Sky Blue

Image: “Depression #4 (standing at the window)” by ndanger is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 Source

Author: Anonymous

Content warning: this text has light mentions of eating disorders, anxiety, and drugs.

you found Happiness
in Darkness
you found the Light
in the Night
you found Passion
in Starvation

 

what you didn’t know
is that you lost your Reason
long time ago.

LOST MY TIME
LOST MY PLACE
IN SKY BLUE…

I’m wandering in this megalopolis; I’m feeling a little bit hazy, I don’t really know how I got here, but it does not bother me. A lot of people around me are walking with such conviction and determination, and it amazes me how much energy they put in their march. Confused and dazzled by their steel armor, Anxiety, until then calmly muffled in my chemical fleece, begins to seethe, threatening to erupt like a nasty bile and disintegrate my organs, my nerves, my brain, leaving my carnal envelope definitely empty and ready for a reboot. What a bitter place! I know I should have been more discrete. Now, I have been detected as an intruder. They are diluting my cocoon, slowly, the cotton is dripping with an icy liquid, almost like soldering iron and I can feel it invade and pervade every inch of my living body; I can hear a mechanical humming and I know they have sent their steel parasites to penetrate my mind. Their little legs, like metallic ants, are working for my absolute mutation: the annihilation of my deviant character.

At that moment, my mouth opens like a gaping hole. From this bottomless gash emerges a deafening shrill, the final cry of all humanity. Someone throws a grenade in it and it resorbs instantly, as I feel the red little pill going down my throat.
It has not always been like that. Before the Big Fall, remember? You were well at ease with other people. We’ve been stuck down here for a while. You pretend that nothing happened, but deep down you know she has taken possession of you. She loves to play with you: sometimes she cuts one string, and you end up dislocated like an obsolete puppet. She knows how to keep you close, because she often fastens a new chain to your head. She successfully tamed you, to the point that you’re afraid of the chains breaking. Afraid of being alone again. She made you believe that she was vital to you. And you know what worked best? She turned your world upside down, and made you believe that the Others are your enemies, and not her. Yet, you cannot understand this. But I can open your eyes.

I must escape, they’re blocking my way, I have to beat them, I have to go in the opposite direction of their infernal pace and find the light again. Yes, but first, find me.
 
I’m slowly regaining consciousness, after what seemed to be an eternity. A dreamless sleep. But the world around me is not fuzzy anymore. Instead, I can feel my heart beating like mad, the adrenaline is rushing through my veins. My body is going at full speed. How am I capable of such prowess? My bones and muscles have taken over my brain; impulsiveness becomes the master of my decisions. While the drug is violently waking up my aching limbs, I know She’s happy. I’m totally in sync with Her. How funny it is to be satisfied with that. You’re in harmony with her passion for self-destruction. She can rest, while I’m taking over. I’m looking up and as always, it’s a starless night; the moon is shining like the light at the end of a tunnel. The darkness of the streets seems impenetrable; from below the buildings are burnt trees without branches and their threatening shadow prevent me from going further. Still, as I don’t have any control over my corporeal movements, I’m stepping into this urban wood.
We have always liked this city. The rumors about its open-mindedness, the kindness of its residents but above all else, its particular nightlife. We had never seen that somewhere else. The city where you can be anyone, and at the same time no one. Humans spending time with other humans, free from any kind of social labels, the ones we always hated. We felt good there because sometimes it seemed like we did not belong anywhere. So maybe we needed this neutral environment to entirely reveal and celebrate peacefully our individuality.

Discretion has always been a specific trait of our personality; this is why anonymity has always been attractive. At that time, we knew that she was already there, yet she wasn’t strong enough to push us to the bottom of our reason. But she managed to do it. Now that we see the world from below, everything is terrifying. People have muted into malevolent titans with scorpions’ tails, ready to harpoon us so we will swell and swell and swell ever more and become as big as they are. You became afraid of them, and this was her greater accomplishment: she made you think that Others are out of reach and that you will never be as good as them. So, we sunk into the night, blinded by the thought that in the dark laid our light. At that moment, she knew she could invert right and wrong, just and unjust, reasonable and unreasonable, just as she pleased. Because you were scared about these giant devils, she made you think that the tinier you were, the more you’ll become invisible before their eyes. At first it was hard for her: we were a question mark in a universe that needs definitions, but we still felt that we deserved our material place one day or another. Insidious, she stripped us from our substantial attachments and of the few certitudes we had, imprisoned us on the other side of the mirror, where down is up and left is right, mutilating our last perception of reality. Because she did not like our body image, she persuaded you that you did not either. She dragged you down with her on the corporeal side too, extolling the virtues of drugs, singing their magical ability to transform your corrupt vision and manipulate your self-image. You felt sexy, mighty, but, above all, it numbed the pain. It’s like playing Russian roulette, and you like the taste of metal in your mouth. Drugs would falsely reverse your natural world, deceiving you while letting you think that you were on the upper side again, persisting in the treachery when you could feel them running in your blood, letting you glimpse what you still think to be the gates of heaven. But I now know for a fact that you entered hell a long time ago.
Like every night, I find myself in front of the reinforced door. It’s the only source of light for several kilometers around. I can hear the usual melodic throbbing, its sharp and rhythmed noises coming from the entrails of the machine, sometimes punctuated with guttural roars of infernal beasts burning with desire voluntarily entrapped down here. The siren call attracts other damned souls, springing from the deafening darkness and slowly coming near the entrance like zombies enticed by fresh meat. Inscribed in red letters along the ledge above the portal the words I AM THE WAY TO THE CITY OF THE DEPRAVED are shining timidly, as if they did not want to be seen, as if it was only a bad joke, but hopefully, it’s not. Hell is real and it is man-made. I know the drug has seriously kicked in, as I’m staring, aghast, at the countless snakes rising over the head of the bouncer: one move and I’m out. The more I stare at them, the more I’m realizing that they are either biting at impostors or charmed by genuine evil souls. At that moment, She knows that I’m in danger. She wakes up and hastily takes over, because only her viciousness will enchant these little demons. Their mouths twist in a vicious rictus.
And once again, I’m falling down the blazing rabbit-hole.

Come. You’ll find me eight floors below.
 
            The first time we heard about this club, we were really troubled and deeply disturbed at the thought of how it works. Eight floors, all built underground. No windows. No clocks. No mobile phones allowed. Time is the enemy down here; its power to change, the continuity of its movement are banished. Only eternity is allowed. It’s a one-way road going downards, you cannot come back to reality by the same stairs: to reach the surface, there is a hidden passage you have to find by yourself. Every level looks alike, if you’re not familiar with the place you lose count almost immediately. The air is heavy, foggy; the light sources are scattered and flashing at a rapid pace, meaning that you will never see the same thing even if you stand still. There is however a little particularity that only the regulars are aware of: if you take a look at the other living beings, you will notice that they are distinct from the previous floors.

First floor. I’m totally blinded by what seems to be a shower of sparks. Millions of light particles are dancing around me, enveloping me and penetrating my skin, muscles, nerves, until they reach the grey matter, and ultimately the core of my soul. Enchanted, I want to be one with the fire, let go of my carnal prison, dilute myself in this universe until I’m nowhere but at the same time everywhere, until I become an ubiquitous energy, ultimately freeing my conscience from any material and earthly obstacles; don’t you dare!!  We already tried that once see where it took us but oddly, I cannot let go of myself, I feel that there’s a war in me oh yes, it’s me against her and something stronger is attracting me from below. I’m hearing the thoughts of someone else IT’S ME! they are coming in successive waves and I’m scared. Maybe I swallowed too much. Again, Anxiety, normally sedated threatens to blow me up, everything is going really fast around me the rapid rhythm of the hard techno is synchronized with my heartbeat I feel the sweat running on my temples the stroboscope blurs everything around me focus please, focus, focus… Suddenly, a cold wave runs over me, from my toes to the top of my head. Anxiety puts its blade arms away, turns back into darkness. I feel sober again. I look around myself, and for the first time, I’m really aware of what’s happening here.

The people filling the room are all richly dressed. Their clothes sparkle in the obscurity; they look like bronze figures of deities. As I get closer, I notice that a mask of gold covers their faces entirely. Faceless statues of an ancient time eroded by excesses and by their lust. These are only women; I can see their breast underneath their armor. Like sorceresses, they turn everything they touch into gold. The room is filled with magnificent beds, sofas but no one lolls into them. In a small alcove in the left corner of the room, an altar; illuminated with candles, some writing: MANEATER. I hear laments, they crave for the feeling of kissing, stroking, licking. This is hell down here, I thought women were free to do whatever they wanted? Behind a glass wall, faces, grinning from ear to ear, watching libidinously the Chamber of Horrors. I had never been aware before of their suffering, I always thought it was a show. It’s strange, I feel like I’m more lucid. She’s not happy.

Oh, I know she’s not happy. I can feel her trying to fill up your veins with her dark viscous poison, the one that immobilizes your willingness, and keep me glued to the bottom of your mind. Me, your Reason, your Happiness, Your real Self.

Throughout the years, I observed. I observed her smallest deeds or gestures. I observed how she manipulated you, with what tools and what words in what order she used. I observed how she faked her pretended feelings for you no, I know she likes me, doesn’t she? Throughout all these years, she pretended that you’d love your body by destroying it. She reversed the mirror. By throwing up, the sensation of the empty stomach would be pleasing but the burning, oh, the burning; by over-exercising you’d feel lighter I couldn’t walk for days; by starving you’d feel powerful, above all these weak people the time I didn’t eat for a week and I fainted in front of everyone and everyone laughed and my father carried me and found out I was thumbing my nose at Newton’s laws; by being thin you would please anyone and all the boys who looked at me with disgust; by taking every kind of drugs you wouldn’t eat for days and I wouldn’t sleep either and all the demons came back at night; by taking drugs even more often you would look inaccessible and you could really feel alive oh yes we felt alive we loved that but we loved that too much and look where it got us? ; by rejecting the physical essence of life, what you loved since you were a child remember I even wanted to be a cook you thought she was the right choice to protect you from the hostile environment in which you evolved. See? It is all wrong: she wants to replace life with death itself. But I don’t want to be dead.

From all this observation, I learned. She doesn’t know, but she’s been teaching me how to beat her. We have to crush Her.
What floor? How much time have I been asleep? Doesn’t matter. I know what I have to do now. Quickly. I don’t know how long I can keep Her quiet me neither it’s now or never. Under a heavy amount of dope, certain floors terrify me, such as the sixth. On a podium, creatures writhe wearing a mask of historic celebrities, but every time they try to talk, blood and snakes spurt from their mouth; the reptiles inundate the floor and wind around my legs, climb up my back and whisper fine words on my physique in my ear. I realize that this surrealist situation might not be a hallucination and that it is really hell down here.

I consider what’s around me, and I understand I am at the seventh floor: one floor to go. It’s the worst one, a materialization of all the fears I internalized, the ones that I buried deep down so that they couldn’t scare me again you have to face them and get rid of them. Women. All extremely skinny, wearing sumptuous clothes, the ones you would expect on a fashion show; they are stunning and smile merrily. When they move too quickly, the fabric of their apparel moves and reveals a big, disgusting mouth in place of their stomach. There are tables of a never-ending length over which lie countless dishes, each one looking more succulent than the other. But I know by experience that they have no taste. They strut like proud peacocks and pretend to ignore what is on the tables; still, as soon as they approach the plates, their large mouths begin to yell in a senseless gibberish; the only words I can distinguish are ADDICTION and STARVATION. Their macabre stroll seems to be going on endlessly. I have to gather all my courage to pass through them and reach the last floor.

We’re almost there.

Eighth floor. It is freezing cold, whereas the previous rooms were rather overheated. I don’t remember ever being here. The room is of a blinding immaculate white, the walls are padded and there are no couches, except for dirty mattresses, stained with unidentified substances. On them, the remains of what were once human individuals: livid, they produce long vociferation like beasts in agony; their white eyes and their mouth half open give them a dazed and disillusioned look. Long hair hangs over their scraggy shoulders; they remind me of ghouls. These human shells move so slowly they seem to be numbed by the cold atmosphere that prevails in here and it’s sure the dope doesn’t help them to be vivid either, still they are begging for more. There is only one armchair at the center of this scene of devastation, where sits the owner of this whole crushing system. Happily grinning from ear to ear, she’s the one that distributes the drugs. At no point in time does she take any of these; but she takes a perverse pleasure in choosing who can get some, starving them until they’re on the verge of dying, and only at this moment she gives them a phenomenal quantity, so that their next withdrawal symptoms torture them always more. She’s exulting to see the vampires jostle weakly to get their dose, tearing each other apart to be the first to get it. She notices me, and I see in her look that she might know me; indeed, she extends her hand toward me. I see that it is full of appetizing little pills of all colors, the ones I’ve been taking for years now, the ones I love, the ones that make me feel so mighty and thin, the ones that make me feel like I’m in control of everything around me RESIST you have to resist otherwise she will win again and this time you will lose me forever yet, curiously, I feel at peace and I don’t want any. She’s trying to persuade me to take them, She does not understand why I’m not already swallowing them, and She begins to get angrier and angrier; at the same time, she becomes darker and darker while I’m seeing the light again! and tries to regain control over my body. I don’t let Her. I have a nameless force helping me to resist Her assaults, all of my muscles tense up, every inch of my body is on alert, my brain is throbbing in order to purge the venom can you feel that you’re coming back to your senses again? my body is going to blow up, lava is running down my ears, tears are flowing down my face, and a long hoarse howling escapes through my lips.

Little by little, the fog that permanently troubles my vision diminishes, while I see a black cloud slowly materializing itself at the corner of the room. A skeletal and slender silhouette is gradually outlined; it’s faceless and has no hair, I can only distinguish her small breasts, and the prominent bones of her chest, ribs, and hips. Her long and thin fingers try one last time to catch me, but I stay stoic. She knows it’s over. Gently, she curls up on the floor and begins to cry.
At the back of the room, a door opens. Behind, the sky is blue.

Open your eyes.
Life can go on.

Atlas Suite

Timon's creation

Image: @ Timon Musy

Author: Timon Musy

¤

The ground is flat and dusty,
The owl sings and wonders
Why it is on the moon.
The masks float,
Above the mangrove the candles burn
And no one asks
Why trees would grow on the moon.

On the moon,
There is a telescope.
And with this telescope
We can see the moon.
No one looks at it though,
We only long for magic.
And why would we look at it,
Since there are trees on the moon?

¤ ¤

Two young girls are kissing
In the nebula
Behind the house

The old lady finds
In her bed
Again
Love.

A supernova, somewhere,
Deep in the blackness of space
Consumes itself
Alone.
Nothing’s left,
Yet it existed.

¤ ¤ ¤

The neon light above the door saturates
The coffee machine
The air
The tables
Eyes open the man sleeps against the window.
A drunken and empty cosmonaut suit.
The ground is flat and dusty.

Before Dark

Image: “Worm’s Eye View of Green Trees” © Felix Mittermeier on Pexel

Author: Emilie Badoux

About the story

This is a story where you make the choices. In order to win, you have to get out of the woods before dark.

This story was written for the MUSE Challenge 2021. The underlined words are those which were part of the challenge.

Start Here

First, you hear sounds — birdsong, and the faint rustle of the wind in leaves. Second, a sweet, fresh smell tickles your nose. Third, you feel the warm, pleasant sensation of the sun on your face. Then you open your eyes, and that’s when the thoughts come in. What the…? You sit up fast, too fast, and now your whole body — without waking up from its stiff, sluggish state — remembers pain; sharp stabs through your head, quiet aches in your back, but none of it is surprising after sleeping on the ground in a — you look around — meadow? In any case, none of it is more intense than the confusion, and the feeling that something very, very strange is going on. Lush and green grass, still wet with dew, fills a modest area, bigger than a garden, smaller than a field, before shrubs mark the border with the forest of tall trees that surround it. You are situated on a slight slope: on one side the forest goes up, and on the other, down. Sun-kissed wildflowers are strewn around the meadow — their scent was what you smelled before, still entranced by sleep. Despite the discomfort, you almost want to stay here now that you’re fully awake and lucid. Something is reassuring, charming, almost mesmerising about the place…

…Which rekindles the eerie feeling from before: this is too strange — and how did you get here anyways? You have the sudden certainty that if you stay one moment longer, you might never leave. You get up slowly, careful not to provoke your (suspicious) headache, and try to find a path into the forest. And sure enough, you see two paths, one going up, one going down. Both are dirt tracks disappearing among the trees; they look identical, as if one was the continuation of the other, going in and out of the strange stretch of grass. There is no way for you to know which would be the best way for you to get out of here quickly, but you have to decide.

 

Which path will you take?

  • If you’re taking the path that goes down, click here.
  • If you’re taking the path that goes up, click here.

 

Passage 2

Among the evergreen trees, you hear the sound of running water and, soon enough, you find a river. Can a river be useful for getting you out? You wish you knew more about getting out of mysterious forests. The river is about 10 metres wide, and its flow seems pretty strong. To your right, a little further down, you see an old suspension bridge, an indicator that at some point, people must have walked through these parts. Clearly, this bridge has not been used for years, though, and its wooden planks are scant and rotting. An attempt to cross might very well end up as an unexpected swim — and you’re not that good of a swimmer. Looking around, you see a track going nearer the riverbank: it seems like it would be passable, so another option would be to walk along the river.

 

Where will you go now?

  • If you’re too intrigued by the old bridge and what you might find on the other side, click here.
  • If you decide to go up the river, click here.
  • If you want to try the way down the river, click here.

 

Passage 3

After walking up for some time, you find a small stone house. The well-maintained garden in front, as well as the smoke escaping the chimney and the faint sounds coming from the inside, indicate that it is inhabited. After your nap in the grass, the house feels inviting, its windows embellished with pots of colourful flowers, stone steps leading to the front door. It is a relief to find that there are other people here — you are immediately tempted to knock and ask for directions. Still, you cannot help but doubt whether or not that would be wise, given that you do not know who is in there.

 

So, what do you do?

  • If you decide that knocking at the door is the best way of determining who is in there and if they can help you, click here.
  • If you would rather try to go around and investigate through a window, running the risk of being discovered sneaking around, click here.
  • If you think all of this is too suspicious and you’d rather trust yourself to get out of the woods on your own, you can go back down through the meadow and take the path that goes down, which will lead you to click here.

 

Passage 4

You venture onto the bridge, and, despite your misgivings, you make it to the other side safely. The path continues, and you tread through tall trees, thankful that the sun is still high in the sky. After some time, you have to stop your progress: the path has started to resemble an animal track more and more, and now it seems to stop completely, a fallen tree barring the way, which then gives way to thorny bushes. It must have led somewhere at some point, but now this path is impracticable. Turning around to go back, you notice something strange in the corner of your eye, next to the path, sparkling blue. You take a closer look: it is a bright, blue mushroom. Not only is its colour unusual, but it also seems too bright, phosphorescent. Its light is clearly not coming from the afternoon sun. Surely this mushroom must not be edible. It looks similar to those toxic, the ones that are dangerous even to touch — which leads you to believe you should probably leave it and be on your way. But you are also tempted to take it, out of curiosity: you’ve never seen anything of the sort, and you like owning special things…

Decide whether you take the blue mushroom and keep it in your pocket.

Then, you go back on your way across the bridge.

 

Passage 5

You knock at the door of the stone-house and hear some racket inside before the door opens to you. A woman in her sixties, with long grey hair and a brown apron, opens the door. She looks you up and down, staying silent until you politely ask for help. Her answer comes in a matter-of-factly tone:

‘You know what? I think you could help me. Why don’t you come in?’ She lets you in without giving you much of a choice, and you start wondering whether coming here was a good idea.

You are in the stone-house with the woman.

  • If you have the blue mushroom, click here.
  • If you don’t, keep reading.

Sorry, dear traveller, but the adventure ends here for you. The woman — the witch — decides to take her in as her minion, binding you to serve her through a spell, and you do not get to walk out of here free.

The story ends here, and you lost. Don’t hesitate to start over at the beginning if you want to try again.

Passage 6

After walking along the river for a while, you notice more light through the trees, a little way up. You climb up, and find that the trees end there, giving way to a field, yellow wheat dancing in the wind and shining gold in the late afternoon sun. Beyond the field, you see a road, leading back to a village. You are out of the woods.

The story ends here, and you won. Don’t hesitate to start over at the beginning if you want to discover other paths.

 

Passage 7

You walk around to the side of the house to spy through the window. When you get to the window, you find a dark grey cat sitting on the sill, its bright blue eyes watching you with an eerily clever, and, you could swear, judgemental, look. Still, you try to get closer, making your way through the bushes that surround this side of the house.

‘Oh, you’re a bold one’, the cat remarks. You let out a sigh — nobody likes talking cats. You ignore her, and try to find a human on the inside. Cats are not known for their helpfulness to lost travellers… or for their helpfulness in general. This one, however, does not let you look past her.

‘Be careful, you don’t want her to see you’, she warns. ‘The witch, I mean’, she adds after letting the mystery float around for just a second, with an intense gaze that makes you uncomfortable. ‘She’s old, she’s cranky, and she does not like intruders’. The cat lets out a feline laugh which settles your dislike and distrust of her for good. ‘But if you want to look, look. It’s your life you’re risking, not mine…’ She finally jumps down the windowsill and strolls away, leaving you perplexed.

When you look through the window, you see a homely and cosy room, which seems empty. There is a fire burning in a fireplace, a book open on a wooden table, and pretty paintings of country scenes decorating the wall — in other words, nothing suspicious. Yet, if there truly is a witch, can you trust looks to tell you whether you should go in?

What will you do now?

  • You do not trust the cat’s word, and although looking inside the house did not indicate much about its possible inhabitants, you did not see anything suspicious either. If you decide to knock at the door, click here.
  • If, despite your doubts about the cat, you decide not to take chances about your safety and to find your way on your own. you can go back to the meadow and take the path that goes down; click here.

 

Passage 8

Suddenly, you remember the mushroom you picked up in the forest earlier. Thinking the suspicious woman may be interested in trading it, you take it out of your pocket and show it to her. You ask her to let you go and give you directions in exchange for the mushroom.

‘Hm… that is a nice specimen’, she declares upon examining it. You immediately feel relief that she is interested in the bargain.

‘…but why should I let you go?’ she asks.

Nice try. The woman — the witch — is thankful for your gift, but still takes you in as her minion, just because she can. You are bound to serve her through a spell, and you do not get to walk out of here free.

The story ends here, and you lost. Don’t hesitate to start over at the beginning if you want to try again.

The Veiled Love

Image: “The Achilles Heel” © texmex5. Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Author: Mond

Achilles and I –
Somewhere under the keen curtains
The secret whisper of Chiron,
Early with the moon,
Raised against the synthetic rain –
Over the stars the kiss is lost,
Is screaming for lips –
Doors of other realities

Unveiled! I kill his imagination
Nail the wrong painting and framed his weak heel!
Those are sheets without a bed, asleep. A
Renaissance without Shakespeare or Titian!
Undress the feelings and consume the flesh;
Skeletons, alive! Killers of reason!
The same enemies, other centuries.

Mother and Cub

Fox

 Image: “Fox” by jans canon is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Author: Sorcha Walsh

The moon was hanging low in the sky as the young mother fox stuck her nose outside the den. She inhaled deeply and saw the whole forest before her – the muddy, wet scent of the leaves on the ground, the blank coolness of the flowing river, and the million busy scents of the animals in the forest. She could smell the birds’ feathers, agitated by their irritated flapping as they bustled around before twilight (the most important part of any bird’s day was when they got to sing). The badgers, too, were starting to creep out of their dens, she could tell by the deep musky scent which lazily and playfully curled its way around each tree. None of these brown, unsaturated smells truly drew her attention, however. She was waiting to catch a hint of the amazing technicolour smell of people.

It had been a long time since she’d ventured out of her den. She had kits to feed, and a mother took care of her young. That was a law which went deeper than most, a law which she felt in her blood and bones. But ever since that year’s mate had failed to return, she had felt something else in her blood and bones: hunger, of a kind she’d never felt before. A gnawing, aching, consuming hunger. So when her milk dried up, she left her growing kits in very bottom of the den and ventured out. She wouldn’t go far, that she knew. But the twin impulses, equally strong, of caring for her young and sating her hunger had raged for weeks. It wasn’t until she couldn’t feed her young any longer that the maternal instinct joined forces with the aching need to fill her belly and she was forced, not by any will of her own but rather the buffeting forces which live inside and rule all animals, to leave.

She sat sniffing outside the den for a number of minutes, waiting to make sure that the coast was clear. This was by no means an easy task – every rodent scurrying by smelled exactly like a meal and after weeks without so much as a scrap of food her instinct to feed was sharply honed. However, she retained just the scrap of self-preservation which required that she wait to have a full picture of the situation before venturing out. Eventually, she did just that, slinking along the forest floor, her bony body sticking to trees and shadows.

Hunting was made difficult by her weakened state. Several times she smelled a rat, close enough that she knew she could stalk it, but in her condition she wasn’t able to move subtly and she inevitably alerted her would-be prey to her presence.

After several failed attempts she smelled a familiar scent, and a most welcome one. Her entire body seemed to lift in the air with joy as she recognised it. It was, it could only be, her mate from that year, who she had thought dead or injured. Surely he was on his way back to her, surely he had been lost. She hurried towards the source of the scent, and found a den. Not thinking, only reacting, she ran to the source of comfort, the source of sustenance, and came upon not only her mate, but another vixen and seven plump young kits, the same age as her own. Bewilderingly, her mate didn’t appear surprised to see her, or concerned for her state. No, he simply placed his lithe, muscular, healthy body between her and the other vixen – and the kits. It was to no avail, however. Propelled by weeks of hunger and an instant of betrayal, her wasted muscles propelled her forward in one bound to push past the two adult foxes and take a cub into her jaws, snapping its neck instantly. And as the rich scent of blood burst onto her tongue like an opening flower, her only thought was of her next bite.

Learning To Leave

Image: Lost © Claudia Cantoni

Author: FC

It was Christmas Eve – Mr. Doolan’s birthday. Outside, the roads were covered by a thin layer of wet snow and the city was shrouded in the thick familiar fog of the cold season.

Mrs. Doolan was busy preparing the next day’s festive meals, submerged by a sea of pots and pans. The open kitchen overlooked the living room, where Mr. Doolan sat, pretending to be absorbed by the articles in his hands, whilst the children were on the floor, drawing and writing the Christmas cards to give to the rest of the family the next day. In reality, Brigid was pretending, too: she was not interested in the cards, she just wished that someone would break that deafening silence. Her parents had fought again – heavily. The tension in the room was so thick, that it made it hard to breathe. Niall was signing the last card, writing his name with different sized letters: the n was in capital letters, but the wrong way round, the i was capitalised, the a was larger than the and the two ls were a bit too separated and straight.

“You wrote the n the other way round, again! I wrote your name properly right here, you just had to copy it.”

“Oh, come on Brigid. Give your brother a break, he’s only five years old. These mistakes are normal – you used to do them, too. Dinner will be ready soon. Come get your plates when I call you.” said Mrs. Doolan.

Mr. Doolan put his papers down. “Shall we play a game of backgammon? Or why don’t you two play and whoever wins plays against me.”

“But I’m not good at baggamom.” When Niall whined like that, Brigid just wanted to slap him across the face. Did he not understand how tense the situation was? Why couldn’t he just shut up and do as he was told?

“Fair enough, then. We’ll play together against your sister. How does that sound, Champ?”

Champ. He called him that way just because one of the meanings behind the name Niall is champion. But he was no champion – he was just a whiney baby. Brigid took the backgammon box off the shelf. She didn’t want to complain – she didn’t dare say that she knew she had no chance of winning against her father.

“Come on Brigid, it’s just a fun game! It doesn’t matter if you lose – as long as you’re not as awful as your mother.”

How dare he? How dare he insult her in front of her own children? Mrs. Doolan did not answer. She knew it wasn’t worth it, it would just lead them to another fight – another wave of insults and accusations. She had had enough. She could not bear another round, and the children did not deserve to witness another violent clash.

The pie was ready. Mrs. Doolan had prepared it deliberately for her husband’s birthday – it was his favourite. However, in that moment, she just wanted to throw it, ravish it, destroy it. She was about to implode and make everything around her explode with her. “No”, she whispered to herself, “you need to think about Brigid and Niall, Sive”. She turned around to look at them: Niall was on his father’s lap, Brigid sat on the floor, moving the backgammon pieces. Their children were perfect. Mrs. Doolan asked herself how could they have created such pure creatures: Brigid, tiny and gracious, and yet so strong and wise (“seeing her so grown melts my heart – too much for her age”), and Niall, who looked like a little angel, with his golden locks, blue eyes, as deep as the sea, and his head always in the clouds. “And what about you? Who will you become?”, wondered Mrs. Doolan, grazing her womb with her hand. She turned to the window: just fog. Everything was grey. As foggy as her mind, as grey as her future. She still hadn’t told a soul she was pregnant. Two months had already passed since that night – that last intimate night. They were in the bathroom, getting ready to go to bed, when she began to cry, sat on the edge of the bathtub. He knelt before her, took her hands, and kissed them. For the first time in a long while and for the last time, he was not annoyed by her tears, he had not retreated within himself, he had not repudiated her. That night of sad passion, she had seen in his eyes that wounded, tormented, and frightened boy. That boy she had fallen in love with and was unable to save.

She was afraid of telling her husband that she was pregnant. She feared it would become an inexorable reason to stay together. What kind of mother would leave her spouse with a child on the way? What mother would not give her child the opportunity of living within a united family? These questions plagued Mrs. Doolan – they made her hesitate. A few days before, she had told her parents she was considering divorcing her husband, as she could not bear it anymore. “But you have to stay with him – think about the kids! How do you think they’ll grow up with a broken family? Plus, Cillian isn’t all that bad. He provides for all your needs – he even spoils you! It can’t be that bad.” What did they know? How could they have known about the continuous abuses she had to bear every day? What did they know about what would be best for her children? Growing up in a house full of violence and resentment could not be better than a divided family, surely. Many couples divorce, and the children all seem to grow up perfectly fine – better than if their parents had stayed in their toxic relationship. So toxic it exterminated all the love. He provides. Sure, he provided all the material goods, but at what expense? At the expense of her happiness? Her sanity? No, she could not allow this. Women do not need to depend on their husbands: she would manage on her own, she was strong. One day she would make the right decision.

Brigid was losing. She knew it was going to end that way. At least dad seemed more serene – maybe he had forgotten about his fight with mum and would go say sorry to her. The little girl turned to observe her mother: she was looking outside the window. She wasn’t able to see her face, but she knew her expression was pensive, distant. She often had that air lately, as if she were lost somewhere and didn’t know how to come back – nor how to go forward. “If mum made dad’s favourite pie, maybe she’s not that upset anymore”, thought Brigid, seeing the cake next to Mrs. Doolan. It was a weird contrast: the sweet and warm smell of pastry and Nutella seemed to try to mask the cold and dense tension that still hovered in the air. Usually, in these situations, Brigid closed herself off completely, remaining, however, as alert as a prey – ready to react to any movement. She didn’t know what to do. How could she make things better? She was too anxious to think – she was afraid of making a mistake and causing it all start again. She feared that…

“Daddy”, interrupted Niall, pausing the game. “Why did you make mummy angry?”

“I didn’t make her angry, Niall. She’s the one who made me angry.”

Brigid did not even dare to look up from the gameboard.

“But will you say sorry?”, asked the child naively. He didn’t understand what had happened, but he knew he didn’t like what was going on. He didn’t like seeing his mummy crying and his father shouting at her.

“We’ll see about that.” answered Mr. Doolan harshly. Niall still didn’t understand: when Brigid and he would fight, his parents would force them to say sorry and shake hands. It was easy. Why wouldn’t they do the same?

“Listen, Niall, your mother is a difficult person,” began Mr. Doolan in a low voice. “I love her very much, just as much as I love you guys. Can’t you see? I go to work every day so that we can have everything our family needs, so that you two can have everything you want. This is why, when I’m home, I demand respect – some gratitude for all I do. That’s fair, isn’t it? With all the things I do for you guys… Who do you think pays for the food you eat every day? I mean, true, your mother cooks it, but I’m the one that gives her the money to buy it. Don’t forget about that. Or what about your new play car, who do you think paid for that? Do you know what I had at your age? I had nothing, Niall. No games or toys, no yummy sweets and biscuits – nothing. I have very few rules, but these rules are important – everyone must follow them. When your mother does not obey them, she disrespects me – actually, she disrespects the whole family! This is why I get angry.”

Brigid felt like she had to vomit – she could feel all the words she wanted to say were about to erupt from her stomach. “It’s not true – none of it is true!” Thought the child.

“So, if mummy says sorry first, will everything be good then?” asked Niall.

“Of course, little Champ!” replied his father, smiling. However, that wasn’t what Mr. Doolan really wanted. He was so afraid of losing everything that he was trying his best to keep his children on his side – he was deliberately making Mrs. Doolan appear as the family’s enemy. She was the enemy; she was the one that could take it all away from him. But she loved him – or she had loved him. She wouldn’t take everything away from him, right? Mr. Doolan knew he was the problem. He knew he was the difficult one, the one that was distancing his family from himself. He turned towards his wife and looked at her: she was so beautiful, so elegant in her movements, as if she were dancing. Why wasn’t he able to get close to her? The walls of his pride would not lower. They would not allow him to kneel before her, ask for her forgiveness, explain the truth to her – the terror he felt at the mere thought of losing her every day. He had a perfect life: a wife who loved him, kind and wise, two wonderful children and a job that allowed them all to live well and satisfy their every need. And yet, every time he expressed himself, violent nastiness was all that came out. His pride and his fears took control and he would start attacking her, before even realising it. Hurt the other, before they hurt you. He was completely unable to control himself when he was angry. He reflected all of his self-hatred on others, and then he would raise his insurmountable barricades, estranging all those around him. He feared he’d end up like his own father – he feared he’d go insane. He feared coming back home and discovering his wife had run away with the kids. He feared not ever being enough. He wanted to ask Sive for her forgiveness, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to do so. The more he thought about it, the more his anger and resentment grew. He felt he was about to explode. He had to distance himself – escape. Leave them before they left him.

Mr. Doolan got up.

“Okay guys, dinner is ready! Come get your plates, please.”

He turned around and walked down the stairs, without uttering a word.

“Cillian, where are you going? Dinner’s ready.”

He took his coat and he left.

Agnieszka Beyond the Screen

Agnieszka with her cat

Image: © Agnieszka Soltysik Monnet

 

Authors: Timon Musy, Katharina Schwarck

 

Earlier this semester, Agnieszka kindly accepted to sit down with us over Zoom: the perfect occasion to get to know the person she is beyond the screen!

 

Hello, Agnieszka. Welcome. Thank you for sitting down with us!

You have been at UNIL for fifteen years, is that right?

 

I guess so! I hadn’t thought of that, but you’re right. This year it will be fifteen years.

 

So, who are you? Where are you from? Where have you worked? What are you currently working on?

 

I come from several different places, which currently makes me a person with three nationalities: I am Polish, American, and Swiss. I was born in Poland, I grew up in California and had most of my education there. Then I spent twelve years in Geneva before coming to Lausanne. I’ve been here for fifteen years now, that’s true! I sort of lost my sense of time, partly because I’ve just enjoyed being here, in Lausanne, so much. I think it’s a really great department and it’s allowed me to have a lot of freedom in terms of what I teach and what I research, and really to blossom in a lot of ways, intellectually. So, I have very much enjoyed being at Lausanne and I look forward to being here until I retire in about another thirteen years. 

 

Well, the other thing I am – I should mention this : I’m a really different person than when I first arrived. I had a huge thing happen to me three years ago: my son died. He was about to start the university. He was going to be at the faculty, like you guys, maybe even in the same year. So, that has completely changed me and remapped my world. It maybe doesn’t look like it so much from the outside because I’m still working and doing the same things, but I think that on the inside I’m very different and I’m doing those things differently and they mean different things to me. It’s certainly made me put a lot more of myself into my teaching. The fact that my son would have been at the faculty… It’s a huge sadness of mine, that he never actually made it to the university. But it makes me see the students that I’m teaching as reflections of what he could have been here, and what I would want to give them maybe flows a little bit from what I would have wanted him to find here.

 

In terms of my parcours and major research projects: I’ve always been interested in the relationship between society and literature and how social issues can be engaged with in literature, how they filter into literature and what literature can do to think about important political and social issues. My first book was about the nineteenth century gothic and how major writers like Melville, Hawthorne, Poe, and Henry James used the gothic in various rich and subtle ways to engage with the huge issues of their time like slavery, class, gender, and capitalism. The gothic is a strain of my research that is still there. I’m working on several essays even right now.

 

My second book was even closer to home, as an Americanist: it was about war and how we tell stories about war through popular culture. The United States is a very militaristic country, but it has not won a war since 1945, and even then, arguably, it won the war only because of the Soviet Army on the Eastern front. It may not have been able to win all by itself, and the fact that it dropped these two terrible bombs on civilians in Japan shows that it has not won a war because of great or effective fighting, – whatever that would even be – which I don’t believe in, in the last seventy years. It’s been engaged in one destructive war after another, killing people abroad, killing Americans, destroying economies. And yet, America continues to think of war as a worthwhile endeavour, as a glorious, important test of a people, and of individuals, and of a country. I think that a lot of that work of persuasion to see things in that way is being done through Hollywood, and through popular culture. That’s what my last book was about, about looking at how the formulas that are used for that come from literature more generally and have a long history, like melodrama, or adventure, that are used to make war seem exciting and meaningful. That book just came out a couple of months ago, I’m still in the process of promoting it and getting reviews and so on. It took me a long time to write it because I was interrupted by being Head of Department, and then I stopped working really effectively for a couple of years after my son passed away. So, it took me about six years to write that book. 

 

My next project is going to be about ecology, the environment and the planet, in some way or another. I’m not quite sure what the corpus is going to be, or what the research question is going to be, but that’s where I’m headed for the next book.

 

Congratulations on your book! And we are very excited about your new project.

We are currently going through hard times and we wanted to know how teaching online has been for you.

 

That’s a great question. I have to say, personally, I had to adapt and learn how to do it very quickly but I have not found it to be as disruptive as I think it probably is for students. I really feel for how lonely it is for students to be alone at home all the time. That’s really not what university is about. University is not just learning, it’s also the whole social environment, it’s making friends, it’s changing and becoming a different person in those three or five years. You can’t do that alone in your room. You really have to do that as a part of a class that you’re going through, with your volée, as part of an environment and all the different things that are impacting you. That’s been a tragedy for students. 

Now, as a teacher, I have found it to be not so bad! I actually enjoy being able to see people’s names and faces up close and I find that the break-out rooms work really well, I find that using the chat as a support while I’m talking to the class has been very helpful. I’ve found that I’ve had to prepare more and be more engaged in my classes, while the students seem to be as well, so it’s more intense and tiring, but sometimes I feel like it’s better teaching in terms of some of the discussions and interactions, especially since my classes in the last few years have gotten really big. There are sometimes forty or more students, and it’s very easy for forty people to just become really passive, whereas when you’re on a screen, you’re very visible with your face. I try to discourage having your video off, because then I don’t even know if somebody’s there or not! It’s sometimes easier to get shyer people to talk. The dynamic has been different. I find that it hasn’t been necessarily detrimental to teaching. I certainly enjoy being safe: I’ve appreciated the fact that I don’t have to worry about catching COVID in the classroom or wearing a mask while I speak and I can just focus on teaching. I also appreciate the extra time it’s given me, you know, the time I would spend showering, getting dressed, commuting. I have more time to read, to take walks, to be with my daughter or my partner. That’s been the good side of teaching online, but I do recognise that for students it’s been very difficult overall.

 

What is the favourite class you have ever given?

 

There’s different kinds of favourite classes. *She laughs* I love teaching the master’s class in “New American Studies” because I put a lot of my intellectual history and engagement into that class. I can see how, when students learn some of the things, and they get these tools, I see them going off and writing master’s papers or mémoires and it’s very exciting to see them taking things that I’ve brought to them but then running with it and doing things I hadn’t even thought of. So, I’d say that the recurrent annual master’s class I teach in “American Studies” is probably the most fun and exciting regular class that I teach. 

 

Then there are more occasional classes that I thought to have been very interesting. I taught a class on feminism once with Isis Giraldo, when she was still here. That was a class that felt really… dangerous to teach. I remember getting nervous, my heart beating, before going in. We were giving students texts to read from the 1960s and the 1970s that were extremely critical of male writers and patriarchal structures. I just never knew how students would react and I’d get scared, almost, before class, going “oh my god, what am I doing?”. And then a student told me once, when I said this, “you know, I do too! I get scared the night before class, I’m really nervous”. But it feels like there’s something really important going on, but something dangerous, that really affects people personally a lot and makes them question their entire way of being in the world. So, I don’t know if that is my favourite class but it is definitely one I will never forget and that was very important to teach.

 

Since you’ve been around Lausanne for quite a while, how have you been liking it? Is there a place in the region that you really like, and that you’d want us to go to and see?

 

Well, I do love being here, especially for the department, I have to say. It is really the most collegial, friendly,  open department I’ve ever been in, and I have been in various universities and various departments. I love the students, they’re curious and eager to learn. I have never had a discipline problem in all these years of teaching, I mean… maybe people whispering a little bit too much in the Anglo-American literary survey sometimes, but that’s the worst of it, and I know people who teach in high school who tell me horrible stories. So I feel very lucky in terms of students and how much extra work they do, all the extra-curricular activities they do, like MUSE! It’s just amazing how people get so involved or are so excited about language, and literature and the community that we have. I love the department for all those reasons, and the region is beautiful. 

But, I grew up in California right along the coast of the Pacific Ocean, and I have to say that I really miss the ocean, I miss the beach and I miss the horizon. I miss the fact that you could go to the beach when you’re sad or on a winter day and just look into infinity. When I first moved to Switzerland I felt very hemmed in  by the mountains. Now it has been twenty-five years since I live in Switzerland – I came in ninety-four – and I have learned to love the mountains and to love the lake. We’re really privileged in terms of the natural environment. I have a little forest right near my house, and I talked with a park ranger once who told me that eighty-five percent of the Swiss population has a forest within ten minutes walking distance from their home. That’s really nice.

 

One of my favorite places is a walk in Crissier called the “Sentier de la Cascade”. I go there several times a year and it’s always different because of all the different colours; in winter there is more light, in summer it is more green and cool, and it’s just a beautiful walk along a river that goes to a waterfall. That’s my favorite place within a ten-miles radius.

[Note from the interviewee: Since we had the interview I have discovered the Venoge and the walk alongside it between St. Sulpice and Bussigny and this has definitely become my other favorite place along with the Cascade walk!]

 

What is your favorite book of all time ?

 

That’s a tough question. That’s a cruel question. *She laughs and pauses* Well, a book that I come back to as a teacher, my favorite book that I teach over and over again is Beloved by Toni Morrison. But my favorite book of all time… I can’t give you a single book but there is an author that I love reading and re-reading, and that’s Louise Erdrich. She is a Native American writer and I never get tired of her books, and whether I read it for the first time or for the fifth time I always find so many new answers and richness. I also find her vision of the world so balanced between the gritty and difficult, the luminous and quirky, the sexual and witty, and it is just such an interesting mix of everything that I find inspiring. So I would say that any book by Louise Erdrich would be one of my favorite books.

[Note from the interviewee: In rereading this interview I thought of several more that have profoundly marked me and I’d like to mention them: Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Nancy Huston’s Dolce Agonia, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Tim Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume.] 

 

Is there a piece of advice you were given that you think is very important and that you would like to share ?

 

I don’t remember getting a lot of advice when I was younger. Maybe I should have gotten more! The one thing that really stands out of my mind is something my mom told me. She was a dentist – my family comes from Poland – and under the communist regime women were encouraged to get higher education and a lot of women were able to get into good skilled professions. So my mom said to me – she said this when I was quite young – that the most important thing in life for a woman is to be financially independent, to never depend on a man for your livelihood, as it always makes the relationship totally skewed. So you have to be free and independent, to be able to enter any relationship with your full free-will and to stay independent within it so that you can leave if you have to. That was a piece of advice that I took to heart and I continue to find very relevant when I look around the world and I see the situation of women in general. Around the planet most women are in various degrees of servitude and a lot of it has to do with not being able to be financially independent and make their own choices. 

 

What do you think would be the most surprising scientific discovery imaginable ?

 

Parallel universes. I’m very interested in physics and all the wonky, weird stuff that goes on, contemporary physics looking at dark matter that makes up ninety-five percent of the universe, and the weird ways subatomic particles behave, the way they get paired and then they start to behave in a way that is talked about in Only Lovers Left Alive as “spooky action“, which is the way time and space get folded into one another… Just all the magical stuff that seems completely surreal, that physics is about. So if there was some kind of definitive proof of parallel universes or other dimensions or that time is just an illusion, that would be pretty surprising!

 

If you could add anyone on Mount Rushmore, who would it be and why ?

 

First of all, I think it needs a woman up there and I’d say it’s about time that people of color in the United States start to get some celebration and recognition. So, I guess I would put up Harriet Tubman. She was the runaway, the escaped slave who helped other slaves to escape along the “Underground Railroad”. She’s being put on the twenty dollars bill hopefully soon, but I could definitely see her mixing things up on Mount Rushmore.

 

Have you ever tasted the Migros Ice Tea and what do you think of it ?

 

 *She laughs* I don’t really drink ice tea anymore because it’s too sweet, but I have tasted Migros Ice Tea and I agree that it’s probably the best in the world (although I wish they would make an unsweetened version of it). 

 

Guillaume’s poems

Image: “Ciel orageux” © Pixabay – Licence

Author: Guillaume Amstutz

 

Promises

 

Didn’t you love the things we shared

Above the clouds, nothing was heard

But when you write in this manner

I see your eyes as they flutter

 

Beyond that veil of sewed words

I hear your voice, its mellow chords

And the darkness that it lightens

My loneliness, it untightens

 

Your promises, glowing in white

They shine gently, in the moonlight

A dimming hue, a falling dew

The distance grew, it’s what you do

 

Soon our vision will be so blurred

Our moment endlessly deferred

Holding on, I had some hopes

Climbing on slippery slopes

 

Clinging to mirrors of sorrow

All shimmering in my marrow

Quietly fade but never go

Your images, darkened snow

Nowhere to run from your claws

Grasping softly, lenient jaws

 

Promises of love, covered in black

Until you dissolve, and turn your back

I believed the tales in tinted glass

Their broken shards spilled on the grass

 

Armor

 

I’m not wary I’m just cautious

And sometimes I’m a bit tenacious

About the things I should let go

I often cling to what I saw

 

I’m stuck in this armor I wear

Hardened shell nothing could tear

It protects me from what I fear

But my frights are slumbering near

 

Scarred steel on rusty skin

Scared still in this quiet din

Burned mail on bleeding hands

Waiting for the falling sands

 

Creaking, seeking shelter

Kicking, flicking weather

Slicking to restore the glimmer

Shrieking when the light gets dimmer

 

A Battle Chant 

 

At dusk, the battlefield was painted red

Banners were torn, flying away

Countless men, on their deathbed

Dark fell down, with the horses’ neigh

Ending the pain with black hooves

Final light fade, the sun moves

Gazing at the plain, covered by haze

Horses who strayed, parting their ways

Inside the ground, its bones are brittle

Jarred by war, as violence whittle

Killing in the name of false gods

Listening always, he applauds

Money is the love they pursue

Nothing ever could quench their thirst

Outside of the blood and the hue

Praying for some gold, they are cursed

Quivering in fear, holding their spear

Riding out of greed, red they smear

Swords out and feral, they charge on

The lord could help us, but he is gone

Uttering softly why he left us

Vices in disguise it’s treacherous

Why keep fighting throughout the years

Xylophones of angels won’t reach our ears

Yearning for solace victory won’t give

Zenith over the dust, it’s the last we’ll live

 

Mindless

 

Shadows wandering in your mind

Mind your steps in this cursed land

Land your feet on the cold stones

Tones echoing in a far place

Lace your fingers in the spoiled soil

Soiled your soul with their grim smiles

Miles away lays your lost hope

Hoping one day the sun will rise

 

Rise again, your eyes still dark

Using your sadness as your bark

Thought the hell wasn’t so low

Thought the pain would never go

 

Gone away out of your mind

Mindless steps in this cursed space

Pace your heart, the night is long

Longing for the day to emerge

Merge your endless pain with mine

Mindless days and mindless nights

I’ll hold you until the sun arises