Where am I?


Image: “Clown Portrait 1″ © Edgar Cook. SourceCC License.

Author: Leah Didisheim.

Where am I? It’s the same street. I used the same path. And here I am, walking along the trees of this street that I see every day. The street where I have all my memories. Where I learned how to walk. Where I had my first kiss. Along this street, where I live, where I’ve always lived and probably where I’ll finish my life. In this house, my home. Where I have learned what’s good and what’s bad. Where my family lived and where, one day, I’ll probably live with a family of my own.

And yet… And yet, I can’t recognise a single thing. I know it is this street. I am so sure that I would yell it to anybody who would not believe me, to anybody who would think I’m crazy. And yet… and yet I do not know which house is mine. Everything looks the same, but everything is so different. I stop where I always stop. I take my keys out of my pocket like I always do. I unlock the door. And I go home. In this house which I know is mine, and yet looks so not like me.

The painting I bought two years ago is still here, right in front of the door. I thought it was so welcoming for people who came to my place, to see a colourful portrait of a smiling fairy, which is supposed to say: “Please, make yourself at home”. My friends always complimented me on it. And yet, today I can barely look at it without being deeply afraid. Again, it’s the same painting, I know it. I bought it. And yet, it is so different. I take my shoes off. I put my black coat in my wardrobe. I do what I do every night when I get back from work. And yet, even what I do doesn’t seem right. There is a weird atmosphere, which seems to spread. I begin to feel sick.

That’s when I hear it. This laugh. This scary laugh that wakes you up sweaty in the middle of the night, after you’ve just had the type of nightmares where somebody kills you before you wake up. I feel dizzy. It feels like I just got inside the house of the devil. And then nothing. No more sound. I don’t move. I can’t move. Standing there like a stupid paranoiac woman, for what seems like hours, though it might have been a minute. Usually Time is a bad friend. You never know if he’s with or against you.

I decide to move. Gently. And I feel something moving behind me. Again, with this evil laugh. I turn quickly and I just get the time to see a shadow vanish. I don’t know why but it seems familiar. It reminds me of my 10th birthday. My mum had asked a clown to come to make his show in front of me and my friends. It was great. I laughed so much that day. The clown laughed too. It was the kind of clown who has a big red nose and a big red mouth: his face makes you happy. Today the laugh was probably the opposite of “making me happy”. I would rather cry than laugh. The shadow I saw made me think of a clown, but the kind of clown you see in horror films, not at a ten-year-old girl’s birthday. That’s why I remembered my birthday so many years ago.

That’s exactly it. My painting, my house, even my street turned itself into a horror scene where I was the victim: the person who can’t control their faith and is just left screaming; the only thing they can still control… So, I quickly elaborate a plan: I will play the crazy lady. I might scare the clown away. I go to my bedroom. I take some make up out of the bathroom. I generously put some black mascara everywhere on my face. I change clothes: I want some holes on a T-Shirt: something not clean. I can’t find anything like that. So, I use the first T-Shirt which came in my hands. I remember this T-Shirt. I had got it at a concert three years ago. I had gone there with my best friend to see our favourite group, Imagine Dragons. And as usual I had bought a souvenir. A souvenir that I am ruining with a pair of scissors and some red and black painting that I have on my desk. I dress myself. I look more depressed than scary. But I guess that will do.

I go back downstairs. I hear a sound in my living room. With my scissors, I walk silently to the door. It is dark. So, I don’t pay attention. And I fall on my shoes that I hadn’t moved. Fortunately for me, I don’t hurt myself. But it was very loud; let’s forget the element of surprise. It was probably too late for that anyway. One more step. This scary laugh again. It seems to be behind me. So, I turn quickly. Nothing. Just the sound. I can hear it everywhere around me. It turns again and again. Now, I’m scared for real.

I breathe. Funny how we intend to forget to breathe sometimes. I remember what my grandfather told me once: “Take your time to intimidate them.” So, I breathe. Very slowly. I close my eyes and I feel ready. I begin to walk again. One step. Two. The living room has never seemed so far away before. It feels like I’m walking for hours. The Time again. Playing with us. I finally reach the door. I open it. “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” And there they were. All my friends waiting for me:

“Are you alright? It seems like you’ve just seen a ghost. And how are you dressed up? Is that why you took so much time?”

But was the laugh really theirs? I do not know…

A Short Story

Black image

Image: © Katharina Schwarck

Author: Katharina Schwarck

Trigger Warning: This text contains mentions of anxiety and stress

I had had a long day at work. My co-workers had made me stand at the self-check-out for six hours, which is not legal at all but I didn’t dare tell them. Therefore, as I took my hourly train back home, I could really feel the strain on my knees and feet. I was so tired. Trains stress me out. I am always worried about missing my stop or falling asleep or getting off at the wrong stop. Thinking about it, that would never actually happen to me because I am so careful about where I am. I always follow the stops on the screen and listen very attentively to the loud-speaker voice. I also look outside to make sure the computer isn’t making any mistakes. When it’s dark outside I follow myself on a GPS on my phone. So really, I couldn’t miss my stop. I still worry about it. But actually, the possibility of missing my stop isn’t even the worst part of taking the train; it’s the people. I am lucky, I usually go to work at times where the train is not too full. If it were, I don’t know what I’d do. I panic when there are too many people around me. I hate it. I cannot. I just feel so bad and I want to explode and leave and disappear. I also don’t like being in a place that so many people have touched? It’s like I can feel their germs and bacteria and spilled drinks and sticky candy and puke and urine. All these things lead me to taking the train at very non-busy times where I stand on the cleanest spot and don’t touch anything. Today, however, my feet were hurting so much that I really wanted to sit. I wish I was at home and could just sit down on something clean without anyone around. But I still had a 15-minute train ride to go. I was standing in front of four seats, one of which was taken by a sleeping, rather over-weight man and I was imagining being able to sit down on one of them. They repulsed me so much. I moved my weight from one foot to the other and felt a stinging pain in my right knee. I still could not bring myself to sit on those filthy seats. I cannot even think about what must have touched the floor before my shoes stepped on it. The train had left my train station and was slowly getting to the next stop. While driving up, I looked outside the dark window. Although it was late in the evening, the train station was packed. Tens and tens of people in hockey jerseys were waiting for the train that I was on. They were all going to get on my train and I knew that they were going to be loud. They were not only going to be loud, they were going to be standing around me and their bodies were going to touch mine. The train stopped and the doors opened and in a moment of panic I sped towards a free seat and sat down just before the crowd streamed into the train and filled every single bit with sweat, cries and laughter. I felt relieved. My jeans were touching the seat but the pressure on my knees was gone. I breathed in deeply. The sounds around me started to become just one mass of noise. I locked myself into my head. I reopened my eyes with panic as something touched my shoulder. The rather over-weight man I had sat next to had put his sleeping head on my shoulder??? Oh god. Oh god. I couldn’t move him. His head was so heavy and I couldn’t ask him to wake up and there were so many people around me who could watch me. Oh god. My heart was racing and I started to feel dizzy and my fingers were starting to tingle and oh my god. I had eight minutes to go. Eight minutes. Oh god he’d just started snoring. Seven minutes. Seven minutes until I could get up with a valid excuse of having to get off at my train station. Six minutes. Had it been two minutes already? I was impressed by myself for a split-second until the panic came back. Okay, focus, I told myself. Focus. So, I closed my eyes and focused on the warmth of his head. He didn’t even smell bad. Most people smell bad. I could even feel him breathe in deeply. There was a stranger’s head on my shoulder and I was starting to feel calmer. I focused even more. There was a blur of sound around me. There was just myself, in this situation. I opened my eyes again. The man had a big red suitcase in front of him. I looked more closely; the front bit of the suitcase had a pink unicorn sticker on it, which clashed horribly with the bright red of the suitcase. I also noticed that the handle of the suitcase was wrapped in numerous airline stickers from various places to various places. They all looked recent. Gazing more to the side, I saw that the man was holding a photograph between his hands. It was a picture of him with a smiling woman and two little girls. One of the girls was carrying a plush unicorn. All of them looked really happy. A wedding ring was shining from his hand. I noticed that the man was wearing a strange necklace. It seemed to be composed of different kinds of pasta, pulled on a string. There were a few poorly coloured paper flowers, too. I smiled. The man moved his head to the side. I didn’t move. All of a sudden I noticed the train stopping and rapidly turned my head outside to see what stop it was and sprinted out.


Created Creator

Created Creator

Image: © Noupload Source

Author: Jonathan Collé

Created Creator

And he cast away his great pen, sat back on his chair, cross-armed and cross-thoughted, the cascade of ideas still pouring about his head in a myriad of lights.

            And the creator saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.

            “Hey! Who am I?”

            And the voice startled him. And he looked again at his work in shock.

            A little man, a picture, a mere representation of a shard in his mind was stretching, walking throughout the paper and the lines that were meant to be his world, contemplating, scrutinizing… He had no idea of the author’s presence, could feel only wind, not a breath, and the two great eyes that stared at him from beyond infinity meant nothing to him.

            The author’s first impulse was to touch this character that had suddenly come to life. He approached a huge, clumsy, trembling finger, and slowed as the distance between his reality and the impossible shortened, ever so slightly… a touch. Nothing. The paper did not rustle, and the lines did not stir. It was still this same frozen plane, this two-dimensional creation that meant nothing without his own consent. Yet there it was, this character who kept scrolling about, stumbling on a coma, falling face-first on a metaphor only to lash-out an angry fist at this unalive antagonist. But was this character not unalive? wondered the author, convincing himself that it was not. For when he caressed the paper and the letters, he could feel only this, paper and letters; not even. Bumpy paper. Is that enough to create existence?

            “What am I?”

The protagonist of the story – if it were ever a story – had screamed. Of that the author was sure. The protagonist had cried like a new-born, wailing at… him? It was a defining question that the stumbling, angry thing had asked, and the little being had poured it out, not caring to be alone, or unheard, not waiting for an answer. Or was it?

            The author trembled at the sudden thought, that his creation might see him. For the question was directed, if not to someone then to the world, and its creator. The protagonist had uttered its first sentences like a new-born answers his first welcome to life: anger, outrage and incomprehension.

            Overcoming his fears, the author leaned-in on his creation like a scientist looking to peer through a microscope. And the conclusions came quick. The “thing” -the author could not yet call it a man, nor was he sure he ever would- had asked not where he was, but what he was. “Who are you?”, asked the caterpillar to Alice. And the author felt himself tumbling down in a spiral- a rabid whole- for this unanswerable question opened only mysterious doors.

            “I don’t even know who you are”, wanted to answer the author, “leave me alone. Decide for yourself, see if I care.”

            But care he did. He wondered the very same thing now, as he peered at the moving impossibility which seemed to stand and look at him straight in the eye! Although of course it could not see; or rather, comprehend. “What did it see?”, wondered the author, not caring to poke his character anymore, content to watch it in a well-deserved awe.

            “I don’t know who or what you are”, whispered the author, still half afraid that his creation might hear him. But there was only fascination in his voice. The answer both entities sought was unreachable, it could only be chipped away – and then be frustratingly incomplete, wrong even. Who was it but a part of the author’s imagination?

            “But I definitely didn’t want you to do that”, thought the author as his protagonist kicked and raged at what had caused him to fall once more. “Nope, not at all”. The character was dancing, flashing middle-fingers all around, head up and a defiant scowl marked on its face.

            “Then, what was it? Was his imagination on rampage?” thought the author, concentrating, eyes-closed in an attempt to find out if the thing would simply disappear. He almost ripped the page, stopping himself just as soon as he had wished such folly. No, never. How could he kill what he had created? “Have I created it? Maybe then, I could kill it without a second thought, but this… situation…” The author kept staring at his creation, afraid even to blink now, that such magic may vanish as quickly as it had come. “But had it come quickly?”, the author wondered. He then went through his process of creation, only recognizing now the painstaking efforts that had wielded this result.

            “You are Jack”, warned the author, chipping away at this mountain of nonsense. “You are a killer. A cold-blooded killer. But you have a heart. Somewhat twisted, but sill a heart. You… have been created as the result of a problem.”

            Was that true? The words became lies as soon as they were uttered, for the thoughts they were meant to convey were too complex, too nuanced, they couldn’t just be flattened by arbitrary sounds. Utterances; utter nonsense. But the author focused once more: it was not non sense. It was simply different. New. Another kind of reality, unbeknownst to him until now, yet as real as his vision, as true and mind-bending as an optical illusion. And this reality was seriously undermining life’s illusion.

            The author saw Jack sit down. But was it still the character imagined, the friendly antagonist, soon-to-be-helper of the main character, possibly a secondary character with a high spin-off potential? It seemed stupid, vain to question such obvious knowledge, but what also stroke the author as unbreachable was the simple fact that Jack, if truth be told, had only been nothingness. A rhythm created by different readings of ink-traced tree parts. He was the wind, or rather the sound that wind and a poorly closed window could make. He was, indeed, the monster conjured in the mind of the child investigating said noise. Was the monster real? Where had reality stopped?

            Where does it begin?

The Fair Lady of Ascalot


The Fair Lady of Ascalot

A Noble Death



“There is a great crying of the waves tonight.”

“Yes, the moon is red.”

“I hear the pounding of the sea afar.”

“I see that the snows are white.”

“Look, here come the flutes.”


“What’s that my dear? What do you say?” croaked the old woman.

The master looks pale tonight, like the foam of the sea or the tear of the moon. He looks out the window but does not see the two women. His eyes gaze in the distance, at a point they cannot see. A slight breeze curls strands of his hair. His sword rests on his side. Knighthood has its price.

The flutes are drawing nearer. One can hear their shrill scream, the pounding of the drums. The young maiden’s heart is still. Candles are lit and the procession moves forward. Not too quickly. Slow, slow and steady, now. One must have time to grieve.


The sky is dark. Not quite black, but dark. Red is the moon, loud is the sea and heavy is his heart. A knight’s heart…is it so still and cold that it may not be pierced? What of love?

The drums are drawing nearer, beating in the cold windy air.


The young woman gazes at Lancelot. She does not see nor hear the procession. What care has she of a funeral? It is not of one she knows or loves. She stares at Lancelot, his silver hair floating under the stars. He is high above, oblivious to her presence in the shadowed garden. But – ah, her mother will scold her again for leaving the milk to turn! Always the hurry. Always the scolding… life, what an unnecessary reality! She hurries back inside, not without picking a rose. Two drops of red drip into the pail.


“Where has he king gone? Oh, what is this horrible noise? Make it stop, make it stop!”

The queen turns and tosses in her bed. It will be a long night. The sheets are moist with sweat, the air too thick. She cannot breathe. Servants rush to and fro bringing water, fresh sheets and perfume. Blood is dripping on the white sheets. The ceiling is dark. A young boy comes in bringing a flower. It has not yet bloomed. It is not yet a bud. But it is green, full of life.

“My mother said this would help”. Slowly, delicately, he places it on the bed. His brow is fixed in concentration. The queen tosses again and the leaves fall on the ground. The bud is blue, dead.

“Where is Lancelot? Oh, what is this horrible smell?”

The young boy cries. Nobody pays attention.


The drums are beating louder. The smells of wine and incense waft closer. A strange scent of flowers comes through the window, aggressive. The boat is pulled by ropes tied to the horses’ saddles. They glitter beneath the moon.

Lancelot looks out and sighs.

“What have I done?”

The moon is red. The sea cries louder.


“I hear the pounding of the sea afar,” says a woman.


“Yes. She is quite dead, our young mistress.” The young men slap the horses, urging them to move faster, faster! The sea is calling the boat.


The queen opens her eyes. They rest upon the red cloths over the bed. Everything is so still, up there, in the meanders of crimson. She has stared at the embroidered petals countless times…yet, now, they do not remind her of flowers but of blood. Oh, there has been so much pain. Where is Lancelot?

Her husband the king is by her side. She can hear his voice murmuring pater nosters. She does not turn her head towards him. Suddenly, she mutters a moan. What is this weight upon her chest?

“Oh, Sir, the queen is awake.”

Oh, the curious creature that sits upon her chest. She stares at it, disconcerted. Is this the being she carried just a sunset ago? What a curious little thing, all curled up on itself and pink, so brightly pink, like a burgeon. Suddenly, it opens its eyes and reaches for the queen with its tight little fists. She smiles. She ignores the king, the attendants and servants. She smiles at this little being lying over her heart.

“My prince,” whispers she in his ear. Her child.


The sea is red, the sky is black, the moon silver. The waves moan, the skies cry but the moon is silent. Cold. It is a cold night. The man shivers, his sweat forming hard crystals on his back. His right arm moves forwards and back, forwards and back in repeating circles as the whip crashes against the horse. Faster, faster. They must hurry. The moon is mounting, the moon is ascending in the sky. Faster, faster. His lady is waiting.

His lady…white, a thin white face. White lips too. Her eyes are closed and one cannot tell they once were blue. A white dress she wears, and white roses in her hair. It too is white, dead as the moon above. The waves are calling.


“I hear the pounding of the sea.”

“It calls for her. She is pale.”

“Her heart is red. There is blood.”

“What folly was in her heart. To die for love

– Is it not strange?”

“Yes, it is strange. The sea is calling.”


Further away, beneath the horizon, figures are busy on the shore. Pinpricks of shadow on the distant sands, they are busy. Horses are being led away. A boat is in their midst, facing the sea, facing the moon. The flutes are getting louder. The men’s movements are precise, calculated. They beat to the rhythm of the sea. A wail is uttered, long, plaintive, doleful. A moan answers. It is the sorrow of the sea. The waves call.

Slowly, dolefully, they push the boat into the sea. A shaft of green, a flower of white – it is their lady they see floating in the sea. She is dead. The moon is coming down, down it slowly drifts, down it comes to meet its lady. The wind is picking up, upwards it moves. A dark cloud comes across the sky, slicing the waves, the silent sea. All is silent, all is dark.

A knight at his window stands still, his sword grasped tight, his eyes focused. Of his lady, the fair lady of Ascalot, he sees one last shining vision as moon and boat embrace. Theirs is the shape of a bud, silver and green. Swiftly, implacably, the clouds cover the sea. All is black and night has settled.

A sigh escapes Lancelot’s lips. What a pity he could not love her, the fair lady of Ascalot. What a pity. But the moon, silver; but the ship, green…they resembled, a bud, a flower – the promise of life. Perhaps, perhaps it was truly so. To lose one’s life out of love…Yes, he is sure of it. His lady lives, she is one with the moon and the stars, her song the eternal call of the waves, her hair the silken strands of the sea. She lives, the fair lady of Ascalot. She lives.


“It is cold tonight. The night is dark.”

“Yes. How is the queen?”

“Well, my lord, she is well. A prince was born tonight.”

“So it is. (a pause) Thank you. I will go see her in the morning.”


The servant retires. Lancelot stays a long while yet, staring at the sea. Finally he turns around and enters the tower. Dawn is already pulling apart the curtains of night. Soon, there will be light.

A Mysterious Encounter

Black image

Image: © Katharina Schwarck

Author: Katharina Schwarck

Trigger Warning: This text contains mentions of alcoholism and addiction

I walked into that supermarket by chance. It wasn’t in my neighbourhood, and I rarely went there. Suddenly, I had remembered that I had an empty fridge and since the closing time of the shops was near, I decided to take advantage of it. So, I went in, and while I was looking for something quick to prepare for dinner, a man I’d never seen before approached me. Strangely enough he knew my name and even more strangely, he knew my job. In fact, he asked me: “Hi, Geraldine. They always let you go so late at the editorial office, eh?”. It had already happened that a stranger had said that I had the face of a journalist and it was also possible that he had seen my work badge that I was still wearing when I entered the shop. Therefore, I decided not to pay attention to this man and kept heading towards the checkout. “And you always eat these dumplings when you don’t feel like cooking,” he said, following me. That was true, but it had to be a coincidence. I was taking the money out of the bag to pay when the stranger threw a bottle of wine on the conveyor belt. He smiled at me. “But be careful, Mr Bacchus!” the cashier shouted, evidently knowing the man. He apologized. “I always come here, you know, humans’ wine is simply tastier than ours,” he said without ceasing to smile at me. Now he was plainly bothering me. “And maybe he’s had a little too much already?” I asked him, raising my voice aggressively. He giggled. “That wouldn’t happen to you, would it? Don’t worry, you’ll never drink again in your life.” A few years ago, I had a big drinking problem, I was a real addict. I kept it secret and not even my best friends know about it. I managed to get out of it and there hasn’t been a single drop of alcohol in my blood since. “Who are you?” I said out loud, now clearly scared. The man stopped smiling and, to my surprise, started crying. “No one ever recognizes a small god like me!” I paid as fast as I could and left. Outside, I turned around and saw the man right behind me, the bottle in his hand. The cashier had really sold it to him. I was too scared to move. Now he was smiling again. “Are you going back to Giorgio’s now?” he asked me. “Ah no, that’s next year. Sorry, I always mix up the past and the future. Anyway, don’t worry about a thing. I’m always here to take care of you,” he added proudly. He reached his hand out as if to touch me. I closed my eyes, terrified. I felt nothing. I opened them again. He was gone and I was holding an empty bottle in my hand.


The Knight of the Broken Lis

The Knight of the Broken Lis

Image ‘Tomas Babington Macaulay’© Peter K. Levy. Source: CC License

Author: Ricardo Paterek Ferreira

Chapter 1

The rain had poured all day, surrounding the country in permanent greyness. Nature rejoiced as the weather announced a fortunate spring after a long and dry winter. The trees shed their ephemeral vanity of flowers and petals, while the grass took on a joyful shade of emerald, one may have even mistaken it for the garden of Eden. The rivers and streams roared in a triumphant torrent as the rain came to their aid in their crusade to the seas.

Roland plunged his bucket in one of these streams, almost losing his grip on it as the water insisted on taking it on its journey. He pulled the wooden bucket out soon after as he carried it to his father. He was a heavyset man, unlike his scrawny disappointment of a son.

“I am not taking your bucket Roland, carry the burden you have put upon yourself,” his father said matter-of-factly. “We have to hurry, night will be upon us soon.”

The pair set out through the forest, trudging through the wet humus as the rain tapered off. They left the entangled mess of forest just as the sun was setting.

“Ah! Praise the Lord, he has allowed us a reprieve of this rainfall!” praised the father as he continued on his way through the fields towards the reassuring figure of Lord Dominic’s castle. Roland gazed dreamily at the faraway strip of sky that was sandwiched between the land and the darkening clouds.

The young peasant boy was suddenly pulled by his arm, spilling some of the water he had collected.

“Come on boy!” urged his father, the word “boy” so full of disdain in his mouth.

The father and son soon reached the castle’s moat, the reason for their expeditions to and from the river throughout the day. Roland’s father dumped the contents of his buckets into the moat and then looked at his son expectantly. The boy emptied his bucket, a short-lived splash followed compared to the torrent his father had thrown in.

“What happened to the rest of the water you were carrying?” asked Laurand, his father.

“I dropped some when you pulled me.”

At this, Laurand’s eyes bulged with rage. “Weakling! Disgrace! I swear you are still latched on to your mother’s teat after all these years!” he bellowed. He paced back and forth along the moat, continuing his list of insults before he suddenly slipped in a small landslide of mud weakened by the rain, and into the moat. Roland burst out laughing as his father sputtered and cursed. The guards overhead along the castle walls who had come to watch the commotion chuckled at the scene below. Roland’s mother, Annette, came before long, with her newborn swaddled in cloth.

“Roland! Enough of this. Pull your father out immediately!” she ordered.

Roland looked down at the moat to see his father struggling to climb up the mud. Roland lay down near the moat and offered his arm to his father. Laurand dismissed his aid and eventually climbed back up, drenched and shivering. The plump mother scolded her son for his behaviour, promising that he’d be sent to Father Brennant for “divine punishment”.

The sun had dipped out of sight as the parents and Roland arrived at their home, a sizeable shack at the foot of a hill near the castle. Roland followed, half-asleep, as he looked out towards the forest and then towards the plains around him. The hanging tree caught his eye, the corpse of a criminal was swinging in the breeze. Finally, he thought, I was itching for some good practice.

The heat from inside the abode caught Roland off guard, only easing him more quickly into sleep. His siblings were around the fire, they were seven in total, the eldest, Francis, having seen 17 winters yet having found no damsel to marry yet. It would possibly stay that way due to his abhorrent looks, sporting the fiery hair of his mother alongside her innumerable freckles. Many of the children in the household took after their mother. As the second youngest, Roland was next to nothing, he was seven years of age and was unlucky enough not to have inherited his father’s constitution.

His family had close ties with Lord Dominic and his ancestors. Roland’s grandsires had assisted in building the very castle Dominic and his family resided in now. Laurand’s children were considered locally as the generation of “moat fillers” having no special role now aside from farming, and if need be, war.

Roland was disdainfully offered a bowl of broth. He finished it quickly as he passed the bowl back to his mother to serve it to the babe. Roland went to one of the three empty beds and curled up in one of the corners, welcoming with open arms the comfort of the cherubs of sleep.


The young boy was startled from his sleep later in the night. His family was still awake as they exchanged stories of today’s activities and played boisterously, however it wasn’t that that had lifted him out of his slumber. He noticed a knocking at the door just as his father got up to open it.

A young servant of the Lord stood proudly behind the door. “Lord Dominic requests that you and your family be present for today’s feasts in celebration of the completion of his lordship’s castle.”

Laurand suddenly grovelled in a mess of “thank yous” and “certainlys” as he ordered his family to quickly dress in their best wears. “Our dear Lord Dominic has requested our presence!” repeated Laurand in a haze of excitement and haughtiness.

Roland, on the other hand, wanted nothing more than a good rest. He was eventually forced out of bed by his mother who would be sure to send him to Father Brennant tonight. Roland had to hold back his mocking laughter. Father Brennant was a compassionate and soft-spoken priest, he never laid a hand on Roland or any other troublesome child unlike his counterparts. The clergyman was always open to a peaceful discussion and resolution, arguing that “pain must be felt only by the wicked in Hell, but luckily enough, it is my duty that no one falls in the hands of the Devil.”

Now that Roland thought about it, he considered the gentle priest more as a father than he did Laurand.

The castle’s drawbridge was lowered and bathed in a welcoming glow of flame. The guards and knights entering and leaving the grounds were particularly well-dressed, however some were already under the influence of drink and roared salacious songs in unison:

Merriment be here,
Merriment be had,
O behold the wanton mistress.
How glad she be here, duchess!
Sing! Sing!
For the lights are low,
And men are in tow
Sing! Sing!
The night glows,
The mistress goads,
In heat she is,
And water we must bring.
For merriment be here,
And merriment be had!

Roland hummed to the notes as his family reached the inner walls. The boy looked towards the training grounds and then to the stables. Roland was already familiar with the inner workings of the castle, having spent quite some time with Lord Dominic’s son, his cousins, companions and retainers. Roland was even invited to become Samuel’s squire. Samuel was the eldest and only heir to the Lord’s high seat. Roland’s parents refused, and instead offered Francis to be Samuel’s squire, Samuel politely declined but kept Roland by his side despite Laurand and Annette’s objections. Roland was excited to see his friends once more.

Before entering the grand hall, Roland was pulled aside by Annette. She directed him towards the chapel.

“To Father Brennant, now!” she said, shoving him as she followed close behind.

The priest opened to Annette’s furious knocking. He almost rolled his eyes when he saw her accompanied by her son.

Father Brennant and the mother exchanged the common formalities, he blessed Annette and Roland and promised to give a stern punishment to the little rascal.

Once Annette left for the feast, the clergyman closed the door and sighed. “Roland, I cannot protect you like this all the time. Your mother may consult my spiritual brothers and they will surely make you fear the wrath of God.”

“But Father, my parents…” Young Roland couldn’t find any good argument.

The priest kneeled down and gently squeezed the boy’s shoulder, “I know… They are not easy to deal with.” Father Brennant examined Roland. “I believe you have great potential Roland. God has gifted you with cunning and handsomeness far surpassing that of the rest of your family. I think you’d make a suitable advisor for Lord Dominic’s heir.”

Roland was taken aback. “F-Father… I truly do not believe to be worthy enough for such a place of honour. I do not know anything except how to listen to my parents.”

“How to listen, yes, but not only. You learn quickly, and that is far more valuable than any other skill.”

“What do we do then?” asked Roland, feeling hopeful.

“I will teach you in the ways of letters and arithmetic, my son. I shall show you the wonders of lyrics and music, you will learn so much more than anyone in your family could hope to attain in a lifetime…” Father Brennant’s deep blue eyes were ablaze with passion and excitement.

And so, a deal was struck between the two.

Roland entered the hall practically unnoticed. Everyone was either focused on gorging themselves with food or watching the troop of performers juggling and jesting.

Out of the corner of his eye, Samuel noticed Roland and quickly gestured to him to sit beside him. The peasant boy in his ragged clothes excitedly joined him. He noticed a fair and young girl beside Samuel.

“Roland, it is so good to see you, friend. I must introduce you to my betrothed, Helena.” Samuel gently held her hand and looked into her eyes dreamily. A look that Roland had never seen before. The peasant simply stared at this young lady, confused. She smiled softly, the blush on her cheeks was irresistible to any boy. She was comely beyond any measure.

Roland leaned towards Samuel’s ear and whispered naively, “Is she your new servant?”

Samuel gave a hearty chuckle. “Oh you poor soul. No, dear Roland, she is my wife-to-be for when I reach my 14th Winter, the day I become a man!” He puffed his chest proudly like a swan, Helena swooned at that and found comfort against his arm.

“Did you save her from a dragon so you could marry her?” Roland inquired excitedly, leaning close towards the couple as he began eating some bread from the feast.

The young couple looked at each other and giggled. “I suppose you could say that,” replied Samuel.

“I see that your cherished companion has finally arrived,” said a deep voice from behind Roland, a large hand firmly placed on his shoulder.

Roland quickly jumped out of his seat and clumsily knelt down before Lord Dominic.

“Oh please child, no need for formalities. If anything,” he lifted Roland back up to his feet and knelt down before him, “I should be the one kneeling. I cannot thank you enough for the aid you have offered in completing my castle.”

Roland stammered in embarrassment and modesty. “I simply filled the moat milord…”

Lord Dominic looked up in his eyes and gave a warm, paternal smile. “Boy, you must learn that one’s deeds do not stop at the individual, but flows through their family’s legacy.” Dominic stood up and ruffled Roland’s hair before returning to the high seat of the feast.

Chapter 2

The rest of the night, Roland chewed on his bread, chicken and thoughts. So much had happened tonight and he was slowly losing touch with the world around him. Samuel and Helena had retired from the feast earlier on, complaining about the noise. Lord Dominic and the few companions who had not succumbed to the mead watched the troop’s final performance: a mellow recitation of Tristan and Iseult. Outside, Laurand wrestled with the men he had helped build Dominic’s castle. The feast was truly at an end, but for Roland, it felt as if he was on the cusp of a new beginning. Of what, he had no clue yet, but he was anxious and impatient to see it unfold.

Soon after his family left the hall, Roland got out of his seat. He was feeling particularly restless now.

Outside, the castle grounds were completely silent aside from the occasional puff or neigh from the stables or the marching boots of guards patrolling overhead. Roland looked carefully around him, the only sources of light coming from the hall or the tower of residence. The peasant quickly and deftly snuck to the training circle towards the weapon rack. The rack only held wooden swords. Any other weapon, be it blunt or sharp, was stowed away at the smithy or was in the sheaths of guards and knights.

Roland snagged one of the wooden sticks. He made off into the night like a thief. This was a regular occupation for Roland, for he would often borrow one of the wooden swords and return it by dawn, if the drawbridge was still down of course. The guards who noticed the missing sword often ignored it, even more so when they realized the child always returned it.

He had begun this regular “training” two years ago when he was first introduced to Samuel. Roland was not allowed to participate in any of the fighting or exercises. He was unfit to wield the training sticks and his blood was considered too “muddy” to allow him to become a knight. He had started off simply by using tree branches more suitable to his size. He replicated as best he could the drills and stances that he observed. He often created situations and developed “new techniques”; and when the opportunity allowed it, he would practice against the rotting corpses of hung criminals or nearby bushes and trees.

Roland ran across the fields, whacking the tall grass along his way as he dashed towards the hanging tree, the rain falling once more in the moonlight, streaks of molten silver refreshing the adventurous boy’s face.

“En garde!” he said under his breath as he began beating the dead man. He was up against a giant; no, a titan! This would be his great deed for his Lord’s favour and for God above. In his excitement he combined all the movements, attacks and counters, he had learnt by heart.

Thunder stroke suddenly and God’s wrath seemed to course through Roland’s hand and arm.

Another wooden stick had connected with Roland’s.

In the scarce moonlight and rain, the child was unable to make out who this living giant was. The silhouette struck fast and hard. Roland simply let his instincts go and did his best to block out and deflect this ambush in the rain.

Roland was unable to find a window of opportunity.

In despair he feinted and twirled in retreat, reaching for some mud and hurling it at his adversary.

The mud splattered on the shadow’s face, causing him to cry out in surprise. He reeled back as Roland regained hope and advanced, sword poised to attack.

Roland roared fiercely as he swung.

The thunderclap of wood on wood and the subsequent shock to Roland’s arms shattered all his hopes. The titan’s eyes – or eye for that matter, because his other eye seemed covered or non-existent – flared white with rage, he had blocked Roland’s attempt with ease.

Both stared at each other, Roland panted, his shoulders heaving and his joints aflame in pain.

“Sloppy. Weak. Undisciplined,” said the cyclops.

Roland immediately recognized that voice and trembled, mouth agape in awe.

“But… Extremely passionate. So much potential, so much talent. Tell me, Roland, how long have you been practicing?”

“T-two years master-at-arms…”

“Please, call me Stone tonight. You have earned it. None of your noble companions has offered me such an enjoyable challenge, and you’re half their age for Christ’s sake!” The master-at-arms knelt down chuckling, wiping his muddy face. A bandage concealed his left eye damaged from his exploits during the Crusades. “Excellent counter with the mud, but that pansy twirl would’ve gotten you killed.”

“Are you going to punish me, sir?” Roland asked timidly.

“Punish you? Pah!” Stone spat on the grass. “I wish to invite you to some private training sessions.”

Roland remained mute.

“Say… Over here at the hanging tree, every two nights?” proposed master-at-arms Stone.

The boy nodded exuberantly.

“Very well. I will have to ask you though to return the sword to me now…” He offered his empty hand. Roland handed the sword, glad to return the blessed burden.

Stone stood back up and walked nonchalantly back to the castle. Tapping the swaying corpse on the way. “You’ve instructed him well, but now it’s my turn!” he cackled heartily.

The peasant stood in the rain a moment, letting this new event soak in.

Chapter 3

Roland wished his luck had not thrust him into the heart of chivalry. He was happier as a peasant. Dead miserable, yes, but at least he didn’t have as many responsibilities as an aspiring knight.

Five years had passed since he took up Father Brennant and Stone’s offers of education in the arts of the mind and war. Five years of excitement and doubt, ecstasy and hopelessness. Roland was particularly brilliant during Father Brennant’s lessons, showing an affinity for the Bible and music. However, the combat training was another story entirely. That first fight in the rain against the master-at-arms was only a fraction of what Stone could inflict. Once the lessons began, Stone didn’t hold back. Cuts and bruises became an integral part of Roland’s body. His body ached all the time and sleep was welcome more than ever when it came. The boy had attempted to skip some nocturnal lessons by sleeping through the intended meeting, only to be doubly punished and drilled the next lesson. Roland was often reminded that if he didn’t comply, his lessons would end and he would return to his deplorable peasant life. That was perhaps one of the only things that got him out of bed in the middle of the night to get hurt.

He wouldn’t return to that state at all costs.

Throughout the years, Roland learnt many a useful skill. He learnt the ways of gallantry and chivalry; of love and hate, healing and hurting.

Eventually all this secrecy around his unlawful instruction had been torn away. Uproar had ensued. Lord Dominic’s conservative and traditional advisors argued that knights were meant to be pure bloods. Others, mainly Stone and Brennant, maintained that any talented individual should be given an equal opportunity if that talent is of use to the ruling Lord. Dominic pondered and deliberated, the lessons continued, although now frowned upon.

That is, until Roland appeared before the Lord with an offer.

“Milord. Rulers come and got and lords of great land and power such as you must be preserved in order to continue thy legacy. One such way to preserve your bloodline are your trusted swords, knights ever loyal and prepared to perish for you. My cherished friend and your heir, Samuel, will take up your place as Lord eventually, and though he is more than worthy and able, he will need guardians.”

Roland spoke with such eloquence and reason for a peasant, Lord Dominic’s court and advisors gawked at him. The young lad noticed Samuel slowly nodding in assent and the hint of a smile on Dominic’s face, but whether it was of contempt or respect, Roland was unsure.

Vaurier, one of the advisors and guardians of Lord Dominic spoke up. “Samuel has no need of more protectors, he already has us!”

The other advisors acquiesced.

“He will have need of new champions when your lot will be either dead or too senile to defend milord’s only son,” retorted Roland, some of his old commoner mannerisms and accent returning.

The court exploded in upheaval against Roland, demanding that he be sent away immediately. The peasant stood his ground as guards approached cautiously, looking towards Dominic for his approval. Roland maintained dignified eye contact with the lord.

Lord Dominic waved them away.

“Enough!” boomed Samuel, his voice cascading in the hall. Everyone turned towards him, even Helena was shocked. “What do you propose instead dear Roland?” he inquired.

A mischievous grin grew on Roland’s face. “A tournament.”

Chapter 4

“Are you mad Roland?” Stone asked furiously. “Going to Lord Dominic on your own without me or that priest to aid you?” He puffed and paced in his quarters. “And to think you’ve proposed a tournament. You better put on a good show, make this bloody investment in you worth it…”

“I believe I handled it quite well Stone.” Roland stood proudly. “If anything, I could win the heart of the people.”

“You don’t even know how to ride a horse! How do you expect to survive the jousts?”

“I won’t, that is why I shall redeem myself during the duels.”

Stone groaned in despair, holding his head in his hands. A moment passed before he got up quickly. “So be it. Grab your things, I’ll teach you at least how to stay on your damned mount.”

The stable boys jumped and got out of Stone’s way when he came thumping in, followed by an eager Roland.

“Charlemagne and Dustfang, now!” ordered Stone.

Soon, two horses were lead, saddled and ready. One was a proud and blonde stallion, tall and majestic; the other was quite the opposite, an aging and pale mare with a cataract on one eye.

“Take your pick, boy,” said Stone.

Roland immediately approached the white horse, Charlemagne.

Roland received a blunt blow to the back of his head.

“Looks do not tell you everything about a horse,” growled Stone. “Charlemagne is quite a sight but he is just as undisciplined as you are. The moment you try to mount him, he will bolt whether you are ready or not.”

Stone gently turned Roland to Dustfang, “This horse however… Old she may be, but she still gallops like the devil…!” said Stone in wonder.

“She’s blind! How will she be of use to me?” demanded Roland, bewildered.

The master-at-arms looked down and held Roland by both his shoulders. “Even blind men can run straight ahead if they so wished, boy.”

The following days, in preparation of the tourney, Roland studied the basics of horse riding. He had quickly grown fond of Dustfang and her shortcomings.

“Who named her that?” Roland asked Stone at some point.

“I did. She was my mount during one of our raids against the Saracens. I had found her a year before and had nursed her as best I could. She was already blind in one eye, so I never mounted her. In preparation for a raid we needed as much cavalry as possible and I was stuck with the blind mare.”

“Well, why did you call her that?”

“She fell behind during the assault and we spent the rest of the battle chewing on sand and dust, but when we finally reached the enemy, I felt as if I had become Death incarnate, horseman of the Apocalypse!”

During those few days of intense training, Roland had joined the daily combat training among the noblemen and aspiring knights, making friends and enemies alike. He had resorted to sleeping in Father Brennant’s quarters and avoiding his family as much as possible. The gentle priest had explained the situation, to his parents’ dismay. They had once again tried to bargain in order to have their elder and preferred sons replace Roland in a failed attempt at social ascension. Strangely enough, they had declared that they would disown Roland if he somehow won the tourney, stating that “He is Satan, bending everyone to his will with his silver tongue.”

On the day of the tourney, great festivities were held, almost as important as that of Samuel and Helena’s marital union. The idea of forming a future corps of protectors for the heir was already being taken into consideration as a viable option for generations to come.

Roland, restless the entire night, decided to pray with Father Brennant. They had even spent some time reading old riddles the priest had copied during his scholarship in various monasteries in the regions of the langue d’oïl. The pair had even climbed up the castle’s walls to watch the sunrise, Father Brennant blessed Roland with the protection of God and his angels.

A great feast had been held at noon, during which Roland scarcely ate due to anxiety and adrenaline. Roland was soon asked by Stone to get prepared in his tourney gear.

He was fitted with slightly oversized jousting armour in which he was hardly able to move. He hated this feeling. He felt trapped and helpless. He was always used to fighting on the ground where the only metal he wore was a chainmail and an open helm. The two slits for this helmet’s eyes caused Roland to panic quietly before getting a hold of himself.

Dustfang was ready, docilely taking on the new burden of Roland in his metal coffin.

As the Lord’s family and retainers left the hall, the tournament’s parade began. A clamour of lutes, flutes and singing voices. Horses neighed and walked all carrying their proud iron chess pieces.

The tourney was to be held outside the castle walls, where the colourful scaffolding and jousting barrier stood proudly on this hot summer day.

Roland had seen his fair share of tourney’s already, but to think he would participate in one…! He crossed himself as the trumpets signalled the beginning of the competition.

Horses galloped, lances splintered and men screamed in victory or defeat.

Roland was soon called to the post for his first joust. He kicked Dustfang’s sides gently, urging her to move.

Roland was face to face with a tall and handsome nobleman who had just received the favour of a young damsel, a strip of cloth tied to his bicep. Being the youngest participant of the tournament, Roland knew he couldn’t rely on his strength to win.

A squire approached Roland with his blue and white lance and unadorned shield.

Roland had some trouble holding the lance in a stable position. He held the shield close to him.

The master-at-arms approached him quickly “Just don’t get yourself killed kid.”

Great, thought Roland, some uplifting words of encouragement.

The trumpets sounded and Dustfang bolted, almost throwing her rider off. Roland’s lance was all over the place, and only a few seconds separated him and his opponent.


The boy came to amidst the sounds of cheers and music. Stone was over him, pulling Roland’s helmet off. The child winced when Father Brennant tried cleaning the wound on his forehead. Roland was still dazed, he was on his horse a few moments ago, and now he was on the ground, paralyzed.

“He really did a number on you, fellow,” said Stone. “Listen, you can drop this tourney now, I’ll continue to train you.”

Roland suddenly roared getting up. He snarled, not wanting to give up. He heard some men and children guffawing up on the stands. He spit out a blob of blood from his mouth as he looked around for Dustfang, putting his helm back on.

He mounted her, his body burning in a white heat of pain and rage. The trumpets sounded, Roland tossed the lance away and replaced it with his shield. Dustfang galloped in a war frenzy. This time, Roland was focused only on his adversary. As the two horses approached, Roland swiftly deflected the enemy’s lance and smashed his shield against his opponent’s helmet. His adversary went limp, his body flopping on the horse.

There followed a great gasp from the crowd. Stable boys and squires approached the limp horseman who soon awoke. The crowd cheered in admiration for Roland with some booing from Lord Dominic’s advisors and personal guards. The young boy raised his fist in triumph.

The tournament continued in earnest. Roland lost many matches of the joust but he managed to redeem himself brilliantly during the melees, showing the true skills of a leader in teamplay and exceptional abilities in the battlefield. He had gained the admiration from the other boys who were participating in the tournament.

As the sun began to set and the braziers were set up and lighted for the evening feast, Samuel gave a lively pat against Roland’s back.

“Not bad for the son of a farmer!” Samuel praised, leaning into Roland’s ear. “I’ll be sure to put in a good word for when they will choose my guardians.”

“‘They’? I thought this choice was up to you.” Roland was getting nervous, Lord Dominic’s advisors weren’t exactly thrilled with his outstanding performance.

Trumpets sounded and everyone fell silent. Lord Dominic rose from his seat.

“It is with great joy that I witness your sons prove their worth in an effort to protect my cherished boy, Samuel. The time has come to feast, but first and foremost, we have come to a decision regarding five men in this tourney who will become my son’s protectors!” Lord Dominic raised his arms as the people cheered and whistled.

Dominic called the names of the boys who had best performed in the tournament, Roland was not among them.

“These men will be knighted for their valour!” cried out Dominic, followed by cheers. Roland sulked and listened quietly. “However! As a young man reminded me a few days ago, the people of a land need a ruler in order to protect them and to continue one’s bloodline. So it is with an immense honour that I name Roland as champion and head of Samuel’s personal guard!”

More cheers boomed as people around Roland congratulated him. The festivities began and Roland crossed himself in gratitude.

“STOP!” A violent and enraged yell caused everyone to pause, looking towards one of Lord Dominic’s advisors. “I will not allow a peasant to head my son or protect my fair Lord’s son!” He brandished his sword. “Roland! I challenge you to a duel. Accept if you cling on to any semblance of honour you’ve only attained today!”

Roland gulped and swallowed his apprehension as he approached the man who was two heads taller than him. “I accept.”

Lord Dominic tried to interpose himself between Roland and his advisor. “Nathaniel, I demand that you use a blunt training sword if you are to duel with the child. You are not to kill him! I will not abide by infanticide!”

“Pah! If he believes he is so prepared for war, let us test him then!”

Space was given for the duellists.

“I require a weapon,” ordered Roland. A squire approached him with a blunt metal sword.

Nathaniel’s squire soon arrived with full battle armour. Roland kept to his supple leather armour and chainmail.

From out of the crowd, Helena ran to Roland. “Dear Roland, I offer you this favour in a show of support and gratitude. I pray that you win this duel and that the Lord above offers you a prosperous life. It would be an honour to have you protect my husband and I.” She tied a ribbon on Roland’s left arm. The young knight acquiesced solemnly.

Once Nathaniel was equipped, he smacked his sharpened and deadly sword against his shield, taunting Roland.

The two circled each other, assessing their opponent.

Nathaniel was the first to strike, he was quick for a man in armour, but not as quick as the brave Roland.

Roland could see Nathaniel’s attacks coming from a mile away. He began to tease the knight, gaining confidence as he swung his sword against the armour. He knew he needed to find an alternative to hurt Nathaniel, for the blunt sword was useless.

Nathaniel suddenly rushed towards Roland like a bull, charging and slamming his shield against Roland’s chest, downing him to the floor. Roland wheezed as all the air in his lungs escaped upon impact.

Roland’s opponent roared, preparing a downward swing with his sword. The boy knew he had to act now. He rolled, a flash of pain reaching his left forearm. He looked at his injured arm, blood was seeping through the cut in his leather gear. Helena’s favour was cut. He dropped his shield.

The young peasant dodged and deflected the monster’s attacks as best he could, before he paused to look at his blunt sword’s hilt.

Roland flipped the sword, holding it with both hands by the blade. He grinned mischievously as he swung the sword like a club, slamming the hard and mace-like hilt against Nathaniel’s sword arm.

Lord Dominic’s hot-blooded advisor yelped in pain. The knight was suddenly hit with an onslaught from the metal hilt, his armour beginning to dent as Roland let out all his rage. In a coup de grâce, Roland slammed the hilt against the inside of his opponent’s knee, forcing him on his knees before the boy.

Roland tore off the knight’s helmet and eyed the bloody and bruised man furiously, “Let it be known that today was the day you lost to a child. Now get out of my sight, you’re not worth the kill.”

Chapter 5

That night, Roland was offered the seat of honour beside Lord Dominic himself. The young boy had truly taken his fate into his own hands, setting an example for everyone else.

While he ate more than he ever would with his family in a whole week, Samuel brought his attention to the many women that had begun to take Roland into consideration as a potential suitor. Roland averted his eyes, saying, “Women are not part of the code of chivalry.”

The night carried on with no other disturbance, aside from the usual drunken brawl among a handful of knights or commoners.

Roland returned to his family shack, only to be greeted by a nervous Francis.

Roland approached him cautiously. “Brother! It is so good to-”

“A-la-la-la-la!” shrieked Francis, covering his ears.


“The Devil speaks through you,” said Francis, still shielding his ears. “I won’t let you in. Mother and Father don’t want you in!”

The 13-year-old paced around angrily. He could not believe the backwardness of his superstitious family. He reasoned with himself and returned to the castle.

“I have lost my family. At least I have gained a life of my own.”


On his 14th birthday, Roland was summoned to Lord Dominic’s hall. There, a retinue of knights were lined up on either side and saluted as Roland passed. Samuel, accompanied by the master-at-arms, awaited Roland.

“As promised during that great tourney of champions, I summon you here as you become a man to also take on the responsibilities of a knight. Kneel down dear Roland,” said Samuel solemnly.

Roland promptly obeyed and bowed his head.

A holy silence surrounded them as Samuel unsheathed his sword and knighted Roland.

“From now on, you shall be known as Sir Roland. Rise, Sir Roland,” said Samuel, placing his hand on Roland’s shoulder. “You knelt a man. You rise as a knight, but more importantly, you rise as my brother.”

Father Brennant entered the hall with a rather unceremonious bucket of holy water. He blessed each knight with a splash of water.

Once he reached Roland, everyone knelt down in respect, so did the newly dubbed knight.

Brennant flicked water on Roland and began his prayer. “We thank thee Lord for having bestowed upon us a man of great worth among us. We dub him a worldly knight, but with thy grace I dub him a spiritual warrior who shall henceforth strictly follow his brethren’s code of chivalry. May he protect the young, the sick and the women, those who cannot defend themselves. May he show example through piety and chastity. And may he crush his lord’s enemies for the protection of his lord’s land and for God’s ideals.”

“Amen,” concluded everyone.

Father Brennant walked out of the hall as quietly as he came. Stone kept a close eye on him until he was out of sight.

“Example through piety and chastity… Ha!” Stone smirked. “Don’t listen to that old man. The only thing that matters is that you protect your honour.”

“But doesn’t that mean being a model of chastity and of our love for God?” asked Roland, perplexed.

Roland was met with a round of good-hearted laughter.

“Ah, kid… Once you find the love between a woman’s legs, God will never be able to compete,” said Stone, his new cynical and crude tone confusing Roland a little. Roland began to blush a bright red.

His fellow knights snickered. “Don’t be such a prude Roland,” said Stone. “If it makes you feel any better, we’ll all go whoring tonight, isn’t that right men?”

Everyone cheered in agreement while Roland stormed out, horrified by the brotherhood he had been welcomed into.

The next morning, Roland woke up in bed to find a pristine surcoat on the floor and a note.

Leave the whoring to the senile veterans, find yourself a young lass to settle down with, if you can. I knew you could make it.

Your mentor and friend,


Roland picked up the surcoat excitedly and examined the heraldry of the house of Tolin, a diagonal division from the top left to the bottom right. The right side showed a black leopard, on the bottom left a wonderful golden fleur-de-lis.

Chapter 6

Roland could only hear the heavy rain hammering against his helm and the wails of women. His eyes were closed as he pronounced a silent prayer. He quickly opened his eyes as they darted around the crowd and then to his friend and now Lord of the land, Samuel.

Samuel laid his hand on his late father’s ashen face. He maintained his composure, but Roland could see the grief behind his eyes.

Lord Dominic Tolin had died of a flux of the lungs. He had suffered for the past few weeks, battling with his own body. In his last hours, he had valiantly got up from his deathbed in order to duel against the Grim Reaper. His delirium was in vain, for after the first swing of his sword, he fell into a fit of hacking coughs.

Samuel had spent most of his days avoiding his duties as stand-in for Lord Dominic. He stayed close to his father, demanding that Roland alone should guard the room.

Father Brennant, still alive and well at the age of 76, began the funeral prayer.

Roland glanced at Helena and her three children: Michael, Estelle and Dominic. She had fulfilled her role as wife and more. In these dark times, she had taken over on behalf of her husband and had showed impeccable strength and resilience. Although, personally, Roland was hoping that Samuel would take back the reins before his wife ran their people to the ground.

It was spring and the grass regained its emerald hue in the rain. The procession began as squires and fellow knights carried the body of their late lord back to the castle to place him in the family crypt under the chapel.

Samuel watched as the crowd followed, Roland stood by his side, concerned. “Sam… I’m sorry for your loss.” Roland adjusted his armour and winter cloak. “I understand your pain, but-”

“Understand? You? You never lost anyone!” retaliated Samuel.

Roland looked him in the eye, keeping his sangfroid. “Don’t forget, I lost my family the day I won that tournament.”

Samuel’s nostrils flared before his shoulders relaxed and slumped. He looked at Roland sheepishly, the sad wisdom in his eyes completing his quasiregal composure. He wore a plain brown doublet, completed with his surcoat carrying his family’s arms.

“I apologise. I had completely forgotten about them. I always thought of you as a brother, I never would’ve thought you still carried feelings for them, what with their peculiar hatred for you.” Samuel embraced Roland for a moment. “Come brother, I have duties to fulfil and a land to protect and lead.”

They mounted their horses, Helena carried Estelle and Dominic on her horse while Michael was old enough to ride a pony.

Back in the hall, Samuel convened his council to get right into matters, perhaps in an attempt to forget the events of the past few weeks.

Like a shadow, Roland watched over the council as he kept an eye on Samuel.

The hours passed and most of the affairs, ranging from heritage issues to finance and judicial cases were completed. A break for dinner was called for.

A dagger was unsheathed quietly, but Roland’s trained ear could hear the treachery approaching. He placed his hand on his hilt and quickly took a protective stance in front of Samuel.

“I suggest that whoever is cowardly preparing to attempt on someone’s life, sheathe your knife,” Roland growled like a guard dog.

Everyone’s eyes widened. Suddenly, Basel, one of Samuel’s cousins and his tax advisor quickly stood up, bumbling with his dagger held high up.

“It is I! It is I!” he repeated incessantly.

“Silence! Were you planning to kill your lord?” Roland inquired.

“N-no sir… I was simply preparing for dinner…”


“I’m hungry, sir.” Basel was on the verge of tears.

“Please leave him alone Roland. He didn’t mean any harm.” Samuel calmly pulled Roland away. “It’s been a long day for us all…”


Once they had dined on a roast piglet, accompanied by some rice from Camargue, the council got back into business, namely war and defence.

The war advisor stood up to give his report. “With the last campaign in Jerusalem there has been a decrease in hostilities among French lords, crimes have also seemingly lowered with the initiative from the Vatican to send criminals on military exile. However, now that troops are returning, I am afraid we may see animosity amongst the nobles once more…”

“Pray tell, have you any proof to sustain these claims?” Samuel leaned forward, taking a concerned and worried approach.

“My lord, I have received news from our friends in Aquitaine. There are reports that the southern regions are amassing an army,” stated the advisor.

“Is it possible that they have simply mistaken the returning crusaders for this army ?” asked Samuel.

“My lord, they are hiring mercenaries from the Tuscans.”

Everyone fell silent. The Tuscans were formidable, to have them in one’s army would almost surely mean a guaranteed victory, provided one could pay enough for them.

“We need to do something about this,” the lord said.

“I suggest we prepare defences as soon as possible, and request our vassals and allies to prepare as well,” said the war councillor.

“What if we informed the king?” Samuel’s face was creased with concern.

“I would advise you not to, my lord. We do not know if the southerners have any sort of blessing from the king. Alternatively, we could send a spy.”

“What are the risks?”

“There will be no risks if he doesn’t talk or betray us…” the councillor glanced at Roland.

Samuel noticed. “No, he is the captain of my guards. I will choose a knight myself to journey to Aquitaine, observe and report the happenings of the South.”

With that, the council ended.

Chapter 7

The knight that was sent to the South never returned.

Months had passed, the knight sent regular reports of his journey and progress until the letters stopped coming.

Winter was in full swing when an emergency war council was convened.

“We cannot afford to let our guard down. In all likelihood their armies have been prepared and they are all waiting for the thawing of the snow to begin their campaign,” announced Samuel.

Roland stepped forward. “My lord, I believe it is time I take this responsibility.”

Samuel was about to object but Roland continued, “This idleness will not help me in the long term as captain of your guards, and we both agree I am most suited for this affair.”

Samuel couldn’t help but agree. He grabbed Roland’s arm and looked him right in the eye. “Promise me you’ll return.”

Roland bowed. “Only the Lord above shall decide, but I’ll be sure to choose a trusted replacement as captain.”


The following day, plans were established and a cover story was set up.

“You are to be an erring knight on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, accompanied by a Franciscan friar,” declared Samuel.

“When shall I meet this friar?”

“He should arrive within a few days, he comes from a vassal within the Burgundy region. In order to deceive any passers-by you will receive a surcoat with the arms of the king, this will hold up with your story as a pilgrim and most people will not question your authority.”

A week passed. The snow was piling high within the castle, most of the squires spent their morning and afternoon clearing the grounds of snow. The stone walls were freezing in their grey-blue hue. They almost had to cut off the tip of Michael’s tongue after he was challenged to place his tongue on the wall, freezing his tongue in place.

Roland was given his blue surcoat, and was immediately disappointed when he saw the crooked and broken fleurs-de-lis all over his clothing. The Franciscan, who referred to himself as Brother Anthony, was a portly fellow in a brown robe and with a shaved head. He was extremely polite and became even more flustered once he met Roland.

There was no ceremony. This was a military expedition that was to be kept secret. Roland did however visit Father Brennant in his chapel.

“Ah Roland, it is nice to see you. Do you wish to speak with God?” Brennant asked politely.

Roland knelt down in his heavy cloak, leather armour and blue surcoat. “Yes, but I have something to tell you as well.”

“Stand up, my son, tell me what troubles you.”

Roland did his best to hide the tears that were building up inside him, numbing his limbs. “Father… I will be leaving today for the South, and perhaps even Jerusalem if it is demanded of me.”

The priest looked at him carefully. “Jerusalem, eh? Is this purely a religious objective or are you to commit atrocities like those criminals who proclaim their efforts ‘in the name of God’?”

“I do not know yet Father. All I know is that the path before me will be long and arduous.”

“And I suppose I won’t be seeing you within the year?”

“Or maybe never again…” Roland croaked as tears ran down his cheeks.

Gentle hands lifted him up, Brennant’s warm eyes soothing Roland’s troubled soul. “You needn’t worry. Our Lord and Saviour does not abandon those he loves, neither does he separate those he cherishes. We will meet again. Now go, dear Roland. It is high time you see the world and all the wonders God has bestowed on his land.”

With a final embrace, Roland said goodbye to his spiritual father and left the chapel heading straight to the stables. Brother Anthony followed close behind, muttering prayers and blessings.

“Save those holy words for when we will truly have need of them,” said Roland. He ordered the stable boys to grab his destrier, Jesus, a grey and imposing warhorse.

“You’ve named your horse after the saviour?” asked the friar with a sour look on his face.

“Roland turned back angrily on the friar. “Is that a problem? Why may I not bestow such a holy name to such an innocent being…?”

The friar turned red in embarrassment, he backed away a little. “I-It’s blasphemy.”

“And why is that?”

“It’s a usurpation of the Lord’s name.”

“Then we are all usurpers,” claimed Roland honestly.

Brother Anthony gaped. “How?”

“Take you for instance, usurping the name of Saint Anthony, and me, given the name of one of Charlemagne’s most trusted paladins.” Roland grinned as he revealed this to the young and fat monk.

That should shut him up for the day… the knight thought.

Once the grey destrier was prepared with extra saddlebags and layers of fur to keep him warm, the friar and knight mounted their respective horses and set out to the front gate.

There, Samuel waited dutifully. “I wish you the best of luck brother. Take discretion over bravery and report as often as you can,” the lord informed.

“And you, take care of your family and your subjects. Keep a watchful eye on everyone. I am sure my chosen replacement shall protect you just as well as I have. Farewell my lord!” Roland ordered his horse into a light trot, followed by the friar.

The pair rode down to the cosy village covered in snow that was juxtaposed to the castle. The land around them was silent, aside from the occasional gust of wind and the regular plodding of hooves on snow. The ground was white and twinkled as if the clouds had mixed the snow with diamonds. The mounds of snow reminded Roland of the sand dunes that Stone had so oft described.

The knight sighed, crossing himself at the thought of the master-at-arms. He had perished soon after Roland was knighted. He was feverish to such an extent that his companions judged it necessary to bathe him in a cold river. He simply convulsed and his heart stopped from the shock. A bitter ending for a cynical man, but Roland was grateful to him, knowing he would never have been in this position had it not been for him.

Roland and Brother Anthony entered the village, some peasants were out either collecting snow for water or simply heading to the tavern to warm themselves. A child in one of the homes began to cheer, recognizing Roland. Roland often escorted Samuel when he travelled to neighbouring fiefs, there were often great parades prepared to welcome the lord as he visited the village.

Passing the tavern, they saw all manners of debauchery inside. Drunken singing, whores of all shapes and sizes, a brawl in one corner.

“Are you not going to do something about all this?” asked Anthony nervously.

“That is not part of my mission. Besides, these minor sins keep the lord’s subjects docile,” said Roland coolly.

“I beg your pardon? No sin is minor in the eyes of God. I must preach the good word to these poor souls!” Brother Anthony got off his horse and entered the tavern despite Roland’s objections.

The distressed friar entered the dingy tavern. He was taken aback by the acidic smell of cider and mead. He quickly walked to the tavern keeper.

“You must let me speak to your patrons. They do not see the way of God!” Brother Anthony implored desperately.

The tavern keeper, a grizzled old man who often groped his younger cousins who were tavern wenches, burst into laughter when he heard the Franciscan. “Give it your best, they only listen to God on Sundays, and even then they don’t understand that damned magic language those priests speak.”

Brother Anthony went first to the buxom wantons. “Please hear me out fair women. You need not lead such a life. God may forgive you if you change your ways just as Mary Magdalene did. The convents nearby are always open even for the most abysmal of souls,” he said in a zealous frenzy.

The women began to ridicule him. “I’ve heard that the nuns there are trapped in those hellholes,” said one of the prostitutes.

“I hear they participate in some quite lascivious activities…” interjected another one lustfully. “I wouldn’t mind joining them actually. What do you think ladies?”

They all acquiesced. “How about you give us a sermon on lust Father?” they began to cling on to him, touching his crotch.

He jumped and squealed like a pig as he bolted out of the tavern. He was met by Roland’s laughter as he watched the Franciscan.

“This is no laughing matter Sir Roland! They are all heathens, they could surpass their worldly and carnal state but they wallow in their cesspit of sex and drink.” The friar got on his horse, his face completely red as he rode off without Roland.

Once the knight caught up with him he tried to reason with the pious monk. “Brother Anthony, you must realize that they are of the race of Cain and that their church belongs in a tavern. The priest is a tavern keeper. Their stained glass, the colourful dresses of courtesans. Their communion is one of mead and bread. Their god, Lucifer himself.”

Brother Anthony wept at his sudden realization of the human condition. “Dear Lord, I have underestimated the power of the Devil.”

From Roland’s hometown of Palteau, the pair rode South, following the river Yonne to Joigny, another village belonging to Samuel’s domain. There they would rest and take a river boat down the Yonnne, as far as it could take them.

The tavern here was less raucous than that of Palteau, but there was just as much sinning. The friar hopelessly crossed himself, constantly bobbing and bowing his head in an obscure religious dance.

Roland approached the alewife, a young and comely blonde lady. However when she smiled, she revealed the black rot in her teeth. “I will require a room with two beds,” Roland asked politely, now trying to position himself away from her mouth as she spoke.

“That’ll make uh… How much you’ve gotch on ya?” She eyed him curiously, taking note of his attire.

“Enough to pay but definitely not daft enough to be milked by you,” he growled.

She too knew the friar’s dance as she began to bow and bob her head, muttering apologies. She showed them their room and Roland paid for the night and dinner.

After changing into more suitable indoor clothing, the pair ate their frugal onion and mushroom soup in silence, aside from their prayer before eating of course.

Roland dipped some stale bread inside the broth, a lone mushroom floating sadly among the equally sparse amount of onion.

“I am not one to complain, but this is quite the change from Lord Samuel’s court,” said Roland matter-of-factly.

“This in fact is quite a diverse meal for me, compared to the monastery I was in,” replied the monk. “Well, aside from the water and bread, which was usually the only thing I ate there,” he dug in hungrily.

The knight watched him closely, amused.

“What?” asked the friar once he finished his soup.

“Oh nothing. I just find it quite droll that an abdominous fellow such as you could be that large on simple rations of bread and water. Not to mention all that walking you do with your brothers from house to house to ask for alms for the church.” He smirked and lay down, turning away from the crimson and flustered friar who tried to defend his ways.

Chapter 8

Roland woke up the following morning to find the friar frantically splashing holy water from his skin of water and babbling prayers.

“What in God’s name are you doing?” Roland snapped.

Brother Anthony jumped, spilling the rest of the contents in his skin almost everywhere. “J-just purifying this inn.”

Roland groaned, regretting taking on this mission with a zealous Franciscan. He got up and changed in his light knight attire.

“I will be outside to breakfast on something a little more edible than yesterday’s meal,” Roland walked to the door before a desperate hand grabbed his shoulder.

“Y-you’re not telling me you’re leaving me with those harlots and drunkards?” asked the timorous Franciscan.

“An old friend told me you might find God’s love in between a woman’s legs. I’m starting to believe you need that comfort more than me.” Roland left the conversation at that.

The knight approached the innkeeper who was already preparing some meals.

“Good morning sir! Was the room to your liking?” she asked, giving her black and pestilent grin.

Roland tossed her a few silver coins. “I’m afraid my travelling companion has had quite the incident during the night and has not ceased to shed piss from his holy bladder all over the room.”

“Oh dear Lord, and I’d thought them monks would show more self-control,” she complained as she went upstairs.

Roland waited until he heard the tavernkeeper and Brother Anthony arguing. He chuckled and went outside.

He asked around for the local market and marched through the sludgy snow to find only a few fishmongers and a travelling merchant who was calling out to villagers to come look at his wares, “From Jerusalem and back!”

The knight greeted one of the fishmongers. “Greetings, has the Lord given you any luck in your catches recently?”

The fishmonger, a stout and short fellow with a bloody apron looked up to the knight unflinchingly. “Fish?” he asked, seeming to only have one tooth left in his mouth.

“Uh, yes. Do you have any large catches?” Roland began to speak slower and mimed his words, worried that he couldn’t make himself understood by the old man. Roland eyed the stand, noticing a large trout. “How about this one?” he said pointing at it.

The fishmonger grunted and opened his palm waiting for the coins to fall. “Fish,” the simple fisherman uttered.

Roland estimated the price and handed him a silver coin. The fishmonger gestured for more and Roland shot a fiery look at him.

“This is more than you get in a month, so take it or leave it,” stated Roland.

The fishmonger bit into the silver with his only tooth, upon making an indent he was satisfied. His jaw opened up but the tooth left the fishmonger’s mouth as it was nestled in the silver coin. The fisherman gasped in shock. He cried in a mix of joy and sadness.

Roland took the trout and walked away quickly as he approached the travelling merchant.

“Ah! A fellow crusader I see,” said the salesman once he saw Roland. “Do you miss the flavours and spices of the Holy Land already?”

Roland smiled politely and showed his trout. “I was wondering if there was anything you had that could enhance the flavour of this.”

“Well you’ve come to the right place. I am the merchant of the sands, I possess so much more than those three wise kings that gifted our Lord and Saviour. I can sweeten your life or bring the most delicious fire to your tongue…”

“Do you, or do you not have something?” asked Roland bluntly, losing his patience.

“Of course!” The merchant began to rummage through his cart. He pulled out a little pouch and some bright yellow fruit. Roland stared in amazement, reminded of Stone’s stories of the Orient and the magic tricks of court jesters. The travelling merchant opened the pouch, showing a bright red and fragrant powder. “This is a wonderful mix of different peppers. Not too hot to the tongue but it can raise anything to empyreal heights of taste.”

Roland breathed in the wonderful and novel smell, his body forgetting the bitter cold of the winter surrounding him. He stared at the fruit. “And what might that be?”

The merchant grabbed a knife and cut into one of the golden fruits. “This is a lemon! I traded with some Sicilians for these. They’re not quite good by themselves but on a fish like yours…” He almost began to drool at the thought of it.

Roland took a slice, sniffing the citric aromas before giving it a bite. His mouth filled with acid and his face puckered up as he coughed heartily. He tossed the slice to the ground and took a moment to recover from his culinary experience.

“Quite the punch to the palate.” He smacked his lips. “But an exquisite aftertaste. How much for both the pepper and lemons?”

After hearing the initial price, Roland scoffed. “I am certainly not paying that much for a few ounces of powder and a fruit I could pick up in the South.”

“Well,” began the merchant, “since you are a knight I could lower the price by a few silvers.”

They began to haggle fiercely.

“A few silvers? You better lower it by a full gold coin at least.”

“Do you have any clue of the risks I put myself through to bring these produces here?”

The haggling was fierce and a growing group of villagers began to crowd around the opponents.

“Best ‘aggle I’ve seen in years,” said one of the inhabitants in admiration.

“’Ow much was the first price?” asked another villager to his neighbour, however no one knew – even the two hagglers had forgotten the original price – but the spectators were willing to watch until the end.

Soon enough, bets were being placed. Cheers and cries of disappointment grew when the haggle seemed to slow down to a conclusion, before it started off once more. This happened thrice!

“To be frank, this is far better than any execution I’ve been forced to watch,” commented a peasant, to the others’ agreement.

After what seemed like an hour, Roland and the oriental merchant shook hands in mutual resentment and the village shook with the whoops of the winners and the cries of the defeated.

Roland walked away to join Brother Anthony who was angrily waiting for him.

The crowd behind them began chanting for a new entertainment they had devised: “’Agglin’ Tourney! ‘Agglin’ Tourney!”

“Got ourselves some breakfast!” said Roland cheerfully. “It better be worth it,” he muttered under his breath.

“Breakfast does not take one hour to get,” the friar said with his arms crossed.

“It does when fish is involved,” he lifted the trout, “and when I go to the Holy Land and back to bring these wonders.” He showed the pouch of pepper and some of his lemons.

“I’ve already eaten during your price debate…” the friar seethed. “And thank you for setting that alewife upon me with your talk of my ‘incontinent bladder’.”

“You’re right… I apologize, let me make it up to you,” offered Roland.

“How?” asked the friar hopefully.

“Sharing some of my trout.”

The friar exploded once more. “We’re losing daylight! We should already be on a boat heading down to the South!”

Roland waited patiently for him to end, before speaking once more. “You’re not telling me you enjoyed the tavernkeeper’s watery broth, are you? I know a hungry man when I see one…”

“Is this another jab at my largeness?” asked the monk, disgusted.

“I speak from many years of experience watching over my men,” Roland said matter-of-factly. He began to walk with his fish towards a smithy.

The large monk followed the knight and harrumphed. Roland asked the smith if he could borrow his fire in order to cook the knight’s fish. The blacksmith was happy to oblige and provided a poker to spear the fish with. Roland pulled a dagger out and scored the trout and sprinkled some of the pepper mix over both sides.

The crackling of the fire and the mumbling of the bearded smith filled the silence between Brother Anthony and Sir Roland for a while.

“Sir Roland?” peeped the Franciscan.

The knight turned to him, his wonderful trout was a golden brown and nearly ready.

“Might I ask you to leave some of your trout for me?” asked the friar innocently.

“I thought you did not want to commit the sin of gluttony,” said the knight, grinning triumphantly.

“If anything, I’m saving your life by tasting this fish and –” the friar gave a dubious whiff of the pepper “– whatever that is, in order to absorb any potential poisons!” He smiled in turn.

Roland chuckled and slapped Brother Anthony good-naturedly on the back. “Very well, you shall take half.” The knight asked the smith for a tray or plate and soon the knight and monk were happily eating the trout.

With full bellies and warm hearts, the pair set out with their mounts to the riverside looking for boats or fishermen. The river was slow-moving in the dead of winter, and most of the river boats or rafts were moored or beached along the bank.

Roland stopped and watched the still scene, surveying the length of the river before it curved away out of his sight. He breathed in the chilly air and pulled his cloak tighter around him as snow began to gently float down once more.

“What are we to do now?” asked Brother Anthony.

“We wait. We wait until someone floats down the river or comes to unmoor one of their craft here,” said the knight stoutly.

“Couldn’t we just ask one of the fishermen?”

Roland shrugged, his horse shuddered from the cold. “I’d much rather bother someone who is willingly taking their boat upstream.”

I’d much rather get on with the day. So, if it please you, I shall look around for someone willing to ferry us South for a price. Then maybe we could sell our horses.”

Roland took hold of his senses once more and turned to face the friar furiously. “Are you suggesting that I sell Jesus? Who do you take me for? Judas?” he yelled.

Terrified by the young knight’s outburst, Anthony quickly rectified himself. “Selling? What? My tongue must have slipped, I meant ‘sail our horses’,” the friar chuckled nervously. “But if the boat topples over because of them it isn’t my responsibility anymore…”

The friar left, saying that he would be back soon with a skipper. So the Franciscan used his old habits as he went from door to door to beg for assistance in the name of God. However, instead of being met with generous donations, he was either ignored, denied or even spat on once.

The poor friar returned to the riverbank in tears. Roland was nowhere to be seen, and this only helped to fuel the poor monk’s distress.

He looked up into the grey clouds, welcoming the cold drops of snow on his tear ridden face. “O’ Lord! Why hath you abandoned me so unjustly?” He sniffled. “I am alone and cold among these atheists, I cannot help but envy their ignorance and–”

“Fish,” a gruff monotone voice said.

“Is that truly you my Lord? Hath you come to comfort my poor soul?” the friar asked, his eyes sparkling as he searched the heavens for a sign.


“Ah… Doest thou speak of one of our Saviour’s miracles? I shall recite that episode then…” the friar bowed his head down in prayer.

“Fish!” Someone began to violently tug on the Franciscan’s robe.

Brother Anthony looked down, shocked, as he stared at one of the fish merchants. The friar was about to cry out in despair once more when he was greeted by a topless Roland.

“Are you done weeping? I’m building us a raft,” said the muscular knight who was holding an axe in his hand and some twine. During the friar’s fruitless begging, Roland had paid the simple-minded, and now toothless, fisherman to help him modify the merchant’s raft into a suitable size for Roland, Anthony and their horses, arguing that “the bigger your boat, the more fish you’ll carry in it.”

After a much needed meal in the afternoon, the pair bid farewell to the small town of Joigny and took advantage of the slow river to pole themselves upstream.

To be continued…


For All We Know This Is The End

Drawing of a skull to illustrate the story For All We Know This Is The End

Image ‘009’© muleleredux. Source: CC License

Authors: Ricardo Paterek Ferreira & Loïc von Wartburg



I held on to the railing of the balcony. Watching the sunrise. Fear and anger’s hot and cold hands were gripping at my heart. As the sun slowly climbed up the mountains, letting its rays flood through the gaps, the forest around me started to burn in a blaze of light. I looked down from the balcony. There was a five-meter drop. I could end this all so quickly, just drop headfirst. I grabbed the holster underneath my jacket. Or I could just take the quickest way out. It wouldn’t be so hard, would it? All those movies and video games showed that it’s just a pull of a trigger away, but what would it be like in reality? To throw away all you had left. To give up and accept defeat. I pulled out my gun, clutching it as my hands shook from the adrenaline. Click, the safety was turned off. I just needed to arm it and shoot. That’s all. But it felt so much harder than it looked. It wasn’t just a pull of a trigger! There was a safety to turn off, a barrel to load. You also had to aim at the right place! I felt convulsions ripple through my whole being like a troubled body of water. I raised the gun to my head hesitantly. Will I really be able to erase myself from this world? Like you would delete a corrupt program from a computer? I’m just a zero among the millions upon billions of ones in this universe.

I’m not quite sure how everything got so messed up. How everything I knew and loved just disappeared in a blink of an eye.  I never thought I’d be able to survive what I have been through. The blood in my temples drummed in my head in perfect rhythm with my heart. It ached. It burned. I was alive. I’m not sure why I put the gun down at that very moment nor why I decided that today wasn’t the day I wanted to die, but I did all of those things. A familiar voice resonated behind me.

“Jon. I know what you were thinking of doing, but trust me, it’s not worth it.” I instantly froze, my back straightened like a soldier about to salute his leader. This voice was full of authority and strength. His voice was grave and wise, nobody could go against that voice – after all, he was the one that saved my friends and I. “I understand what you’ve been through Jonathan, and I know about Samantha.” My throat trapped my breath as I tried to breathe. How could he know?

“She’s probably… dead, Lawrence,” I said with pain. “I can’t know anymore. Ever since the bloody network went out, I can’t contact her anymore. Before we had to end our last call, she told me that They were coming and that They’d get to her one way or another.”

“I heard. You know what else she said?” I shook my head slowly, my mind was too clouded by grief and despair. “She said that she’d fight them off, that she’ll make it, one way or another. She said that –”

“That she’ll wait for me, I know!” I almost shouted, the pain of the memory was too vivid, so much so that the spasms were getting worse. I gripped the railing with all my strength. “And I promised her. Promised her! That I’d go look for her. I’m so scared. I’ve tried so many times to leave you guys, as quietly as possible. But every time I look at the road ahead. I just won’t move. I can’t. Because my instincts are telling me I won’t make it, no matter what I do or how far I get. And that Sam is already dead and that I’ve already failed her…”

His hand gently patted my shoulder. “And that’s why I’m going to make you an offer,” he said gently. I turned, looking into his brown eyes. “We will let you go, we’ll give you all that you need to get there and we’ll help you take the first steps.”

“Really?” I asked like a child that was offered to sleep with his parents after waking up from a nightmare. Lawrence nodded.

“But on one condition.” His expression suddenly shifted into a stern and paternal face.

“What is it?” I asked, slightly anxious.

“The journey in front of you is dangerous as hell. I know it’ll be hard all on your own, and you’ll have less chances of staying alive if you’re alone in the wild. So, we’re coming with you.”



I tried my best to help and reassure him. Of course, I was thinking about what I was saying, the promise I was making. I was ready to lead my friends over to Canada, but I wasn’t sure if Samantha would survive until we arrived… Jon was at the edge of a dangerous abyss. I understood the pain he was going through, who wouldn’t? The world was spiralling into madness and death, and the only person left that he loved was thousands of kilometres away from him, and what’s more, he had recently received a message that seemed like the last that he would get from her. Poor kid.

How would I act if I was in his shoes?

With the world in a crisis, my friends counted on me to help them and lead them through these uncertain times. I was probably taking this role as leader a little too seriously but I didn’t think anyone else was fit for this job. Through all the stress of keeping this group alive, I didn’t think I would have been able to stay strong if anything had happened to Nao…

Maybe if I was in Jon’s place, I would have made the same decisions?

I forced my mind back to the present.

After having made sure Jonathan wouldn’t follow through with his dark intentions, not today at least, I slowly went back to my room.

I walked down the corridor of this empty hotel, deserted during the crisis. But was now our safe haven. Isolated and well hidden, those were the things we needed to keep the Ragers at bay. The red, dusty carpet led me on. Though abandoned, this entire building was well maintained before the Fall and thankfully had not been raided, yet. Just staying here, looking at the beige wallpaper and the glossy doors, nobody would’ve realized the state of our society outside, or the very lack of it. Comfort was another advantage we had in this fortress, one advantage we could not deny. What better way to forget the present than by living like a hermit in a pseudo-paradise?

I believed that if I asked Jon, the only thing that would really reassure him, would be to have Samantha safe between his arms.

I took a quick glance at the staircase leading downstairs, to see our makeshift barricade; we set it up between the ground floor and the first floor to block any intruders trying to come in at night to slit our throats; nothing to report.

I climbed up four steps at a time on the staircase, time wasn’t a luxury I could afford. However, I made an exception to watch my sweetheart sleep as I entered the room.

It was still quite early. Of course she would be sleeping.

I prepared my equipment and clothes and planted a soft kiss on her forehead before leaving the room.

I went up the steps, four by four, time wasn’t a luxury I could afford.

I opened the metallic door leading to the roof.

The wind blew on my face, then the cold started settling into my skin, leading to goose bumps taking over my body.

But I had to stay strong, both mentally and physically. Missing a single day of training was out of the question.

I perched myself just next to the edge before beginning. The view was as beautiful as ever, with a clear sky, the vast forest below like a sea, washing up against the islands that were the mountains of the Alps. From my observation point nothing could escape my gaze. I turned back to start my training.

I hit the punching bag with full force. Right. Left. Right hook. Left uppercut. Dodge. Kick. My legs were pumping, and my arms locked up against my face in the correct defensive posture. Pivoting my body with every punch, giving it my all. Before long the skin on my hands cracked and bled as my fingerless leather gloves stretched and tightened around my knuckles.

Twenty minutes later, the metal door scraped against the roof. It was Nao.

“You woke me up, I couldn’t go back to sleep after,” she said between yawns.

The wind blew her jet-black hair from her adorable visage, still softened by sleep. Her shirt (mine more like, seeing how much it outsized her) flew in the bursts of air, clinging on to her body.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to, you know I couldn’t resist the temptation.” I paused to smile at her.

“It’s alright,” she mumbled. “Why do you keep training like this? You should take better care of yourself, stop taking this ‘role’ so seriously, it’ll only hurt you, don’t you think?”

“I talked to Jonathan this morning,” I said between punches.

“You’re not answering my question.” She crossed her arms, I stopped to look at her.

“He was…planning to kill himself. I put myself in his shoes and realized I wouldn’t be able to live on without you. So, no, I may not take care of myself right now, I’m doing this for a better future.” I heaved for air, anger and adrenaline coursing in my blood. She was surprised at the news but quickly regained her serious composure.

“Just say what’s on your mind, we both know you’re under too much pressure.”

I knew she was right, my sanity was taking a beating. Nobody could ever really stay indifferent to what was happening, and those who tried would end up paying a heavier price, just like Jon.

But how could a shattered mind like mine break even more, I asked myself naively.

We spoke as the sun rose, from the most important things down to the smallest anecdotes. We talked about Jonathan and me, about us.



I kissed him, leaving him to his exercises.

We had talked about our past lives. It was amusing to look back at our banal lives. Not too long ago our routines and projects were slowly separating us, but thanks to the Fall we finally got to spend all the time we wanted together, though not as we first imagined back at New Year’s.

Before the world went mad, we had both studied in different universities. Lawrence was in Switzerland and I in South Korea. We would only see each other during the holidays, only twice a year. It was frustrating and even unbearable, but we never stopped loving each other from the first time we met. Not one day passed without us sending each other a text or making a call despite the distance and all the disadvantages it brought along.

I left my home to study art, I had to leave and make my dreams come true no matter what. Of course, it hurt Law so badly that he even planned to come with me. I forbade him to do so, he needed to finish his studies just as I needed to begin mine.

Despite all that, only one thing had changed, a promise he had made.

I looked back at him as he kicked the punching bag.

Or maybe, two things had changed, the way he looked at me… He was self-assured and almost casual.

I went downstairs to rinse my face in the sink.

I didn’t have any daily task today, there wasn’t much you could do anyway, most of the other guys were probably up already working.

I took my shower.

It was amazing. Even with our collapsed society, production of electricity at an end and the loss of so many luxurious commodities we once had, I could still take a shower. This hotel was probably one of the only locations in the world that was truly secure. Matthew and Lawrence had explained it all to me in detail, the hows and the whys of the infrastructure of this building, but I had never really paid attention.

As I thought of all those things, an obvious question suddenly sprouted in my mind: how have I changed since the Fall? Law had physically and mentally hardened; Jonathan had closed in on himself more than ever and the imminent danger of Samantha’s life had put him in a deep and profound torment; and Kenny? He hadn’t changed one bit. Maybe it was normal not to change?

The water became cold, pulling me away from my pensive state.

Breakfast would soon be served and I wasn’t even close to being ready. I would have to dry my hair another moment, it wasn’t a big deal, not as big as surviving. I threw on some clothes lying around in our messy room and headed towards the dining room.

The dining room was spacious, able to hold at least fifty people before the Fall, and dwarfed our group of fourteen. The round table that we used in the middle of the hall wasn’t fully occupied, only a handful had come for breakfast, Law and Jon were often the first to be there, but not today it seemed. Kenny, who had been named head chef by a majority in our group, pushed a long service trolley full of bread. Fruit, jam and butter in small plastic containers and other small treats were also placed on the table to spice up the otherwise, stale bread. I sat down between two empty seats. Kenny took his place to my left.

“Guys, we won’t have enough food to sustain ourselves soon, we’re going to have to find a way to restock, by either hunting or fishing. Something along those lines.” Kenny always had a way of announcing these kinds of things casually, but it didn’t help with the rising panic.

“What do you mean we won’t have enough food soon?” Hugo asked dumbly.

“Not enough to fill up your fat ass.” Kenny also had a way of being blunt and honest. If it hurt others, he didn’t care.

Hugo was about to retort when Law arrived and interrupted them. “Alright Kenny, cool it. How much do we have left?”

“I’m not quite sure, but if we keep eating the way we do, at this rate, we’ll only have enough for around a week, maybe ten days if we ration it strictly.”

“Add hunting and fishing to our daily tasks,” commanded Lawrence coolly.

“Why don’t we just go to town? Raid?” Nicolas’ high-pitched voice cut in. The idea of going out to hunt for animals didn’t please me, I was against animal cruelty. However, Nicolas’ idea, though extremely dangerous, caught on with the rest of the group.

Lawrence sat down, his eyes stared at something in the distance that no one else could see but him, he stroked his stubbled chin, thinking. “I don’t see anything that could be more dangerous than going back to society.”

Kenny, who seemed entirely prepared to put himself in danger, got up and called for a vote. At first, everybody froze into place, until Nicolas joined him and soon enough the majority of the group raised their hands. Even if Jon and some other members had been here, it wouldn’t have changed the result. We were going back Outside.

Law stood up to give orders. “Fine… Fine… You are all absolutely crazy, but it’s your choice and our responsibility, so I’m leading this expedition. I need a volunteer to replace me for the management of our electricity. Matthew, for example.”

Law always preferred to do everything himself.

“You can’t leave the hotel, Lawrence, without mentioning the maintenance you do every day. Who is going to plan and research our next move? We’re not going to be able to stay here the rest of our lives… And don’t forget, you and Alex were planning to set up and test the solar panels on the roof,” I said matter-of-factly. Whether he was a mortal man or a god in his own world, I would always have the last word. So I volunteered to lead the raid while he would stay at home. He tried to dissuade me but the only thing he could order me to do was to have Matthew come along.



The clock showed 9 AM. It was time to go out. Me and my friends against the world, what a great life, I thought. This apocalypse (whatever kind of apocalypse this was) was a miracle, a kid’s dream. That’s what this all was, right? A dream. None of us, not even Alex, could’ve imagined that our reality could be changed so rapidly. With shitty family responsibilities and life-threateningly boring schoolwork out of the way, I could focus on the most important thing about this life: fun. Fun with friends. Fun with the world. Fun with Life, with a big capital ‘L’. With electricity now a rare and even precious commodity, video games were out of the picture. Forever? A squeaky and panicky voice cut into my train of thoughts. But that didn’t matter, my friends and I still played board games – when we weren’t planning for our survival that is.

However, the moment Kenny mentioned the imminent danger of running out of supplies, a hurtling sense of urgency and reality smacked me right in the face like a TGV heading straight for Paris. We’re running out of food. What could be any worse than that, other than dying? I mean, we still had around a week’s supply of food and another three weeks (theoretically) of surviving on nothing but our own fat. So why worry? A sly but very persuasive voice said. We can still have fun while we survive…

I shook my head in frustration. Too much noise. Charles and Daniel were carrying on a debate that had comically started before society collapsed. They were arguing over whether Charles would be able to shoot a fat duck with a precision rifle better than Daniel shooting a small duck with a shotgun. This was of course only one of the many subjects they usually fought about, but they still stuck together. This love-hate friendship had lasted since the beginnings of this group and, for me, it would last all the way until death separated them.

Lawrence sat at the northern end, with Nao at his right. The left seat was empty. Where’s Jon? It was especially strange of him not to be there. Though he had often been silent these past days, he would always be here to eat. Something was not right. I looked closely at Law’s face. It was drawn in a contemplative stare, like a father watching his children. This was a very natural thing coming from him, but something hid beneath the surface. My inexperience in terms of reading facial expressions cut me short in my observations but I knew – felt would be a better way of putting it – that he looked graver. More animal-like. As if he was a wolf prepared to protect his cubs no matter the cost. He glanced at his watch and got up.

Silence. Everyone looked at him. Watching. Waiting. I felt my heart being crushed between my lungs and my ribs, but there was also a sense of security. The word for this feeling was at the tip of my tongue, dancing as I reached for it. Power. This is what power is, fear, obedience, strength, my thoughts said. Just say the word and the world will bend to your will. Law’s voice crushed the stillness of the room.

“All right. Guys, it’s four past nine, we’re running a little late on schedule. Tidy up the table. Get your gear and be ready in fifteen minutes. I want to see the scavenging team ready at nine twenty, no later,” he said. His voice had been an octave lower than how he usually talked. If this was meant to take on an authoritative tone, it worked only partially. Some took it seriously like Nao, Liam, Thomas, Hugo, and Jon had he been here. The others smiled, trying to stifle a laugh or a giggle, but Law’s eyes burned with a reproaching fury which immediately ended the childish reactions. Everyone got up. Fun’s over, time for work.

We finished our breakfast quickly and tidied up the table.

I headed upstairs to the second floor and turned left. Room 318. I had to inform Jonathan of our plan for today. But, before I opened the door, I heard a strange metallic slide and clicking, it sounded like a printer. Sssk-sssk-sssk…

I pushed forward against the door slowly, my attempt at being discreet failing quickly as the door creaked. A dark, almost monotone voice growled from beyond.

“Ever heard of knocking?” Jonathan said. He was sitting cross-legged at the end of the short suite’s hallway, his back towards me and a gun pointed from above his shoulder to the door. I laughed nervously.

“Careful where you point that thing, Jon…” I said uneasily. “We’re going out today, we need you.” A sort of grumpy sigh escaped him, it seemed like his strange way of laughing these days. He’s probably the weakest member in this group, mentally, I thought. He’s deteriorated so drastically, I wonder what got him into this state…

This hollow shell who used to be one of my good friends took a deep breath. “Outside, huh? Scavenge? Food supply low, right? We have only a week left if I’m not mistaken…” He got up, grabbed a backpack just around the corner of the room, and took out a trench coat from the closet. I looked at him wide-eyed. He stared at me curiously, and in that moment I knew I wasn’t looking at Jonathan anymore. I was looking at the Terminator… or an Assassin from my video games… or one of those crazy killers from the movies. Something cold and calculating. Empty of feeling. That illusion was gone as soon as he smiled. “I watched you guys talk.” All I could do was nod and reply with a quiet ‘oh’. He turned me around like you would with a lost child. “Time to go bud, we’re burning daylight here.” He laughed at that last comment and I just laughed along, trying to decipher this strange comedy that only Jon could understand.

I headed to my room to pack up my gear.

9:30AM. Our scavenging team was locked and loaded. We said goodbye to Lawrence, Alex and the other brains that were working on keeping our temporary home ship-shape. We climbed up the barricade of scrap metal that we built on the day following our arrival. It had been almost a month since we had arrived here. I was accustomed to the protective woods that concealed us from the Ragers. Now we were heading Outside. Sure, it was dangerous, but it was fun, right?

Nao was leading us today. I liked her better than Law as a leader. He looked each day more and more like Jon, whereas Nao was like a mother to us all.

Our scavenging team was composed of nine people. We were spread out in a hexagon, with three people (me included) set up in a triangle within that hexagon. Apparently, Thomas had learnt this formation when he was in the army for three months. He implemented it as a way to keep all eyes and ears ready for an ambush or event coming from any side and to keep any important teammates protected.

Nao was in front of me on my right, she was part of the inner triangle. “Alright guys. We have around an hour’s walk to the nearest town. We won’t be taking any cars, it would attract far too much attention. Keep your eyes open, don’t hesitate to say anything that you think may be strange or suspicious.” She looked at everyone, Jon especially, to make sure everyone was listening. “Don’t split up in a group with less than four people. I think that’s all for now…” Everyone nodded and mumbled in agreement.

Steve (as always) made a quirky remark. “Well men, you heard the lady. If you see a Playboy magazine give it to Nao for inspection. She’ll make sure it’s worthwhile to fap to.” This was (as always) accompanied by sniggers.

“Isn’t Playboy one of those old rabbit magazines our grandpas used to get off to?” asked Thomas.

“Wow! Glad you know at least the logo of that damned thing. Keep it in mind, that commodity is as precious as food, if not, more! As I say, real boobs are temporary, pictures of them are timeless,” Dimitry said. Everyone cracked up once more, except for Nao.

“Great quote. You want that written on your tombstone?” Steve parried, and even Nao laughed this time.

We were approaching the intersection with another road, we headed south-east, down the winding road to civilization.

We walked in silence for the next hour, an unsettling anxiety slowly clouding our group. Outside, I thought. Such a mysterious and beautiful word. A poisoned gift. We passed a few more intersections, the forest was slowly receding behind us, telling us that there was no turning back now. You’re on your own now, it said, come back if you can… I shuddered at the thought.

Nao held up a clenched fist in the air. “Stop. We’re almost there.” Not everyone stopped at first, especially the guys in front of Nao. I laughed a little, thinking how disorganized we were. Jonathan, who was next to me, gave that reproachful look that felt exactly like Law’s from earlier on. “Okay. Before we go in, I want you all to be careful.” Again she looked especially at Jonathan. “Stay discreet, don’t take any risks, I want to come back with all of you alive.” Something was obviously wrong with Jon. But what? I didn’t know.

We followed the road, passing the first few chalets. Most of them were abandoned, windows were broken, doors were unhinged. However, some had their curtains pulled over, or eyes were peeping out but not daring to step out. These were the Fearful. They had known something was wrong, they had made preparations, and when the world came to a tumbling halt, they stayed inside, living off what they had left in their storage rooms. Of course, most of them had already killed themselves, or had been killed.

They were no danger to us. We entered some of the chalets, checking only the kitchens at the beginning. In here, fear reigned, it fed on us, it knew our weaknesses. Its odourless smell overflowing from every crack and corner in each house. We first stuck together, getting used again to the constant anxiety. After passing a few intersections and getting close to the first town’s centre, we decided to split up. One group heading west and the other (my group) heading east. Before we split up, we said our goodbyes. It felt almost final. Like we would never see each other again. I shivered, trying to push the thought away.

The Eastern group was composed of Steve, Thomas, Hugo and Dimitry. I felt safe with them, since they were the first guys I had got to know when I joined this group. They were hardened (like me) by this new atmosphere, this isolation, survival, a gruff voice echoed in my mind.

We spent the rest of the morning searching the buildings. From time to time we ran into a scuffle with another survivor. The loners usually ran as soon as they saw that they were outnumbered. I felt empowered during those moments. Free. I owned the world with my friends. We were able to get some canned food. They all varied in shapes, sizes and dates of consumption. Dimitry told us to take it all even if it was past it’s eat by date. As long as the can was intact and still sealed, it would be good to eat no matter what. Just looking at them put me off. Dimitry was a genius, literally. He had once gone to take an IQ test and came back saying that he was apparently a high potential. That didn’t really surprise anyone in the group. We were geeks, nerds, whatever the others called us. We were an intellectual group. Sure we were “irresponsible” teens, we had our binge-drinking parties, we messed around from time to time, but we were smart enough to survive whatever the hell we were living through at the moment.

At around 1PM we met with the other group again, in front of a fountain that served as a village centre. We took refuge from spying eyes and paranoid trigger fingers, in an abandoned chalet.

We went up to the first floor where there was a small dining room. There a heavy and old oak table stood in the middle, unharmed by the events from outside. Small chairs (six in total) surrounded the circular table. The walls were either hidden by a bookshelf or paintings. A grandfather clock stood tall and strong in one corner, its pendulum ticking away. It was a room that retained its calm and tradition of the past. Heavy nostalgia suddenly struck my heart, as if my past actually had weight to it, and it felt like the world hung on a single string attached to my heart. I was afraid it would snap. Thomas and Hugo broke that illusion and went to the basement to grab wooden planks to board up the dining room. We took all the necessary precautions to avoid getting attacked. Five people were put on guard duty. One made sure nobody came up the stairs, and the four others were spread out throughout the rest of the house to clear the rooms (in case there were any Fearful, which wasn’t the case) and to keep a watch outside. The rest of us ate our meagre lunch.

We laid all the supplies that we had found that morning on the dining room table. The Western group had found a pharmacy that still had some supplies. They took vitamins, cough syrups, bandages and a whole range of pharmaceutical goods.

“This is good, very good. Well done everyone,” commented Nao as she furrowed her brows and looked intently at the table, figuring out the next steps we had to take. “We’ll leave at two. Mix up our teams for the afternoon. We’ll meet up at First Village before sundown.” She paused and checked her watch before continuing. “That should be at around six, so everyone be there at the latest at five thirty. Other than that, congratulations again for finding this much stuff, we’re getting good at this,” she ended, smiling as she sat down on the nearest chair. First Village was the (very original) name we gave to the village that we first pass when we leave the hotel, it was a sort of reassuring name, one that held a promise or a curse. You’re leaving, you might die, it said in the morning. You have survived another day, welcome back, it said when you came back in the evening, just like the forests surrounding our base.

I sat down next to her. I checked my watch. It was 1:38PM. This calm atmosphere helped me relax as everyone drifted off to talk about everything and anything (as they always did). I suddenly noticed that Jon was standing all alone (as he usually was) in the corner opposite the grandfather clock. He leaned against the wall, staring, almost hypnotized at the old antiquity as it ticked on. I looked at Nao and realized that she was looking at him too.

Before I could stop myself I blurted out the question that had been eating me up since we had left the hotel that morning, “What’s wrong with Jon?” Nao looked at me sadly and sighed.

“Not now…,” she whispered. I looked at Jon, concerned. I looked back towards Nao. “Don’t worry, we have him under control,” she reassured me calmly. I nodded slowly. But that comment gave me all the info I needed on Jon’s intentions. Everything was so clear at that very moment. Jon cleaning his gun that morning. His frequent absence of feeling or emotion. He was broken. Depressed. My eyes widened in horror as I realized what he could do to himself.

“Hey guys,” I called out weakly at first to the group, only Jon took notice and watched me now, with that hard, focused look that bore into me like a drill.

“Everyone. Nicolas has something to say,” Jonathan said in an empty voice that was loud enough to get everyone’s attention. I nodded at him in thanks.

“I’m not sure everyone saw it this morning, but there was a sort of mini-mall down the mountain. It’s probably half a day’s walk from the hotel but it must be stuffed with supplies. Everybody’s too busy freaking out at the moment to think about raiding the stores. They’re still waiting on the ‘authorities’ that will come back.” I scoff at that, “Yeah right. But we know they aren’t coming any time soon, we could –”

“Suicide, Nicolas. That’s what you’re talking about bro,” says Hugo. “You seriously don’t think we’re gonna walk all the way down there just to raid that place? It’s far too costly. We’re already taking a lot of risks making our search round here. Plus, we don’t even know if that place is empty. We’re supposed to survive, man. We already went through this. We’re not going there, okay?” Everyone agreed, even Nao, saying that she didn’t want to lose me. I nodded obediently, but my mind was now in overdrive. I’m gonna show them, I thought. I’ll go there, no matter what, and I’ll bring back mountains of supplies. Everyone will praise me, I’ll be a hero among them. A Hero. I might even become a leader. I let my imagination run free, wondering about what I’d do with such power.

We set off, this time in different groups and different directions. Nao and Jonathan were in the group alongside Dimitry and Hugo. With my newfound knowledge about Jon, I feared him so much more than I ever did in the past. For someone who was internally broken, he seemed at the top of his game, physically speaking. He was the perfect model of a survivor. Strong. Aware, stable (at least, that’s what it looked like if you didn’t know him).

I sometimes envied the others. Seeing as I was the youngest one in the group, I was considered the ‘fragile’ and the most ‘vulnerable’ out of all of us. But other times I was happy I wasn’t as broken as some people were.

As we walked down an old country road, we heard leaves rustle in the harsh north wind. Jonathan suddenly stopped and held his hand up in a fist. Everyone stopped, even Nao, who was about to object when he hushed her.

“No talk,” he whispered. “We’re not alone, get into a defensive circle.”

Nao had a conflicted expression at first, but quickly gave up the argument and ordered everyone into place. We crouched into a circle, facing outwards. Jon pulled out his pistol and loosened the strap that held his titanium baseball bat. I pulled out two long kitchen knives. Everyone else had their bat or knife ready, except Hugo who had brass knuckles. He was a novice boxer, but he already had the technique and everything to get a knock-out on the first punch (if he was lucky enough to land a punch that was).

Suddenly a tall figure in a trench coat dropped from a tree on to the road. He was all clad in black. A low hat and a bandana covered his face. He stared at us before speaking.

“You have entered our territory. You have no business here. Leave, or die.” Four other figures in trench coats dropped from trees, surrounding us.

“Leave, or die,” they chanted, closing the distance, making the circle tighter. “Leave, or die.” Those three words rang in my head, I was shuddering in horror. I held on to the knives tighter.

Suddenly, Jon leaped on the leader once he was close enough, and all hell broke loose.

I could only remember snatches of the fight. Sometimes it felt like it lasted hours, when in reality it must have lasted two minutes maximum.

I charged at one of the trench coats, pointing my two knives in front of me, as my friends threw punches and swatted the intruders with their bats. The trench coat I was running towards pulled out something from under his coat. By the black metallic gleam I realized what it was. I almost stopped, primal paralysis almost stopping me to offer my body to death. I quickly rolled to the side and jumped at the man in black. A soft schlick followed as I planted one knife where his neck was, while the other scraped against his gun. The hooded trench coat froze, and a gurgling sound accompanied him as he fell down dead. A rush of adrenaline filled me as I turned around to see my friends fighting.

Two men were down on the ground, still. Another was being taken down by Hugo who was helping Nao with her opponent. As for the last trench coat, I looked around and saw him running away. That’s when I saw Jon’s violent side. He took a few paces in the direction the deserter was running, his gun cradled in both hands professionally. He stopped, aimed the gun and squeezed the trigger. An explosion rang and the trench coat was down, but Jon didn’t stop at that. He walked furiously towards the man draped in black. I realized that my group was following him. The whole team was whooping and encouraging Jon. I followed suit, not saying anything.

Once Jon was next to the trench coat, he pushed the body aside so he could see their head. And that’s when he froze in place. His gun was pointed straight at her head. He was looking right at a blonde girl. She must have been no older than Nao. Her crisp blue eyes contrasted with her pink lips. I looked at Jon’s hand, waiting for the tell-tale sign that he was going to shoot, but nothing happened. He was shaking uncontrollably.

“Please,” the girl managed to wheeze, “I don’t want to die…” She was slowly slipping away, her hand placed on her upper thigh where Jon had shot her.

Jon aimed the gun at the sky and pulled two shots off with a cry of pain. He dropped the gun and collapsed on the floor, curling up into a ball, crying. The blonde looked at us in fear, then stared at Jon as he sobbed and seemed to choke on one word repeatedly.

“Sorry… sorry… s-s-sorry…” he whispered. I looked at him, horrified. A sense of wanting to comfort him surged within me. But my thoughts were interrupted by Nao who swiftly picked up Jon’s gun and pointed it at the girl, who let out a blood-cuddling scream before she was interrupted by two more gunshots.

Jon got to his knees, holding the corpse’s hand tightly. His single word repetition developed into one simple phrase that he repeated: “I’m sorry Samantha… I’m sorry…”

Nao pulled him up and slapped away the madness from him. “That bitch wasn’t Samantha! She was trying to kill you for fuck’s sake! Get your shit together…,” she yelled at Jonathan brutally.

“Nao, we have to go. Those shots could be heard in a radius of around ten kilometres. I wouldn’t be surprised if these guys had a base nearby,” interrupted Dimitry, aiming a submachine gun towards the empty fields. I realized it was the gun the Trench Coat tried to pull out when I stabbed him.

Everyone came to their senses. We had managed to survive this scuffle, but a full fight… we were too small a group. So we ran. We ran for so long. It was made even harder by the fact that I was carrying a backpack full of cans. I coughed, spit out phlegm every so often, and heaved under the weight of death hanging above us.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in a chalet in First Village, waiting for sundown to come. Jon was lying down on a bed, curled up into a ball, sobbing, while Nao sat down next to him. I helped Dimitry and Hugo keep watch. It was tedious, but I was glad we had made it back to First Village.

Once it was 5:30 PM, we left the house and made our way to the centre of town where the Eastern group was waiting for us. Nao mentioned the ambush only briefly. She didn’t give any details about the girl or Jon’s crisis.

We walked the next hour in relative peace and calm.

When we arrived back to Home Base, we left our supplies to Kenny and took some downtime to forget (temporarily) the events of that day.

While the others vacated to boardgames and chit-chat, I secretly prepared my backpack. I had kept some cans of food hidden in my knapsack, in preparation for my little expedition. I then put my pack in the closet (just in case).

That evening, we ate in a relatively quiet atmosphere. Hugo and Dimitry went on about their heroics of the day while the others listened and made snarky remarks. Jon was at the table, but he felt so distant, eating away at the pea soup that Kenny had prepared. Law was just glad that he had Nao in his arms again, but sooner or later his role as a leader would come back to him  and he would be shouting orders at us before we knew it.

Suddenly, a fact ran through my mind that hadn’t seemed important to me until now. I had killed someone. I had killed one of the trench coats by stabbing him in the neck. Did that make me worse than Jon? He ended up not shooting her, while I didn’t hesitate… Monster, a voice called out in my head. I closed my eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath. I’m not a monster. I got up, heading upstairs when Lawrence stopped me.

“Where are you heading Nicolas?” He asked in his usual stern tone.

“My room. I’m not feeling well.” I laughed nervously, trying to hide the secret mission I had assigned myself. “I’m gonna sleep now. Need some energy for tomorrow.” I laughed again as he nodded and said goodnight, everyone else mumbled a goodnight.

I went upstairs. Grabbed my backpack and left it in front of the door, I was about to put on my coat when I heard a knock on the door. My heart thumped deep inside me like a drum. I walked slowly to the door. I called out, “Who’s there?”

“It’s Law, just want a word with you.”

I opened the door. “Hey, what’s up?”

“Nao told me that you wanted us to consider going to search the mall.” I was about to agree when he stopped me, “It’s not happening. We’ve told you enough times, so drop it, okay? Don’t take any stupid risks. That’s all.” He ruffled my hair a little and smiled. “Good night buddy.”

I sighed as I closed the door. Safe. I was safe. I looked at the bag to my right. Doubt crept in my mind for a second before my determination stopped me. You’re doing this for your friends, you’re helping them, a voice reassured me.

I grabbed my coat and pack, sneaking out to the wild night where the woods would protect me.

As I reached the edge of the forest, I looked behind me as the woods faded. Goodbye, they said. Goodbye for now, goodbye forever maybe, come back if you can. Come back when you have survived the Outside…



I sat down with my bowl of soup at the table as the others were already in the middle of their poker match. Everyone looked up at me with a smile and a thank you.

It felt good to cook for these guys. Even if they didn’t often show it, just their smiles and the fact they had warm food and a bed to sleep in showed that they appreciated my efforts. I teased the guys as they played. Law sat next to me with Nao by his side. Watching. I think everyone knew by now that something was on his mind, and that he wouldn’t hesitate to tell us at the opportune moment.

As soon as I was finished, I walked downstairs to the kitchen to drop off my bowl near the sink. I turned around to find Law waiting at the entrance of the kitchen.

“Hey Law. Still hungry?” I asked with a laugh, he shook his head with a sad smile.

“I need to ask you a favour.” He sighed and looked down.

“Uh… sure. Everything okay man?” I walked towards him with my arms crossed. He scoffed at my question.

“Okay? Nothing’s okay anymore…”


“I need you to watch over Nicolas,” said Lawrence. It sounded more like a desperate plea than an order.

“You afraid he’s going to do something stupid?” I laughed again, but I stopped myself when I realized he was being serious.

“I think he’s planning to go to that bloody mall by himself.” I nodded slowly listening to his explanations. I patted his back and we walked back to the dining room.

“No problem Law. I’ll watch his room, make sure he doesn’t leave. Don’t worry. Everything’s gonna turn out okay. This is just a little setback in life.” My good friend and leader of this group smiled. I left him to rest at the lobby while I went upstairs to guard Nicolas’ door.

I grabbed a chair and sat in front. I felt like one of those lazy guards in the movies or video games. The one that always got easily fooled. I laughed quietly to myself. I’ve got this in the bag. My boredom was quickly reaching its limits, I had never been assigned a job as tedious as this. Before leaving my post, I propped the chair against Nicolas’ door handle, just in case.

I quickly ran up to my room in the corner of the 4th floor, grabbed a book and sprinted back down towards my temporary post. The chair was still where I placed it. I sighed in relief, grabbed the chair and set it next to the wall.

I opened the book, unfolding the corner of the page that I had marked. It was a hefty book that I had borrowed from Jon. He had acted really strangely when we had had to leave our hometown to come here. He had spent almost a day picking books that he wanted to take with him. His personal “library” was very impressive, full of pop culture references and classics. New and old books. Some were very adult for a kid his age, but apparently he understood those books well and had done some thorough research on them. This one was a real account of a white journalist in the 50’s who decided to do a social experiment by artificially darkening his skin and living life as an ordinary black man in the Deep South of the States, the way society was described back then for such a ‘civilized’ country was disgusting. The Fall had erased the hypocritical side of society seeing as ethics were nearly non-existent now. I plunged once again into this dysfunctional society and account of a bitter-sweet era.

I don’t know when the uproar from downstairs began but it must have been at least two hours after I took up my post in front of Nicolas’ room. From a period of silence began a sort of rumbling of voices from downstairs. I got up, surprised, listening out for gunshots or tell-tale sounds of melee combat. Nothing. Just shouts. I was two floors up from the dining room so I couldn’t make out what was being said, but I understood that our group was angry. About what, I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to know. Why was I the one that always missed out?

I had to force myself to stay put, otherwise I would have run down to see what all the commotion was about. I tried to carry on reading my book but the words on the pages just started to lose all sense as isolated shouts and cries of anger rose from below. I couldn’t leave my post. I had given my word to Lawrence. And I would stick to it. No matter what.

Seconds passed, minutes passed. They seemed to stretch and bend. Slowing down or speeding up this unmoving corridor. The shouting had stopped. Only the static whisper of my mind remained. I shivered. Even the heating seemed to have stopped as time froze. Nothing could break this still picture.

That’s when the memories started flooding in.

Ana, the Fall, the Ragers. Everything was getting clearer and clearer as my past broke through this sick reality. I dropped the book, my hands trembling as my vision went blurry. Tears blinded me. The gunshots. Our self-imposed exile. This is what a traumatized person must feel like…  I got up and punched the wall behind me.

“I’ll always be with you. No matter what…” Her voice echoed in my head. Her screams. Her despair. Why did she have to die? Why did they kill her and not me!?

I picked up Jon’s book to try and clear my mind. Adrenaline still ran through my veins as my body shook in sad anger. The descriptions of the night sky in this memoir depressed me or filled me with hope for this confused man, wondering how on earth we came to be such awful creatures, but it was better than thinking of my past.

This isolating nightmare soon ended when Law came looking for me.

“Everything okay here? He didn’t try anything?” He asked a little distantly. He had obviously got into a heavy discussion with the others. Something important. Very important…

“Nope. He’s been as quiet as a hibernating bear… Or whatever else is quiet during sleep.” I laughed a little, but humour at that moment didn’t seem like the best option. “What was all that shouting downstairs?” At that question, Lawrence looked down as if embarrassed.

“Kenny… Come down, get Nicolas too. We have a serious decision to make.” My eyes widen. Sure, we made serious decisions every day, but there was something in Law’s eyes that said that this new decision was probably the biggest one we’d ever had to take. Life or death…

I got up from my chair and knocked on Nicolas’ door. I waited a few seconds. Nothing. I gave a quick glance at Law. He seemed even tenser now. I knocked again. Harder and louder. He was surely deep in sleep now. I waited for a full minute this time. Nothing.

“Move aside,” ordered Lawrence. I did as he said. “Nicolas! Open the door now or I’m kicking it down. I’m not kidding!” he yelled, banging on the door desperately. He waited a couple minutes more, knocking from time to time, his fist banging louder and louder against the thin wood. I think it was at that moment that I saw tears well up in his eyes. He growled in anger and started kicking at the door. I joined in. Oh shit, I’ve fucked up, I’ve fucked up bad. my head was echoing with self-reproach. I pulled off the Lazy Guard…

After a few minutes of kicking, we managed to make a hole in the door, Law crawled in and I followed suit.

The next words he said woke us to the terrible reality we were precipitated into. “He’s gone. Nicolas is gone…” The only clue as to where Nicolas had gone was the open window at the end of the room, curtains swaying. Waving like an accomplice to Nicolas’ mistake. You’re too late…


Chapter one


The children laughed, chasing after each other, as the sun beat down on all of us. They all held souvenirs of their school year, all excited, all happy. Some cried at the departure of friends, some shouted with words of hope.

“We’ll see each other soon!” they would say. I leaned against one of the buildings, shaded against the burning eyes of the Sun. I sighed tiredly. Another sleepless night… I either can’t stay up because I’ve worked too much or I can’t get enough sleep because I need to work…

I pulled out my phone to check the time. 15:12. What was she doing? She should be coming here by now, like we’ve always told her to. I grunted in frustration. As I was about to put away my phone, it vibrated. A text. From Jenny.

Hey babe, mind if I stop by your place? Need some advice with a drawing. And I’m kind of lonely… I’ve missed you!

I smiled, sent a quick text back and before I knew it, my little sister finally left her friends for the summer holidays and came straight to me like a docile dog. I gave her a quick hug and started on my way back home She followed suit. Even if our home was a two-minute walk from school, it felt so much longer because of my sister’s monologue. I nodded at the right moments, half-listening to her. The heat piled atop my tiredness, my satchel feeling heavier every minute. Kids ran past us as my sister followed me, still going on about what her teacher talked about (something about aquatic animals or the like, I couldn’t care less).

We arrived in front of the building and I unlocked the door, letting her pass through. I waited a few seconds, looking out towards the road.

A few moments later, Jenny came around the corner. She was wearing her casual jeans and a burgundy top, her hair cascading over her shoulder, in that way I had always loved. I greeted her with a smile, and a sweet calm fell between us. She hugged me tight as I did the same.

“It’s so good to see you…” she whispered.

“Likewise, baby… Likewise…” With that, we went up to my family’s apartment with my impatient sister waiting at the door. As soon as she saw Jenny, she became shy and mumbled a hello.

We all went in, my sister unpacking her bag and grabbing her snack; Jenny and I went to my room and we kissed each other longingly.

Moments later, our passion slowly dissipating, we cuddled, our bodies entwined as one. It felt like it was just her and I left in this mad world, and I wanted it to stay like that. Her hand slowly reached for mine, and I wrapped my fingers between hers softly.

“I love you,” she sighed. I felt her slowly falling asleep. I got up quietly.

“You said you needed some help with a drawing,” I said, until I realized she hadn’t come with any of her things, and then I saw that look in her eyes. Those sultry amber eyes. I grinned, shy at first, until our primal needs got the better of us…

The faint clicking of the locks signalled the arrival of my mother. Jenny and I were under the covers, she was snoozing, clutching at my side. I slowly pulled away, put on my shirt, my torn jeans and left my room, closing the door behind.

Hola mi pequeño!” My mother looked up and greeted me in Spanish. I kissed her cheek. She was a lively and plump woman, always in a good mood, well, most of the time. She was a nurse over in the hospital at Nyon, a slightly bigger town next to the one we lived in. She was a Colombian who had been in medical school before meeting my Swiss father. My dad would have left his office by now, he was coming back from Lausanne, around forty-five minutes from here by train.

He worked as a manager of a call centre. He had originally wanted to become an engineer and had entered the EPFL, but he ended up giving up on his dreams for actual money and independence. He never openly displayed regret for his choice, but it seemed as if there was a tone of self-loathing every time he spoke, which, to put it simply, was a rare occasion. With his long hours and reserved personality, he spoke only when it mattered, my mother filling in the occasional awkward silence with small talk.

When it came to my future, my parents had very high expectations. And so the day I gave up looking for an apprenticeship and explained to them my dream of becoming an artist or a mangaka, they weren’t quite happy with my choice, to say the least.

As my mother droned on about her day and her banalities, Jenny came around the corner, saw my mother and said a polite hello.

And then it happened.

That split-second of silence.

The glint of disgust in my mother’s eyes. Then, she put on a jovial and warm face, but it was all wrong. Nothing real was behind that grotesque mask.

“Jenny! How kind of you to pop by! How is your family?” mum asked. I noticed Jenny looking at me, searching for support, looking for reassurance. We had both known for a while that my parents didn’t approve of her. Their boxed-in thinking was destructive not only to themselves but to everyone else in the family.

The next thirty minutes were plagued by dark clouds in the summer heat, preparing to unleash a blitzkrieg on me and Jenny. My mother and I made small talk for the first ten minutes until everyone sank into a suffocating silence. She took refuge in the kitchen while Jenny and I retreated in my bedroom.

“Your mum is fucking crazy. I don’t understand why she hates me this much…” Jenny was close to tears; my heart was breaking with hers.

It hardened my resolve into making a decision I had been considering since I turned eighteen, a little over a year ago.

I pulled my sweetheart close to me, embracing her in my arms as she broke down into tears of confusion and sadness. This has to end…

The deep whistling of my father only served to increase the dread within me and my girlfriend. I just wanted to get away from all this.

I went over to greet my father with as much nonchalance as I could muster, but it all broke away when my father stared at me with tired, angry eyes. I was about to play the innocent and ask what was wrong when he coldly told me to bring out that whore I called my girlfriend.

My hands clenched into fists and my teeth started grinding instinctively. This is the last straw. “Don’t you dare call her- “

“Just bring her here,” my mother cut in. “We want a chat with you two.”

My heart started racing with anxiety and rage as I went to my bedroom and quickly whispered to Jenny that we’d fallen into some shit with my parents. I offered her my hand as she shakily got up and grasped it.

We entered the kitchen where my parents were sitting around the table, facing us and studying us with looks of disgust and sourness. My father silently offered us to take a seat. For a full minute we sat there speechless as my parents eyed me and Jenny.

“Charles, would you mind telling us how old you are?” my father asked, breaking the silence in a way that hurt my ears and made my soul tremble.


“And what are you doing with your life? Do you have a job? Are you studying?” Of course, I had seen this question coming…

“I’m an artist.” I knew he had asked a trick question but I had no other choice but to play along for now.

He nodded slowly, a spark of amusement glittered in his eyes. “An artist, huh?” he scoffed. “I meant a real job.”

“It is a job, Dad, people get paid to draw comics.”

“Oh, so you’re getting paid.” My mother feigned surprise. I felt hot blood rushing to my head. I needed to stay cool, do my best to protect and reassure Jenny.

“Not exactly, but –”

“That’s exactly the problem we have with you Charles, you aren’t doing anything with your life, and we’ve had enough.”

“Furthermore,” my father joined in, “your mother and I have been concerned about your relationship with your… friend…” He gave a hardened glance at Jenny. I felt her hand desperately hold tighter onto mine, her knuckles must have turned white by then with all the strength she was using just to find an alternative to crying.

“What is your problem with her?” I snapped, my teeth grinding. “She never did you any wrong! You’re treating us like shit, what kind of parents –”

My dad slammed both palms on the table and rose to tower over everyone. “I am the man of this house! I won’t tolerate your insolence and laziness! Get a job, get this bitch out of our family –” Jenny was sobbing at this point “– or get the fuck out!” I realized that his veins in his neck were popping out and that he was clutching the edge of the dining table but most importantly: his breathing was close to wheezes as he scratched his chest with his free hand. Perfect…

I silently stood up and lead Jenny to my room where she helped me pack my things. I came back to the kitchen.

“This is what you want, you brought this on yourselves. Go to hell the both of you,” I declared with all the dignity I could muster.

“You ungrateful bastard!” my father barked. Suddenly, my dad’s eyes seemed to bulge out and he stopped breathing altogether. The hand that had been desperately scratching his chest as if he was trying to claw his heart out stopped and almost looked like he had found what he was looking for in his sternum. The other hand, clenched in a fist, began to slam against the table in anger and anxiety. He collapsed on the floor while my mum screamed at me, stuck between the two men she loved.

“Look what you did to him! Help him at least…” she cried. No, this had gone on for too long, they didn’t need me, I didn’t need them.

I ran out of the apartment without a word, took Jenny’s hand and left the building with my love as my father died of a heart attack.



I yelped in pain after the brief but intense shock that I received from the faulty cable, almost tilting over and falling from my ladder.

“You alright Tom?” asked one of my colleagues who was busy setting up the switch for the circuit I was also working on.

“Could you at least tell me when you turn the damned switch on?” I growled at Jacques. “You know I’m working on the same circuit as you!”

Jacques sighed and shook his head with a tired chuckle. He was my supervisor for my apprenticeship. Even if he was only three years older than me, he was more experienced than me. But with moments like these, I didn’t doubt he must have used his easy upbringing to get a job with the help of some bribes. Or he was simply a sadistic dickhead who enjoyed torturing the newbies like me.

He rubbed his stubble that invaded his cheeks and chin. “You need mama to kiss your little fingers?”

“Shut up.” I threw one of my screwdrivers at him, he burst out in laughter. I focused once more on sorting out the cables and patching up the gaping holes in the plastic of the cables.

I screamed once again in pain as the cables let out some sparks. The ladder tipped and I fell two meters down from the top and landed on my back.

My memories of the next instants are fuzzy. I remember hearing Jacques’ laughter and his comments on “work safety”. I also vaguely remember my calm demeanour snapping. Even through the pain and confusion I managed to overpower him and beat him up in rage. The next thing I knew I was pulled away by other colleagues who had heard the commotion. I was taken outside by one of the senior managers and he gave me the regular “What’s gotten into you?”. For some reason, the rage wouldn’t die down  and I insulted my boss, quit, and went home.

I took a swig from the bottle of beer I ordered at the Qwerty, a bar for “geeks” my friends and I frequented. They all looked at me with pity and understanding.

“Hey man, don’t worry. At least he didn’t say that he was gonna press any charges against you. We’ve got your back though, just like we’ve helped out with Charles,” said Lawrence. Charles wasn’t here though he had taken some time to get his life straightened out and had found a temporary job at a pet store.

I gave an appreciative nod to Law. “Thanks, but I’ll find a job soon, my CFC is in the bag anyway, school’s almost over.” I raise my hands and hailed, “Hallelujah!” Everybody chuckled.

As the laughter died down, Alex came towards our seats, raising a newspaper above his head as he drew near and slammed it down in the middle of our table, almost spilling our beers. We yelled at his clumsiness but quickly calmed down as he spoke up. “Speaking of things going wrong, have you guys read all the news about the rise in road rage?” He laughed a little nervously. “People are going batshit crazy around the world…” Jonathan giggled. He was a heavy drinker when he wanted to be, he had already downed some seven bottles, and although he laughed and talked a little more than usual, he was just as lucid.

“Haven’t people been batshit crazy since the beginning?” I asked.

“Oh come on guys, you don’t think the governments are preparing some crazy coup against us?” Alex was leaning over, his eyes ablaze with curiosity, as if he was about to reveal to us the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Some in the group let out a sigh of pity for Alex while most just chuckled in unison.

“What? You think Big Brother’s using chem trails?” Lawrence asked after wiping tears of laughter from his eyes.

Alex smiled smugly, “Pfff, ‘chem trails’… Everybody knows that’s just a stupid myth from all those conspiracy nuts.”

Everyone around the table paused to look at him, amused by his answer.

“So… What are you then?” I asked.

“I am a realistic conspiracy researcher…”

But as regular teens we laughed it off and moved on with one of our shared hobbies, “Who’s up for some gaming downstairs?” I asked.



1, 2, 3, 4! My fingers started to fly across the fret board by their own volition. The vibrations were infectious the bass and beat thrumming in my heart as I rocked out on my Ash Diamond, the custom guitar I had received after passing my last year of college. It came right on time for our very first local tour. Our group, Dinner at Five with the Devil, was a heavy metal band. Our ambition was to bring rock back to its former glory. We blended some popular sounds from the 90’s and early 2000’s and added our modern twists.

Almost every weekend the band and I got together to work our asses off, sharing discoveries and ideas. I was the youngest one in the band, at eighteen years old, the oldest being twenty-six, but age was only a number to us and music was an eternal passion.

Contrary to what people think about guitar strings, the easiest ones to fret aren’t always the easiest to master, especially on an electric guitar that captures literally every string you touch, even the softest caress if you tweak with the sound settings enough.

As we smashed the scene in front of our concertgoers, the crowd pogoing as our lead singer, Chad, encouraged them with his metal screeches, his voice borrowing the same styles as Mudvayne and Dagoba.

The night was pumped full of adrenaline, powerful vibrations and a bunch of energy drinks. It was a blast.

My grey guitar, glittering with direct light on it, rested on my display case in my bedroom.

I went over to the kitchen. In the corner was a special area that was closed off from the rest of my mother’s flat. This was the dwelling of the great furry demon that had inhabited this corner for months! Gab the Rabbit. I petted him and filled up his water bottle and his bowl of food as quietly as possible. My mother was asleep but my sister was at my father’s.

I sighed, got up and collapsed on my bed. The adrenaline dissipating, leaving place to euphoria and exhaustion.



“Doggo! Stop running away from me like that!” said Samantha over the phone. I laughed along at the comical scene.

“Always the adventurous one, isn’t he?”

“Tell me about it… Always chasing birds off in the distance. Even if he knows they’ll get away from him before he arrives,” she giggled. Her voice was pure honey to my ears, her small accent was adorable. I loved everything about her, because that’s what that was, it had always been that between the two of us. Love, love, love…

God only knew how much I wanted to take her into my arms, cuddle her, nuzzle my face against her neck because that’s where she was the most vulnerable to tickles and then playfully wrestle to the ground as her German shepherd, Rogue, would join in. I let my mind roam as images of our future life floated around my head. I sighed, sitting on a bench.

“I wish I was there babe.” One of us had to say it, and it seemed it was my turn.

There was a pause from her, a sigh. “Me too hon. But hey, just a year and we’ll be together!” I could just picture that beautiful smile behind that sentence. I was just as excited as her for that destined day. Ever since the beginning of my second year at college, I had been saving up money to go see Samantha over in Canada. I tutored high schoolers, found some boring office jobs that paid well during the summer holidays, and now with the successful end of my second year and the summer holidays, that left me two months of sweet paradise with the girl of my dreams.

I was happy, and for me, that was no small thing. With my depression, anxiety and social awkwardness weighing on me and my family at a loss with my “abnormal behaviour”; Samantha, my friends, hobbies and infrequent meetings with my therapist were my only escapes from my internal pain.

I pulled out my acoustic guitar.

“Oh… I hear a zipper opening… is it the guitar, or your pants?” She loved teasing me, because she knew I was relatively shy about the subject, but as I got more intimate with her during the months we had talked, I played along and teased her back, realizing that she never expected me to retaliate.

“Take a guess. Wanna make a video call to find out?” I knew she was traumatized by face-to-face calls. It wasn’t because she was hiding anything, she was just as socially awkward (or maybe even more so) as I.

“I don’t have any make up on, you’ll be –”

“– traumatized, I know, I’ll add that to the tally for the same excuse you’ve been using since we’ve met,” I chuckled. “But Sam, you’ve got to admit it, I’m lucky to have met the sexiest girl in the world.”

“Oh, I bet she hasn’t noticed you though.” She cracked up in laughter, and so did I. “I’m sorry, I had to do it. No, but, seriously, you think I’m sexy…?”

“Of course, love… You drive me nuts with everything about you,” I replied dreamily.

“Awww…” She sighed sadly. Oh no… I thought, here it comes… “I have to go baby,” she finally whispered. I nodded, my shoulders slumped.

“Okay. You know I love you? And Rogue too,” I laughed gently.

“Yeah, you better, otherwise Rogue will hunt you down,” she giggled. We said our goodbyes, I played her a song on my guitar as she walked back home and we ended our call.

I packed up my guitar and started heading home. My anxiety was already picking up, my heartbeat and breathing going up a few gears, picking up speed as I approached my house. Having a panic attack in front of my family wouldn’t be a very good idea…

I pulled out my “emergency” anti-depressant. It was supposed to be taken in case I felt like I was about to have a crisis, which honestly, happened every time I came home.

The worst was yet to come though.

As I compulsively checked the letter box, knowing I had already opened it in the beginning of the afternoon, I stopped in front of the main entrance to the apartment building. I took in a deep breath, sighed and imagined Samantha next to me for support.

Everything I do, I do it for you…

I entered the building and climbed up to the apartment. But as soon as I stepped inside, my lungs seemed to tighten in a vice.

Once inside the apartment, I greeted my parents and my younger sister, Alison. It was nearly dinner time. I cleaned my hands, out of habit, and helped prepare the table with plates, glasses and cutlery.

“You haven’t prepared the table yet?” my father exclaimed incredulously. Technically, he was my stepfather, but I considered him as my dad.

I froze in place, my hand holding a plate in mid-air. Fuck.

“How many times have we already told you to prepare the table for dinner before we arrive?” I felt my muscles contract. I became a prisoner of my body, trapped by my unhealthy reactions to stress.

I struggled to answer. If I don’t answer, I’m fucked, I thought. If I answer wrong, I’m in for a long night. Basically, I’m totally fucked.

“Well? Answer me!” His voice was rising with irritation, his short temperament and his authoritarian rule on this family made it practically impossible for me to live mentally healthy.

“I, uh… A-a few t-t-times,” I managed to stutter out. I started to feel my right hand strain against the weight of something. I saw the plate in my hand and realized I hadn’t set it on the table yet. I put the plate down.

“–and you’re not even listening to me!” His shouting pulled me out of my tunnelled thoughts. I felt as if my mind was drowning and that the only thing pulling me out and pushing me back down were my parents.

Give me some space to breathe! I want to listen but I can’t! was what I wanted to say, but it just came out as heavy breathing and quiet grunts.

“Yeah, we get it, stay silent because you don’t give two shits about the efforts we do for you,” said my dad. I looked to my mother for support but she stared at me indifferently from behind the kitchen counter. “You know what?” my father added, looking at my mother, “this is all because we let him stay in contact with that ‘girl’–,” he said, making air quotes with his hands, “–he met over the internet.” My mother nodded in agreement. I stood frozen in place. I had never known how to handle these kinds of situations. I kept my head down.

To my relief, my mother called my sister to come to the table. It was dinner time. I could eat some of my stress away. We mostly ate in silence; my sister made a few attempts to talk and start a conversation, but my parents were too busy figuring out what to say to me next. I ate my stew slowly at first, but my mum’s cooking was too good to resist and I finished it first.

I stood up to clear my plate and cutlery.

“Sit down Jonathan.” My heart stopped at my mother’s voice. I sat back down obediently. I had no other choice.

“You’re grounded,” she declared.

I didn’t know what to say, but apparently my surprise showed.

“Don’t give me that stupid look, you’ve brought this on yourself, now man up and take responsibility for it,” my mother said coldly.

“We’ll also block contact between you and Samuel,” my father added. He always called my girlfriend “Samuel” simply because he thought she was a catfish. To add to the madness that inhabited my parents, I had done a video call with Samantha with my parents present to prove to them she was real. They had reluctantly let me stay in contact with her at first. At that moment, sitting around the table, sweating from fear, it seemed that they wanted to get back at me for my cleverness in the past.

I felt my eyes widen in dread. I swallowed my anger. Remember your promise, I thought to myself.

They started rambling on about my faults, my short-term memory lapses, my clumsiness, my personality as a whole. Me, basically. They hated me for who I was. I took it all. Let it wash over me. The promise was losing its value as my true internal feelings were taking over. Dark fantasise of death and sin started flooding my mind. My vision was blurring. All the blood was rushing to the centre of my being. Effects of adrenaline. I tried blinking my way through my internal fog. Nothing. Nothing changed.

This isn’t real, I tried reassuring myself. I am nothing, I will wake up, just a nightmare, but the dizziness and nausea was still hitting hard, my parents were continuing the onslaught on the fragile fortress that were my heart and mind.

“You’re destroying our family!”

“Throwing away your life for stupid dreams!”

“Fallen in love with a forty-year-old man passing as a girl!”

I snapped in rage.

At first, it was just a slight trembling. In that moment, I thought I could control myself. I was on the verge of fainting. I let the anger take over.

No. You’re not a slave, not a prisoner. Fight for freedom.

I stood up suddenly and silently.

My dad stood up to force me back down.

“You want this war, you’ll get it,” I whispered to myself clearly and without a single tremor of weakness in my voice. My father heard it, his anger changed to surprise.

“What did you–”

I lashed out.

I grabbed my plate on the table and smashed it on my father. Pieces flew in the air. I then grabbed him by the shoulders and kneed him in the crotch furiously.

Guttural roars filled my throat, most of it didn’t make sense at the beginning but just before my father began to choke me to unconsciousness, one phrase had raced in my mind and mouth: “You have no right.”

I woke up on a hospital bed, my mother crying behind the door, my right arm strapped and covered in bandages. Only one thought crossed in my head, promise broken.

My promise, made as a concerned and precocious child, was to never raise a hand against my parents and to never say I hate them.

I had never hated them so much as then…



“A huge congratulations to everyone here. All of you passed, in a brilliant or mediocre way, nobody cares! We’re all one step closer to adulthood and the freedoms and obligations that the government will be willing to give us.” Lawrence raised his bottle of beer and looked towards me. “As for you Nic, well, you’ll just have to wait a little longer than us.” Law gave me a cheeky wink and gave a “cheers!” before downing his beer. Everyone did the same.

I drank my beer, the bubbly fire warming me in this cool summer evening next to Lake Geneva.

The sky above us was a beautiful gradient ranging from a dark purple over to the south among the Alps over to a mature sunflower yellow to the North behind us where the sun was setting under the Jura mountain range. We were at the bottom of the steep hill that was commonly known by the inhabitants of Gland as “The Beach”. Three weeping willows hung over the lake. We all sat on benches that were placed on the sand only seven metres from the warm water that caressed the beach.

I closed my eyes for a moment, the heat from earlier this day had drained most of my energy. A soft melody of plucked strings floated to my ears; that was Jonathan. Sounds of moist lips parting followed; that was either Law with Naomi, Kenny and his girl or Charles and Jenny.

I opened my eyes, took a deep breath and walked towards the lake, grabbing a flat, round pebble. I skimmed some stones to pass the time, otherwise I would’ve fallen asleep. That would instantly become a highlight of the night and a “Proof I’m a lightweight.”

As I prepared to skim another stone, a rock flew across the water at least thirty metres away, before disappearing under. Behind me was Hugo. He had a stupid grin on his face, “Gotcha bitch!” He laughed, so did I.

“You fucking try-hard…” I sighed. He gave a soft jab at my arm, still chuckling. “If you’re gonna punch me, do it properly, you bloody pussy.” I collapsed in laughter as he started wrestling me to the ground.

“Ha! Gaaaaay!” cried out Matthew playfully, referencing the Community scene. It took Hugo and I aback, and the rest of the group cracked up from the stupidity of that movie scene and maybe even the absurdity of life. We, as a community of “shit-posters”, were well known for our cynicism. So, another moment of fun wouldn’t have changed our view on life.

We spent our evening like we always did, beer, jokes and fun.

On our way back home, Dimitry, Steve, Hugo, Daniel and I took one of the three main streets that linked the south of Gland to the north. The town was cut down the middle by the train tracks linking Geneva to Lausanne.

A heavy atmosphere weighed on us, meaning a thunderstorm was just around the corner. Our slightly drunken group made its way through the streets, joking around and making a little noise. I tripped over a little, catching myself on a streetlamp, followed by laughter from the others. I took the time to straighten myself up. In the distance I could see Jon rushing back home, he had to be home before midnight apparently. Coming in his opposite direction was a small group of dickheads that lived in Gland. They were the Swiss equivalent to chavs. Jon was obviously not paying enough attention to them as he walked on the bridge passing over the train tracks.

He bumped into one of them by accident.

They instantly started to shove him around.

I looked to the others who were already rushing to the beginning of this unfortunate brawl.

Thankfully, Jon was lucid enough to remember we were on the same street and he retreated, dodging the adversaries’ attacks. They were too many though and it seemed that Jon’s attempt for diplomacy fell on intentionally deaf ears.

We arrived in time just as Jonathan threw a devastating right hook to a chubby guy. It was such a hard blow that we all heard some bones crunch. The chubby dude in his tracksuit was on the ground, nose bleeding. The chav’s friends stopped for a moment and seemed to re-evaluate their situation. Jonathan growled in pain as he threw himself against the others and our slightly drunken group turned into a rage-filled riot.

Heads were slammed against steel barriers, crotches were caved in by explosive knees and blood and bones were put to the test.

We were lucky to be a slightly bigger group, and given the advantage of three extra pairs of hands.

But the damage taken was substantial enough to have us really concerned about the human condition.

This was truly getting out of hand.

Was it just me or did we all think that the world was slowly going crazy? As if a switch had gone off in most people’s minds and that our inhibitions were non-existent, as though we had the right to throw a punch when someone ticked us off.

What were we becoming?

Leaving the group after our debacle and heading home, I had figured out the answer.

The Willow Tree

a swing covered with snow

 Image: © Author’s image

Author: Anonymous

I wandered peacefully through the park. It was a pleasant day. The weather was perfect to contemplate the sweet limerence of lovers. I let my soul float in this magnificent field, in which the buds of love planted sparingly by passing lovers blossomed. Sometimes I would stop on one of its little buds; hesitant, they seemed afraid to let themselves grow up in the violent whirlwind that nature is. I approached a small red flower starting to peep out of the grass. It seemed confident, ready to face happiness and meanders. Every day I came to meet it and was filled with joy at the sight of the sumptuous poppy that the seed had become. Nevertheless, the next day, I never found it again. It had disappeared, carried away by the wind.

My gaze then settled on a frail root, fixed in the slit of a low wall. Its beauty was not equal to that of the poppy, yet its seed was amply filled with tenderness. The months passed and the small root was now an aromatic bush whose smell invaded my nostrils. I began to regain hope when one fine day in November, my bush had completely dried out, deprived of water and sunshine. True love does not exist, I thought to myself. Look at all these seeds full of good intentions and whose initial dose of love has evaporated over time. I then sat on a bench, tarnished by life, and contemplated, eyes in the void, the landscape surrounding me. Then a lady came to sit beside me.

“What’s going on, little one?”,  she said in a serene voice.

“I don’t understand. The relationships so promising that I see around me, all end up fading away. I may have repeated and analyzed in detail when things started to go wrong, but I can’t find anything.”, I replied devastated.

“Did you observe the old willow tree by the lake? It is the very essence of unconditional love.”, explained the old lady.

“What do you mean? It does not glow. It lost all its leaves. Its trunk is dull and flayed.”,  I wondered.

“One day you will meet the person with whom you will plant a seed that will become a tree as strong and majestic as this weeping willow.”, she continued.

It is only later that I grasp what the wise woman said. Love, feeling, emotion, the omnipresent sensation of love goes beyond what we are taught in storybooks or in society. It does not arrive on its white horse as if by magic. Do not expect it to be there to heal all your pains. Love is a process. Love is an art whose principles can only be mastered by a few. It is a balance, a sharing, a union, but it is above all the importance of freedom. Freedom of oneself and freedom of the other. Love grows when its protagonist acquires the knowledge of respect, listening and patience. The love duet can be in harmony as long as each one plays their own partition and does not interfere with the other’s. Love between two people is like the roots of the willow that unite to build a trunk, branches and leaves. It goes without saying that a root has no difficulty in blossoming on its own. It receives its own water and light. Unfortunately, very often the root is afraid of its individuality and thinks it needs the other to be fulfilled. It is only when it has become aware of its inner strength and knows its richness, that it can unite with the other and accomplish wonderful things. Love begins with self-love. Love is about letting the other grow up alone, to come back together even stronger.

A Usual Christmas Dinner

A Usual Christmas Dinner

Image: ‘Girl!#1’© Martin Micewicz – Source: CC Licence

Author: Leah Juliette Didisheim

Trigger Warning: this text contains mentions of sexual harassment

The bells are ringing. It’s really cold, it’s probably going to snow very soon. The air is dry, my cheeks are coloured in a nice pink. I’m shivering. That’s why I’m hurrying along the street. That’s really important: I’m hurrying to arrive at the door at the end of the road because I’m cold and not because I’m excited to get there. I don’t want to fake it. I don’t want to pretend one more time. I reached the point where I don’t want to see my family anymore. Don’t misunderstand me, I love my family. There is just this one person who I profoundly dislike.

It’s always the same, I ring the bell, he answers the door. “Hi my lovely. So nice to see you. I really missed you. I guess you’ll just have to make up for it this evening.” he says, sending his putrid breath on me. I smile and I get inside. “Not that quickly” he breathes in my ear grabbing my ass. I bite my teeth and do as if nothing happened. When I finally get rid of him, I know I won’t have much time before he comes back. So I go and hug my cousins, they grew up so much, it makes me nostalgic. I finish saying hi to everybody. I don’t have the time to sit down that he calls me to help him in the kitchen. Nobody suspects anything. I grit, smile and leave my family behind. I know what’s waiting for me in there but what am I supposed to do? He tries to grab my breasts and kisses my neck. I feign going to the bathroom. I take out a tissue to wipe the tears rolling on my cheeks.             
Dinner is ready. I’m not hungry. I go anyway. I eat what this disgusting creature made. He makes jokes. “When will you bring your girlfriend, we’re all very excited to finally meet her.” As if. As if I was going to bring the only person I want to spend my life with at this horrible table. He made me hate seeing my family. He made me hate boys. “I don’t know, she’s quite busy this time of year.” He seems satisfied with my answer. Of course it’s a trick, he wants me for himself.
We painfully reach the pudding. Honestly, how long do people take to eat a piece of cake? He keeps looking at me, touching my legs under the table. His wife, next to him, is way too obsessed with the children putting chocolate everywhere. There he is, sexually harassing me under the nose of everybody, my face decomposing and he evilly smiles and nobody gives a shit about it. The coffees arrive. That’s it, the time I always escape. I pretend that I have to wake up early the next day. I say a general goodbye to everybody. Like this, I don’t have to get near him again this evening. Until next year. I open the door, walk on the porch, close it behind me and I finally breathe.

I finished walking. I’m in front of this nightmary house. I put on my happy face. I ring the doorbell. He opens. “Happy Christmas uncle.” I enter smiling and he closes the door behind me, his eyes eating me alive.

  • If you relate to the main character, or if in any way you experience/have experienced something similar, or you know someone who has, please check this website: https://www.unil.ch/help/harcelement-sexuel-etudes. This is a serious issue and should not be taken lightly. Take care of yourselves!

The Post Office

Image by John Whitton on Flickr

Author: Sorcha Walsh

Sally had had enough. The clients at her post office simply must be stopped. Between the old woman who always fumbled her change when counting out the pennies, the mother with her three loud and sticky children putting their jammy hands on every available surface, the man who always needed her to repeat herself and especially, most especially the young boy with his irregularly shaped parcels and crumpled letters, she was close to her breaking point. She had started working at the post office because she wanted, she needed everything to be in its place and in order. And yet the clients (those, she shuddered to think, who she worked for) would not allow her to do so. Their envelopes were poorly addressed, their packages were not up to standard, and who even pays a bill at the post office anymore?

She tried to keep the office neat. She really did her best. The note paper was always in ready supply and orderly, they never ran out of stamps, the little flower boxes were always watered. And yet the people didn’t care. They didn’t appreciate that the floor was swept clean and tracked dirt and sand inside with no care for how much time it might take her to restore it to its pristine state. They didn’t appreciate her, how hard she worked for them.

So she stopped.

And day by day, the post office got dustier and more unkempt. The complimentary notepaper was long gone, and there were days when even the premium stamps had run out. The flowers died in their terracotta pot, and Sally got meaner and meaner, resenting every client who came through the rickety wooden door.

Before long, most folks decided to go to the bigger post office in the next village over. What was the point of a teller who knows your name if it always came packaged with a barb? Only a few continued coming to the little village post office. The old woman who still paid in copper coins and who doubtless had little else, the mother with her children who had only grown more rambunctious as they grew taller and who was raising them alone, the man who Sally had realised was becoming deaf (although he himself did not), and the boy who was slightly older now and still continued to send his hand crafted toys to his brother who lived on the other side of the country. It was easier to be patient with them now, she had so much more time now that she didn’t have to sweep the whole office four times a day. And somewhere along the line, maybe when she secretly stuck an extra stamp on a parcel when the young boy couldn’t afford the number he would have needed, or maybe when she found herself setting up an e-banking system for the deaf man, she started to think of them as friends.

And one day, the young mother and her loud children with newly ruddy faces came tracking mud and snow into the post office, after a long day of sending parcels to god knows where right before the post office closed for Christmas. In the pile of presents she handed Sally, there was a crumpled and soft one with no address, just a name tag. It was for her. And in that moment, she began to think of all these people as family.

On the morning of St Stephen’s Day, she swept the floor again.

Anonymous Prose Texts

Image by author

The Cherry Blossom Corpse

Inspired by Robert Barnard’s “The Cherry Blossom Corpse”

Norway, on a rainy and stifling night.


A red glamourous mouth was lingering on the venue of a mysterious man. Mrs. Amanda Fairchild, an aging but still attractive lady, had been waiting for the perfect tryst for a long time. The dangerous desire of meeting a random gentleman had always been her secret fantasy. She could not resist the idea of enjoying a quiet and romantic dinner at the well-known restaurant “La Terrazza”. As usual, she opted for a long dress and extravagant high heels. Meanwhile, dived in the semi-darkness of the suite number 31, the atmosphere was utterly different from the one at the famous dinner place. The grim sound of a record player at the end of its song, almost deafening, was escorted by the metallic melody of a gun being slowly loaded. A bad augury lurked. Patiently.

” I swear it’s gonna be done by the end of the night. I’ve got this stupid date with her in half an hour”, said annoyingly a tall and bearded man on the phone.

How could he have agreed to this arrangement. It was not the type of deal he used to make. However, a man in need of money is a man who would do anything and surely at any cost. The smell of his cigarette and its smoke made the room practically unbreathable. The deep and comforting feeling of the nicotine on his lips procured him a peaceful moment to think. Blood. Blood everywhere. The first time he had killed, he remembered having felt a strangely powerful feeling of taking an innocent life. The extreme ecstasy of comparing himself to a God. The reasons of his act had taken their roots in some past painful memories; a violent and absent father, who used to beat his mother, a loving wife who passed away eventually. The wrath, fed by his grief, was still inside him. On the wet kitchen floor, the lifeless body bathing in a red and smelly puddle and his eyes fascinated by the beauty of the scene. He was 12 years old. A poor lonely boy whose destiny had changed forever.

A memorable night – Ode to tender sexuality

One evening in May, under a moon smothered by majestic clouds, we strolled, hand in hand, towards the beach. The heat released from his hands instantly conquered the entirety of my body. Without warning, he tenderly hugged me against him. Empowered by a sudden carnal fever, I lost myself in the abyss of Love and kissed my lover’s lips madly. The gentle air of the night came to caress my bare chest, joyfully honoured by a rain of enterprising kisses. I struggle to resist his mesmerizing eyes. Without avail. In a daring mood, I lifted my skirt and rode him proudly. Lulled by the melodious serenade of the wild and nocturnal life, our two bodies dance an emotionally charged slow dance.


The green bench, witness of our union, gave way to the warmth of a bath, lit by the faint glow of candles, delicately perfuming the room. I approached him and stared at the pearling water on his skin. Two small dimples appeared on his cheeks as he smiled affectionately at me. In a timeless cocoon, I gave myself up in his arms and closes my eyes. The contact of my wet skin with his awakened a deep desire and we started to make love again.

Our enthusiasm pushed us to leave the humidity and heat of the bathroom and reach a smooth and delicate place aspiring to infinite temptations.

I found a silk scarf and tied his wrists, showing the certainty and ambition of my actions on my face. The tip of my tongue, determined and playful, tickled and licked his mouth with greed. The mischievous ordeal lasted for several minutes. A domination punctuated by noises and disapproving backstrokes that, however, did not make my cruel and burning aspirations pale. Begging me and bursting with impulses, he broke my rules and I lengthened his punishment accordingly.

When my pleasure was satisfied, I slowly loosened his bonds and gave him all power over my impatient body. It was with strength that he responded to my affront and bit the tip of my breasts. At the commands, I ordered him to grab my bottom and gently slid inside me until I heard him say my name. Then he came behind me, blowing hot air against my neck and entangled my fingers. He moved back and forth inside me, alternating speed, strength and gentleness. Trembling under the continuous waves of his member inside me, I bit his naked flesh as he grabbed my hair and penetrated me more deeply.

Drunk with happiness, I orgasmed as I stared at him and called his name. Still euphoric, I rushed my hand towards his erect sex and gently descended to the point where his satisfaction was guaranteed. I triumphantly endorsed the responsibility of his ascension to the seventh heaven and gloated when I heard his shouts of contentment. Lost in a whirlwind of emotions, we stayed in each other’s arms for a long time and without saying a word. I touched his face and he kissed me sensually.

Shadow Friend

An image of a black cat

Image by xurhx on pixabay

Author: Jonathan Collé

“Come on Lucy! Come greet your new house!”

She wasn’t sulking yet, but was considering whether she should start.

Seated on the backseat of the family’s car, Lucy stared at the big three-story house her mother was pointing at with a grin. It was a big, imposing complex, with a small garden which no one seemed to care for or love, a small patch of grass that was there for decoration and no more. The house itself was differently decorated at each level, but for the empty 2nd floor: their new home. Presently, a small head bobbed out of one of the balconies on the 3rd floor: an angry red little face with blonde hair, which Lucy felt she would soon come to meet, force-greet, and despise.

“Lucy! Come on!”

Lucy sighted and got out of her car. Holding her little pink backpack close, she watched the big house some more: it was intimidating. Pretty, perhaps, but this trait she could not yet see; the house was too big for her comfort, too bright, too… new!

“I wanna go home”, muttered Lucy, holding back tears just as she knew a strong adult would. Her dad always said that adults must keep their feelings inside, and she tried to be an adult then… She sniffed, wiped the tears that hadn’t yet come and let the rest flow inside her. She could almost feel them at the back of her face, right beneath her skin. It was a sort of cold, a bristle, a sensation of dread which trickled down behind her cheeks to get stuck in her throat. She did want to go home.

“Oh, but you are home,” said her dad in a comforting tone. He was carrying a loaded cardboard box on which was inscribed “Living room”, and already puffing his cheeks over the weight. He had a tall, lean figure, a mouse-like face whose mustache could somewhat pass for being highly sophisticated whiskers. He must have sensed the hidden tears behind Lucy’s adult face, for he dropped the box and knelt to take his daughter’s hand.

“This is home now, dear Lucy. But don’t you worry. Everything will be all right. No, everything will be great! Come, I’ll show you around.”

And leaving the box and Lucy’s hopes behind, both dad and daughter walked to the front door. And entered.


The stars were shining bright above. The air smelled of up-turned dust, and other things… new smells she had yet to get used to. Lucy was in her bed. Or rather, Lucy was on her mattress. She had found her pajamas in a cardboard box, her toothbrush in another, but her bed still lay in pieces in some corner of the room. She watched it intently now; shadows move when no one’s looking. Everyone knows that. And she was convinced something was wrong. Something must be wrong. Why would the previous owners have moved from here if this house was perfect? But, thought Lucy, they had themselves moved from the country-side house, and she couldn’t possibly find a flaw in her old little rickety .

“Good-night, sweetheart.”

“Mummy, how long do we have to stay here?”

Lucy’s mum, a short-haired, freckled woman with big-rimmed glasses, placed a loud kiss on Lucy’s forehead, and did as all ignorant adults do when faced with a thoroughly astute and inquisitive child: she smiled, nodded, told her not to worry and repeated herself.

“Good night sweetheart.”

Adults were infuriating. It was a simple question, too! And the worse was that Lucy knew she couldn’t . She had tried.


“Mrs. Ayronn?”

“Could you please tell me what is eight times four?”

Lucy had smiled, nodded, and told Mrs Ayronn not to worry, before returning her attention to the drawing she was making. She had gotten grounded, and still couldn’t for the life of her understand why. Hypocrites.

“I bet if mum doesn’t tell me, it’s because she doesn’t know”, said poor Lucy to the shadows. She was feeling miserable. But they didn’t answer. They didn’t stir.

Lucy put her blankets over her head, to be protected and warm. But she soon remembered the shadows, and immediately resumed her watch.

The window.

A crack on the wooden floor.

Some dim metal-cling.

This new-house was definitely too scary!

The window again.


Two eyes, two big, full, yellow moons shot out from the dark to stare at her. Two bright yellow planets which shone outside, just behind the window.

They didn’t move. They stared.

And then they blinked.

Lucy almost screamed. But the blink was slow, almost deliberate, and out came a yawn: a big mouth with pearl white teeth stretched out, a pink tongue was cast out; yawn, and the whole vision disappeared as soon as it had come, engulfed with the night. The eyes again. Only the eyes remained, and they stared at Lucy with bold directness.

“It’s rude to stare”, said Lucy.

The two yellow planets seemed startled. They became a little wider, came a little closer.

“My, my, my” growled a low, deep voice. “How charming.”

“Who is it? said Lucy. She was scared, but only of really scary things, she told herself. She was scared of this new house, of her new life, of being away from her friends and being alone… but not of ghost-monsters who prowled at bedtime. Only little kids were afraid of those.

In truth, she was desperate for a friend.

“I’m Lucy. Do you want to come in, shadow-friend?”

The shadows laughed.

“I’m not your friend. And I’ll come in if I please. This is my territory, you know.”

Lucy’s mind started racing: was this the mystery of the previous owners? Had they disappeared, had they become shadow-friends? What were they still doing here? She was eager to find out.

“Is this house yours then?” she asked.

“Mine?” said the voice. Lucy was sure she heard it mutter “Humans!” with contempt. “No, it’s not mine, loud-walker. How can it be mine?”

“You did say it was your territory.” said Lucy.

“Hunting grounds, no more.” said the deep, hungry voice. And with this it was off. The two big yellow moons blinked once more, sharp white teeth flashed, licked by a pink tongue, only to disappear altogether.

“Wait!” said Lucy, scrambling out of bed “Don’t go shadow-friend!” But the beast had vanished without a noise.

Lucy looked out of her window, screening the roofs. The shadow was gone. She gazed at the buildings around her, stopping at the new-found lights. Laughter buzzed from a balcony above, and a faint smell of spices was carried by the wind unto her: Lucy took a deep breath, breathing in the strangeness around her. Another land. Another place. How would she ever call it home?

She went back to her bed, forgetting to watch the shadows. Her thoughts were on this shadow-friend, and this of course made her think of her friends, her real friends, those she had left at home, her real home. Crying inside-tears, Lucy fell asleep.


The next morning was full of surprises. Lucy woke up with the shining sun, and this made her mood bright in an instant. Birds were chirping outside her window. She greeted them with a wave before jumping out of her bed. Or so she thought; her bed still lay in heaps in a corner of the room, and when Lucy sprang out of the mattress she stumbled on the floor and fell. So much for a good morning. Still, she kept her spirits high and decided that she would do her very best to be nice, polite, and positive. After all, this wasn’t her parent’s fault, she thought. They looked as lost and tired as she was; it was her job, she decided, to care for her mum and dad’s mood.

“Morning mummy! Good morning dad!”

“Good morning Lucy. Well, you look especially cheerful today.” answered her dad with hope in his voice. He was struggling with his portable coffee machine, which he usually brought along when camping outside. He always insisted it made the best coffee, but coming home he immediately switched back to his regular electric brewer, with its comforting hum-buzz. It felt weird to Lucy not to hear this sound today.

“Lucy! What happened to your head?” said Lucy’s mum, coming in the kitchen. Lucy almost directed the question back to her mum, who had apparently abandoned make-up for harsh reality. Still, she bit her tongue and said nothing.

“Did you hurt yourself?”

“A little. But I’m OK now”, said brave Lucy.

“You look like a unicorn!” laughed her dad, and Lucy laughed too, to make him happy.

The breakfast was uneventful; in fact, it didn’t happen. Save for the blessed best coffee which her dad had managed to brew after some mild swearing, there was simply nothing on the table. Lucy didn’t want to complain; luckily, her stomach spoke with a loud rumble.

“There’s nothing in the fridge dear, but I’ll go and get some groceries with your dad,” explained her mum. “You just stay put and guard the house, OK?”

“OK,” said Lucy, thinking that if anyone came to take this house she would gladly let them.

Lucy then went to the balcony to watch her parents go.

“Goodbye!” she said cheerfully, waving away at her parents; but as soon as they turned the corner she felt the act was not needed. She fully accepted her sorrow, and said to no one in particular:

“I HATE it here. This stupid place is weird, and my head hurts and I miss my bed, and I’m hungry but what are we supposed to eat? There’s nothing but boxes and I don’t know where my toys are and I want to go home but home is…”

Lucy started sobbing, outside-tears which now flowed freely down her cheeks.

“Is it going to be rain, then?”

It was that low, deep, growl again. Lucy’s surprise caused the tears to vanish, and she looked around to see where the voice was hiding.

A sleek, splendid black cat with lustrous fur was napping on a nearby ledge, taking the sun in without a care in the world. Lucy approached him cautiously.

“You’re blocking the sun.” said the cat with scorn in his voice. He hadn’t opened his eyes.

“Oh, sorry. Wait! You talk!”

The cat remained still as a rock under Lucy’s shade. Eventually, Lucy moved, and the cat opened a lazy eye: it was a beautiful yellow moon, and Lucy’s heart raced.


“I’m not your friend, non-hunter. But I don’t like hearing humans cry. Not on such a morning. Why are you crying? Are you famished? The sun is shining.”

“You… you talk!”

“I hope you’ll be able to get over this soon. Of course, I talk. I’m a cat. I do everything better than humans do, so why wouldn’t I talk?”

“I’ve never hear a cat talk before.”

“Maybe you’re not very interesting to talk to.”

“You’re a grumpy cat, Shadow-friend.”

“I’m not your friend, furless.”

Lucy stayed quiet. She was very excited to find a talking cat, and was more determined than ever to become its friend.

“At least there’s one new thing which is pretty cool.” muttered Lucy as she let herself fall on the balcony’s concrete. She still felt a slight pang of sorrow, but as she concentrated on Shadow-friend she slowly started to dismiss the feeling. Watching the sun-drenched cat, she realized again that the sun was shining, and she tilted her head and closed her eyes to welcome its rays. Her eyes closed… She started to notice how the concrete had been heated by the sun, and how it made a little warm spot for her to bask in. Some time later, Shadow-friend’s voice was heard:

“Isn’t it great?”

Lucy thought she heard him purr.

“Yes,” she slowly answered, “Yes, you’re right.”

She stretched, happy, fully empty of anything but a fuzzy warm happiness which was brought by the sun.

“Sorrow melts with the sun. Unless you are hungry. Are you hungry, newcomer? You can’t possibly hunt with those paws.”

“No, Shadow-friend. I’m not truly hungry, just a little sad that’s all: everything here is so…new!”

“New is what you make of it.”

“That’s easy for you to say, you live here! Nothing’s new to you.”

“You are.” said the cat, and he shut his eyes once more.

Lucy thought about this for a while, letting the sun warm her face. Finally, she heard the apartment’s door open, and her parents come in. She got up to help store the groceries, not forgetting to say goodbye to the black cat.

“Goodbye Shadow-friend. Thank you for the talk.”

“I’m not your friend, dull-teeth.”

The rest of the morning was beautiful. Lucy and her parents ate a makeshift brunch while seated on cardboard boxes, with a cardboard table and paper napkins as plates. It was new, different. But it was fun, also, because she had decided it was going to be. She kept to small things, proceeded one step at a time, box after box, looking out for the sun from time to time. She found happiness in rediscovering little objects she had forgotten, laughed at the quaint aspects of this brand-new world. Once she had settled, so had the night, and she tiredly went to bed.

There, one last surprise awaited her: a horror to most, but as it was new, Lucy tried to consider it carefully, mastering her initial feeling, forging it into choice. She guessed who it came from. She decided she liked the new surprise in the end. She therefore slowly walked to the window’s ledge to pick up the nice little gift her friend had made: picking it up, she tried not to look disgusted at the dead gutted mouse whose blood slowly dripped unto her feet.


A little bump, a smooth thunk, a mere whisper in the night, announced Shadow-friend’s presence. Lucy looked at the open window to find the two yellow moons staring back at her.

“Thank you for the gift” said Lucy. “Though I feel bad for the mouse.”

“You feel bad for food?” the cat’s eyes seemed to shine with laughter.

“It’s not food! Well, I guess it is to you… but they’re living beings!”

“Of course they are. Typical non-hunter response.” scorned the cat. “I can only understand though – these paws! What can you catch with those? No wonder you can’t respect them; you can’t kill them.”

“You’ve got it the other way ‘round I think. I can’t kill them because I respect them.

“That’s what you say,” answered the cat, still on the windowsill. “But in truth you’re just a joyless killer.”

“Not true!”

“You’re so clawless!” laughed the cat. “Have you ever caught a mouse trying to escape? Have you ever let it go just for the sheer pleasure of catching it again? Of course not.” Shadow-friend looked at the moon, then back at Lucy. “If you do not embrace who you are, how can you embrace the world? How can you understand it?”

Lucy didn’t know what to answer. This grumpy cat was staring deep into her soul.

“I’m just a kid!” she said defensively.

“And I’m just a cat.” said Shadow-friend. “And this is just a mouse. You like stating the obvious, don’t you?” He was evidently enjoying himself.

Lucy smiled.

“Thank you.” she said again, picking the mouse with her hands. “It’s very kind.”

“Will you eat it then?”

Lucy stared back in horror. The cat bared his teeth in a broad grin.

“I’m just joking, meat-warmer. But I didn’t know what else to get you. I wanted you to feel welcome.”

“You’re a nice cat, aren’t you, grumpy cat?”

“Fur and claws” answered Shadow-friend. “If… you’re not having that.” he added, pointing the dead mouse with an extended claw.

“Of course!” said Lucy, with great relief. She went to place the mouse on the windowsill, and then thought better of it:

“Would you like to come to my… our, room?”

Noiselessly, the black shadow dropped down into Lucy’s room, the mouse still stuck in his jaws. He then paced until he found a spot, apparently better than all the other identical spots Lucy could see, and started to feast.

Lucy watched him eat with an ambiguous mixture of curiosity and disgust.

“I had a cousin who held your views,” said the cat after he saw her changing expression. “It was easy for him. He was well cared for, his feeders never forgot to fill his bowl, hence he never lacked anything. It was easy for him to judge. He didn’t need the hunt. In truth, it was the hunt which didn’t need him.”

Lucy sat down to listen to the ranting feline.

“Called me a murderer! He didn’t kill; I did. Simple as that. But the mouse I caught was free. He lived a mouse’s life to the very end!” at this the cat laughed, though Lucy was unsure why. “Can you say the same? That’s what I asked him. And he couldn’t answer! He didn’t know if his food had been free, or happy, if it was a good runner, if it could evade well: all he knew was that his food came from a box which the feeders filled from time to time using a bigger box. And he judged me.”

Shadow-friend’s dinner was cracking in his mouth and Lucy fell somewhat sick, but she couldn’t help empathizing with her friend now.

“I’m sure it was difficult to fight with your cousin over this.”

“Fight! That bloated thing?” Shadow-friend choked on his food. “Never!”

A little piece of the mouse’s tail was sprouting out of his mouth, and he slurped it with relish.

“But his ways are his ways. We didn’t argue, if that’s what you mean. His house was his territory, I had mine. He left me in peace and so did I. We discussed. Philosophy, you call it?”

“I guess,” said Lucy. “What’s your name, Shadow-friend?”

The black cat grinned. “I knew you were charming.”

“Why is that?” asked Lucy.



“A feeling, but deeper.”

“I know what instinct is. But I thought you said we shouldn’t trust our feelings.”

“I never said that.”

“You said new was what we wanted. But I felt sad. So I forgot it.”

“You should never forget your instinct!”

“But dad says….”

“You should embrace it! A feeling is neither good or bad. It is data. You do what you will with this information. It doesn’t mean reject it, or be scared, it means accepting it as your fact, and deciding your outcome.”

Lucy sat back, leaning against the bare walls of her room. Shadow-friend started to lick his paws.

“You still haven’t told me your name.”

“That’s true. But, you wouldn’t understand it.”

“How so?”

“Well, we cats can understand humans, and talk your way, but I’ve never heard of a girl who could speak cat!”

“Oh…” said Lucy, thinking a moment: “But until yesterday, I had never heard of a cat speaking human.”

“Very true!” said Shadow-friend, cheering. “Then, since you insist, here it is…” And he meowed with voluptuous glee. It was obviously meant to impress Lucy.

“What?” said she.

“I told you,” said Shadow-friend, sulking, “you wouldn’t know the difference between meow and meow.”

“Sorry”, said Lucy, meaning it. “Please, would you try again, just one more time?”

Shadow-friend took a moment, but cajoled by the pleading eyes of Lucy, he gave in:

“Of then. Here goes: my name is…” And he meowed again in that fleeting, joyful manner. Lucy listened attentively, thought for a moment, and then carefully meowed back.

“Hey! Not bad for a two-legger.” said the cat, grinning.

Then he yawned, and this made Lucy yawn. “Off to bed then.”

“Off to bed then.”

The black shadow jumped in a swift swoosh unto the window’s ledge, tail in balance.

“Goodnight Shadow-friend.”

“I’m not your friend… Lucy.”

There was silence.

“Yes you are.” Lucy replied stubbornly, her voice muffled underneath the bed’s cover.

Wild Rose

Image: Rose Bud © Robert Mitchem. Source – CC Licence

Author: Sorcha Walsh

When David was six years old, Maria would cycle outside his house on her bicycle, pigtails flying, as she raced down the street. Once, he threw a ball at her, meaning for her to catch it, but it simply bounced against her head, the force of his throw knocking her to the ground. She didn’t cry then, simply let out a surprised “oh” as she hit the asphalt. Her elbow was scraped, and David, horrified, ran to help her up. He just wanted to play, he explained, nearly crying himself. Maria didn’t seem to mind, though, simply brushing the dirt off her bleeding arm.

From that moment on, David wanted more than anything to be friends with her. So, the next day, he knocked at her house on the corner with a wilted pale pink flower he had picked from her own mother’s flower bed by way of an apology. Maria tucked the flower behind her ear and wordlessly went outside to play with him. They played House in the tree at the end of the road, deciding which branch would be which room, and how they would decorate every room. She wanted every room to be purple, which David usually hated. He hated girly things. For Maria, though, he didn’t care. They spent hours in the tree, and only came home when the streetlights came on.

The next day, they did the same. It was a school holiday, so they could spend as much time as they wanted to outside, only coming home for a sandwich at lunch.

The summer passed in much the same way, each day a new game. They played House, Cats and Dogs, Doctor, and Tag in turn. When they got bored, they would sometimes play with the other children, but it was always together, Maria and David, David and Maria. Where there was one, there was the other. Their mothers got used to saying their names together, in one breath, as if they were one two-headed child. Mariandavid. Daveanmaria.

The next summer went by in much the same way, and the one after that. Hazy summer days turned into brisk autumn evenings which closed in to dank winter nights, which then slowly began to open themselves once again into a breezy spring where all life burst impatiently from the hard ground, before stretching out, languorously and luxuriously, into the kind of long summer day in which you can live a lifetime or two before teatime.

When Maria and David were eleven, Maria grew very suddenly. She became taller than David for the first time, and he couldn’t outrun her. He began to think that she was the most beautiful person he had ever seen, with her long blonde hair which had grown out in loose ringlets all the way down her back.

David knew that she didn’t really want to play with him every day anymore. She had girl friends now, who were tall as well, and they would share lip gloss and giggle at the break at school. She never really spent time with him at school either, but he didn’t mind. He was friends with plenty of boys, and they would kick balls and spit and act tough.

The next year, Maria began to stay at her friends’ houses, and never really said anything to David apart from “hi”, in passing. Still, he looked out for those greetings, treasured them, fancied he saw a glint of something more, something old in her eyes. Once, he went to her house with his parents, for a dinner party. They didn’t talk at the table, but he went to her room afterwards, just to see, just to know. There wasn’t any harm in it, it was just to see.

The year they both turned fourteen, there was a dance at school. Boys were asking girls and all the girls could talk about was who had asked whom. David knew nobody had asked Maria, had overheard her complaining to her friend about it. So, one day, he picked a pink flower from one of the neighbour’s gardens and knocked on Maria’s door.

She was very nice about saying “no”, very gentle. She didn’t mention the other man, and even gave David a kiss on the cheek, which would once have made him spasm with joy. But now his face remained leaden and downturned, and his mother remarked that he had the eyes of an old man when he came home that night.

The day of the dance arrived, much the same way dentist appointments do. David watched from his window as Maria went to her parents’ car, dressed in a beautiful white dress. Her hair was twisted up into a bun, with several loose locks framing her face. David thought his heart would burst from his chest just looking at her.

That night, he fell asleep with a darkly bruised flower clutched tight in his white-knuckled hand, under his rumpled pillow.


The next morning, he left home slightly earlier than he usually did. He stood on the street corner and bent down as if to pick a flower once more. When he heard the door to Maria’s house open his fingers closed instead around a rock. He stood up and turned to face her.

“Oh,” she said, her eyebrows raised. She must have been surprised to see him there. David didn’t respond. Instead, he raised his arm high above his head and brought the rock down in a sickening arc towards her head.

Her hair had been so blonde, he thought, so fine. It really wasn’t fair, it wasn’t nearly as nice matted up. He gently went to his knees and clutched her face, not minding how dirty his fingers got. He brushed her hair behind her ear, softly as if he were handling a porcelain doll. Her books lay scattered on the ground and her elbow was scraped where she fell.

The next year, and the year after that, the flowers grew redder than ever at the base of the white picket fence.

Two Lost Souls

Image © sleep. Source – CC Licence

Author: Chloé Manz

I have always wondered ‘why am I on Earth? What do I do here, what is my fate – by the way, is there such thing as ‘fate’?’ Because if there is, I am asking myself what the hell have I done to deserve that, and if there is only free will, God, what did I do? Where did it fail? And now I am about to end my miserable life at the top of the world… “funeral pile”…What was I thinking about? I have been a wretch since my first days of life, my creator rejected me when I was only a new born in this world and the world itself, rejected me, rejected the new born that I was…If free will rules that world, let me tell you something, World: ‘I didn’t choose to be born!’. My voice echoes as I was addressing to the sky. Everything around is still, white. The wind had stopped and all I can hear is the echo of my voice hitting the icebergs. Even the sea is quiet, still. Time has stopped and is waiting for me to do something. Lighting this fire? After having seen my master, my creator lying in that bed, as cold as stone and as blue as the oceans’ waters, all my anger faded away. I realised that I was, this time, completely alone. Frankenstein, although I hate him for what he has done to me, for what he inflicted on me, was my only parent in this Earth. Now that he is gone, I am completely alone. I am an orphan. That thought hit me when I saw his dead body; he denied me the right to have a companion and condemned me to solitude – may he burn in hell for that – but still, he was my creator; I was tied to him like I will never be tied to anyone on Earth. And at that very moment, I wanted to end with my life. I wanted to disappear from this inhospitable planet. Because let’s face it: why was I born? And now, I’m standing on my stake, looking at the endless horizon. I close my eyes. Breathe. I remember my first awakening in this world. My first encounter with humans.

The incomprehension to their spite towards me. What had I done aside from… being born? Is it my crime? Being born? I was so angry at my creator who inflected me so much pain, driven by a selfish desire of becoming a new God. And then my first murder. And how I liked it. Yes. I liked the feeling of depriving someone of his life so easily. Feeling the last spark of life leaving this frail body. ‘God dammit, light up that stupid fire and all the pain will end!’ But I can’t.

I learnt through books I stole during my wandering, that this instrument I (also) stole in Captain Walton’s cabin, they call it ‘magnifying glass’ and can serve to light up a fire. All I have to do is presenting the glass to the sun, being very careful to aim at the wood under me and WUUUF! I burn. I look at this instrument in my hand; it is beautiful. I examine it, how the sun reflects in the glass, how I can see the details of the wood under me. ‘You’re trying to win time’, whispers a little voice inside of me. No, I am not. Or maybe I am? I am not sure anymore that I want to leave this world…at least not yet. I have so many things to learn. ‘Yes, but you are alone now. If you live, you are condemned to a life of solitude’. The voice is right. However, I stared at this vast blue area in front of me. The beauty of it is breath-taking; I could spend hours looking at it. So, I sit down on my pyre, decided to enjoy my last view on earth. I don’t know how many hours passed but suddenly, my pyre collapses under my feet; I am too heavy for it and I fall on the ground. It was a sign. The sign that someone up there does not want me to die today. But first, I need to cover my traces. I collect the wood, rebuild the pyre and with the magnifying glass, set the pyre on fire. I also throw this piece of cloth that covered my chest in the flames, so if someone finds the pyre, they’ll assume that I died here. Or maybe that the rests of my body have been taken away by these white bears. I read somewhere that they can eat anything when they are starving. Now that the pyre starts burning, I have to decide where to head; I could go in the New World, hiding in these vast areas that they call the Far West. Or head towards the South in the Amazonian forest. But I don’t want to stay alone… I need a companion… My first try failed…and my other attempt to get a female like me also… all of that because of Frankenstein’s selfishness!!

WHY DID YOU REFUSE ME THAT PRIVILEGE YOU DAMN SELFISH MAN! I don’t know if shouting to the sky will do something – I’ve read somewhere that people who have something to say to their deads turn their head to the sky and then they get a sign that their declaration has been heard – but I’ve never tried it myself. In any case, what can a dead man do against me while no living man was able to hurt me in a significant way? I’m still waiting, though. I’ve never understood this notion of faith and religion. People put their fate and decisions in the hands of their creator, but I am well placed to say that the creator does not care at all for his little creations. Let’s be honest: my creator created only one being – me – and was not able to fulfil his obligations towards me; so how could a creator, who is supposed to have created billions and billions of beings, fulfil his obligations towards them? We were born alone, we live and we die alone, that’s my opinion.

Once, while I was following my creator – well no, he does not deserve this name, I need to find him another nickname… I could call him ‘the wretch’, he deserves this name more than me – so, while I was following him through Europe waiting for him to give me my companion, I found myself in front of a strange house. It was constructed with red rectangular pieces of stone, and there was a part that was higher than the roof. A sort of tower. At its top, I could see two bells and a cross. It was passed midnight and no one was in the surroundings so I went closer to the main door – a big wooden door with an inscription on it “Eglise de Omonville-la- Rogue, toute a?me perdue est la bienvenue” but I couldn’t understand this language. I think I’ve heard my wretch creator – I cannot help but calling him ‘creator ‘– telling that it was French. Anyway, there was a translation under it saying “Church of Omonville-la-Rogue, any lost soul is welcomed” and I smiled. I was a lost soul after all, therefore, this place was for me. Maybe I could find a companion in it? I entered in the ‘church’ as it is called. There were candles lighten up, wooden banks on each side of the alley and at the end of the alley, a small table with a big open book on it and above the table, a man attached to a cross, his head falling. ‘He needs help!’ was my first thought. So, I ran to help him but then I realised it was a sculpture.

And the man was not ‘attached’ to the cross but nailed to it by the wrists and the feet. What a barbaric image! And the man also had a wound on his right chest. I did not understand. Then I was attracted by the book on the table. A wonderful piece of art! The cover was in leather and the pages seemed to have some gold on them. I decided to flick through it, to see if I could learn things about this place for “lost souls”. And this is how I discover what humans call religion: believing that a superior being exists, that he created them and above all, that he loves them and so on. Love…. What is this? I don’t know… I cannot know. All I know is hatred. So I guess that love is the opposite of hatred. I don’t know where humans see love in their God – this is how they call him in that book, that is named ‘Bible’. From what I read in the book in comparison to what I have observed in the world so far, I don’t understand in what consists God’s love in this world. They are wars, they are murders, crimes and there is me. An abomination, a nightmare for humanity, even its enemy! If their God exists, why did he allow me to be created? And why did he let the Serpent tempt Eve? Or her eat the apple? I am the desolation of humanity, I hate it because it hates me for no reason other than being physically different. From what I heard when I was listening to the De Lacey, the human race has this specific tendency to reject the Other, the one that is different from them. They started with a different skin colour, different customs and then different religions. No, I am sorry but there is no God, or at least, no loving God. Only a sadistic ruler.

It is time for me to leave now, I have decided to head towards a land that I know, Switzerland. I could live in the mountains, I can find a cave and live there. At first, I wanted to head to the vast and desert regions of Siberia but, as I said, there are desert. Even if I’m destined to be alone, as the only one of my kind, it does not mean that I have to live as a hermit…or at least, not too far from civilization. Truth must be told, I want to learn more; that is the only reason why I’m still alive. Knowledge is a strength if you use it correctly and I want to gain more knowledge. And I want a companion too. I’m resolute in that. I know that my first attempt – well, my first two attempts were a failure – but it is because I didn’t do it in the right way!

I wanted to kidnap a child that had a family, which means that they are going to look for him, hunt me down. Besides, I also did not have any place to keep him. So, I need to kidnap someone that no one cares of. I need to kidnap an orphan! This wonderful plan suddenly fills me with such a strange feeling! My heart is like swollen and I surprise myself into giving a faint smile. I think this is what human call hope. I read it in the Bible. Christians are living with the hope of getting a better life after death…hahahahaha load of rubbish! But even, hope is a feeling that moves them, that comforts them throughout their insignificant life. And I am getting comforted. Knowing that I have a better plan to get a companion – even if this companion will not be like me – comforts me in such a way that I jump straight in the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean and swim in the direction of where the sun goes down (I also learnt that in one of the books I stole). I am happy. I won’t be alone anymore.

Part II

I’ve never thought today will be the last day of my life. Well, let me be clearer; when I say life, it is not as if mine had been very thrilling. I don’t know if we can even call that ‘a life’. And be reassured, I’m not dead. By “last day of my life” I meant “last day of my current life”. I’ve always loved being dramatic. My life was amazing until my 8 years; I had a loving family, a lovely house but everything stopped suddenly during this winter night. I don’t know what happened. All I remember is me waking up in the arms of a fireman, watching the huge flames devastating my house. From this day, I’ve never opened my mouth anymore. I was sent first into a hospital, where the doctors, policemen, firemen and nurses tried to make me talk. But I didn’t know anything. It was a crapulous crime they said. They arrested a suspect a few weeks later, who confessed having lighten up the fire to teach a lesson to my father. But I didn’t know what kind of lesson it was. How can you teach a lesson to a dead man? Anyway, he was condemned and executed. And I was sent into an orphanage. I’ve never known why I was the only one who survived. And this is what I’ve been doing these last years: surviving in a world where I don’t want to be. But I can’t end with my life. It will be unfair towards my parents.

So, I stay alive and try to cope with what happened to me. In the orphanage, there are a lot of women, supposed to act as substitute mother but my mother never beat me or starve me for punishment. They make you feel that you are not wanted, that you are a mistake of nature or whatever insult they can find to insult you. Today is the 15th October 18– and this is the last day of my actual life.

The orphanage organizes every autumn an excursion into the woods near the mountains – surely in the hope of getting rid of at least one of us (yes I read Ha?nsel & Gretel, I know that when adults who do not like children bring them into the forest, it is to abandon them). We left this morning around eight and took the forest path at the end of the village, the one that goes along the river and then climbs up in the mountain. The trees there are so thick that the sun barely manages to light up the path. We’ve never been there before, I’m suspecting that something is going on. We are only five children left in this orphanage. The others were either adopted because they were younger, either they ran away to a better life. I’m not sur that they found a better life, that is why I stay here. At least, I have a roof and food. Even if they beat us. All you have to do is keeping quiet, taking care of the younger because these women hate tears. If they catch you weeping, they don’t comfort you like a true mother should; instead of that, they grab you by the hair if they are long, or by the ears, and throw you in the basement for the night. Well, my four companions and I are now walking in the forest; it is still, at the exception of the head supervisor who sometimes whips the one who does not walk quickly enough to her liking. Around noon – well I guess it is noon, we can barely see the sun down there – we stop for lunch. All we have is a piece of bread, with a piece of mouldy cheese and of course water. Dehydrating us wouldn’t be acceptable, you know. One of the youngest starts suddenly crying “I don’t want to eat thaaaaaaaaaat, it’s disgusting!”. The “nurse” (because she does not really care for us, if you see what I mean), shouts at the little girl: ‘you’d better stop crying right now and eat your cheese otherwise, you could regret it’.

Me and the other children look at her, imploring her to stop crying because we know that this nurse is the worst of the four we have at the orphanage. And knowing that they all belong to the witch lane, ‘worst’ here is not a hyperbole. Once, by an access of rage because I didn’t want to finish my meal after spotting a worm in it, she grabbed me by the hair, threw me down on the corner and whipped my back three or four times with her belt. I still have the scars. And from that day, I swore to God – well, or to the sky, because I don’t think any God would ever allow his children to suffer – that I will get my revenge. But Nora, the little girl, not knowing this nurse, throws her piece of cheese on the ground, still crying and screaming.

She had signed her death warrant.
The nurse, calmly and smiling looks at her and murmurs: ‘you shouldn’t have done that’. By saying so, she stands up, heads for the little girl and sticks the cheese in her throat. The head supervisor was looking on the other way, as if by doing so, she wouldn’t be accused of complicity. I closed my eyes. I don’t want to see. But I can still hear Nora’s tears and the sound of her choking. ‘She’s dying!’ I hear one of the boys screaming. ‘Do something, the cheese is stuck in her throat and she can’t breath! Monster!’ This is more than I can stand. I stand up and start running. I run as fast as I can without looking back. I hear the head supervisor screaming ‘come back you little bastard!’. And I hear the sound of someone running after me. But I don’t look back. A branch whips my face but I don’t stop. I start crying but I don’t stop. She’s still behind me but she is heavier and I can hear her getting breathless and stopping. But I don’t stop. ‘You’d better keep running! If I ever catch you, trust me, you’ll never be able to run again little bitch!’ I lost her. I don’t know how but I lost her! Maybe it’s a trick and if I stop she will jump on me. So, I keep running. I don’t know for how long, all I know is that there is a strange force inside of me that keeps me running and running without getting breathless. Suddenly, I feel the ground collapsing beneath my feet and I saw my body falling and rolling down the slope and my head hitting a rock. It is as if I was outside my body, suddenly.

All I know is that I was out for a few hours; I wake up in a kind of cave – I assume it was a cave because it doesn’t look like the place where I fell or maybe I fell so hard that my body went through the ground and fell in a cave. Anyway, the actual situation is that I am in a cave. Alone. And it is dark outside. What have I done? Why have I run away? I am used to that kind of violence from the nurses towards us so why this time was I unable to stand it? All I know for sure, is that I heard a little voice inside of me telling me to run away, to leave this kind of life and that now was my only chance to get a better life. And I followed it. I thought at first that it was my mom’s voice, that she was trying to protect me but why running in the woods? There is no one here, aside from…wild animals? Bears? Ogres? I try to stand up but suddenly my body reminds me of that fall and there is something holding up my arm. I close my eyes and reopen them, so they can become used to obscurity. There is some kind of splint around my forearm and a sort of grey cloth enveloping it. Someone, or something, had taken care of my broken arm. But who? I have heard legends about some spirits inhabiting and protecting the forest… Naaa these are, as they are called, legends. But still, someone did this to me. I try again to stand, this time, paying attention to my arm. A huge pain on my head obliges me to sit down again. I touch my head with the other hand and.. OH GOD! What a huge bump! I must look like a unicorn…with a horn on the right side of the forehead but still, a distorted unicorn. ‘What kind of rubbish are you saying!’, it may be the fall and the bump. I’m not myself though. Okay, now focus and try to determine where you are.

It took me few hours to explore the cave. It is dry, at least, because outside it has started to rain. Unfortunately, I also discovered that my exit is blocked by a huge stone, that only lets the air come through. Otherwise, I’m condemned to be stuck in this cave. Maybe my guardian angel protects me from the people of village. Or it is an ogre who keeps me in its food safe before eating me! No, no, no, just calm down. An ogre would have eaten you with or without a broken arm. It does make no difference for it, the meat is still there. Look at me! Talking about how human meat can be consumed! I must have hit my head quite strong on that rock!

I think I’ve arrived to the end of the cave and guess what? No exit. Just a flat dumb wall of stone with no openings. Suddenly, I hear the stone at the entrance of the cave being moved.

I run back to my “bed” in order to spot my guardian angel but damn, I missed it/him/her. On the ground, a sort of plate with some cheese – not mouldy this time – a piece of bread and some kind of…meat? At the smell of the meat, my stomach reminds me that I’ve haven’t eaten for two days. With my hands, I bite into the cooked meat – I think it is rabbit, but I don’t care, I’m starving – and gobble it up. The same fate awaits the cheese and the bread. I shout ‘Thank you!’ in direction of the stone door but no one answers. At least during the two minutes following my thanking. Then, I hear a slight ‘You’re welcome’. The voice at first, frightens me. It is a really deep, almost sepulchral voice. But I feel something else in this voice; it is something that I can’t explain, maybe because this is something you don’t often link with that kind of voice.

That’s what it is! A soft deep sepulchral voice. That’s strange. Normally, that kind of voice is related to a monster, an ogre, you know? When grown-ups tell a fairy tale, every time an ogre appears in the narrative, they imitate that kind of voice. Maybe ogres do exist after all! Maybe it hasn’t eaten me yet, because I’m not fat enough! ‘Calm down’ murmurs my little voice. ‘There you are, you who forced me to run away from food and from a roof! My life wasn’t perfect I admit it, but still, I was fed and I was warm’. ‘Yes, but you were alone’. ‘Alone? And what am I now? Surrounded by a loving family maybe? And who are you, to force people to run like they’ve never run before? Are you a… (damn this is becoming ridiculous) a spirit?’. ‘I am you, Moona’.

This answer lays me out.
This little voice that I thought was my mom or some stupid spirit of the forest, was actually…mine? How is that even possible? I try to think but my head hurts so much at the moment that it is impossible for me to find a plausible answer. I lay down and fall asleep. I wake up again with a full plate in front of me. Wild berries this time. Maybe there was no spirit

or ghost whispering to my ears to run away but there is definitely someone who found me wounded and decided to take care of me. I don’t know yet his/her/its reasons for doing this but I am thankful. For the cares and for the food. The same scheme lasts for a few days, every time my guardian angel brings me some food, some clothes – too big for me – and even a second blanket and a cloth to change my splint, and every time I missed him/her/it. This is a complete mystery. And good for me, I love mysteries. It is decided, next time, I’ll spot my guardian angel and oblige him/her/it to face me. I’m resolute. And stubborn too. That’s what my father used to say. In the cave, there is a little pond with water coming from the outside. Just above that little pond, there is a sort of excrescence of stone where I’m sure, a human child can hide. It is as if someone tried to dig a second path in the stone but failed and now there is this very little…floor? I try and, yes, I can fit in it. Now let’s see if I can jump from it to the cave’s ground without falling in the pond and hurting myself. I already have a broken arm, I think that’s enough. I take a deep breath and jump! I land safely on the ground! Now, I can surprise my guardian angel. Now, I’m ready to face it.

Today, is the day. The day where I will meet with my guardian angel. Yesterday, I discovered that it was totally possible to hide behind “stone curtain” as I like to call it. I missed my guardian angel at breakfast but I won’t miss it tonight. When night starts to fall, I hide behind the “curtain” and wait. I don’t know for how long but suddenly I hear steps; this being must be very heavy because its steps make a muffled sound. I’m starting to be afraid but there is no time for retreat. The being moves the stone and makes a step into the cave. I hold back my breath. The being that enters the cave is from a huge complexion. I’ve never seen a human being so big and…large. I cannot see its face, it is covered by a hood but I can see that its skin is grey. A stone giant? Well, I’m decided, so when I see it heading back to where it came from, I jump from my hiding place and shouts ‘there you are! Spot you!’. The creature stops but does not turn round to me. I can see the muscles of its back through his clothes. I can see its breathing. But I cannot see its face. ‘What are you?’ I say? ‘Why did you save me?’. But no answer comes.

I try another solution to have it talk. ‘Thank you for looking after me after my fall, for feeding me and for keeping me safe. That is what you meant, right? Keeping me safe?’. ‘Yes.’ This voice again. So deep that I have the feeling of talking to a very ancient creature. A creature of the stone. I don’t feel afraid anymore. I spot something sad in this voice too. ‘Why did you do that?’. ‘You needed help. I saw you running as if the devil was chasing you…’. ‘It kind of was’. ‘I saw you falling and hitting that rock with your head. I heard a woman’s voice coming. She arrived breathless where you had fallen, looked at you and said with a lot of cruelty ‘look at you now, you cannot run anymore. You can die in this forest I don’t care. You’re an orphan, no one will ever be looking for you’. And then she left, laughing. From that moment, I knew I had to save you. So, I took you, took care of your arm and head and brought you in that cave.’ ‘I am very grateful for that, but why hiding?’. ‘Because I need a friend’. ‘If you hide you won’t find any friend’. ‘I hide because my complexion is abominable; if you see me as I am, you’ll scream and run away. And I’ll stay alone for ever’. I was right, this was really sadness that I felt in his voice. He is alone, like me but desperate to find someone. I can understand that. I’ve been alone since my family died. I’ve never really enjoyed the company of other children, even if they all lost their family too. I don’t know why. This creature in front of me just makes me feel sad but also triggers something in me that I am not able to define yet. ‘I won’t run I promise. Please, let me see you. You are my guardian angel after all. You could have let me die in these woods but you didn’t’. The creature mumbles something that I cannot hear. Something like ‘they all run when they see me’. I was stunned. I could feel his pain. How much had he had to suffer to be so afraid of human beings? I make a step towards him, without a noise, and place my hand against his back. He shutters and grumbles but does not run away. Under my hand, his muscles are fraught, I can feel how nervous and, afraid at the same time, he is. I can also feel some bulges here and there in his back. They draw a kind of…line? What is he? As if he had guessed my questionings, he answers: ‘I am not a human being. I was created what it seems now, a very long time ago.

I’m hideous in my complexion because my creator broke the rules of nature. He rejected me and I had to revenge. Now he is dead and I’m alone. I wanted to immolate myself on a pyre at the North Pole but was unable to do so. Why? I don’t know. Now I am here, I’ve been living in that cave for the last months but solitude kills me. I need a companion’. By saying so, he turns round and faces me. With his big grey hand, he takes off his hood. ‘Oh god what happened to you?!’ is my first reaction. Well, I have to admit, it is my second reaction. But it is my first loud and visual reaction. He is monstrous, I have to be honest. I almost fainted when I saw his face, I admit. But there is something that prevents me from running away and that thing, or better said, those things are: his eyes. They are extremely white, which, I have to admit it also, is scary. But if you pass the first impression, you can discern such a sadness that prevents you from hurting that being anymore. I take a deep breath, still looking at him.

The Golden Rope

Image:  © Kelly Rudland

Author: Gilles Bingahi

Once upon a time, in the 1800s, in a small village located in the depths of Italy, called Torviscas, there lived a farmer named Kit with his wife Rosemary. His life was very rough, he had to wake up every day at five in the morning and to work in his field with his cattle until ten at night. In the evening he was always exhausted, but his beloved wife gave him the strength to continue. He would do everything for her, she was his reason to live. All the village appreciated him because even if he had a hard life, he was always ready to help his neighborhood and his friends. Even the king Duclos of Torviscas loved him. Some years before Kit had saved his son’s life when he was attacked by a very dangerous wild bear. Every month Kit offered gifts to God, he didn’t sacrifice animals because it would be too easy, but he climbed up the highest mountain of Italy, and prayed there all day giving the gods some drops of his own blood in sign of gratitude for his life. 

Winters were cold and merciless, sometimes there wasn’t enough food to feed his family. That year the situation was particularly difficult, the drought dried his entire crops of wheat, the sun was so brutal that it burned his whole field, and finally the fire burned his remaining food supply that was located in a small hut in the vicinity of his field. The cattle contracted an improbable illness called foot-and-mouth disease, which killed all his lambs and made them contagious and uneatable. 

The starvation began, Kit suffered more to see his wife becoming weak than his proper shortage. He couldn’t tolerate seeing Rosemary in so miserable a condition. He implored the neighbouring farmers for food, but they had already sold all of it. He didn’t know what to do. He tried to hunt in the forest, but it was empty. So, he decided to try the only solution left, the most dangerous one. He infiltrated himself the king’s garden by night and decided to steal six deer from the royal family. He moved very carefully and silently in order not to be noticed by the guards. That task was very difficult because there were always a lot of soldiers monitoring the royal castle and its garden. When at last he found the deer, he noticed that a guard was watching over them. So, he took a little stone in his hand and threw it on the other side of the garden in order to create a diversion. This trick was successful; in fact, the guard immediately ran on the other side of the garden. He knew that he had very little time, so he agilely jumped over the gate, passed through a little river that separated the garden in two parts, and without a noise, he attached the deer with a solid rope. When he was ready to leave, the guard was coming back. He had just the time to hide himself in a bush without being noticed. And again, the only one solution left for Kit was not an easy one. He moved very slowly in the dark towards the standing guard, took a big stone from the river, and approached very carefully closer to him. Kit was dressed in black, so he was invisible in the darkness of the night, and when he stood behind the guard, he knocked him on the head. He knew exactly how strong he had to hit to keep him alive, because he used to do it with his cattle. The guard was just knocked out, and he would wake up after one or two hours. Finally, Kit rushed to the portal with the stolen deers and went home to feed his starving wife. 

Days followed one another, Kit lived in fear of being discovered by the king. He knew what the consequences would be if he were caught. But finally, he didn’t receive any warning from the king Duclos, and he started to be relieved. It was the first time of his life that he stole something from someone. He prayed day and night to be forgiven by the gods, but he didn’t feel untroubled as usual. 

The king Duclos wasn’t smart at all, his only preoccupation in life was to eat, he lived to eat, and he ate to live. He was a huge dripping descending mountain of fat. When he saw his meat disappear, he was so angry that he wanted revenge, he wanted his deer back immediately. Duklini, one of the most faithful and effective vassals of the king, was charged with finding the stolen animals, bringing them back in the royal garden, and bringing the thief to the king in order to be severely punished. Duklini was a bad person, he overtaxed his people to keep money for his own. He told them that a big part of what they payed would be given to the church, and that would ensure them the free access to paradise. Duklini had a personal philosophy, he believed in God in his own way, and was convinced that it is much safer to be feared rather than loved. Because fear allows full control on other people by a dread of punishment. 

He went on the suburbs and questioned everyone he saw about the robbery, but everybody answered to his questions in the same way: they knew nothing about it. In reality they all imagined that the thief was the farmer because of his recent bad luck with his cattle and field. Every one of them heard about Duklini, they knew what he would do to the farmer, so they kept their mouths shut. After ten same negative answers Duklini lost his patience, madness took place in his head instead of his already altered wisdom. He kidnapped a whole family composed of the parents and two children in his residence and tortured them one by one to have the answers he wanted. He hit them until they bled, but no useful information came out. Finally, he took one of the two children, and cut his throat in front of his parents. Then he took the second one, put a knife on his mouth and tore away a tooth. The little boy cried and was afraid to die. At that moment the parents decided to talk and to report the farmer. Having got the information he wanted, Duklini killed them all. That would prevent them from telling what they had to endure with him. He had to preserve his own image. 

The next morning, a hundred soldiers came to the house of the farmer and arrested him. They took him in front of his majesty. The king Duclos was the judge of the trial and said: 

Mister Kit, I knew you since you were a little boy, I attended to your birth. Your father was my best friend when we were young. You look exactly like him, a brave person that will ever be remembered. You’re the most appreciated person of this community, you saved my own son on the Monica’s forest, and for that I shall always have a debt to you. You also helped our people to survive from starvation when you had a good year. But you broke the law, you dared to penetrate into my garden, hit a guard and stole my dinner! I can’t allow it; the law is the same for everybody and cannot be changed. God, please forgive me. I sentence you to die, tomorrow at midnight you will be hung in front of the entire village in the very place where you were born. In your farm. A golden rope will be passed around your neck. It is a rare and honorable privilege. Until tomorrow, you will be held in the prison of the castle. 

Rosemary cried and begged the king to let him live. In exchange she was ready to die for him, but Duclos didn’t want to hear anything. He went for a dinner and then fell asleep. He was very upset because that evening he had to eat only vegetables without meat because of Kit. 

The night was long for Kit, the walls were stone. There was a smell of sadness and moisture in the air, rats were his only company during that night. A window allowed the passage of a faint light into the darkness that reigned in the prison cell. He felt lonely and had a terrible urge to be comforted by Rosemary’s arms. He missed so much the touches of his loving wife. He spent the whole night thinking about justice, or rather the injustice. Could it be that there was some sort of error? He had saved the life of the prince, had always been generous and good to everyone, prayed every single day of his life, and there he was, waiting the twelve strikes of the bell that would mark the end of his life on a gallows pole. He wanted that somebody would tell him that he was dreaming. He took a look through the bars at the last sights of a world that became very wrong for him. The priest came in the cold cell to read him the last rites. The words escaped him when he tried to speak, tears flowed, and he cried. He knelt down and asked the gods a last favor. He wanted Duclos to be forgiven for his unfair decision. He also implored them to make Rosemary happy for the rest of her life. Then he fell asleep. 

The day came and the citizens of Torviscas had to prepare the execution. They had to provide a big place to welcome all the people of the village to attend the last terrible moment of their friend Kit. It was cloudy and windy; the storm was ready to blow up. A sad atmosphere reigned there. It was 11:55 p.m. and everyone was there, everyone. The guards marched him out to the courtyard. Somebody from the audience cried him “May God be with you!”. Kit was up with the golden rope around his neck, he didn’t cry, stood up straight and looked proud. He wasn’t afraid to die. He was waiting for the last minutes of his life. He felt the wind on his face. Rain was devastating the kingdom, the lightning struck, it was as if God was watching the scene and disagreed with the decision of the fatty king. Suddenly, the bell began to chime, every knock was like a knife which would stab Kit in his heart. When the eleventh knock rang, a little child in the crowd cried loudly and headed toward Duklini, which was sitting next to the executioner. King Duclos stared at the boy and made a sign with his hand to interrupt the execution. Everyone was looking at the little kid in front of Duklini, who was pointing a finger against him. He was covered in blood and had a big scar on his throat. Everybody in the crowd recognized him now. He was one of the sons of the family which had disappeared mysteriously some days before. 

The boy looked in the eyes of the cruel Duklini, his look was full of hate and sadness. He was weak, severely wounded, and started to cry. He was so desperate that the king enveloped him in his warm arms and asked him what happened. The little boy told him all the story, the way in which the evil vassal chopped off the heads of his family while he was suffocating in his own blood in the ground like an earthworm in front of them. The wound in his throat hadn’t been deep enough. The boy survived, managed to reach the street where he had been assisted by a priest who was passing by at that moment. Duclos was out of breath, he realized the consequences of his bad decision. An innocent would have been murdered just in front of Duklini, the real guilty and evil killer. The king ordered his guards to let Kit free, and to let him go down on the ground. Then the soldiers substituted the a barbed wire for the golden rope. 

Duklini was immediately arrested and conducted to the scaffold. He screamed like a pig when the soldiers tied up his hands and feet. This time nobody screamed “God be with you”. The sands of time for Duklini were running low. The trap door opened under his feet. The barbed wire tightened around his neck, harder and harder. Blood began to flow from his throat. The last sight of Duklini was a red sky getting darker and darker, until the light of his miserable life turned definitively off, sending him to the afterlife. 

The king would no more sentence anyone to die without a very serious reason and engaged himself to learn to control his huge appetite, which could have caused the death of an innocent man. He also organized a big feast, and all the citizens of Torviscas were invited to celebrate his new decision. For that, he ordered his cooks to prepare his favorite dish, the roast in his special sauce Voronoff with a paella. Since then, Duclos was no more considered by his citizens as a descending mountain of fat, but as a good and fair king. Duclos adopted the poor child who could live at court with the royal family. Over the years, he followed the path of his new father; he was the future obese king. Kit and Rosemary had two children and lived happy until the end of their life. Duklini burned in hell eternally. 

This story is a tribute to the great song Geordie from Fabrizio De André.