Greetings, Panners. Consider this entry the first of two 'Pan Review
Of The Arts' for this year. Based in Japan,
MICHAEL WILSON is a comic book writer from Scotland. He has had more
than forty books published by a variety of UK, US and Japanese
publishers. Here, we briefly discuss his latest release; George
Orwell's personal school years revelation on the issue of Class; a
classic essay turned into graphic novel form with illustrator JAIME
HUXTABLE. Following this, a rare treat; a complete original short
tale of space/time portal-jumping by Greece-based author MARIA
PETROU. Pan is chuffed with the honour of its debut here. Finally, an
extended 'Albertine's Wooers' wraps up this Summer's new releases.
Turning George Orwell's 'Such, Such Were The Joys' into a Graphic
attracted you to turning this particular essay into graphic form?
way we can say its easy: I really like George Orwell's essays and
opinion pieces and this one is suitable for visualisation because
there is a lot of visual description.
at that deeper we might ask: why do you want to make a visual version
of something you like? Can't you just like it? Talk about it with a
friend? Do a blog post? Why go to all the effort of making a graphic
novel out of it, when you know that it's going to take months? That
brings out various presumptions and assertions. At root the thing is
a desire to be connected, in some active creative way, to a figure or
idea or work of art you feel drawn too. You want to do something of
your own in connection: a song, a documentary, a book. There is
something pleasurable and meaningful about that. It's a kick for me
to be connected to Orwell, especially as our book has permission from
the Orwell estate and a back cover quote from Orwell's son.
can also ask: what does your song/movie/graphic novel add here? To be
worth doing and buying it should add something. In this case the
obvious answer is that it adds visuals. Or we might say revives the
visuals, because Orwell added quite a lot of illustrations in his
letters home from school to his parents. So, we are bringing his
autobiographical story out in a visual form, for the first time (as
far as I know). And that means the graphic novel becomes a thing in
itself, not just a photocopy or 'straight' translation. We have
visualised it in ways that perhaps Orwell himself didn't quite think
of, with visual details that are not mentioned in his text (and could
therefore be wrong in places!). We have also adjusted some of the
text in order to connect the panels and make them flow well. Also, we
have added in new text here and there, to bring conversations that
Orwell only hints at to a more full realization.
the content: this story has a lot in it. It's talking about the
troubles of childhood, in a way that most can still relate to. It's
talking about the injustice and capriousness of adult authority. It's
talking about class and economic injustice. And its also very
personal and intimate.
or who, informed your own politics and how would you define it?
was trying to think about this the other day, about how I first start
getting interested in politics and what made me left-wing, and I
couldn’t remember how it started. But it started very early when I
was 16 or 17. I made a magazine in school when I was 17 and I still
have it as proof of my early inclinations. There’s two pages on it
strongly criticising Margaret Thatcher. So I was already left- wing
when I was 17. And I supported Nicaragua around that time as well. It
was the first campaign I was aware of, while still at school. But I
don’t remember what made me so because none of my family were
left-wing or are even now. So, its a bit of mystery.
when I studied sociology and politics in university I learned more
about the theoretical aspects and the movements. I also became more
interested in the connection between Politics and Humanities, which
is what I do with my comic books now. I took a course in the
Sociology of Literature, which inspired me. It was taught by a
sociologist who was also a poet: Tim Cloudsley. And my other
sociology teacher, Mike Scott, was also a painter. So, pretty cool
role models and they helped me see how Politics is actually about
pretty much everything. It’s not just about party political things.
It’s about how we organise our lives and societies.
will say that I’m most drawn to Anarchist or Libertarian Socialist
ways of organising ourselves. It seems to me the most natural and
beneficial way we can do it. I’m still learning all the time, about
the history of the different left-wing movements and doing
approaches, and the successes and failures of past movements. I’m
reading and thinking about it, after. And in doing my own left-
focused books with people like Michael Albert and Noam Chomsky, with
the GFTU and the present one on Ocalan and Kurdistan, I learn a lot
in the process. It seems to me that my attitude and the kind of
combination of political and literary interests is rather
similar to Orwell‘s and that’s partly why I am drawn to him.
of the reasons I’m left-wing is because the arguments from the
Right are almost always silly cliched rubbish. If they had better
arguments I could perhaps see you their point of view more, but they
don’t. The great question is why so many people who are not
actually elite capitalists themselves support right-wing views. There
are some reasons but most end up in shooting yourself in the foot.
think the graphic novel is one key route to attracting a younger
generation to Socialism who may, otherwise, feel alienated by what
can be perceived as the dryness of the subject and politics more
generally. How do you feel about this take?
you know a key problem for the Left is that it’s divided amongst
itself and it seems complicated to learn the various theories and
examples going back around two-hundred years. The other thing is that
while gender and race activism feel like physical things close to
people's identity, the issues of the economic system and class now
feel abstract and only loosely connected to people's personal
experience. (Even if that is quite wrong).
yes, comic books can help to overcome that in two ways: firstly, they
have an image of being easy and enjoyable to read. That may be a
cliche but it has a positive effect in terms of not putting people
off, which is a big advantage. Because in my experience quite a lot
of people build up a psychological block to reading things they see
as 'heavy'. The second thing is that having visuals gives a certain
concrete element to the abstract ideas that helps us process them.
Readers can see things like the miners strike or people being
forbidden to have toilet breaks, et cetera. That is not a dumbing
down of the materials; its playing to the way the human brain works
and takes in info, and how we recall it too. Though, one disadvantage
is that a two-hundred page comic can not go into as much detail as a
two-hundred page text-only book can.
own experiences of people is they respond very well to going into
these issues in comic book form, but books in general don’t sell
well enough, so the reach is still limited. But, it definitely can
help, yes. I'm happy that my own books are part of that.
to Sean for his replies.
can check out his latest here: https://seanmichaelwilson.weebly.com/orwell.html
Of Space-Time and
A short story by
jeep just barely fitted in the narrow alleys. They resembled canyons
made of old high buildings seeming to lean towards each other, their
roofs almost touching. I was surprised that the car’s body didn’t
scrape against the walls.
But we had to avoid the main roads; we were going out without the
exit permit. We were,
illegal. I kept looking
in the rear-view mirror for signs of pursuit. Ι
hardly believed I
wasn’t seeing red flashes behind us. Anda told me, swerving the
sure where exactly we will turn up this way.”
sighed. “As always.
Since boundaries are so
mixed up after the Great
“It seems to
me like it was yesterday. Like a bad dream. And it seems like it was
ages ago. How much time do you think has actually passed?”
sure. Last years…”
“Ellie, let me
concentrate. We have to get out and cross The Fusion Place to find,
by any chance, your home.”
houses were getting lower and lower, until they
anymore; they leveled with the ground, the ground becoming more
sterile and harder until, at last, we reached the desert; a desert
born by the war, of black sand and frozen obsidian lakes, as if the
soil and the minerals had melted from the inconceivable heat
of a monstrous volcanic
eruption. A mighty weapon had gone off here;
because of it,
scientists called the desert ‘The Fusion Place.’
It bordered a large part of the uneven perimeter of the New World,
included the once
of a megalopolis
with millions of
residents, some of its suburbs, and
some fairly close
At the rest of the
as far as the eye could see, were only torn earth and debris. Many
search parties were sent this way but, after long fruitless weeks
trudging through the same sad landscape, they returned without
encountering any trace of habitation or life; and the expeditions
stopped. In the press at the time, there was no information about
in the area; the most probable explanation – and most repeated
pattern in world’s
history – was
that our adversaries had thunderstruck
us, to make an example,
while testing their
most improved weapon. Perhaps somewhere
else our country
existed, kneeled, surrendered, lamenting the annihilated historical
megalopolis, not knowing that by a caprice of the universe a part of
it still survived in a fold of space-time.
weren’t landmarks in the desert; you drove straight for twenty, or
thirty, or fifty kilometers; there never
was the same
distance, and you never ended up
the same spot.
Compasses weren’t very reliable there. After a long process of
trial and error and mulish patience, we had discovered that following
a certain direction we would turn up in approximately the same area;
but without knowing exactly where and when
further on, the
Waste Land lay. A portion of the city that, while
dilapidated by the
Disaster, still stood there, and nobody knew why.
was in the city centre,
the day of the
and was shut in. Like
millions of people then, I believed that the long war was
raging far at the
borders, that there were many more strategic targets, that the
adversaries would respect our ancient city, full of historic
landmarks. In our dreams! When the first fright passed, when we tried
to return to our homes after the initial shock,
after the eruption, the roar
we discovered that there weren’t roads or houses anymore, just
wilderness. We were in the middle of nowhere. What remained of the
city was crammed with desperate people, who didn’t know if they
still had families or
where they would
sleep. Of course, initially, panic reigned; but when it was confirmed
that we were cut-off, that there were no more news, communication,
commerce and visitors, that those who were absent that day would
never return and just a few hundred thousands of people remained, the
city organized to deal with the devastation. There were supplies of
food, fuel and energy for almost a decade, if consumption was
controlled, since we were so few now,
and we would become
self-sufficient if we immediately started designing a new
infrastructure. If we couldn’t communicate with other cities or
nations after some time, we would be convinced we had drifted into
chaos and were alone.
State held firm the
reigns. With brief procedures a provisional government was formed, of
municipal officials and military officers; police was essential and
omnipresent. Someone had to organize chaos, enforce order, combat
panic and upheavals. An inventory was needed, to
account for how
many permanent residents of the centre were missing.
The homeless people like me, had to be registered,
lodged and fed. The reactions
of the dwellers who remained, and at first refused to understand the
situation’s severity and live a more frugal life, had to be
repressed; provisions and
employment to be allocated justly to everybody, according to
their skills, whether
they were locals or outsiders.
Of course, this equality
didn’t really exist,
and many people were
protesting; but the sinister, grey uniforms were lurking in the
registering every reaction
and remonstrance. Dissidents were relocated for labour to farms and
small factories, constructed at the
perimeter of the
cut-off city-nation, and become productive members of our new
society. Thereafter, everybody shut up.
the New World was
formed as the regime wished; without upheavals,
with order. They didn’t care about the lowlifes of the underworld –
something that will never change – but about the citizens’
discipline, the acceptance of the police state. Anyway,
organized crime died after the blockade and only petty
burglars, three-card mongers, small-time
thieves, prostitutes – and a hybridic race was born;
half-legal, half-illegal - the scavengers.
my previous life I was a civil engineer. That day I had a meeting
with a client. Fortunately, the good man took me in until I could
find out what to do, so I didn’t end up on the streets. After the
first upheavals, when life in the city started to find a pace again,
I applied for lodgings and started seeking work. I didn’t want to
burden my hosts anymore. Ι
tried to find something
in my field, but the ‘natives’ preferred their
competition among outsiders for any kind of employment was ferocious.
At last, they gave me a bedsit
with a bed
and a table, and I
found a job at a gas station; I was working at the pumps, washed
sometimes did a repair.
My salary was pejorative –
as is always for
the destitute – but I
didn’t have many needs;
food and booze, warm cloths, some books and, little by little, the
house necessities. Even
if I could afford it, I didn’t have the heart for
outings. I was still shell-shocked from the loss of my home and my
life and mad from pain for my Night, my precious cat, which was left
my little girl, forever
didn’t have any family to mourn,
and friends had drifted
away as years went by.
I was living alone, with a void inside me; a hole which sometimes I
could almost see in the mirror, which work and superficial
couldn’t fill. Until I met Night. I longed many years for a kitty,
but I was afraid of the responsibility. Back then, I made many
business trips. Who would care for her when I wasn’t there? I
couldn’t even find someone to water my plants; but, a colleague
convinced me to take in a poor animal in need of a home. They rescued
it from the street and a girl hosted it, but her cats didn’t accept
it. When I went to see her, the little girl came and sat on my lap,
fearless, as if she already knew me;
with trust. And suddenly I felt a bubble swelling inside me, like a
balloon full of helium; swelling, enlarging and filling the black
hole; her apperception, her trust. I took her in without a second
thought. It was love at first sight – for both of us. She was black
silk, molten gold eyes and frolicsome
lithe like an ancient Egyptian cat; smart, gracious and cuddly. She
was my little black panther, strolling in the ‘jungle’ of my
balcony and fiercely attacking the potted palm in my living room. She
became my family, my child, the apple of my eye. I didn’t need
anything anymore. I was giving and taking inexhaustible,
love. I had never loved anybody so much, and nobody had loved me so
much. Her purring was
the most beautiful music in the world. She was sleeping on my pillow,
waking me up with a kiss. She followed me everywhere. She made me
happy. She made me whole.
Whatever happened to me, she was always there.
had been working at the gas station for about two years when I met
Anda. I was seeing her frequently as, because of her profession, she
needed much more fuel than most citizens.
Gradually, we started
to talk. Before the Τransposition
she was an antiquarian, but antiques weren’t greatly demanded in
the New World anymore, so she became a scavenger when ‘soap-bubbles’,
as people dubbed the strange time anomalies in the Waste Land, were
needed an assistant. My profession counted; as an engineer, I knew
how to spot dangerous buildings which could collapse and crush us,
and discover safe passages. I could use tools and help if the car
stalled. The salary was generous, and I would get a commission if I
was up to the job. I wouldn’t have to rise at dawn and work like a
dog twelve hours for crumbs anymore. And the greatest allure, which I
didn’t divulge until we got to know each other better, was
something I had learned from colleagues of hers; that through a
twist of luck my old neighbourhood was part of the Waste
Land, and time-pockets existed there.
Perhaps my home was preserved in one of them; perhaps I could get
back in time and search for my baby who could be still living,
frightened, famished and alone.
Of course, I
job’s pressure helped me to be alert, to forget for a while my
depression, and I had real
contact with another
human being – despite
the employer-employee relationship, we had become friends and we
depended upon each other for our survival.
it preserved my crazy hope, the only thing still keeping me sane;
that perhaps I could find my Night, find within Waste Land’s chaos
the right soap-bubble at the right moment; because, after the
the world was scattered, and what remained of our city was a raft
swirling in the ocean of space-time.
were some adventurers who set off to
explore the Waste Land, and discovered that amongst the ruins were
time-pockets which had remained in Before.
Nobody knew for sure
left there from Before the Great Disaster,
how and why those pockets were preserved into
where and when they
exactly were, and if they existed in our
Our presence seemed to affect them, since they moved imperceptibly
after each expedition. ‘Nobody can enter the same river twice’ a
sage had said. The great river of time. The specialists who went to
study them were
increasingly confused and disheartened, and the simple people
believed that the wilderness was haunted. Only scavengers dared to
visit the stern necropolis of After; nobody knew what dangers,
malevolent ghosts could lurk there.
of this, some guards sometimes looked the other way. On
the one hand, their admiration for the
swagger, who didn’t know if they would come back next time, and, on
the other, some coins discreetly palmed.
were seeking, like the other scavenges, the most promising
soap-bubbles, and sometimes we wrenched small or big treasures;
information and objects for historians, collectors and artists. From
time to time, money
was changing hands
and a scavenger made a hoard.
was looking forward to this hoard. How long had we been searching the
ruins together? Three years? More? We weren’t sure.
was sure. Time was relative now. Was it the terrible pressure of the
anti-matter weapons which, distorting the fabric of the universe
itself, warped and
misshaped the fourth
dimension and tore its
Before … how many years exactly? At least five or six. More? How
many? Were our
memories so distorted? Scientists were still trying to understand
exactly how the
occurred and where it led us. The
fragment which is now
called New World was
else. It wasn’t
that much of a world; just some hundred square kilometerses,
and then the unknown.
The city tuned up in a strange dimension of its own – here time
really flowed like a river; one
time wide and shallow,
deep, one time
fast and turbulent. Sometimes the sunset lasted hours, sometimes
night didn’t fall at all for days, and other times snow fell in
spring along with the blossoms of the cherry trees. Summers were
long and teary.
The constellations were different.
At times we saw
luminous, multicoloured veils like the Νorthern
Lights rippling on the sky.
One could easily lose count of the seasons. And we were encircled by
no man’s land,
many kilometers of desert, until the unexplored country of After,
which held inside it time-pockets of Before.
we started to get a feel of the place
– if not of the time.
Many roads were impassable,
buried under avalanches
of wreckage. But I
didn’t stop hoping that one day I would find my baby and my home. I
was trying to locate
the right bubble where
compasses didn’t exactly point to the same north… but the horizon
points were more or less stable.
was patient. I was waiting. I hoped beyond all
For a long time
I had been trying to map, with Anda’s help, the unstable perimeter
of the wilderness, to direct her towards landmarks on old maps which
could be adjacent to our world – monuments, squares, grand
buildings. It was slow and tedious work.
the Waste Land, at one of the
doleful avenues of
After. Everywhere, cement dust, ash, tortured metal and gutted
buildings with wooden beams protruding like broken teeth, and not a
living soul, beneath the eerie shine of a waning moon which seemed
too close and too silver, and bathed
the ruins with a disturbing opalescent light. The street had the
unnatural quietness of a nightmare.
I didn’t want
to think how it would look at daytime.
think I can get
my bearings. This
“Are you sure?
The previous times…”
There were so many ‘previous times’; so many failed attempts, so
many roads that led us to
dead ends and
downfalls, so many false alarms…
I’m absolutely sure. I can feel it in my bones. Look, the Great
Arch! We haven’t come across it before. Turn here. Now I know where
we are going.”
at last, after so many
years I found my home, somewhat shabby but still standing, in a
pocket of Before,
though without knowing
And instead of the exultation I was waiting for, suddenly I felt
frightened, frozen. What would have
ascended to the second floor. The door was open. We turned on the
lamps on our helmets and started searching the untidy rooms. Had
someone been here before us, or it was just the entropy
of the Τransposition?
said Anda; “I’m risking my hide for you.”
a cupboard I found my old duffel bag,
faded from the sun of so many summer campings. Camping? It’s a
laugh. Last time must have been many years ago. Summer? In another
life. After the Disaster, sea doesn’t exist anymore.
I grabbed some
books and objects and tossed them in the duffel bag.
then, from the dark corridor appeared my girl. Had
I found her at last? Or was I seeing
her ghost? Because there
were ghosts in the
Waste Land. I rushed forward, reached for her… and she disappeared.
I staggered dizzily. The floor wobbled. Time flickered.
At her place appeared the stray grey cat I was feeding, with the
weakest baby of her litter; a piebald, which was always crying. It
was tiny, much smaller than I remembered, fitting in my palm. Its fur
was dull and matted,
its head scabbed,
almost bald, an ugly
pink like a rat’s paw. It seemed
at death's door.
serious?” said Anda. “There’s no way you can get it in.”
way I’m leaving it here. It will die.”
will die anyway. Doesn’t look like it will survive. The older one
one?” I mumbled.
“Black? It was
saw what I was longing for, a
vision born from my
had time shifted imperceptibly by my dashing?
“So, why take
see it? Don’t you understand? I can’t leave it.”
we arrived at checkpoint 12 I still held it in my hands. We managed
to slip out, but we couldn’t avoid inspection upon entering. There
were unmanned passages leading out, without cameras, heat detectors,
movement sensors and
Geiger counters, as the
official points of
entry and exit flanking the perimeter had, but it wasn’t certain
you could find them returning. Only checkpoints were stable. The
authorities didn’t care for those going out –where could they
go?– but who, or what,
could get in the oppressive,
police-ridden, grey and
fragile New World. Until now, not a human soul was found out there;
just rats, and hungry pets gone feral, whom
collectors paid dearly
for and pampered. At a dawn we reckoned
we heard faraway birdsong; we had never seen birds, but you can never
presented the scavenger’s permit, but the potbellied hulk in the
booth stared at the kitten. Ι
was so afraid it might
die in my hands, it didn’t cross my mind to hide it. Such a jerk!
“It’s a bit
took it off my hands, laid it on the counter, looked at it,
raised his arm,
clenched his fingers and crushed the hairless scull with his fist.
Thin, pinkish blood splattered his hand. My mouth opened but no voice
I closed it and just stared at him feeling my eyes bulge, bulge,
survive,” he said indifferently. “We don’t want monsters in the
found my voice and hissed through my teeth
asshole!”, letting out the breath I’d suppressed all this time. I
reached for my knife
but, before I could draw it,
Anda hit me hard on the
belly. I doubled in half, hearing her say “Okay, officer, we are
leaving. No harm done.”
she floored the gas pedal
shrieked: “You will pay for this, lard-ass! I’ve marked you!”
up,” said Anda. “Are you mad? He could have registered
worst fear was to be registered. The permit was
the toll high – so when they could they slipped out at night –
and risked their lives each time they entered the Waste Land. While
they were well respected, they had to be very careful. Any asshole
who had woken
up on the wrong side of the bed could register
you and single you out,
and then they would
thoroughly scrutinize you at each checkpoint – and some of the
goods scavengers sold couldn’t withstand a careful scrutiny.
Only connections could
get you off the hook, and we didn’t have many. The New World didn’t
differ from the old in this respect. Anda really had risked her hide
for me; for a few books and another cat than the one I was looking
the checkpoint’s lights were out of sight, Anda braked.
I unfastened my seat
belt, opened the door and collapsed on the road.
I was sobbing and pounding the ground with my fists. “For the wrong
cat! Why the fuck did Disaster play this cruel joke on me?”
I was crying
with hard, ugly sobs. “Leave me alone. I will go home on my own.”
I could realize it, with one hand she grabbed me by the hair
and with the other
picked up my knife from my belt. She kicked me in the ribs with her
military boot. I curled up, covered my
head with my hands
and continued to sob.
go home. I will give you your knife back when you’ve cooled down.
I don’t want you to
slash your veins and leave me without assistance.”
She kicked me a
couple more times for good measure, and the car roared away.
don’t know for how much time I was crying or when I stopped. My
ribs hurt, but I managed to stand up and cope with the half hour’s
walk to my home. Some fucking home! An outsider’s bed-sit with
furniture scavenged from the streets, some books and a view of other
building’s backyards. The only valuable thing was my laptop. Of
course, the Internet didn’t exist any more, but I used it as a
typewriter, recording my thoughts and experiences, and our
expeditions, in the file ‘Now’. It was my diary; an attempt to
put in order my sad, chaotic life
roamed from Before to
After and suffocated on
map the Waste Land; to
track down the most
added the Arch to my
incomplete map, which
reminded me of old naval maps I had seen in a museum, in another
life. There were monsters drawn on the four corners of their known
world, along with the sinister
‘Here may be
the cartographers of the time didn’t know what was out there, as we
didn’t know where we might end up and what we would find.
For a week I
wasn’t talking much – mostly I nodded; Anda was watching me
warily. At last, she couldn’t stand it anymore.
“Are you still
sulking? What was I supposed to do?”
She was right,
but I couldn’t get the hideous image out of my mind, or stop
feeling betrayed. I hadn’t mentioned my home again.
She brought it
up, trying to bridge the chasm between us. “Can you find your home
don’t know,” I said sourly. “I have to consult my notes.”
“Do it, and
when you are ready, tell me.”
took me another week to
track a shorter route,
using landmarks of our space-time that seemed aligned to
stable points which survived
on both sides of the Fusion.
time we got out off
a checkpoint, very cool; a few days back we had found some boxes full
of old DVD’s which were sold dearly. Our reputation grew. When we
arrived at no man’s
land, I led her
toward the previous time’s direction; we passed the Arch and found
again my home’s pocket. It didn’t look shabby anymore, and there
was a lit window on the second floor. We looked at each other. The
small building’s entrance wasn’t locked. We ascended
noiselessly to my
apartment. I gently tried the doorknob.
It didn’t move. Anda
produced her skeleton keys and in half a minute we were in. We
switched off our torches and advanced carefully towards the light. It
seeped out of a door slightly ajar. We approached
I looked in stealthily, and jumped back feeling my face drain of
there?” whispered Anda.
raised a finger across my lips to hush her. We squeezed at the
threshold and we saw… me! The woman’s hair was cut in uneven
levels and she wore a strange, voluminous dress, but she was me,
and she was dandling my little girl, singing to her. I recalled my
earlier vision of Night and uttered a cry. The woman lifted her eyes
and looked at me; our eyes locked. I felt something like an electric
discharge. The floor wobbled; time flickered;
the cat and her mistress vanished
with the abrupt finality of a burst soap-bubble;
the light was extinguished; I howled. I fainted.
came to my senses outside, on the street. Anda
had dragged me down the
stairs and laid me on the pavement. She was shaking me.
are you with me?”
am. Did you see it?
fuck! I saw it. I
saw you! What the
hell is going on?”
suppose that space-time distortion
is very strong here.
Probably we turned up at another
where from a
sidelong road, in a dimension adjacent to our
own, where the Disaster didn’t happen;
another Ellie still lives with my baby in a different reality, where
life is as I wish.”
realities don’t exist. Only the New World.”
“Okay, I saw
it. What are we going to do now?”
once. I don’t know if we are safe here. Let me think.”
That night I was
a dead weight – luggage. Anda found a healthy dog and two trunks
full of antique clothes. A good haul; our clients were delighted; our
scavenger’s job is a mix of talent, stubbornness,
research, experience and
intuition. We had them all, and we started to reap the fruits of our
But I didn’t dare to mention my home anymore.
passed and we hadn’t discussed it.
Both of us shrank back.
No way would we return there. There were other areas on my sketchy
map which led us to good hauls. We were even more alert,
careful, fearing that we might end up in a marginal
bubble, a Before from which no return would be possible. But as much
as I tried to put it out of my mind, I was feeling the
of the life I saw winking to me out
of a door pouring light.
In an alien reality where I was happy.
a scavenger, I had met many scientists and researchers and I started
discretely trying to gather information,
but I was afraid to tell them what I saw. In the New World you can
never know what may attract the State’s attention to you, or who is
a rat. The official viewpoint of the regime was that now
we were completely
alone and cut-off, the known universe was lost, and the soap-bubbles
were parts of our linear
unbeknown to us, were preserved among the ruins. Belief in other
dimensions was considered antisocial, almost heretic, and frowned
upon. Any possible contact with your previous life, as urban legends
said could happen,
was unacceptable. In the New World you should have a new self. We had
trouble enough with our own
We didn’t need other dimensions on top of this. I learned about a
like mine, of people
who happened to glance for an instant at their life somewhere
else, but they
hadn’t intended it nor could they comprehend what exactly had
found the great haul at last. We discovered a large public library,
with some books
eons old, and we were selling it gradually. I managed
to stabilize more or
less its co-ordinations,
and almost every day we succeeded in finding it again and returned
loaded. All scavengers envied us. I bought new boots at the black
that half-sighted life still tormented me, like a
persistent pain on the
ghost-limb of an amputee.
caught a severe cold.
She was bedridden, with
a high fever. It was the chance I had long been waiting for. I spend
the day with her,
applying compresses on
her forehead, feeding her chicken soup and
chatting. About 3 a.m.
I told her “I’m worn down; I’m going home to crash. I will be
back in the morning.”
wouldn’t thank me if she knew that her gun was
in my knapsack.
wasn’t difficult to find a dusty rust-bucket
parked in a remote alley. Its lock was a joke.
streets were empty. 3 a.m. The black midnight of the soul.
Law-abiding citizens were sleeping the sleep of the just;
I could meet only
like me, and amongst us rules the code of silence; I saw nothing, I
got out from a secret passage
and turned back towards checkpoint 12, as if I
was coming from the
desert. The lard-ass was dozing. I pulled down the hat hiding my
smudged face and my hair and honked. He straightened and looked at me
“What do you
I wanted to chop
him to pieces with my knife, but I would be nailed. I took the gun
from the passenger’s seat, got out of the car and shoved it in his
face. I smiled.
remember me, asshole?”
“No? I told
you that I’d marked you.”
fluttered in his eyes.
so glad you remembered me,” I said, and shot him in the belly.
Belly-shots guarantee a slow and very painful death, but I didn’t
have time enough to savour it. And I longed to see the spark of
despair in his eyes,
the realization that
his life ended. When he had howled to my heart’s content from pain
and terror, squirming like a worm cut in half, and understood very
well who I was, I grabbed him by his lapels and we came nose to nose.
I told him “You are dead” and shot him point blank between his
eyes. Just for fun, I shot the camera once.
checkpoints are far from dwellings, I took off as the devil was on my
heels. You could never be safe enough.
left the car where I’d found it, went home, cleaned the gun and
shrugged off my bloody shirt. My face in the bathroom mirror seemed
drenched by a red rain, and was plastered with diminutive pieces of
bone and brain matter. I grinned. I walked into the shower.
At 9 a.m. I was
with Anda, smelling of soap instead of gunpowder and blood, cooking
breakfast. The gun was in its place, and she didn’t know that I
knew where she was hiding it.
Of course, the
news spread in our circle like a forest fire. A colleague came to see
how Anda was doing and told us the story. Rumours said that the guard
was murdered before dawn by a scavenger with an illegal haul.
When he left,
Anda regarded me as though she was seeing me for the first time.
you do it?”
“Did you kill
cooked up your brain? How could I reach checkpoint 12? Flying on a
“With a car…”
“That I don’t
get a grip; what am I? Superwoman? I left whacked; I went home and
crashed for five hours. If you don’t believe me, go down and check
the odometer. Where could I find a gun? My weapon of choice is the
knife. And the murderer was
entering. Do you
think I’m so
mad, I would dare to go out alone in the darkness?”
“But he was…”
“I know very
well who he was. That lard-ass. I will piss on his grave if I find
where it is. The person who offed him ought to get a medal. He did
the world a favour.”
The distrust in
her glance started to melt like morning dew, and she averted her
let’s eat,” I said. Good news whets my appetite.”
recovered soon and we continued our expeditions. I was registering
every new landmark and patiently, with some deceptive to
and fro moves, I was
steering her towards my
narrower and narrower
like a vulture honing
onto its prey,
trying to locate
co-ordinations and distances between the pockets of the area. I was
leading her to bubbles we had visited before, observing how they had
changed and which way they had moved, like boats
with full sails drifted
by the wind, and how this would affect my inquests; and to new ones,
exploring them, trying to understand if they were significant or not,
if I could depend on them for provisions or
continuing my search. Some were more distant, didn’t interest me
right now, but the more I learned the better I would be prepared for
any weirdness or problem. It was good to know what I could
expect, more or less,
there, if I was forced to
threatened by some ghost, the
thank God, uneasy blood-lusting
shadows, which hadn’t yet found rest; or by some new, unimaginable
and improbable danger. My maps were continually enriched. I had
already started to detect some vague routes which were connected.
much speculation had been made about the soap-bubbles, nobody had yet
understood their nature and their significance. Ahead of me lay a
horizon of endless knowledge, the greatest adventure in the world,
greater than the Odyssey; because each one had its own
particularities, era and secrets; a
little different every time, enough to fill my time and refresh
my mind while I was
trying to achieve
my goal. I wondered where
Before they could
reach; the Waste Land is vast, and most of it is still unexplored
like a virgin forest. We had never got very far in the past. Who
knows how deep
some pockets were, assuming that many realities could coexist inside
them? Who knows what could I discover, or encounter? Dinosaurs?
Unicorns? If so, why not a black cat?
was laying in wait for me, I wasn’t afraid; to have seen yourself
eye to eye was
much scarier than any nightmare the Disaster could have spawned.
Perhaps there may be
dragons? Things and
entities which weren’t yet
found in the Waste
Land, hidden in its uncountable, unexplored dimensions? I
was sure. That other Ellie
couldn’t be their only inhabitant. Would I meet other people or…
Would I be able to
communicate with them, or would we remain presences which tried to
touch each other but failed? Elusive images, unreachable visions…
or maybe hallucinations born of weariness,
need and obsession?
didn’t care if I would meet dragons; I would decide what to do
then. I had my goal. I had the great
quest ahead of me. I
was prepared to suffer patiently and make any sacrifices I needed to.
I managed to gather as much
data as my impatience
allowed me, I updated my maps for the last time in the New World,
chances and started to prepare and buy the provisions I needed. Never
from the same merchant. I didn’t want to arise suspicions.
now I was as ready as I could be. I asked Anda to get out tonight
and find my home’s
were traveling silent beneath a bloated full moon which dusted
deceptively the ruins with silver glitter; when we arrived at the
Waste Land’s point bordering the bubble of my
Before, I told her
“Leave me here”.
“Are you mad?”
“No. But I
will become mad if I stay anymore in the New World. I haven’t had a
moment’s peace since I saw my… since I saw that other dimensions
mustn’t say such things.”
dumb. You saw it with your own eyes.”
“But you can’t
return there! Another Ellie lives there.”
know, but my child exists into this bubble. I saw her twice. When I
tried to grab her that first night, time shifted and we turned up in
a reality where just the grey cat and her baby existed. Who knows how
large this pocket is and how
intersect there? So, if in one of those my Night lives with another
Ellie, I have the same possibilities to find her somewhere alone,
waiting for me to return from work, in another
fold of time where the Disaster hasn’t happened.
Opportunities will open in front of me like a peacocks’ tail. Every
day, every time I would enter again, at every imperceptible shift,
new possibilities will bloom. I will camp here and search them all to
crazy! This is insane!”
is a movable holiday.”
I stared at her
“How will you
the strays we find; if they can find food, I can, too. What
the fuck! I can even eat a rat!
I have my knife, a gun and lot of ammunition, enough food for some
days, my laptop and a sack full of batteries, my notes and my maps.
worry. I left you
copies. We know that in the soap-bubbles useful things exist; canned
food, tools and weapons, even energy. I will explore them one by one
gathering provisions. Surely, I won’t be bored, or in need of
unfastened my seat belt and got out; I hauled from the boot my
faded from the sun of so many old summers, duffel bag,
which I had hidden
under our gear. She got out, too.
wonder. Did anybody enter a bubble
with respect, without
or impertinence, not
intending to have fun or
make a fortune?
Someone who didn’t
want to extract
but embrace? To be reconciled with the life from which they were torn
off violently and perhaps still exists, somewhere?
Is it possible that
the soap-bubbles react
to our presence, our
plunder, moving to
different realities which are created by a living, conscious,
the great stream pervading all levels of existence and of matter,
intersecting infinite dimensions? Who knows what happened to the rest
of the world? Was it just us who were catapulted
else by the
super-weapons, or was the entire
world shattered for
its hubris, punished for its
arrogance, and its
wreckages spinning cut-off, crazily, a thousand lost islands like us
in the infinitive ocean, the blue nowhere? Might it be that time
broke us like a dry twig on its knee and kept in its bosom some
pockets which are, by
without war, without animosities, without the Great Disaster? Where
some valiant and dedicated souls would be granted, after their
plight, the Holy Grail of the Correct Moment in Time and unite with
the reality they long for? Could all
of Before exist into After?
had started to shout,
do we know about time? Might
it be that time is
That time is God,
omnipresent and filling
all things, the
even-handed, the merciful and the punisher? Would
He hear my prayers and have mercy on me if I
beg with bitter tears, if I promise to
Him and pay back
anything He would ask, if I create the Theology of the Soap-Bubble?
by jumping from one pocket
my body, my cells, my material substance,
changing imperceptibly with each new move, always leaving behind a
minuscule piece of myself as an offering? That
time would sculpt me,
adding to, and removing from, whatever He deems proper, polishing my
flaws, chiselling my power? That, as I won’t
return to the New
World, I would search
and survive popping in and out
of Before, dawdling away less and less into After without growing
distilling and absorbing
the essence and experience of the dimensions? Having all the time in
the world and even more for my quest, exploring the elusive
time-pockets for my necessities and my child, learning to give and
take, to handle an
self? Will I be me
anymore? I don’t know and don’t care. I will remain an
indefatigable force seeking what
it misses until its
last breath. Perhaps I will find it in a world not ruined and grey,
with summers and sea. Perhaps one
dawn I will hear birds’ song, and see them flying on the cloudless
I howled at the
moon like a jackal: “Time, Time, are you here? Will you make me
almost popped out of their sockets. I saw goosebumps on her arms. She
stepped back, terrified, as I approached her.
Ellie, you are out of your mind. What’s all this
nonsense? Are you nuts?
Pull it together!”
voice had reached hysteria. She raised
hands to fend me off as if I would lash out at her.
Tough Anda had broken,
and inside her was a
little girl trying to close her eyes and ears, to refuse the
do you want to be lost into Before, Ellie?
You have me. You have your life.”
life? Trying to reconstruct my lost time alone in a shack,
mad from pain? Whatever
you say won’t change my mind. I don’t want to live half a life
anymore; I want my real life back. I want my baby back. I want to
wake up!” I shrieked.
Anda stared at
me totally freaked out.
believe this stuff?”
course I believe it,” I said hoarsely. My vocal cords ached.
“Do you think I’m pulling your leg?”
Ellie, please! You are scaring me!”
eyes brimmed like
flowers filled with rain, but she was trying not to cry, as if crying
would seal the inevitable. I took her hands in mine.
Anda. You are my only friend and I love you, but I love my Night
more. If I stay I will die from my sorrow. Don’t worry. Assistants
will be queuing at your door.”
We stared at
each other for a while, and then she hugged me. Now she was crying.
stay with me…”
“No, Anda; no,
my dear. If you want what’s best for me, let me go.”
She asked again,
desperate: “Are you sure?”
“I will miss
you, Ellie. We had a good time together. Be careful.”
I hugged her
“We had a good
time, Anda. I’ll miss you, too. But I will be happier here,
searching for my Night, having a goal at last, a reason to live. The
greatest adventure a mind can grasp. Don’t worry, I will be
careful. I have to stay alive to find her. Go home now.”
I stroked her
hair and led her to the car.
As she turned on
the engine, I leaned against the window.
you remember that lard-ass, Anda? I
killed him. You were right. I lied.”
* * *
just released or soon-to-be include; 'Sacred & Profane' by Peter
Bell (Sarob Press), 'Strange Waters' by Jackie Taylor and 'Accidental
Flowers' by Lily Peters (Arachne Press), the latter described as “a
novel in short stories”… 'Among The Lilies' (Undertow
Publications) … 'Dreamland:
Other Stories' (Black Shuck Books) ...'Azerbaijan Tales,' three long
stories and a poem by Albert Power (Egaeus Press) … 'Look Where You
Are Going, Not Where You Have Been' by Steven J. Dines
(Luna Press) described as "a hauntingly beautiful collection"
... Brian Stableford's admirable literary sweatshop of translation
continues with an equally admirable continuation of Snuggly Books
unearthing Jean Lorrain with 'Princesses of Darkness & Other
Exotica.' Volume 5 of Brian Showers uncanny Swan River Press
anthologies – 'Uncertainties' – intriguingly features one entry
by the sainted Alan Moore ... Also on Swan River is a new edition of
1924's pleasingly obscure 'The Fatal Move & Other Stories' by
Conall Cearnach. Finally, the equally sainted Steve Rasnic Tem has a
second collection published by Valancourt Books: 'Thanatrauma.'