’ turn to calm the little band gathered at the entrance to the North maze. Cio places the book in my hands, a proud smile on his chapped lips. I open to the first page, a few words are drawn on the top of the document, I squint, we don’t know how to read this, nobody knows. I continue, the rest is easier, these are images. I know what it is. Old Roy, before he died, explained everything to me. That’s why others respect me, I’m the one who knows.
Our history is oral, we no longer write it. Each Pack has a Storyteller, guardian of memory. I am a Storyteller, I have the memory of the world. I sit on the ground, in the dust, and look at the orange sky. Our lookouts have not sounded the alarm, we still have a little time before the rains arrive. I raise my arm and show the first image.
— It is a tree. I hear “oh” and “ah” all around me. One after the other, the band settles on the ground. — Is a tree what feeds the planet? asks little Lota, the smartest of the group in my opinion. She has not reached the age of eight and I hope she will survive a few more years. I’ll teach him the history of the world like old Roy did before me. — Yes, Lota, the trees fed the earth and the earth fed us. — I would like to see one for real, exclaims Cio, the dreamer. Everyone nods. — We are the Walkers, one day our steps will take us where the trees still exist. — Is it true that trees make clear rain? I nod and turn the second page. Another tree. — Plants create clear rain and offer it as a gift to men. — Why aren’t we allowed gifts? It’s Sven’s voice, I didn’t see it coming. I can’t take my eyes off his dirty face, his blue eyes shine fiercely, he is my rock, my stability, my reason to go on and on. — The elders have decided otherwise,” Lota answers tit for tat. Definitely, this little one surprises me from day to day. Sven sniffs and drops to one knee before whispering in my ear: — Come on, I need to talk to you. I get up and give the book back to Cio.
— Put it back in the box to protect it and bring it home, with the rest. Has anyone notified little Marr’s mother? The twins nod and I smile sadly at them, then join Sven who is waiting for me a little further. — What is it ? — We have to leave. — When ? I never question Sven’s common sense. He is not mistaken. He knows the stone, he guesses the moment when it will no longer hold and will end up burying us all. — Tomorrow, the day after tomorrow at the latest. — The Trackers have found a location? — Yes, but the walk will be difficult. We are going to lose people. I sigh and lean my forehead against his chest. He says nothing, but uses me against him. — We’ll take Lota. The twins and Cio will follow. Sven rests his chin on the top of my head.
— As you want, but in case of rain, it will be every man for himself. The law of the strongest, as always.
The watchmen’s horn sounds. A long hoot followed by a shorter one. This is the signal to warn of impending rain. Sven sits up and grabs my hand before running. I check in passing that the gang is no longer outside; they must have bolted at the first warning. The northern maze is ours: Lota, Cio, Rari, Tul, Jay, who has found his place among the Trackers, Sven and me. This is the most dangerous part of the Burrow, we are used to it, we always choose the least easy, the least livable. Over time, we became strong and independent. Others fear and envy us. — The lookouts have shit in their pants again, laughs Cio. Lota interrupts him: — Better too soon than too late. — Well, it’s not as if we had ever narrowly failed to dissolve the mouth. We all have a scar to prove it. His gaze passes over the tear that digs into my flesh and makes me look nostalgic. Forgotten memory of my childhood. I don’t know how it happened. My parents died a long time ago, I have always carried this symbol of sadness, this mark that nature engraved on my face.
Acid rain began hundreds of years ago. It all started with the disappearance of oil. The last stripe sucked from the bowels of the Earth left the world in total disarray. Other energies were put in place to fill the gap, but the demand was too great. The wind turbines did not produce enough, the nuclear ended up being abandoned during the last accident which made Japan and Korea disappear unified. Tidal and solar power was used until the last moment, but the brown cloud definitely put a stop to any future attempts. The earth is turning in slow motion. The sunlight hardly reaches us anymore, we die slowly, drowned in a muddy chiaroscuro. Old Roy told me all that, and even more. At first, American researchers had the brilliant idea of melting our waste to reproduce the lost fossil energy. For a few years, the world regained its former flamboyance. Planes flew in the sky, machines worked for the well-being of the population, trade had never been so flourishing. Then the Day of Tears came. The first acid rain took everyone by surprise, ravaging cities and countryside, killing animals, crops, people. During the first decades, scientists were hopeful that everything would stop and that the water in the sky would become pure again. Unfortunately, the years passed and the land turned into a desert. The survivors became hermits, protecting themselves in the caves, the only ones capable of resisting the acidity of the sky. Water and food soon became a problem. There was no shortage of acts of barbarism, the strongest survived. We are piss children, as Cio says. We learned to distill urine. I never drank anything else. Life expectancy has been halved. We don’t have many old people among us. Their urine is too ammoniated, they live together and die together, poisoned by their own fluids. We feed on insects and anything we can find edible and smart enough to avoid the rains. We have become nomads. The rock protects us, but wears out quickly and we need to find something stronger day after day. The Trackers locate the habitable places, it is up to us to make them our home for a few weeks before the inevitable march which will not fail to arrive sooner or later. Pregnant women are the most protected, if we don’t want the human species to die out, we must reproduce ourselves in sufficient quantity. Sven is ready, he thinks we should try. Everyone is free to choose their partner, but sometimes gangs of Reproducers arrive, they only target women of childbearing age, we have never found any of them. Old Roy only divulged the history of the planet to his successor: me, in this case. He said it was no good taunting survivors, that if we understood what the planet had once been like, jealousy, anger and disappointment would destroy what little hope we had left. I do not envy our ancestors. My limited imagination cannot envision the extraordinary.
We find Cio and the others in the northern maze. They have all heard the news of the imminent departure and are already packing up their meager possessions, except Lota, who remains motionless in the middle of the dark excavation.
— What is it ? Cio stole your rag again? – this piece of ageless fabric that she drags everywhere. She shakes her head negatively.
— I do not want to leave. — We must leave this cave or we will die, you know that very well. — What if the rain stops? — What if she didn’t stop? Lota sighs, she has no choice, she has to walk. Sven pulls me into our corner, his gaze serious, his jaw tense. — I spoke with Jay, the Stalkers who returned brought with them a Walker. A rumor is circulating. He stops and tests my face with his eyes so blue.
— A rumor ? You know rumors have killed more men than the rains. — This time it’s different. The Walker comes from the West, he says the rains have almost stopped there. He has made it his mission to transmit information as far as the Russian republic. Sven raises an eyebrow, he doesn’t know what the Russian republic is. The Walker is a Storyteller without a doubt. I explain in two words where the place is located and ask: — What does Jay think? — He says it’s the first time a sane traveler has come to us. He speaks coherently and can answer questions without rambling. — What have the Stalkers decided? — That we would go west. — Do you really think the rains will ever stop? — No, but we’ll go west all the same. — What will we find there?” A toxic ocean that we can never cross. We know it, you and I have seen it with our own eyes. The world stops at the seas. Do you remember the swamps? How many died? Ten, thirty, a hundred? Sven grabs my face between his two hands and follows my motionless tear with his fingertips. It has a strange delicacy that only I can see. — Lota needs to believe it. Cio says nothing, but he’s scared. The twins told me that they had heard him cry in his sleep. And you… I sigh. My eyes, accustomed to the darkness, spot a gray bat, with thick fur and fangs several centimeters long. She will not hesitate to attack. It too must survive. I push Sven to the side and throw the stick I keep in my belt. He twirls around and catches the animal’s wing, which falls heavily to the ground. Sven picks it up and snaps the back of his neck without flinching. We will have meat tonight. He faces me now and resumes as if nothing had happened:
— And you ? Wouldn’t you like to feel safe? He raises the poor animal which hangs limply at the end of his arm and continues: wouldn’t you want to eat your fill every day?
— And if we fail? Sven points to the cave with his hand. — We’ve failed before, we just have to start over, doing better this time. I nod slowly and meet his gaze. I read there the determination and the fear too. Lota joins us, she drags behind her her travel bag ingeniously equipped with wheels, an idea of the twins. The little girl’s eyes are circled in black. Concern can be read on his young face.
— Everybody is ready. We are the vanguard, we will lead the way and if we survive then the Pack will follow. Sven ruffles her hair. — Go find Jay and tell him we won’t be leaving until tomorrow, we’ll be walking at night when the rains are less frequent. Lota walks away, her steps lightened by this respite of a few hours. My eyes betray my incomprehension.
— Why tomorrow ? ‘Because this will be our last trip. My heart squeezes painfully in my chest. We will only travel west once. Our group is dying. — We will create our own world, better and wiser. We will live in the open air and the trees will watch over us. You have told us so often. I want to see the earth as it is described in the books you jealously guard. I want to have children and I want to grow old, he explains to me with new seriousness. I nod without being able to say a word, my throat tight. Hope is foolish, we shouldn’t get attached to it and yet… Tonight we will sleep in each other’s arms and tomorrow, with bellies perhaps full of new life, we will walk.
A personal version of my favorite Andersen tale. I hope you will like it.
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.
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.
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…