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Prepare for some wild rides!

The globalist and the populist

‘You’re breaking society apart with your conformation to the big powers’ said the populist to the globalist.
‘It’s you who’s causing the problems.’ answered the globalist. ‘by turning your back to the emerging global organs of power, you not only weaken yourself, but also others. The market is growing beyond your control and we need to confront it as a single, global unity.’
‘You’re the one who’s opening the market up’ said the populist. ‘You’re giving it space thrive and by that, increase its catastrophic impacts on the environment and society. Do you call that confronting? You’re only making it worse!’
‘For one thing, we need international collaboration to protect the environment. The problems have grown to a global scale.’
‘But that collaboration fails! Have you seen how oil companies act, now that all international trade agreements have basically given them carte blanche to drill and frack wherever they can point their pin on the map? Just the local resistance groups have been effective against that at times. International trade lets it happen.
‘Local groups can stop things temporarily, but they cannot make a judgement call on what is important and what is not. After all, it’s the people who want the oil, it’s the people who buy it. Do not be hypocrite here, you’re the ones who beg for it. The markets cannot drive on solar energy yet, it simply isn’t effective enough. Besides, there are more dilemmas we have to face together. Together we can combat climate change, together we should stabilize the war zones and together we can feed the world’
‘The arrogance… Can you not see it? You’re flying far too high. To think that you can solve these problems with a global order while you’re truly just kissing the feet of the same people who are wielding the scepter and making it worse. It’s the power you’re after! Not saving the people or the animals and the plants. Once you have your position, there is no change’
‘You see, that’s where you’re wrong. I mean, yes, indeed, there has been little change in the sense of the reform we need. But neither has there been a truly global power to establish that reform. We’re divided by people such as yourself. We are trying to build something bigger, something better, yet you undermine out plans time and time again.’
‘Us? Isn’t it clear how much you are messing up? You’re destroying countries with Machiavellian power games’
‘Not true. We’re building an alliance that is capable of dealing with the problems of the future. Sure, there have been victims, but they are few if you look at what we are trying to attain. You, on the other hand, would be ready to see society crumble, leaving us all incapacitated. You’re fuelling a false sense of autonomy, a false feeling of power and democracy. You’re thriving on a rush of popularity, a sense of individuality and the adventure of short-term success. What you want reminds me of films such as Fight Club and V for Vendetta, or Mr. Robot. But those films always end when the power falls. What comes afterwards? They are false flags of freedom. Freedom is what you receive if you’re safe and nourished. That’s what the big authorities are for.’
‘Those films are popular because the global powers have become our main threat. You’re not the protector, but the aggressor. We’d be perfectly fine if it wasn’t for your threatening policies. Do you think it’s the people who created nuclear weaponry? Do you think it’s us who are bringing down the banks? Do you think we are causing the ecological crises? We are pawns in your game, and we no longer want that.’
‘Well, if we failed to have properly regulated the markets so far, then that’s one thing. But as I said, you are the market! No one would pump the oil from anywhere if you didn’t buy it. The banks would not have fallen if it wasn’t for the people’s desire to earn money on houses. Nuclear arms wouldn’t exist if there was no nationalism to fuel it. It’s the small people with their tiny ideologies, not globalization and cooperation’
‘Globalization is not cooperation’
‘It can be’
‘But it isn’t! It’s dominion of a small group of people over a large one.’
‘Well, it’s not possible to create a single global organization for 7 billion people at once, right? Globalization is young.’
‘There we have that arrogance again! No, of course it is not possible to create such an organization, and it’s not desirable either! What happened to diversity? You are making us into a mass of people who are all the same, all slaves, numbed by the satisfaction of their desires. Let the locals sort things out! Sure, we can work together when necessary, but our collaboration should be the result of negotiations, not on orders of some global power.’
‘And what if those orders would be based on justice and security? How are the small states going to negotiate with the big ones if they don’t have protection from above? Will they not be swallowed by their bigger neighbours?’
‘Again, it’s the markets that swallow us, the greed that society propagates, not our neighbouring countries.’
‘A globalized society gives the chance to protect the weak from that greed. We can protect regions from catastrophes, fight undernourishment of children, give healthcare to those who need it, but only if the thriving regions support that type of justice. On the long run this will not be possible purely with nation states. They would increase their battles for the resources, people would keep suffering worldwide. Survival of the fittest nation, every one for itself. Be honest, just reign by the people does not exist. They would come up for their own individual benefit. Look at how they go as customers.’
‘Indigenous peoples are a perfect example of how such a world would be possible. They have lived for eternity without damaging the environment. Indeed, it thrived with them in it.’
‘Their numbers were far lower, they died at young age. They suffered when nature was unkind to them. Modern times have made us independent from these issues. We can now intensify agriculture to a degree that we can truly nurture a growing population.’
‘While incapacitating them. You take away their land, make them work with machines they can’t afford, using complex organizational knowledge they don’t have. You’re keeping things centralized and by that ignore all those who live outside of your reach. Those who do not adhere to your demands.’
‘Yes, but is that wrong? The centralized approach is by far the most effective way of producing anything. People living in cities use less energy, footprints are far lower if agriculture is concentrated and far less land is needed that way.’
‘But it doesn’t have to be that way if rural people are self-sufficient. If they get organized locally. We can go a long way with permaculture.’
‘They’d still want computers and internet. They’d still need schools and hospitals. They’d still want the newest Iphone and the best cosmetics. They simply have become dependent by their own choice. They’ve traded autonomy for luxury, and they do not want to trade it back. Your ideals sound great, but they require sacrifices people don’t want to make’.
‘No, they’re not. They’re based on genuine disagreement with the globalist road towards more inequality. Rejecting that doesn’t necessarily mean rejecting all trade, or merchandise from neighbouring countries. It does mean stepping back from certain all luxury. Some, maybe, but there are plenty of people who do that. Just look at the movement of vegetarians and vegans.’
‘And yet a lot more people don’t step back. To cover that, a more solid and efficient trade structure over the globe could highly decrease their impacts.’
‘The rich will get richer and the powerful more powerful’
‘We create benefit for everyone. It is in your own interest to join such trade. It supports the wealth of everyone.’
‘On the short term, maybe, but not on the long one’
‘We’ll generate more money!’
‘And take a bigger proportion of it, while it loses value.’
‘And yet your comfort has been rising. Remember how it used to be? People lived in the mud. No hot water, no electricity, no hospitals. People would kill each other! If you wanted protection, you’d have to give a proportion of your food away. No-one checked on the lords. International cooperation has improved all of that. Living standards are higher than ever, and governments check on each other. There’s peace now.’
‘That’s true, but it doesn’t mean we should keep going this way. Further protection does not add to our freedom; it undermines it. Just look at the national security agencies who are taking more and more of our privacy away. The global which-hunt on whistleblowers. The feudal powers have just moved up some levels and are gathering momentum to control us in a whole new way. ‘
‘Using justice for everyone, what is wrong with that? Isn’t it more sensible to create a global democracy, instead of many little local ones? The way it is now, the people in the powerful countries vote about the destiny of the people in the weaker countries. Powerful leaders look after the benefits of their own countries, not those of the global people as a whole. Wouldn’t it make far more sense to elect a single global leader?’
‘No. Power corrupts, and you know it. The more you centralize it, the bigger the risk that it goes in the wrong direction.’
‘Not under proper regulation that avoids abuse.  On the contrary, in that case. Then the different groups balance out each others power. That’s how we can create a stable, just global society.’
‘No it’s not’ said the populist
‘Yes it is’ said the globalist
‘No it’s not’ said the populist
‘Yes it is’ said the globalist
‘No it’s not’

The Redeemer

When the earth no longer knew what to do with mankind, she decided to release them into space. She didn’t feel particularly proud of her move, but said to herself that it was better this way.

 

John the Baker, floating in outer space, looked at the earth from a distance. Millions of others were serenely drifting into the darkness with him. They looked like many coloured needle points from here. He tried to recognize friends or family.

‘Hey!’ Yelled a man in colourful robes at John from a distance. ‘Hey you there, mister Bakerman. John, was it? I remember you had excellent cookies!’
John the Baker gave him a single piercing look, then looked the other way.
‘We should stick together, you know.’ Said the colourfully clad man, who was managing somehow to move himself in John’s direction, his clothes hovering behind him. ‘The situation is bad enough as it is…’ he kept silent for a while. ‘do you know why she did it?’

John the Baker still tried his best not to give the man any attention. He looked back at the others. They were helplessly gaining more and more distance from what was once their home. It now seemed like an enormous blue orb, hanging in a vast, uncanny infinity of absolutely nothing. Like everyone else. In the distance, he recognized one of his old class mates, with equally little control over her movement as himself. Then he looked back at the big, blue earth. The sight did not comfort him.

‘How do you do that?’ John asked the man in colour.
‘Do what?’
‘Steer your way’
‘Steer my way?’
‘Yes, how do you manage to float in my direction?’
‘How do I manage?’
‘For gods sake, explain me how you do it, hippyman! You’re deciding on your direction’
‘Do you think I want to drift away from the earth?’
‘Look, right now, all I think is that I don’t know what to think, and that I want to get away from you. Do you think you can help me with that?’
‘The earth has expelled me as much as you. I’m not in control at all’
‘But you manage to adjust your direction!’
‘It may seem that way, Bakerman, but I’m really just floating along’
‘Hey, you know what?’ said John, who had a bright idea. ‘We could push ourselves off each other, and then both go in a new direction.’
‘Well I suppose we could’ answered the other ‘but you haven’t answered my question yet.’
‘Which question?’
‘Why do you think she did it’
‘Who did what?’
‘The earth, Bakerman. Why did she release us into space?’
‘What kind of question is that? There’s some kind of physical explanation for this…’
‘Look around you, John,’ answered the man. do you see any cows around? Pigs? Any fish? Birds? They’re not here. Nor are there plants or stones or any material except for the umbrella’s and the suitcases people were carrying.’ He grabbed an apple out of space and took a bite of it.
‘It’s just humans. And there’s a lot of them. I’m guessing all… We were released. Purposefully.’
‘Well maybe it didn’t like us anymore, then’ answered John.
‘That’s what I think! We were too disrespectful with her, and now she let us go. John was now close enough to grab the colourful man’s robe, and pulled him in.
‘Look, Hippyman, I have absolutely no intention to be stuck here in space with your happy face or your wild theories after losing everything I had. I honestly don’t care why this is happening, but it needs to stop. I am going back’. With that, he decidedly kicked the man off into the darkness, giving himself momentum back to earth.

 

Earth was, indeed, relieved by the sight of all humans floating in open space. For one thing, she deserved some free time from their constant, demanding presence. If she’d ever miss them, she could always decide to evolve some new ones out of the few remaining monkeys. She’d make them smaller next time. Maybe evolve them from the squirrel monkey. That way, they’d probably not consider hunting down lions or elephants, and they would need smaller houses, so they’d leave more for the others. They’d survive for a week on a chicken’s egg. Yes. That would work. She wondered why she didn’t think of that before.

She would miss them. Humans had by far been the most entertaining species around since the giant dragonfly. Their constant running around in anxiety, their little airplanes flying back and forth, their crazy little inventions, the way they tried to control each other with them, their self-proclaimed independence had all kept her warm inside for many centuries. For a long time, she expected all that to be harmless. It had recently got completely out of hand. The digging started to hurt, and their constant burning of everything became a menace to the others. Tigers had already been complaining about them for years, but when even the birds and the ants came home angry, she was forced to draw her conclusions. Humans had to go.

And it seemed to her that they were far better off in space. Flying was after all what they wanted, right? They could do it all the time now, and they did not need to worry about digging up anything first. They could constantly chill in the sun, had no more weight to carry or bills to pay, had no more responsibilities to carry or wars to fight. All of that was gone for them now. No, she didn’t doubt that out there, these people would find the redemption they deserved.

 

When, after a long flight back to the ground, John finally hit the earth again, he bounced back from it as if nothing had happened. There simply was no more attraction. He grabbed a far reaching branch. It ripped.

John had by now had some time to ponder what the hippyman had asked him. He didn’t understand what he’d done to deserve this. A lifetime of bread baking. Day in day out. Did he feed Nazis without knowing? Did he accept the money of manipulative traders? Unethical judges? But drifting away from the earth for a second time, he could not see any humans left behind. He understood he shouldn’t take the action personally. And yet he felt betrayed.

The floating itself was quite a thrilling experience. John never expected to be able to see the earth slowly gain distance below him this way. The sky was clear, and the tickling sensation of air passing by his ear was in fact quite pleasant. Moving his limbs didn’t cost him any effort. And okay, he was unable to steer himself in any direction, but where did he really have to go? Seeing the horizon slowly get rounder and rounder had something magical about it. Perhaps it was okay this way.

‘Watch out!’
He saw a woman in a dark green woman’s suit comet down from above. It seemed that their courses would cross somewhere ahead.
‘What can I do?’ Yelled John.
‘I don’t know!’
‘I’ll grab you!’ Yelled John.
‘No!’ she screamed back in slight panic.
Some seconds later, the woman’s leg crushed into Johns diaphragm. He choked. Throwing his arms around the leg, he got a hold of it and gulped. Her leg moved as if she wanted to get rid of him. Slowly revolving, they drifted in a new, common direction.
‘Let me go!’ she screamed. ‘I’m going back to earth!’
‘I just was there’ John answered. ‘you bounce against the surface and float back into the sky’
‘I’ll grab a tree’
‘Tried that, the branch broke’. He held the branch in front of her face, holding her leg only with one arm now.
‘Mine won’t’
‘It’s a thick branch, see?’ John said, and tried to catch a bypassing piece of chocolate with it.
‘Let me go!’ The woman yelled.
‘There is no-one down there.’
‘How would you know? You bounced back’ she said. Then she pushed and kicked herself loose, projecting John further into space.

In the black distance above him floated a group of people holding on together. They were shaped like a big ball. He heard some babbling from their direction. John couldn’t make out if they were partying or fighting. The ball moved awkwardly, a discharged, clumsy blob. Perhaps he could find a way to join them. He hit his branch against a briefcase to his left. It redirected him.

 

When the earth saw more people return, she created thermal columns to push them back. Her position was clear. No more humans, not even those who seemed okay. They’d multiply and turn into disaster. Blowing the returnees away perfectly supported that stance. Good. It was time to hang back, relax and enjoy the rest.

 

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Barking weather gods don’t bite

As far as the eye could see, crowds of people coloured the squares and the streets of Agratan. Emerging banners revealed the ruling discomfort about the way the weather had been. Antonio was present too. This would not stand.

The sky was as bright blue as it had been for at least six months. People got blisters at first. Nasty skin burns, caused by the unexpected appearance of continuous bright sun. They’d rapidly learn to anticipate these troubles by wearing light, long limbed clothing, the stores of which had popped up all over town. All salesmen of these wearables had similarly shaped, straight, cornered jaws. They all spoke the language fluently and without a detectable accent. Their fantastic merchandise had become the new hype, particularly in the classy neighbourhoods.

The municipality soon had to introduce water use quota. The plants started to hang. Visitors with below average nose sizes suddenly sold little solar pumps with spaghetti thick pipelines that could be unrolled till the river. Streets in the centre were rapidly covered with thin grey tubes. Walking meant trouble, let alone driving the scooter through town. Because of the zooming noises of the little pumps it was hard to have a normal conversation at some spots.

The real trouble had only started two months ago, when the river was evaporated. The noisy tubes over heated and broke down. People with remarkably circular ears tried to sell rain powder. It was supposed to invoke rain clouds when boiled dry, but the process smelled and it did not cause a single drop to fall. Some had wasted their final drinking water with it. The round-eared lads were soon chased out of the village with thin grey whips. Gardens as well as arable fields looked yellowish brown. The city’s food supply was in jeopardy.

‘No respect whatsoever’ said Barth. ‘First they tell you barking weather gods don’t bite, then you stop the rain, then they run out to the streets thinking that if they hold up some slogans and scream, you will suddenly change it back to normal. What do they think we are? Their bosses? Why would we even give them a fleecy cloud? Why?’
‘Remember when years ago you would always love it when they appreciated our work? Their imaginary independence has spoiled them, I agree, but that’s no reason to wish them gone. Think of all the…’
‘We don’t need them! They need us! They survive only for as long as we keep dosing their rain drops and temperature. What if we’d forgot about them for a blink of an eye? They’d all be dead! Weak little bastards. We deserve a break.’
‘Wouldn’t it be a pity? After all these years we invested into their civilization? We’d get bored within a year, and then what? Grow it all again?’
‘Have you read those signs they hold up? “Barth go storm yourself”. Storm myself? “The weather isn’t just yours”. Then whose is it? “Weather gods or better gods?” They think they can live without us? Where is the respect?’
Rothumin opened the air and entered the hall.
‘Have you seen it? They’ve got nerves…First they tell you you don’t exist, then you drop a tiny spark upon them, then they become all spiny and demanding. Then you dry them out a little, and look at them now.’
‘I know, right?’ quarrelled Barth. ‘Shall we flood them?’

People raised their fists into the sky.
‘Barth, shmarth!’ yelled one.
‘No rain, no fame!’ screamed another. There was a flash of light, barely visible under the burning sun. Nobody noticed the man’s collapse. People pushed each other around, then back over the square. The streets kept filling up. Antonio felt this would not work.
‘We should go’ Antonio grabbed Aylita’s hand and moved into the direction of their apartment at Kubili street.
‘Why the rush?’
‘It’s getting dangerous here.’ Getting out of the agitated crowd proved to be a quest. The crowd pulled them towards Liboni street, which would be a big detour through some alleys, likely overflowing with people. Antonio grabbed her arm and forced them the other way. Behind every heavy body appeared another, looking into the sky with wide open eyes and sweat on the forehead. They met anxious kids in the crowd. Antonio held his focus steady on the corner of the Dellastreet. They bonked against shoulders, hips, elbows, fat soft bouncy bellies and the occasional head. Most didn’t notice their bypassing, none moved away. The direction of the movements turned. Somewhere ahead people were pushed up to a wall and started a wave in backward direction. Antonio managed to slip in between some protestors and the couple made a stride forward. As waves of crowd kept trying to engulf them they held on tighter and tighter. Step by step, they managed to get into less thronged streets. After some more quick manoeuvres they reached Kubili street, which was less packed. More people were trying to reach the squares.

Antonio took a bottle of water, gave Aylita a long kiss, and hurried up to Mt. Keytara. The yellow vegetation around him was gave a threatening outlook. Branches broke wherever he placed his foot. Should his people move to a different place?As he rose, the eddying in the movements on the ground shrank. He perceived them as a nest of ants without their queen, desperately oblivious, on the verge of eating each other in the face of scarcity.

It took a few hours before Antonio reached the top, where he met a small group of protestors. He recognized some from the Popular Party of Agrathan.
‘Do you have any water?’ asked a tall one with a beard. He gave him his bottle. ‘What are you coming to do up here?’
‘I’m here to deliver a message to the weather gods’
‘We all are!’ screamed one.
‘Go away!’ yelled another.
‘We will solve this!’, said a third. The group slowly moved forward. Antonio did a step back. Another one. They moved faster. He made a swift turn with his hips and while he did, a whirlwind appeared around him. It pulled him into the air. The quibblers too became smaller as he lifted into the air.

Antonio landed on a cumulus. There was Barth. The average sized human that he was, was not sure if that relieved him.
‘Hello, Antonio’ said Barth. He had the appearance of an enormous snowman, but without carrot and with a longer neck. His eyes sparked with flashes of lightning. ‘My name is Barth’.
‘That’s an impressive name’ answered Antonio, intimidated mostly by the fact that he was sitting on a cloud. He looked at its surface.
‘Well thanks’ answered Barth ‘I’d have preferred Maximilian, but it’s alright… Better than Bart or Bert anyway.’
‘Yes’, said Antonio.
‘Or Antonio…’ said Barth with a grin on his face. Antonio did not respond.
‘Would you like a drink?’ proposed Barth airily. ‘I recommend the cloudshake or the golden raindrops.’
‘A cloudshake would be fine’ answered Antonio, hiding his uncanny feeling.
‘Good choice! I like you! Could you bring us two cloudshakes, Agarabas?’ He yelled. ‘Agarabas makes excellent cloudshakes. Do you like the view?’ Barth kept the chit-chat going until Antonio took the first sip of his drink which, admitted, was the best cocktail he ever tasted.

‘Antonio,’ said the big cloudy man, ‘we have to get to business. The reason why I lifted you and not the others was because I thought it nice that your T-shirt was inside out.’ Antonio looked as his shirt. ‘You seem to be less of a control idiot than the self-proclaimed gentlemen down below.’
‘Thanks’ answered Antonio, perceiving a dubious quality in this compliment.
‘Now, Antonio, could you tell me, on behalf of your people, what exactly is the problem that you seem to have with us?’
Antonio felt bad about telling this nice guy with his excellent drink about his people’s desire to see him drop out of the sky. He tried to postpone answering. A spark of lightning ignited in his host’s face.
‘Well…’ said Antonio, trying to sound confident ‘they are not very happy with the recent lack of rain’.
‘If they weren’t very happy…’ answered Barth ‘they surely would not be on the streets as massively as they are, would they? Please, dear friend, speak the truth. We wouldn’t like it to rain Antonio upon Agratan.’
‘They hate you out of the crevices in their bones. Your sudden ending of the rain has caused them all kinds of trouble. They think it’s cowardly and egoistic. They want you to bring the water back.’
‘Why?’
‘They’d die otherwise’
‘Indeed, they would die!’ Thundered Barth while he turned dark grey. ‘They would die! And do you know why they would die?’
‘Because you’ve stopped the rain?’ shortly after his answer, Antonio sank into the cloud, hang there for a while, then bubbled up again.
‘Try again’
‘Because they insulted you?’
Antonio sank through the cloud and fell into the air. A sudden upward wind pushed him back, until he sat on the cloud again.
‘No, it’s not because they’ve insulted me’. Another big snowman figure came in. She walked behind Barth, and threw her arms around his neck.
‘Are you threatening this little earthling, dear?’
‘I’m not threatening him, we’re having a drink’
‘Then why did I see him fly below the clouds?’
‘I am teaching him something’
‘What’s your name, little fellah?
‘Antonio…’
‘Well, Antonio, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Perla. I make rainbows. The answer Barth looks for is that the humans would die because they have life, and it was us who gave that life to you.’
Barth shot an angry face at his wife. Antonio was silent for a while. Then he opened his mouth slowly and said ‘thanks…’
Barth looked at him with big eyes. They looked deep black now. He kept staring for some time, then burst into tears.
‘You’re welcome’, said Perla, and she left the room.

Below, big warm raindrops splattered on the masses cheeks.

Slit

I drive my bicycle by the Huizingalaan for my job. There’s an anxious feeling, but I can’t put my finger on it. The traffic light is red. Shall I cross the street anyway? I’m almost at my third destination of this morning, meaning I’m halfway the duty: taking pictures of the litter on the street. The rubbish in the grass doesn’t matter, that’s not in the assignment. I decide there’s no rush, so I just stop for the red light. The weekend pops into my mind. We had a nicely easy pace, far slower than the footsteps I hear behind me. They’re close, actually. I want to turn my head, when I feel a firm, warm hand on my right ear. It is attached to a left arm that is now in front of my face. It my face in a turn to the left. A sharp cold blade enters my neck on the left side of my Adam’s apple and painfully slits through. I am surprisingly aware of it cutting my aorta. My body pressure drops. I’m calmer than ever when I bend my right shoulder forward towards my steer. Whoever is behind me still holds my face back and I’m looking at the sky. I feel my legs give way and my body comes down like a scaffolding with a missing lower pole. My heart pumps out quantities of blood and I cannot stop it. My extremities start tingling. The feeling steadily creeps in. I lose perception in my skin.

He doesn’t look into my eyes, but instead goes straight for the inner pocket of my coat. I hear myself attempt to ask what the black hat expects to find there. His survival? Another pulse of life leaves my arms and legs. It’s sad. The dark black coat and the hat run off with my wallet, leaving what is left of me buried under the bike I had with me. “Now nobody will know who I am”. The thoughts sound distant but meaningful. Light flashes appear. They come with a pulsating headache. Part of my view is replaced by colour patterns. Someone I once briefly dated enters my vision. Never thought she would.

“What did you do wrong?” I hear.
“Should I have ignored the red light and crossed the street?”
There’s no answer. I feel the question press stronger upon me.
“Should I have looked behind me when I felt something was wrong? When I heard his footsteps? Should I have seen him when he wanted to attack?”
Still no answer.
“Should I have taken a shorter coffee break, so that the evil would never have met me? Perhaps I should have called in sick this morning, when I felt that little headache rise? Or should I have forgotten my camera at home and caused a delay, or overslept a little, or made some more love or…”
“What did you do wrong?”
The similarity in tone and volume with the earlier question is frightening.

“Was it my dedication? Should I have been a more effective worker? More persuasive? Should I have been more pro-active in times where I was needed? Should I have tried harder to convince others about this team building idea? Should I have put more effort in the workspace? Cleaned more? Worn more suitable clothes? Perhaps I should have reviewed my products better? And the others’? Paid more attention to their personal problems instead of my own?
It remains silent for a while.

“Should I have been more loving to my girlfriend, maybe? Thought less about sex, perhaps? More about tenderness and care? Cuddled more? Should I have avoided those other girls I felt a stronger affection to at times? Spent less time drinking with friends? Should I have mastered my feelings better, so that she would’ve had a stronger shoulder to rest on? Tried harder to listen to her when she had a hard time? Perhaps I should have practiced Yoga? Should I have asked her to marry me? Have babies? Would that have saved me from this horrible death? Should I have reached out to her more while I still had the chance? Did I date the wrong girl?

“What did you do wrong?” Again, the exact same words in the exact same, serene but powerful voice.
“Should I have saved more energy? Bought more organic food? Perhaps I shouldn’t have bought a car? Lived a more sober life, cared more about strangers? Should I have visited my grandma more often? Learn from her words and give her some news on how the younger people live? Should I have fought her lonely existence and restored the generation gap? Should I have called more with my parents? Asked them for their points of view? Listened to their warnings? Should I not have moved so far away? Chosen my dad’s profession, tried to understand him? Should I have granted them a grandchild while I had the chance? Could I have been less hard on my brothers? Fought them less, given them more space to be who they were? Should I ha…

“What did you do wrong?” am I in a loop? Will this go on an on?
“Should I have dedicated my life to the spiritual? Moved to a monastery? Helped out in the third world, perhaps? Should I have actively practiced a state of constant joyful trance? Strived for enlightenment? Compassion? Should I have passionately sought the wiser ones to support me in a path of service to the divine? Travelled through dimensions? Been more in touch with myself? Should I have established a disciplined bio rhythm? Meditated more? Should I have been an example to those who needed one? Or perhaps I should have been more humble? Taken my convictions less seriously? Or simply have been more open to others? Where the Christians right? Should I have just understood that Jesus was our one and only saviour? Should I have separated milk from meat? Prayed towards the middle east? Or maybe I ignored you when I met you, disguised up as a homeless person? Or were you dressed up as a business man? A beautiful woman in a long black dress, perhaps?

“What did you do wrong?” I’m running out of thoughts. What if I don’t find the answer? I don’t know what to say.
“Should I have slept more?”
“That’s enough, man!” says the voice. “I was just messing with you! You should have crossed the red light while you still could. Your first guess was right. But it’s too late for that now” a jolly laughter. “Anyway, dude, welcome to the afterlife.”

Drop

Robin was about to jump out of his nest, when his mother stepped on his tail.
“Did you smooth your feathers, Robin?”
“Yes, mom.”
“And will you promise to look after your sisters?”
“Moommm…” he moaned, while giving her a sad look.
“Robin and Robin hatched half a day later than you, so you have to act as the most responsible one.”
“But just I want to be with my friends!”
“Take them with you, I need to tidy up the nest and I have to gather worms for tonight, so they can’t stay here with me.”
Robin expressed a few more noises of disagreement, but was forced to accept his fate. What he really wanted was to be alone with his young palls, the brothers Robin and Robin. They would go fly audacious circles around the head of Mr. Vulpes, the fox. Robin, the younger of the two brothers almost got eaten yesterday when he flapped with his wrong wing at the wrong moment. He flew right between the jaws of the business-like killer, who was just too late with his snap. That was far more sensational than those boring games of search the caterpillar that his sisters always wanted to play. Still, he was glad he had the chance to stretch his wings after a long, cold night.

The trio flew towards the river, where Robin and Robin had their nest. Robin was slightly jealous of them. Their view over the river banks was far more interesting than the view out of his place. All day long the Robins could watch the motion of the water, or they could see the Otter family gather pieces of wood and place them carefully on their new dam. Sometimes they saw impressive ducks who crossed the river with their young ones, quacking about whatever is was they quacked about. Visitors thought that very entertaining.

When the young birds landed on the Robins’ nest, they each received a worm in their beak.
“They’re freshly caught” said Robin, the nest mother.
This worm had a fresher taste than the ones their mother fed them. Robin swallowed it at once.
“Let’s go” he said, visibly annoyed by the fact that he always had to wait for his sisters. They weren’t even halfway yet.
“Be patient, Robin,” said their mother “the girls are still eating. Didn’t your mom tell you to watch over them?”
“She did!” said Robin, her beak still full with squeezed worm making its final attempt to escape.
“Why did you bring your sisters?” whispered Robin.
“I had to, otherwise I couldn’t come.” answered Robin while he watched a toad take a plunge in the distance.
“Now we can’t play with Mr. Vulpes…”
“No. Maybe we can go for a swim…”
“Yes, that’s fun too.”
The boys waited a few more instants for the girls and got ready to take off.
“And don’t swim in the river, kids, the water is too high today.”
“Aww, mom, please…?” said her two sons at once.
“No, boys, it’s too dangerous. Why don’t you try to fetch some berries from the bushes?” Robin and Robin smiled at the thought of it.
“That’s boring…” said Robin.
“No it’s not, it’s very educative and you’ll practice several flight skills. Besides, you’re safer in the bushes. Now go. The Robins smoothed their feathers and went.

“Where shall we go?” asked Robin to one of the brothers while they left Robin and Robin at a distance. “I think we have to go look for a bush…” answered Robin sadly. “But I’d like to fly a little first” he added with a cheer “we’ve been sitting there all morning.” Down, they saw the Bunnies hop cautiously along a newly emerged pool, where they drank a sip.
“Wait”, yelled Robin, and he landed on a branch. “Let’s fly back and scare them with our shadows!”
“Then we should climb a little more so that we look bigger.” postulated Robin, who really liked the idea. They flapped up towards the sun. “The first one to make them run is the winner!” cried Robin as he steeply battled his way up against a southern zephyr. Below him, Robin made a swift turn to the left and projected a tiny shadow right besides the face of one of the rabbits. They stopped moving.

“Can we go on please?” asked one of Robins sisters from a lower branch. “I need to go to the bathroom.”
Robin could not answer because Robin was catching up with him, and he could not let that happen. He flapped him in the face and pushed him down, but dramatically changed his own direction in the process. He spiralled down sharply then found a thermal column and climbed a few branches higher, where he met Robin’s brother.

Robin and Robin felt abandoned.
“I really need to go” said Robin, who was using most of her lower muscles to keep her excrements in.
“Why didn’t you go when we were at the Robins’?” asked her sister desperately.
“I don’t know. I was okay there…”

Higher up, Robin and the Robin brothers learned to their disappointment that their shadows were too weak to truly scare the rabbits on the forest floor.
“Maybe we should try to synchronize our flights so that we seem a bigger bird?” suggested Robin. His brother always respected him for his clever ideas.
“Sounds good” he answered, and he landed on a branch, followed by the other boys.
“Don’t sit so close to me!” snapped Robin to his brother, and he flew to the other side of the branch.
“No clue what that’s about…” whispered Robin to Robin. “Maybe his egg was too small”. Robin cheeped a jolly laughter.
“What?” asked Robin, irritated.
“Forget it.” Answered Robin.
“Okay, let’s make a plan. We should time it well, all fly at the same time, exactly over the Bunny family and our shadow should be as big as it can. One should fly higher, one in the middle and the final one low. The lower one should always look for the higher one, so the top one leads, but we should stay close. Who wants to go where?”
They agreed that Robin would take the higher course, Robin the middle one and Robin the lower. They would fly along the crossing of the Beech branches, where they expected a perfect cast of shadow upon the Bunnies’ faces, causing the anticipated shock.
“Okay, everybody know their course? Let’s fly at zero.”
“Three , two, one…”

A white spot appeared on the face of one of the Bunnies. The family hurried into a bush.
“Did you see that?” asked Robin, who forgot to give the starting signal.
“Yes”
“Wow…” said Robin. “Was that one of your sisters?”
“I think it was Robin” Robin answered.
“WOO-HOOO! That was AMAZING!”
Robin jumped of the branch and dove down to the girls, cheeping and screaming with enthusiasm. His brother and Robin followed his lead.
“That was soooo cool!” he exclaimed, in a final swoop towards the branch. “Who did that?” He hurt his claw when he landed, but ignored it.
Robins face was red.
“It was an accident…” explained her sister.
“It was brilliant!” answered Robin. “Right in its face! We couldn’t have aimed better!” The other two now also landed on the branch and backed up his enthusiasm. The girls found it hard to reason with them, but enjoyed the sudden wave of attention.
“You just invented a perfect game, girls!” exclaimed their brother. “Who else has to go? Let’s look for Mr. Vulpes.”
“Yes! Let’s find him where he was yesterday!”
The boys agreed and flew off, the girls followed. Robin slowed down to wait for Robin, with whom he now had more to discuss. Her brother was not sure if he enjoyed suddenly sharing his palls with his sisters, but when he remembered the look on the rabbit’s face he smiled internally.

Mr Vulpes was not there. The five landed on a branch.
“I didn’t know you were such an exiting girl, Robin” said Robin, who was still full of enthusiasm. “You’re baaaad… I’ll call you badass Robin.” She began to cry. “Stop teasing her!” Said her sister. “I wasn’t teasing, I mean it!”
“Please don’t tell my mom…” said Robin.
“I’d never tell her.” answered Robin. Nor would the others, right?”
“No. Promise” said Robin. “Brothers are here to protect their sisters.” added Robin. That calmed her down.
“Let’s go look for berries” said their sister. “Then you’ll all be able to poop more.” Now that she was in on the secret, she might as well use it against them.
“She’s right”. Said Robin, thinking he could use a bite after all that flapping. They flew towards a bush and disappeared from sight.

“How was your day?” asked Robin when the youngsters landed on the nest later that day.
“It was okay…” said the boys.
“It wasn’t too bad” said the girls.
But downstream, the snake, the badger, the fox, a rabbit and a colony of ants were of a different opinion.

Turn

“Look at me”
“You don’t really want that”
“Yes I do”
“No you don’t”
She allowed some silence to seep in between them. It filled the void she felt with a little bit of trust.
“Why are you here?” she asked, and she detected a hint of his curiosity in a twitch in his left leg.
“Isn’t it obvious?”
Again, she kept her mouth closed for a few seconds. If he would speak now, she practically had him in her pocket. If not, she’d have to do some more work.
“I mean… It seems clear what you are planning to do… the question…”
“Say it” He interrupted her.
“Say what?”
“Speak out what I’m planning to do.”
“Would it make you feel better if I did?”
“Of course not.”
This guy was tough. She was not sure what to do, but she could not wait for too long.
“Why are you planning to jump?”
“Exactly! I’m planning to jump. Was that so hard?”
“Not it wasn’t. Why was it so important to you that I said it?”
“I was going to be an actor.” He said. Okay. He began to share his frustrations and by that, would start feeling the relief necessary to persuade him to turn.
“Studied for it, then had my first contract. I was brilliant! I let my voice roll over the audience as a king does with his people. I was a king! I had a car, a nice apartment in town, a very cute cat. I had friends. I even had servants. Everything was sorted out.”
She was quite sure where this was going. Her colleagues were sometimes astonished by her instinct. To her, it was simple deduction. This man was in the force of his life, a great communicator, built attractively and even quite charming in this vulnerability. He had a cat to care for. Clear case of a heartbreak.
“Then I met her.” He said.
“Her…?” acting surprised was always the best way to seem interested.
“Jara.” From the position of the back of his head she judged he must be looking beyond the city lights, towards the pitch black horizon. “Then I met Jara…”. This time it was him who created space through his silence.
“Tell me about her.” She did a small, inaudible step forward.
“Jara’s parents had a small hut in the jungle of Papua New Guinea. But she had adventure in her blood. And she was smart, so she left to study.”
This man clearly was a story-teller. She considered sitting down to listen to him, but knew that would make it impossible to make an emergency move if her estimation turned out wrong.
“Anthropology”
“In Papua New Guinea?”
“At first, yes, but then she came all the way here to study us.”
“Really?” she said it just a bit louder than she’d planned to. She coughed.
“Does that surprise you?” He asked, still without showing his face.
“Well… yes” she uttered. The timing of his question made her suspect that he probably never wanted to jump off the roof of this skyscraper. If that was true, there was going to be a confession of some sort. An issue he needed a second opinion on, possibly related to guilt, but more likely to his loneliness itself. She needed to be patient.
“Me as well.” Said the man. “That’s what attracted me in her. She always knew how to surprise you with her exceptional curiosity for so many things. One day, she came home with a fox skull she found in the forest. The way she studied it was just fascinating. I can still see her holding it, with her fragile wrists… So smart…”
Why the wrists? She wondered.
“Do you see that bar down there?” He pointed down steeply along the west side of the building. She had to take a few steps forward to follow the direction, but she could not discern a bar.
“It has a very warm ambience. Candles, pillows, jazz on the background. They serve great wines.” He paused again. She was now looking for a reddish light among the brighter ones. “It’s called Sheila’s. Jara loved that place. She would write her thesis there. One day I walked by, and it was as if the bar called out to me… Invited me in. So I went. I still see her sitting there, with her brown laptop. I went to the bar and ordered a ginger beer. Great drink. She came to the bar to pay and I looked at her and she looked at me and that was it. Our spirits merged. From that moment on, we were together.”
She started to doubt again. Perhaps there was more going on than a girl leaving a boy. Or perhaps he thought of her as the one but Jara didn’t, and did he need convincing that there’s no such thing.
“She specialized in western suicide.”
Okay rewind. This man knew more about her job than the usual suicidal. Why did he mention it? She had to be careful.
“Do you know that most people kill themselves because they don’t feel loved? It depresses them, so they take their own life away. Jara didn’t get that at all.”
Perhaps he’d cheated on her?
“She studied, I acted. At night we’d hang out together, alone or with friends, and drink a bit, often in Sheila’s. Or we’d watch TV, or dance and make love in the living room. Life was good and simple. The only thing in between us was that she missed her parents at home.”
She sat down on the floor. It was cold. She felt like standing up again, but didn’t want to draw too much attention to herself. She’d have to go with her choice for now. Expression of the comfortable atmosphere.
“Then one day I found her at home in a state of panic. She said something was wrong back home. She had to go there. We booked a ticket. She would fly in three days. I called in sick for work and cancelled all appointments. They were the most intense days of my life. We made love and declared our love for each other, and spent time in the parks around and cooked some of our favourite dishes. Then she’d tell me about her tribe and her family, as if they were there with us. I could see how much she loved her grandma, and how much she’d learned from her. And from her dad, who had motivated her to learn the letters of the alphabet and to get out of her little jungle world. I saw how much she missed her people, but in the mean time felt more connected to her than ever. I could feel her pain, and at the same time her joy over our coming together. These three days were probably the most complete experience of the whole emotional spectrum I ever had. But then I had to put her on the plane. She explained on the way that we could not stay in touch because of the lack of internet or phones in the village, but that she would try to contact me instead. I drove back home on my own, thinking only about our last kiss. I could feel it in my mouth. Moving delicately. It slowly dissolved over the hours, then it was gone. I sat on my couch for the rest of the day, caressing the cat. The next day I couldn’t act, only cry. I went home. That lasted for a week at least. The director started to worry about me and told me to pull myself together. Then I did. I could suddenly work again. Strange how you can just ignore your feelings like that, right? As if I’d run out of sadness. But I knew that wasn’t the case.”
He turned his face. Looking into his eyes shook her heart. There was suffering there. She saw him look from inside his pain. It infected her. Nested inside her. He looked away, and stared over the lit towers again. The pain was out of her reach, but she longed for it. She was suddenly convinced that this man knew exactly what he was doing, but kept her in the dark. Even so, all she wanted him to do was to keep talking. “Yes…” she answered softly.
“It took a few months before I started worrying.” He continued. “I was so occupied with my work again, that I decided to trust her in her choices, and also that I would hear from her as soon as she’d be able to contact me. Meanwhile, I was loved for what I did and that was great. My cat enjoyed the attention. But something was gnawing away inside. The discomfort grew until I could no longer hold it. My director did not allow my leave, so I quit, rented out my apartment, housed poor Lixy at my moms place and took the plane. In her address book, I had found only one Papua New Guinean address, so I thought that must be it.”

“It took me three days to find the place after I’d arrived. It was somewhere on one of the bigger islands in the east. An old woman opened the door. She had messy greyish hair and a very wrinkled face, but she stood straight and her movements were agile. Very agile, actually. She seemed strong. She didn’t know Jara’s name. She also had a hard time finding out what I meant when I explained about the girl who left to the west. I don’t think she knew where the west was. But her English wasn’t too bad, and she got it eventually.”
From his description, she liked the woman.
“She called me inside, and showed a map of a different island, where I’d find a man called Makali. I was outside before I realised it. She didn’t even offer me a drink. And I couldn’t keep the map either! I think she was related to Jara, but she clearly didn’t treat me that way. I don’t blame her. But at that moment I felt very abandoned.”
“And now?” she felt as if she had to take control somehow. Over him or over herself? She could not say.”
“I don’t feel abandoned now…”
“Keep talking”
“What are you? My therapist?”
“No, no, no! I’m just interested!”
“In many ways, the search for Jara was the biggest adventure of my life. I realised that there was so much more to it than the acting and the love. We live in a human industry. There are jungles, and people who are entirely different. Their lives take place in nature. Always. They have no need for the devices we so heavily depend on. Of course I knew those people existed, but to see it for yourself is a different thing. Some offered me to stay at their huts They were beautifully helpful people. Gave me food and everything. Some didn’t even speak English. There turned out to be lots of Makalis, and I wouldn’t have found the right one without them.”
“Who was he?” she asked
“A local man of knowledge. I’m still not sure how it all works there, but he knew that Jaras tribe had disappeared, together with their land.”
“Disappeared? How?”
“Trees were sawed  and removed by machines that had docked near their village.  None of the villagers were found. I told Makali I wanted to look for them, he answered that the mere sight of their old home would hurt me more than I could imagine. I told him that it didn’t matter, then he told me that he could not take me there because it would hurt him too much. I told him I’d find it on my own if he just pointed me the way, then he walked out of his hut and convinced another tribe member to accompany me there. We had a long walk through the jungle. Even slept there one night. He cooked for me, just from the roots, fruits and herbs he found around. The next morning we walked on, but at some point he stopped. He waved his hand in the direction he wanted me to go in. I went there by myself. The beautiful coloured plants and butterflies and birds and frogs and insects we saw on the way, were suddenly gone. There were just enormous stumps. I fell down and cried. Don’t know for how long. Then, when I stood up, I could only think about Jara. I panicked. Started to run in a random direction, looking for her. But the vastness of the empty land was overwhelming, as if the disowned spirits of the forest told me to give up. I went numb. Went back to Makali. He took me into his place and offered me to wait for them here, but I couldn’t: sitting still drove me insane. I just had to go find her, but I had no idea where to start. Makali didn’t know either. They’d just disappeared. The other tribes had been looking for them for some months, but found no trace. It was as if they’d been taken together with the plants around. I left Makali’s house in three days afterwards, on an impossible quest. I wandered through the country like a ghost. All that I could tell people was that I was looking for a tribe that disappeared, one of whose members was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. They all knew where to find great girls, but no-one had seen a homeless tribe. I managed to find the docks where the company’s trees were shipped to. All I found was a lot of resistance. I went to the company that bought the trees. Equally resistant. I even consulted witches in the area. They told me not to mingle with such dark forces. None of them wanted to say more. I would usually try to convince them that it was love I was dealing with, but could convince only one.
“One?”
“Yes, she was a very nice lady in fact. Gentle. She wore very colourful feathers, of birds of paradise, she said. And she served delicious tea. She tried to persuade me to go home, and that Jara would contact me there, but I kept going for a few more weeks. Looking back, it was she who planted the idea in my head that Jara would keep following our love.”
The gentleness of his voice confused her. It seemed as if indeed, Jara contacted him. If that was true, why was he on this roof?
“For those final weeks I was lost in the jungle. Maybe I was afraid to go back. As that was admitting my defeat. As if I had put my life at stake for nothing. After all she promised to contact me. By coming here I broke her trust in a way. Nevertheless, my presence there felt more and more futile. One day I gave in and left. The plane trip was horrible. The nerves were pumping through my veins like a rhythmical demonic rage. At some point I almost fainted, when I stood up to go the airplane toilet. Once I got there at looked into the mirror, I felt an incredible sting in my heart, as if I’d die.”
“And here you are, on the point of throwing yourself of a building. ” His whole way of being now told her he wouldn’t.
“Don’t joke about it… When I got home, my tenant gave me a letter that had arrived for me just after I left. Do you want to read it?”
His right hand slowly entered the left inner pocket of his long black coat. It took out an envelope, light brown coloured. It had an odd glow about it which accentuated the wrinkles on the hand that held it. He seemed much older than she’d estimated him. She stood up, stepped up the ridge where he stood and received it in her hand. Warmth entered her body in waves. She and the man were now hovering in a never-ending space with an envelope in it. She opened it carefully, then took out a letter. A breeze gently folded it somewhat, then let it rest upon her hand. It looked as if she was the first to read it.

My Dearest Love,

I know you came to look for me, but I was already dead. Please don’t take our act as a message to you personally, or as a decision that had anything to do with our relationship. It doesn’t.

While she read the message, an image appeared in her mind. It was beautiful Indonesian lady with long straight black hair and light brown eyes. She threw both arms around her neck in a delightful embrace. She loved this woman instantly.

Isn’t it interesting that I, who left my home to study suicidal behaviour in the Western world, now ended up killing myself? Don’t worry, I wasn’t alone. My tribe joined. We had a final party, actually. It was sad, I have to say, but it was one of the deepest and most beautiful experiences we had together. It’s sad that you never got to meet my friends. I hope you liked Makali though.

The embrace of the woman became tighter, as if she was afraid to let go. It was delightful. She saw green and blue hues around her. All she wanted was to protect this fragile soul.

You’ve seen what they did to our home. You cannot imagine the terror among us when they hunted us away. Or when they started cutting. If you could, perhaps you’d join our decision. If you cut a tree from its roots, it will not survive. That’s us. We’ve been cut, and have been slowly dying since.

Do you know what? I suddenly understood why Western people kill themselves. Many have never been able to make roots. Your system gnaws them off as soon as you try to grow them. They do whatever they can to avoid you from growing towards the light. They want you to bow for them. Poor souls! After returning from such an intense meeting with your world, I get why some want to leave it.

A tremendous sadness captured her heart when the truth in these words hit her. She fetlt that her life had caused the mess in Jara’s. Meanwhile, Jara’s embrace tightened further, like a snake’s, when creeping around her prey. She started to have trouble breathing, but felt compelled to keep reading.

Nature always strikes back, my love. And that’s what you and I are going to do. I know you’re with me on this. I knew from the instant that I saw you at Sheila’s that we would follow each other anywhere. Please don’t join me among the dead, I’ll come to you instead. We need allies on both sides to make our vengeance felt. Together, we will free the poor beings from their suffocating illusions.

She felt the grip tighten until she could no longer concentrate. Her life was now in Jara’s hands. Her diaphragm made rapid contractions. She felt intense fear rise up her chest. Then, suddenly, peace, deeper then she’d ever felt before. She must be turning blue by now.

I’ll always be with you, love. Warm embrace,

Jara

When she finished reading, she gave the letter back to the man at her side. He put it back in the envelope. The grip loosened, and she felt the blood come back to her head. The sensation was euphoric. She felt tremendously grateful.

“Well?” asked the man.
“You were right” she answered, and she took her final step. The man turned around, and stepped of the ridge.

While falling, she wondered if she’d done it out of pain or out of joy. A combination of factors perhaps. Anyhow, she’d never before been as convinced of a decision. In her last meters above the ground, she caught a glimpse of Sheila’s. It looked cosy indeed.

Image run wild

“Not the slightest hint of attention…” thought Shawn as he faded with the setting sun. “The man can’t live without me, but does he ever wonder what I want? Not an instant of the day.” Even if he was disappearing, the shadow was right. Evan had never cared about him and judging the circumstances it seemed unlikely that he would anywhere in the near future. He was more interested in lighter matters such as the computer screen, television or the occasional candle.

“Where would he be without me?” wondered Shawn after Evan had switched the light on. “No girl would take note of his sturdy jaws or his voluptuous lips. His qualities would lay hidden in a face that would seem plain and pale. No one would fall for him where it not for my indefatigable presence.” Not that it had had benefit so far, Evan was not the guy to make a move. Shawn nevertheless actively increased his chances must he ever tip over.

This did not occur to Evan. He turned on his television and sat down, casting a new version of Shawn on the wall behind him. It flickered dimly.  “THEre rEAlly SHoulD BE SOmethINg wE caN do ABout this” he said to his other self on the seat below Evan.  Evan, distracted by the lit up box on the other end, did not notice the conversation between Shawns insecure version and the more sturdy one carrying Evans behind. “Do you think it’s fair that I follow him wherever he goes, while he never even gives the slightest sign of respect? A little thank you once in a while would be nice. Flowers, chocolate, something! Once!” The flickering Shawn found it hard to wrap his head around these concepts, so he agreed with his alter ego on the couch.

Evan stood up. “There he goes!” shouted couch-Shawn, who now flashed to the floor and shot to the lower part of the wall. “Stands up and walks away, pretending nothing’s going on. That we’ll follow him without question. Well, that will not stand!” He had to run quickly and hop from wall to wall to keep up until the kitchen. It was when Evan opened the fridge, spawning yet another Shawn on the enormous plant behind him, that the poor shadow had enough. He lifted his arms to the ceiling and pulled himself up. Evan took his beer out of the fridge and closed it, making his shadow vanish in the darkness.

Evan walked back through the dining room to the TV, Shawn ran around him on the walls. “A man can only spend so much time without appreciating his shadow before it will get back at him” whispered Shawn who was back with his flickering him on the wall behind. He creeped slightly to the left. The flickering Shawn started impersonating Evan picking his nose. This amused the shadow on the couch, who thought some donkey ears would go well with that. Flickering Shawn, inspired, gave him a long tale by which he lifted himself into the shadow of a bonsai tree that stood near the lamp on the table. It to suddenly grew a shady banana. Shawn mimicked another monkey figure that took lice out of Evans fur. He ate them.

“Is that enough?” Evan, warned by jungle sounds, had turned around and now gazed at the scene with a condescending expression. Shawn drooped back to the chair. Evan turned back to the TV. The other Shawn pointed a flickering finger of accusation to the void and held an arm on his thigh. Couch-Shawn giggled silently. He drew a little black square moustache on his lip. Shawn topped this up with a flickering arm in the air, after which the whole figure rose out of its shady chair, threw a straight leg forward and took a step. They thought the resemblance was striking.

Evan, feeling ridiculed, stood up, ran to the wall and screamed: “stop it!” only to find himself yell at his own mirrored projection flickering on the wall. Shawn was delighted at the view. After Evan had turned around again he lifted his thumbs to his ears and wiggled his fingers. Evan himself was puzzled, but felt that he had sufficiently dealt with the situation. He watched some more TV, turned of the light, walked to the bedroom and went to sleep.

The sight of his ceiling at the moment Evan opened his eyes caused somewhat of a stir in his subconscious depths. He closed his eyes again, pretending that that would bring him back to sleep. Meanwhile, the stir moved through his belly, reached disrupting proportions around his heart, then sprang out through his eyes. Kaleidoscopic patterns swarmed over his walls and his ceiling. When he managed to wipe the sleep out of his eyes, Evan could discern little figures running all over. He stood up and walked to the wall, only to find that they were tiny portraits of himself, jumbling in what seemed the representation of a civil war.

One scene showed him running after a girl. She looked a lot like a miniature shadow of his first love Melinda. She ran and ran until she stopped then turned around and pursued him instead. This caused his miniature shadow to turn, run and disappear into the crowd. He saw a tiny picture of his boss behind his desk. On the other side of the desk, a figure of himself hurried in whichever direction the other pointed. The poor little fellow shrank with every act. Evan stood a meter away from his wall, witnessing shadowgraphs of forgotten fights with his brothers, struggles with his car and a strange incident in the supermarket which he found hard to place. The wall kept him hypnotized until all figures disappeared into what seemed a little black hole with an odd depth effect, shrinking down to an invisible size.“Wow…” thought Evan, as he fell backwards on his bed and closed his eyes.
“Uh-oh…” thought Evan as the phone rang downstairs. He jumped out of bed, skipped his house shoes and stumbled down the stairs ignoring three horned creatures the sun cast upon the wall to his left through the tiny windows to his right. They weren’t flattering.
“If you’re not here within half an hour” spoke Evan’s boss calmly through the receiver, “I’m going to have to let you go.” The connection was broken.

It took Evan twenty-eight minutes and thirty-six seconds to knock on his boss’s door. He had been obliged to skip some essential morning rituals, including shower, shave and breakfast. The cause of it all had, according to several eye witnesses continued its shenanigans. The shadow had indeed shown such engagement with its quest that it had managed to drag along crowds in its disobedience. It was for that reason that people looked up expecting to see a zeppelin when Evans bus drove by. It also explained the wavy movement of the buildings’ shadows on the city streets. Perhaps it even had something to do with the street map visuals on the clouds, bothering six meteorologists in the region.

While Evan did his very best to beg for mercy at the desk of his boss, Shawn made a long nose behind him. Ignatio, the boss, ignored the shadows recalcitrance. He had sufficient reason and justice to stick to his words. Evan had managed, against his expectations, to arrive within the given time. But he was not going to make it easy.
“I see you did not shave?” he asked, with a silent undertone.
“I’m sorry. I had to run. I reckoned it will be just for today. Tomorrow I’ll look in top shape again.” Ignatio ignored the gesture of denial made on the background. After all, one can not fire their employees on grounds of undesirable shadow motions. Besides, Evans clothes looked ironed and tidy as ever.
“What is your excuse for arriving this late?”
“Well, I woke up, turned off the alarm, and then by some overwhelming force got sucked back into sleeping mode. I had quite disturbing dreams about seeing…
“Dreams? Force? You’re saying you went to sleep again after turning off the alarm clock! What did you do last night?” Evan wanted to open his mouth, but the question was rhetorical. Shawn felt sudden pity for him, and accentuated Evan’s few weak gestures to support him on the background. Ignatio, ignoring that, entered a speech on how the values of a business are reflected by its employees, and that this kind of late coming must never happen again, and that he could consider buying a second alarm clock if he thought that necessary. He should also go to bed earlier, because well rested employees make a far better impression.
“What are you staring at?” asked Ignatio, noting an absence in Evans mind.
Somebody knocked.
“Yes?”
His secretary entered.
“Sir, the Ink Company® called. They asked when we will deliver the squids.”
“Come in. Evan, you can go. Don’t let this happen again.”
“I won’t”. Answered Evan. The eyes of the secretary looked bigger than usual as he passed. Behind his back, his shadow stroked hers over the shoulder with one finger. Hers threw one arm around Shawns neck.

Evans desk was tidy. Whoever had done that must come from a dark place where evil is forged and grandma wolf sits knitting sheep’s clothing for her twisted little boys.

Evans shade looked small now that the sun stood at its highest. “Morning, Evan” said Fun Freddy. “Problems waking up today?” I have that all the time. It’s a matter of opening both eyes at once, turning on the light and sitting up straight. You’ve got to do it in a single painless move. Pretend it has already happened before you start. If not, the land of the darkness catches you somewhere on the way, and you’re lost. What’s wrong with your shadow? Did you feed it sugar?” Shawn bashed Freddies to the ground. “Whoah! Did you see that? It’s is coming on to mine. You should teach it some manners, dear colleague!” Evan was certain that his nickname would be Savage Shadow Evan from now on.

Yet except for the difficulties in finding his material and the occasional uproar at his work spot, for example when Shawn threw shadow popcorn into the shadow of Fun Freddies coffee, entering numbers into data sheets went as usual that afternoon. He worked for a bit longer, partially to catch up, but he was also happy to avoid rush hour. Driving home was less embarrassing that way. The street lights and the bus lights created interplay of shadows, making it harder for others to see Shawns attempts to wreak havoc.

When they arrived back home and Evan was alone with his shadow, he felt the need to act. The thought of talking to his shadow again made him wonder if he had not lost it, but it was a thought he could not erase. He failed to notice the broccoli with cheese sauce when he put it in his mouth. What would he tell his shadow? Why on earth would he assume it would listen, let alone answer? After all, there had been no response the night before.

The sound and light of the TV reached as little of his conscious mind as the taste. The tension in his belly rose as he wondered where to start. Should he take a loving approach, or be stern? He found himself wording out sentences in his head. He wondered if he needed to explain his shadow about himself, or that it knew everything. It had after all been with him forever. Could it read his mind? Did it know of his current dilemma? Probably. It must be unable to speak, was his conclusion. Or perhaps only in signs, but Evan could not read signs.

His flickering shadow plucked out his hairs on the wall behind him. Sometimes it abruptly stood up, then it quickly sat down. It walked to the corner of the room and put itself there, arms around its knees. Evan hurried to the kitchen, took a glass out of the closet, filled it with water and took a sip. Then, it slipped from his hand and scattered on the floor. “What do you want?” he screamed out. The corner of the room was silent as any corner of a room.

Never again did Shawn act in any way unexpectedly. Evan sometimes wondered if he had dreamed the whole thing, and was decided not to speak of it again. His nickname had not become established on the work floor. Still, ever since that day, he looked back at Shawn frequently with quirky shivers over his spine.

Spirals

I have to slow down to blow my nose. The napkin bill is going through the roof. It’s the time of the year. I’m on a two-hour drive to the sea-shore because I had to get out. The house is too small sometimes, the city too loud. My mind clogs together with the decor of my days.

The roads are narrow and curvy. Red and grey rocks lay spread over the landscape. Some edgy pinnacles rise out of the surface, giving testimony of more violent times. All that grows here are lichens and dry shrubs, stuck close to the ground to seek protection from whatever dangers threaten them. Plains are alternated by enormous rock formations as far as the eye can see.

As I drive, my mind wanders off, back home, where my habits and shield me from the fact that nothing is for certain. I am suddenly aware of the dusty corners of the house and visualise cleaning them. It presses on me now, but there is nothing I can do. The relationship with Isabella has taken over five years. The past week hasn’t been good. Strange fights over the least important things. Where the Indian cuisine originates from for example. Or whether we should or shouldn’t exchange the forks with the spoons. I saw a side of her I did not know so far. Childish, irrational, as if some force has come out that had been locked in there for years. It’s a new burden.

A tree, lonely in the barren landscape. It grows sideways, as if pushed down by an invisible hand, punished for its continuous urge to take more space from the vast and endless nothingness, which it mocks by its presence alone. Its print on my mind’s eye keeps ridiculing this whole site in the same way as the appearance of Isabella’s new face mocks her infinite beauty. How did this tree get here? Were did the seed come from? Was it blown from the outside? Has it always lingered, awaiting the moment where the rocks were softened enough by the rain? Perhaps there was a forest here before.

Shots of thought rush through the space in my head. The fights were disproportionate. They opened up paths to some long forgotten sides of who we are, pulling the rug from underneath our feet. We fell. The extent of it is still as unclear as are the consequences. The red stones around are merely observers of these whirling motions in my mind. They don’t know what’s going on, let alone do they take part in it. They’re old. Lay there, serving lichens and shrubs that eat them away in steady, painful perseverance. I wish they grew upon my mind, undoing it from all the random crap I don’t need. Perhaps they do. Maybe I should just water them.

Meandering, the road carries me further and further away from the inhabited world, nearer and nearer to the place where the land meets the sea. I turn on the radio, but all I hear is a distant and distorted version of the Ride of the Valkyries. I turn it off again. A pull on the wheel makes me hold it stronger. The fight goes on for a while, until after a few more bends, a fire tower stands out on the horizon. It has diagonal red-white stripes painted over it. It says: “here I am! Do watch me!” At its foot stands a little stone house with broken windows. Its brown wooden door is rattling. Some of the roof tiles have disappeared, revealing light wooden grid-like structure that once held them up. I park on an uneven rocky spot along the ending of the road. I grab my coat and my hat, and open the door which instantly gets pulled away, and I’m standing outside in the storm. It takes an effort to close the door. My coat flies out of my hands and gets stuck behind a rock, 33 meters ahead. I run to get it. Pulling the sleeves over my arms turns out to be no less of a hassle, but I finally succeed. I grab the keys out of a bush and walk back to lock the doors. I wonder why, but do it anyway. I don’t let go of my hat.

It’s hard to tell if it is stormiest inside or out of the run-down house. There is a broken furnace here and a gas bottle with a hole in it. A ray lights a closet. A bush grows through its bottom plank. Its branches eagerly try to reach out for some more sun in the room. Its roots hold on to the splinters of the broken pots lying around. The memory. Sudden flapping wings make me jump, and I see an owl fly off through the hole in the roof. “Odd. Its daytime” I hear myself think and a cloud casts a shadow over us.

I too go outside. The hair blowing in my face stings me a little. I try to get to the tower, but blasts of air hold me back with irregular force. Breathing is hard when the storm squalls into my throat, or when it suddenly pulls the pressure away from me. When, after battling the elements, I finally reach the towers door, I feel victorious and exhausted. Stairs spiral up, and I follow them to the lantern room.

“You always make me feel like shit” pierces her voice through my head. I see spit shoot out of her mouth. Disgusting. That issue wasn’t even worth mentioning either. Some conversation about the medicinal use of Melissa. What followed was increasing tension with accusation after accusation, reaching a scale that I couldn’t oversee. I tried to search for truth inside her words, but was blinded by the anger they conjured. Despair about her, about us maybe, and myself. The thought has taken hold of me. I cannot release the dark look on her face, as if she deliberately wanted to break the trust we’d built in all these years.

Near the top, a new gust surprises me, taking me back into the struggle of this place. The sea stretches further than I can see, though I have to close my eyes against the stingy air. I scream from the top of my lungs, but a new blast pushes my voice back into my throat. “You cannot get me!” I scream once more. For a second, I look the elemental force straight into the eye. Then, the fence I lean on gives way, and I am on the fastest track back to the rocks. My fall leaves me no time to think of any plan, and I would crush if it were not for the twister that captures me right out of the air, pulling me back up in direction of the sea. While my limbs whirl and twist, I am not sure if this unexpected salvation is fortunate or not. I try to pull myself together and move along smoothly, but the storm keeps shaking the confusion into me.

I can reorient when I reach the top of the twister. I am now well above the tower, very hard to tell how far. The grey red endless landscape looks less meaningful on the majestic blue background of the sky. I have no time to ponder that because I’m interrupted by a changing pressure, launching me further away from the land. In a glimpse I see that my car is lying on its side. That worries me. My face gets wet and cold in the moist I’m pulled through. I don’t understand why I don’t fall. It seems as if I’m going up instead.  Whatever I try, there’s no chance that I can steer. I’m subjected to the will of the storms. So I fly.

The doors of my house are open. Windows too. The furniture moves through the living room. Papers fly all around and so does the laundry. Plants in pots are either ripped or they have scattered on the floor. The cat has disappeared. The scene disrupts me. That mess was mine to clean. Then again, who am I to speak, I’m up in the air. A snap. I spread my arms. It dawns on me that I have never been this high in the air on my own. It may be cold and unnerving, but the view is beautiful. I feel a wave of respect for the thunderclouds that roll in my direction. Isabella’s insecurity feels easy now. Cute, even. There are no other pressures than the movements of the tides. I am weightless as a feather, dancing through the wind. A shoe spins through the air. It used to be mine. Just like that coat over there, with the napkins. Is that my hair circling around my head? One moment, the sun is up, the next, there’s sea above me. And then she’s down again. I can’t keep track. Different parts of me each take their own direction, whirling along with the motions that carry it. Words, feelings, body parts, sensations and thoughts fly by. None of them attached to one another. It tingles.

The lack of radio signal on the Actarius II caused some trouble on the open sea. It took a few hours before someone was bright enough to inspect the antenna on deck. A complete outfit covered it, the owner of which was never found. The clothes were taken to a farm, where they still serve as a scarecrow.

Couch at sunset

The doorbell makes me jump. I should lower the volume one day. One of those things I keep postponing. Standing up as slowly as I can helps me tame the excitement this bell forces upon me. It’s something I’m vaguely aware of. In the meantime, my steps show that somebody just made me rise out of my very comfortable chair. Well… as long as I feel in command… I open the door. It’s a girl. A woman. She is standing thirty-three centimetres from the threshold. She has natural red hair. Green eyes. Some freckles accentuate her cheeks. Pointy chin, elegant jaws. Fragile neck, I’m quite sure I could break it. A little hole between her collarbones. Her waist, her legs, her breasts. Oh, her breasts. I recognize her.

My smile reveals my teeth. They could cut her tender skin. I imagine drinking her blood. She smiles back. Her teeth could cut mine. There’s silence. It’s filled with charge. I look into her eyes. She pierces mine. Fearless.
“Hi.” she says.
“Hi.” I say.
Silence.
“I’ve been travelling.” She says.
“Have you? Where’s your luggage?”
“Lost it in Paris…”
“Oh… How did you find me?”
“Intuition”
“Intuition?”
“Yes… Intuition.”
“Why don’t you come in?” I ask, and step back into the house.
“Thanks.” There’s surprise in her tone. I remember Nurielle from a trip I once made on Hawaii. I had felt alone for years.
“Wine?”
“Please”
I invite her to go and sit outside in the sun. You can see it set over the fields behind my garden. They sowed wheat this year. A yellowish orange glow. She looks around.
“Sit down, if you want to”
Her light green dress looks gorgeous on the Bordeaux leather couch.
“How’ve you been?” I ask.
“Do you really want to know?” she doesn’t wait for my response “It was a terrible idea not to exchange contacts”
I agree, but I strongly disagree, but she’s completely right.
“Cheers! By the way”
The cling of our glasses is a great reason to look deep into her eyes.
“You said you lost your stuff?”
Another silence.
“I was robbed…”
“Oh”
“With a gun”
“Oh…” I feel sorry that I wasn’t there to help.
“He left me my documents. And my clothes”
“Beautiful dress, by the way… How do you feel now?”
“All I knew while it happened was that I needed to find you”
Just below my belly button starts a rushing force. It burns right through my heart, swishes in my ears and shoots upwards. My mind is turbid.
“Did you go to the police?”
“No” another rush “I don’t trust them”
The orange light of the sunset casts a sensual shade over her lips. The reflection in her eyes directs me to something inside her. It pulls my heart out through my throat. My stomach feels like a knot. I’m sure there are drops on my forehead that were not here before. I take a gulp of wine.
“How did you get here?”
“I asked some drivers. They were very kind.”
“I can’t believe you’re here…”
“Me neither” she smiles. “I never expected to see you again.” Another silence. “Not even when I rang this bell. There’s a different name on it. I just needed a place to sleep.”
“Why this door?”
“I know… Isn’t it scary?”
“Yes… But not at all… No…”

Orange turns into blood orange while the sun approaches the horizon. In the distance, we see a dragon roast an eagle in the air. He catches it before it hits the ground.
“Beautiful view.” She says
“Thanks. The wildlife here is great”
I take another good look at her waist. Then, following her curves, I look back up at her face. I see she has been following.
“Are you hungry?” I ask.
“I don’t know. Don’t think so.” That smile again. More softly this time.
“Olives?”
“Yes, let’s give that a try”
She moves a leg. My god.
I walk to the kitchen in a trance. I open the cupboard. It smokes at my fingers’ touch. Pot. Open. Bowl. Fork. Olives in bowl. Turn. Don’t faint. Back. When I walk outside, I gaze into the sun. Incredible. I fetch the little mahogany table, put it front of the couch and place the wine and the olives on it. I sit down, my knee near her hips, and lay my arm behind her. For a while, we slowly talk about our lives after we lost sight. My memories now find their way into her gratuitously listening ear. I listen to her stories and feel the purpose of our joint past loneliness in the second meeting of our worlds. I’m not even aware that my fingers are curling around the far side of her neck. They slowly follow her collarbone, gently reaching as far down as they can and back up. She talks about her days in the highlands of Nepal, where she was freezing in the cold dark sky. While a group of guides did everything they could to make her comfortable, she still had felt alone. Not here. Not now. We are not cold.

It is halfway down. The sky is purple. My fingers work their way into her hair. Twelve candles in the garden around us light up.
“Must be the heat”, she giggles. That sound in my heart makes me smile.
“Must be…” I answer. “It never happened before…”
“Good” she says, and she closes her eyes. “Reassuring…”
I follow the top ridge of her arm until my hand meets hers. I hold it from behind. They fit deliciously. Hers turns. A flickering light sparks off our touch. An electric current draws our other hands together. With a whoosh, we shoot apart.

For a few seconds we sit puzzled, looking at each other, each from one edge of the couch. The table is lying somewhere further away in the grass. One glass broke. Then, as if driven by a single force, we jump up and crash into each other.
“Ouch!” she laughs, holding her cheekbone with her fingertips “what was that?” We are both sitting on an edge again. While the sun sets, the candlelight intensifies. Their warmth radiates onto our skins. Her pupils light up dimly. She brings her left strap over her shoulder, and lets it slide down her arm. Must have felt nice. She bends forward and slowly crawls towards me. The couch sizzles everywhere she touches it. When she reaches me, a flaming ball flies right over her back. I try to catch it but it whirls around my hand and sinks into her lower back. I see her face relax. Her lips reach for mine. I put my hands upon her back and pull her closer till they touch. The couch catches fire.
“Don’t worry about it” I say, while I let the other strap down, and push her dress over her back in a massaging move.
“I didn’t”, she says, “not with you around”. It’s this melting cheesiness that I like about her. The flames reach out further while we kiss, and sparks shoot away from us. They take hold of the rack I built for grapes, last spring. I don’t care. All I want is to take off her bra and work my way there, perhaps with a little detour by her waist.

Another fireball shoots by. I manage to catch this one, and in one motion, deviate it straight into her heart. She answers with an emotional “ah”, followed by a deep breath. She looks at me with watery eyes, now just reflecting red light. She grabs my shoulders and pulls me up with force. We hear an explosion in the kitchen. The whole place must be burning now.
“I’m sorry about your oven, boy”. She whispers in my ear, and then breathes out from the depths of her soul.
“How do you know it was the oven?” I ask, while I rip something of hers in return.
“I don’t know”
“Well, just don’t expect me to make lasagna any day soon”.
“Okay, I won’t”
“And sorry about your undies”
“That’s all right. They would’ve burned anyway.”
She’s probably right, because my clothes have turned in little black flakes that are falling of my body. I move my hands up and down her thighs. Her kiss gets more intense, her hold more firm. As we get closer, it becomes harder and harder to tell whose limbs are whose.
“Is it really you?” I ask, while I look.
In the short silence that follows, I feel her heart leap.
“Yes. It’s me…”
The couch collapses and she slips right over me. “Uh”, is her soft exclaim. We sit for a while, amazed, until I give a pulse. She responds with a squeeze. We hear a wall break. Our alternated contractions ignite a flow of motion over our spines. Our spirits merge in a burning tide of sensations, alternating ecstasy with a sense of the common. The ashes around us whirl up, taking our minds along on a journey we don’t comprehend. All we hear is each others’ breath. All we see is our shared inner space. All we taste are samples of each others’ dreams. As we tremble, so does the smouldering lawn. I consider a break, she whispers “let’s go”. So we rise, along with the earth, fusing in the flame that haunted us so long. Out of depths we did not know flows a perpetuating burning force, consuming two in one.

The news of the volcanic eruption at the idyllic border of the coastal town was initially hard to digest. Speculations to the cause of it all invoked unprecedented creative thinking among surrounding survivors, but the issue was never satisfactorily solved. The final suggestion ever heard about this case was made by a little boy named Benny, just after his grandma had told him the story. He thought it might have been done by big ants.

Passing

“She’s dead.”
“It’s what she deserved” said Maximilian gravely.
“The witch betrayed us all.”

Sixty three years since the war began. The useless position of men caused by Eggtech® had turned them hostile upon wombbearers. The tension had begun to rise as women gradually outnumbered men. They started to raise political and religious questions on the utility of mens existence. It had escalated when Arina the Zych had publically slaughtered a rapist on Madaleina square. She had walked away freely. Female political leaders had vanished, only to be found back dead months later, often mutilated, sometimes together with a starved baby girl. Men, too, had found their ways to breed. Soon afterwards you were no longer safe among a member of the other sex.

Young girls were taught to fear the predatory beasts outside the city walls. Humanity, teachers said, had made the necessary step to evolve: making men inutile. Eggtech® – fertilization by another egg cell – allowed them to emancipate from the destructive behaviour of man. They had once been crucial to survival, but now they held civilization back. They were to be wiped out to make the evolutionary step complete. All there was to do, was to keep them out.

Boys’ class was different. They learned that their existence depended on prey. They were taught to hunt without the kill. Women left their settlements every now and then. They travelled in groups, protected by warladies, often fiercer than men themselves. Those had to be killed from a distance, while the protected ones were captured and brought back to a men’s camp. The fate of the prisoners depended on how they acted. Resistant ones often had limbs cut of, so that they could not interfere with the bearing. Some women were cooperative. They kept their legs and arms and were treated gently, sometimes even after they had given birth to a son. But no matter how big the trust that grew, all women would eventually make an attempt to escape. They’d find themselves caught somewhere in the wilderness. Sooner or later, every man had to learn for himself that women could not be trusted. According to the law, he then had to take revenge in the cruellest of ways.

But hidden within valleys, deserts and densely grown jungles laid settlements where men and women still freely enjoyed each others’ grace. Common laws and beliefs had no importance there. They were secret rebels. The inhabitants had to be vigilant of both men and women, who, upon discovery of their fragile co-existence, would be ready to slaughter or imprison them without a second thought.

It was in one such settlements, hidden in the woods of Anzara, where Maximilian had poisoned Silena for conjuring dark dreams upon the minds of the tribe.
“What makes you think that?”
“I can not tell you now” answered Maximilian. “If I would, she’d have you too…”

“Look …” whispered Zinnia.
“What?”
“In the bush… Halt the caravan. Keep quiet.”
Something was wrong. Was it a trap? Men wouldn’t leave such traces. She scanned the area. She felt her heart beat in her throat. Her breathing was quick and out of control. She’d been a caravan frontwife for over a year now, but still found it very hard to cope with threats. She had to act strong. Whatever came, she would have to lead the protection front. It was well-known that small caravans only survived two out of three attacks. She looked into the eyes of Feline, her second, and saw the same fear. Fear was a guarantee for defeat.

“Take your positions” she ordered the other four. In a swift, silent motion, they closed in on the merchands’ chart. All gazed sharply into the darkness that lied hidden among the trees. A breeze gently pulled their senses. It intensified, then vanished. A rush of blood shot through Zinnias temples. She was dizzy, and had a strong urge to run. She couldn’t. They counted on her.

With a gun in her shaking hand, pointing towards the bush, she took a step to the place where she had seen the movement. Something shiny lay on the leaves of the forest bed. Distraction, she was sure, and ordered two others to follow. Every step closer strengthened a sensation of being pulled by her shoulder-blades. Her hands were tingling. She could not feel her lips or her nipples. A little further and she would go numb.

The next moment she relaxed. As if the depths of her soul released comfort. It did not matter. Calmness was around. It was a substance she walked through. Step by step. She could now see that the shiny thing was round. Its beauty compelled her. It was transparent, but at the same time it gently shone a light of many colours. She stroke it. Then she slowly picked it up.

“Oh…” thought Jacky, as she watched the frontwife grab Selinas motionate gift. “It’s lost…”. She understood why Anzarians had warned her to stay close. Why they said that it’s dangerous out here. Jacky had never seen such heavy armament. Still, she smelled fear. She had to sit motionless and wait for them to leave. The thought that they would take the orb terrified her.

“You two, search the area.” Zinnia felt back in control. The warladies dived into the bushes, looking for signs of something they’d rather avoid. It did not seem to be men who had put this here. The orb was too valuable to put at stake in a trap. Zinnia was quite sure that it possessed magic properties.

Would Jacky move, they’d hear her. Staying meant risking to be found, and heaving to explain what a twelve-year-old was doing in the jungle all alone, holding a ball of unfathomable value, unafraid of men in the wild. Jacky was glad she was not a boy. She’d have to make something up. The bushes could not hide her much longer. They were coming close. What to do? Run? Get caught? She’d have to decide. They were merely a few hedges away. What to do?

Jacky stood up and ran. She knew this place better than them. She’d outrun them. Go to spaces where her pursuers would not fit. A bit further to the left would be a good way. She jumped, she hopped, she ran as fast as she could. They caught her.

“A kid?”
“What are you doing here all alone, girl? Haven’t you paid attention at school? It is dangerous outside. You’ll soon be fertile. Rapists can catch you. You’re putting us all in danger.”
Jacky did not know what to answer.
“She must be a witch”. The warladies lifted her up and put her in the chart. In the distance, she saw her favourite old oak. His entangled branches comforted her. She thought she would never see him again.

Maximilian stood alone in a dark hut. A single candle flickered. Its flame pale blue. “Cold”. He said out loud, but his voice was a woman’s. He recognized it, but could not place it. He felt danger. He started to cite words he did not understand. With every word he spoke, the voice seemed to come closer. The flame grew. Bigger and bigger. The voice, louder and louder. They mesmerized Maximilian. Surrounding him, the light and the sound slowly took hold. Flames danced to the serene rhythm of the voice, that had now come closer than his own had ever been. Inside him, surrounding him. The hut caught fire. Maximilian kept singing. He called them. He did not want to. Outside, far away, he could see their cities. He sensed their imprisoning rage. Blue flames instantly turned red and hot. They burned him from within. He kept singing. They saw him now. They shot, and hit him in the throat. Once more in the chest. The singing stopped. He remembered. The voice had been Silenas. She had called them.

Jacky followed Silena out of the village. They crossed fields full of flowers that waved at them. Jacky adored their colours. She saw tall trees reaching their branches into the sky. It seemed as if through her strides, Silena sang to them. Jacky was full of joy when they arrived at a cave. Silena entered without slowing down. She was the most beautiful lady Jacky’d ever seen. Her light meandering robes subtly revealed some of her curves. In her long, dark hair, she wore red parrot’s feathers. Jacky wanted to touch it, but she knew she’d never dare.

The cave was dark. Silena lit a candl, giving some dim light. Jacky saw objects she’d never seen before.
“Unfortunately, Jacky,” she said as if she’d read her mind, “there is no time to introduce you to all of this”
Jacky looked at her big eyes, puzzled.
“Your father has poisoned me”
“What?”
“It is slow poison, but I feel it in my veins. I will die soon”
“But…!”
Silena looked at her and Jackies mind went still. “There is no time to mourn. I don’t know why he did it. He must have his reasons. What’s important is this…” she handed her a little globe that seemed to shine. Blueish. It didn’t reflect the candle.
“By murdering me, your farther has banned witchcraft. He has banned you. You have to go now”.