He headed back into the tiny bedroom at the back of the apartment. Laurita was a still and silent shape beneath the threadbare blanket. Far too still.
He froze in place. Stared at the blanket. Heard neither breath nor whisper. No, no. Not yet. Please, not yet, he thought.
Then, the blanket moved up and down. Laurita raised her head and smiled. He exhaled, the sound harsh in the quiet.
“Papa, was I a good girl for the nurse?”
“Of course you were. Miss Ruta said you were very good.”
“She had a sad face. I thought…”
“No, no, you are always a good girl. Always.”
“When I feel better, I should pick flowers for her. Would that be okay?”
Andrius’s chest tightened. For a moment, the words caught in his throat. He nodded. “Yes, it would be very nice.”
Outside the window, storm clouds gathered and thunder rumbled in the distance.
“Is Perkūnas angry?” Laurita asked.
He laughed. “Maybe he is.”
She gave him a small smile. “Papa?”
“Who makes the snow?”
He tapped his chin. “I wonder. Is it Perkūnas?”
She shook her head. “No, he makes the thunder.”
Another shake. A small giggle. “No, she lives in the sea.”
“Ahhhh, I know,” he said, raising his hand. In his palm, a white ball of snow shimmered in the light. “I make the snow!” He tossed it up in the air. It broke apart, and snowflakes fell down around her, alighting on her lashes and nose. The room filled with the smell of pine and cinnamon.
She gave a weak laugh, her breath emerging in a vapory plume. As the snowflakes melted, he could not help looking over both shoulders. No one could possibly have felt such a small magic, and the curtains were shut tight, but still…
“You have the best magic in the world,” Laurita said.
He kissed her forehead. “I have the best daughter in the world, but now, you must go to sleep.”
“Okay,” she said, her eyes already half-closed.
He pretended not to notice the pale cast to her skin. The shadows beneath her eyes. Her frail limbs. The breath wheezing in and out of her lungs. Just as he pretended not to see the soldiers outside. It was
better that way.
Andrius tossed and turned in his own bed, hating the way the space beside him felt like a country he could only dream of visiting. Wind rattled against the glass, and a boom sounded in the distance. Maybe Perkūnas was wielding the bolts of thunder and lightning. Maybe not. He was also the god of war, yet he seemed in no hurry to strike down the invaders. Perhaps he didn’t care at all.
The rest of the world was far too busy watching Paris fall to the Germans to worry about Andrius’s country and the suffering of its people. There were whispers of ways out, of soldiers who would look the other way for the right amount of money, but he did not have the money, and Laurita was not strong enough for travel.
He scrubbed his face with his hands. A trace of magic lingered on his skin, giving his palm a luminescent appearance. Such a small thing. Such a huge risk. But it was all he had.
Saulė had always loved the snowflakes, too.
He rolled over to the empty side of the bed and buried his face in her pillow. He could still smell the scent of her skin. Tears burned in his eyes. He inhaled deeply, pulling in her scent as far as he could.
She would still be with them if he hadn’t let her go out on her own. He’d known it was dangerous. But she’d smiled and said she’d be right back, she was only going to the market, and he’d kissed her on the cheek and said, “Okay.” He should’ve said no, it was not okay. He was supposed to protect her.
He punched the mattress and sobbed into the pillow. It was all his fault and there was nothing he could do. He could only pray they took her to Siberia. At least there she would have a chance. A tiny one, but better than the alternative.
“Oh, Saulė, I miss you. I miss you so much,” he said, his voice muffled. “Please forgive me.”
He should’ve done something. Anything. He cried until his throat ached, then clasped his hands together and prayed. He prayed Ruta made it home safe and sound. He prayed for his country. He prayed for Saulė. And last, he prayed for a miracle for Laurita. He wished with all his heart she would see her seventh birthday. Surely the gods could grant him that.
Coughing woke him in the middle of the night. He stumbled in the darkness, banging his shin on the doorframe. Laurita was hunched over in the bed, her hands cupped over her mouth. The coughs came out ragged and thick. He rubbed her back and held a cloth to her mouth until the coughing subsided.
After he wiped the blood from her lips, he tucked the cloth away before she could see it and measured out a spoonful of the medicine Ruta, his wife’s best friend in the time before fear and soldiers, had risked her life to bring. It was not a curative (those medicines belonged to other countries, countries without soldiers and tanks invading their lands) but would make it…easier for her.
Laurita made a face. “I don’t like medicine.”
“I don’t either.” He smiled. “Here, let’s make it taste better.” He waved his hand. The liquid turned amber; the sweet smell of flowers wafted from the spoon. She swallowed it down and smiled.
“Will the medicine help me get better?”
“Yes, it will.”
“And when I am well, will Mama come back?”
He swallowed hard and forced his lips into a smile. “I’m sure she will finish her work and come home soon.”
A little lie. Just like the taste of honey in her spoon.
“I wish the soldiers could find someone else to help them. I miss her, Papa. I miss her so much.”
“I miss her, too.”
“Magic me a story, Papa.”
“I wish I could, but you know it would make the soldiers angry. I will tell you a story instead.”
“And what story do you want to hear?”
Her face brightened. “Jūratė and Kastytis.”
He smiled. Saulė had told her the story time and again. He always thought it too sad for a small child, but it was Laurita’s favorite. He readjusted the curtains, fluffed Laurita’s pillow, and pulled the blanket up to her chin.
“Once upon a time, there was a beautiful mermaid goddess who lived under the sea in a palace made of amber. Her name was Jūratė, and she had a long tail with scales the color of the sky just before the sun sets.
“And there was a handsome fisherman named Kastytis who would come to the sea every day to catch fish, but one day, while Kastytis was in his boat, Perkūnas was angry and made a big storm.”
Andrius let a little magic slip free. Just a touch of the salt tang of the Baltic Sea and a darkening of the air near the ceiling to resemble a storm cloud.
“Kastytis fell into the sea. Jūratė saw him fall and rescued him from the waves. She took him home to her palace, and they fell in love.
“But this made Perkūnas very angry. He didn’t think Jūratė should love a mortal man like Kastytis. He wanted her to marry Patrimpas, the God of Water. In his anger, he sent a lightning bolt from the sky through the water.”
Andrius made light flash in the air, one quick snap of soundless bright.
“The lightning hit Jūratė’s palace, shattering it into thousands and thousands of fragments, and poor Kastytis was killed.
“Perkūnas punished Jūratė by chaining her to the ruins of her castle. And now, when storms strike the sea, you can hear Jūratė crying for Kastytis, and you can find her tears washed upon the shore.”
He held out his hand and opened his fingers, revealing a tiny piece of amber that Laurita took and held up to the light. It glowed with a secret fire, then it winked out of sight. She put her hand down and looked at him for a long time without speaking, her mouth set into a frown, her eyes filled with a seriousness far too advanced for her years.
“Perkūnas should have not made the storm and the thunder. He should’ve protected the palace instead, and he should’ve left Jūratė and Kastytis alone.”
“It’s just a story, little one. Only a story.”
But the frown did not leave her face.
“Papa, why does the magic make the soldiers angry?”
“I don’t know,” he lied.
From his bedroom window, Andrius could see the edge of a striped awning at the end of the street. A theater, its stage now silent and dark. He’d performed there a long time ago, but he still remembered the heat of the lights and the gasps of surprise from the audience.
The best magicians could make the people forget they were seated indoors, could transport them to another time, another place. Lithuanian magic was no mere sleight of hand or game of misdirection, but a gift from the land, born from the spring breeze and the winter chill, the fir tree and the rivers.
It could create lions from shadows and birds from candleflame. Could send snowfall on a summer day and turn tears into rain. Even if you were not in a theater during a performance, you could stand outside and feel it in the air, a silent music pulsing from the magician’s fingertips. It was power, but not of control or destruction. It gave hope. Happiness. Strength. All the things the Russians wanted to take away.
Saulė had not wanted him to stop performing, but life on the stage belonged to a man without responsibilities. He’d traded the theater for small magics to make her smile and later, to calm their infant daughter. A choice he never regretted.
And if he had he not made that choice… He closed his eyes. He’d heard whispers that even the old magicians who’d lost their magic to disease or dementia had disappeared.
How he had escaped notice, he didn’t know.
“I don’t want to eat, Papa.”
Andrius set the bowl down and smoothed her hair back from her forehead. “But you must. You need your strength.”
She shook her head. “I will eat it later.”
“But the rabbit might eat it first.”
“Yes, the rabbit.”
He cupped his hands together, blew into them, and opened his palms to reveal a tiny brown rabbit, its nose wiggling, its ears twitching. He placed the rabbit on the bed. It hopped once, twice, three times, and Laurita giggled and clapped her hands.
“Can we keep him?”
“Only for a little while,” he whispered.
He guided the rabbit over to Laurita’s bowl. It dipped its head in.
“No, rabbit, that’s my food.”
“Okay, you eat it then.”
She took several spoonfuls, watching the rabbit jump around on her bed. When the soup was gone, the rabbit turned translucent, shimmering at the edges. Then it disappeared.
“Can you bring it back?”
“No, it’s too dangerous. I will tell you a story instead.
“Once upon a time, the Grand Duke Gediminas went on a hunting trip and made camp atop a high mountain. That night, he dreamt of an iron wolf on the mountain. The wolf howled and howled and howled and sounded like hundreds of wolves.
“When he woke, he told the priest of his dream. The priest said it meant that Gediminas was to build a city on the mountain. The city would be as strong as iron and stand tall for hundreds of years.
“Gediminas had his castle built, and it still stands today, here in Vilnius.”
He held out his hand. On his palm rested a miniature version of the circular castle, the striped flag of Lithuania flying strong and proud.
“I think you would build a better castle, Papa. A bigger, stronger one to keep everyone safe.”
Andrius bent over the bed to adjust the blankets. “Everything will work out fine, little one. I’m sure of it.”
He hoped his voice sounded convincing.
Andrius was sleeping in a chair in the front room when footsteps thudded in the hall. Coarse voices spoke in Russian. He sprang up from the chair and ran into Laurita’s bedroom. She was sleeping soundly. He closed her bedroom door, his mouth dry, his palms sweaty.
His hands twisted. Maybe the soldiers would not check the rest of the apartment. He stood up straight, took a deep breath, and waited three feet away from the door.
Someone shouted. A soldier laughed. A woman screamed. He covered his mouth with his hand and cast a gaze toward Laurita’s door.
Please let her sleep through it, he thought.
More footsteps. Closer now.
He dropped his hands at his side. He would not let them see that he was afraid. A thump. Another laugh. A sob. A child’s cries.
Then the footsteps led away. Away. His shoulders sagged. He could not hold in his tears.
“Ačiū Dievo,” he whispered.
They were safe. This time.
He rushed into the bedroom.
“I heard voices.”
“It was just the neighbors. That’s all. Go back to sleep now. Everything is fine.”
He sagged against the doorframe. No more magic. It was too dangerous. And what good was it? All the magic in the world couldn’t make her well again.
A soft knock sounded at the door just after the sun rose. Andrius opened it a crack, saw Daina standing in the hall, and ushered her in.
“They took Gedrius and his whole family,” she whispered. “But I saw one of them visit Raimondas’s apartment after they took them away.”
“Raimondas? No, he wouldn’t do something like that. He wouldn’t. He is a good man.”
“He is a scared man, like all of us, and scared men do foolish things sometimes.” She touched his arm. “You must be careful.”
Andrius raked his fingers through his hair. “I am careful”
She took his hands and gave them a small shake. “No, you need to be careful. Do you understand?”
A sick feeling twisted inside his belly. “If something should happen to me, will you…” He cleared his throat. “Will you care for Laurita?”
She nodded slowly. “I will do what I can.”
After she left, he stood in the doorway to Laurita’s bedroom and watched her sleep. Her breath was too shallow, the movement of her chest, too slight. Tears ran down his cheeks.
Daina must be mistaken. Raimondas would not turn anyone in. Maybe it was just coincidence. Gedrius’s wife had been a pretty woman. The soldiers liked pretty women. He shuddered.
He should have made Saulė stay home. She had been beautiful.
Once, the small apartment had smelled of flowers, of Saulė’s perfume. Of hope. Now, only the scent of illness hung in the air. Andrius opened his hand, and wisps of pale pink floated up. The smell of freshly-cut roses danced in the air, but it was only a poor imitation. He closed his fist tight, and the scent vanished as if it had never been there at all.
Through a gap in the curtains, he saw a group of soldiers sauntering down the street, their boots trailing mud on the cobblestones. A small boy darted out of another apartment building. One of the soldiers grabbed his arm, and the rest laughed.
Andrius raised his fist to bang on the glass, but pulled it back before it struck. He turned away. The boy’s high-pitched cries crept into the apartment. Andrius covered his ears and rocked back and forth. The boy was so small. So small. Andrius wanted to help, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t. The cries went on and on.
Eventually they stopped, and the soldiers marched on. Andrius dared another look, but the boy was nowhere to be seen.
Laurita was fast asleep, even though the sun was only beginning to set. She’d refused to eat anything all day, claiming her stomach hurt. He kissed her forehead, went into his own bedroom, and pretended to sleep.
“Please, Laurita, you must eat.”
“But I’m not hungry now. Can I eat later? Please?”
He nodded. “Okay. Later.”
She coughed softly. Once. Twice. The cough became loud and liquid and thick. He sat her up and held a cloth to her mouth while he rubbed her back. Her body shook with the force of each cough.
Finally, it subsided enough for a spoonful of medicine. She grimaced, but swallowed it without complaint. He held her close, listening to the air rattle in her lungs. Smelled the coppery tinge of her breath.
I am sorry, Saulė, I did the best I could.
It wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough.
“Papa, will I be well soon?”
“Yes, very soon.”
“Good. I am tired of being sick. I want to pick flowers.”
She coughed again, weakly. Her skin was cool and clammy. He pressed a finger to her wrist; her pulse raced beneath, thready and inconsistent. Tears blurred his vision. He blinked them away and shoved his sorrow deep inside.
“I wish the soldiers would let Mama come back for a little while so I could tell her I love her.”
His tears returned. This time, he turned his head and wiped his eyes dry.
“She knows you love her. I promise.”
“But I want to tell her. It’s not fair.”
“No, it isn’t fair. I wish they would let her come home, too.” He sighed and looked down at his hands. None of it was fair. “But they told me I could magic you a story.”
“Yes, just this one time, it was okay.”
She struggled up to a sitting position. He rearranged the pillow behind her. His hands shook, but he touched her cheek. He had failed in so many ways. As a husband. As a father. As a man. He could give his daughter this much. It would not make up for what he didn’t do, nothing could do that, but it was the only gift he knew how to give.
No matter the risk to himself.
“Once upon a time, there was a beautiful mermaid goddess who lived under the sea in a palace made of amber.”
He lifted his hand and swept it through the air. The walls of the bedroom glistened and turned sapphire blue in color. Ripples moved in lazy lines up and down. At the edges, where ceiling met wall and wall met floor, white foam gathered. The distant cry of seabirds drifted in the air. The room filled with the scent of the sea.
A tiny shimmering light began to glow. It grew larger and larger, revealing a palace with gilded spires.
“It’s beautiful,” Laurita whispered.
Multicolored fish swam in and out of the palace’s many windows. Then Jūratė swam out of the front entrance, her dark hair flowing in the water. Her tail was covered with purple-blue scales, her fins tipped with gold. Laurita’s eyes widened.
Andrius waved his hand again. The air around them changed color. First aquamarine, then sapphire, rippling around them in slow, gentle waves, and through the water above their heads, a man’s face became visible. A young, handsome man holding a fishing rod in one hand and a fish in the other.
Jūratė swam closer to the surface. Kastytis leaned forward; his mouth formed a circle, and he fell into the water with a splash. Droplets landed on Laurita’s brow. Andrius wiped them away.
Jūratė pulled Kastytis into her arms, and they spun around in the water. Tiny pink and yellow fish circled them, moving fast enough to create the illusion of ribbons.
Laurita smiled. “They are so happy.”
Then a man with stormy eyes looked down through the water, his mouth set into a frown. In his hand, he held a bolt of lightning. He raised his arm.
“Papa, don’t let him destroy the castle. Please!”
“But that’s how the story goes.”
“No, you can change the story, can’t you?”
Andrius sucked in a breath. He gave his tears to the sea and tried to find a smile, but inside, his heart clenched tight. He nodded.
No matter the risk.
The magic stretched within him, filling his limbs with strength. He pushed it out, farther than he’d allowed in years. It made Laurita’s skin shine, stripping the pallor of grey. She laughed, high and crystal clear.
The water rippled again. Perkūnas’s frown disappeared into a smile. The amber palace gleamed. A fish swam close, its scales a brilliant crimson, and Laurita reached out to touch its fin. It swam back around and let her touch it again. Jūratė let go of Kastytis and swam over to the bed, offered Laurita a smile and her hand.
“Papa, is it okay?”
“Yes, I think it is.”
The magic grew and grew. Jūratė took Andrius’s hand as well and tugged them down into the water, toward the castle.
“Can we go in?” Laurita whispered.
Jūratė nodded. She swam between them as they walked up the amber steps into a room with an arched ceiling. The floor was a circular mosaic of amber in varying shades. The walls, thin sheets of amber the color of honey fresh from the comb.
“Papa, it’s the most beautiful thing ever.”
Footsteps thumped in the hall, and his heartbeat quickened.
Not yet. Please, not yet.
“I love you, my princess.”
Voices rose in anger. Andrius looked over his shoulder. Through the magic, he could just make out the bedroom door.
“Everything is okay,” he said, forcing his voice to remain steady.
“Is it the soldiers?”
“But they said you could magic me a story, and it’s not finished yet.”
“I guess they changed their minds. I think they need me to go work with them for a little while.”
Jūratė let go of Andrius’s hand, but kept Laurita’s.
Andrius bent down in front of Laurita and brushed her hair back from her face. “But while I go and work with the soldiers, how would you like to stay here?”
He looked up at Jūratė. She nodded.
“You won’t be gone a long time like Mama, will you?”
Jūratė leaned close, her voice soft and whispery like sea foam. “I will keep her safe.”
A fist banged on the door. He wrapped his arms around Laurita and kissed her cheeks.
“I don’t want you to go,” she said, her eyes filled with tears.
“I have to, my sweet girl, I have to, but I will see you soon. I promise.”
“I love you, Papa.”
“And I love you.”
With a knot in his chest, Andrius bowed his head. The smell of the sea vanished. The sound of the waves receded. And Laurita was gone. The pillow still held the shape of her head; the sheets, her body, but atop the blanket was a single piece of amber in the shape of a tear.
His last, and best, illusion.
He scooped it up and held it to his chest, rocking back and forth. Tears spilled down his cheeks. He held the tiny piece of magic tight and did not let go, not even when the barrel of a gun pressed against his temple.]]>
I wrap a starving child in phosphorescent fabric,
A sturdy canvas that holds water, stolen from the palace
When I wandered it halls, the unwelcome guest that wept
When the famine settled in, on a terrace lost in rain.
Fungus angles bloom in forests that witnesses the passing
Of egg-stealers and old men, whose tributaries mingle
With those of the galaxies, grown thick with plums and limes.
Women in a house of many rooms undress, already
In various shades of evening, withdraw to pale solitudes,
Branches hanging heavy with moss, and frogs singing
A stainless song, green and bright at the Perseids.
Bodies littered with copper tangles and scales fill the lianas,
The cathedral where they dance and slap tall drums, shed
White gowns to the wet sand for this funereal solstice, these
Shy avatars that keep one eye on the white birds, heavy
On the water, blue outside the reef, ocean with no edge.
When I remember this earth, there is no image, no rest,
No consumption by fire or fire or dust, only blossoming
Globes, the infinite sprawl of provinces, an endless vessel
Of fresh water, and multitudes of children who lift soft lamps:
This is its beauty: green souls ascending on insect wings
To voyage beyond all water, beyond this, or any, sun.
APEX MAGAZINE: Many of your pieces feature intricate textures, such as “Gold Tiberius,” that mix throughout to both delineate or even relax areas of the image. How do those textures help define the story of the characters in those images, or their environment?
MARCELA BOLÍVAR: Textures are very important to me. They help me define the mood of an image and to enhance the elements I want to draw attention to.
In “Gold Tiberius” I wanted to represent Pan as forgotten god, a creature between life and death and still an inhabitant of the wilderness. Those intricate textures are then marks and trails of a long gone past of decadence and exuberance placed on a now decayed body that carries them with pride.
Other elements such as skies and backgrounds take a new life when I add my painted textures, and help to enrich the tones with subtle shadows and highlights. It is my way of adding something almost palpable and real amidst a heavily manipulated assemblage.
AM: One thing you mention in some of your tutorials is the difficulty of explaining how you create your work. As an artist myself, I also find it difficult at times, trying to avoid an answer such as, “that’s just how I hold the pencil.” How do you approach explaining the mystery of that creation? Is it based on explaining the literal techniques you use, or trying to explain the nature of your ideas?
MB: It is indeed very difficult to explain how the process gives life to an accomplished image. I try however to be very technical in my instructions, and leave the inspiration and conceptual part of the process for lectures or conferences.
In a class, I begin by defining the subject and mood, and then by defining light sources and textures. Compositions are, as always, very important, and that’s why I encourage everyone to always sketch a lot first and to have the elements on the space very well defined before the assemblage starts.
There is not a big mystery to it, but a great way to understand one’s own process and its possible flaws. Every student finds their own way with time, and what I can give is a brief insight into my workflow. I have learned some tricks from my own students too!
AM: One of your pieces that speaks to me is, “Sixtystone.” I appreciate the unspoken mystery of what is happening offscreen. Whether you are creating horror, or mystery, even the unusual, where in the creation of the piece do you decide how you want the viewer to feel? Do you start with a response you want viewers to have, or does that evolve as you create it?
MB: That’s a very experimental image for me. I normally show feminine figures either in portrait or full body, so this was a refreshing undertaking. The image is inspired on Arthur Machen’s story “Novel of the Black Seal.” I wanted to portray some sort of abduction of dark forces, and the stone as the axis and obsession giving sense to his life and thus keeping him tied to this world.
I am very methodical with my process. Images can come to mind in a very spontaneous way, but once I try to make them real I make a list of all the elements my image may need to have to be just as I envision them. The mystery or unusual feel my works can convey are just translations of my personal concept of beauty and the journey to self-knowledge.
I don’t really think of the feelings of the viewer unless it’s about a commercial image. When I think on the impact of a picture then I make it less experimental and more open and readable, since illustrating something in an impactful or alluring way is what mostly clients search for.
AM: With your cover piece, “Ipocondrie,” there’s a nice balance of the static image, with the dynamic flowers and even clouds that are in motion. With an image like this, do you see that image in your head in motion? Does motion, or even lack thereof, change what you or the viewer might think of an image?
MB: That’s exactly what happens in my head. I see these scenes, these unraveling anonymous stories and the urge to capture them in a moment is then translated in elements that want to escape the composition and their artificial static nature.
Sometimes I wish I could dedicate my time to animation too, or even film, but I am well aware of the impact a static image with an impending motion has. I like to imagine all the minds seeing it are reconstructing the moments before and after it is captured and that a sense of elation takes place.
Still images have of course other meanings, but in my world I see everything in constant movement and transformation. Even when the effects are not that dramatic, all my images depict a transmutation of some kind; either slow and relentless or fleeting and definite.
AM: On your DeviantArt page, you’ve been featured in the site’s Daily Deviations a number of times. How has the web, DeviantArt, and social media helped you as an artist, both in your career and in how you approach creating art?
MB: The internet has been a pivotal part of my work as an illustrator. Through social media I have been able to build an audience and client base interested in my style which normally fits in a restricted niche. People contacting me are genuinely interested and connected with my work and personal vision, so it is easier to develop projects and to accomplish ideas satisfyingly.
It hasn’t changed the way I create, but the way I share what I do. I like to release previews of what I’m doing and then show some details that I find appealing. People tend to appreciate those and it is something I also like to see in other artists’ profiles.
It is also very rewarding to read comments and interpretations of what you have created, it is a valuable feedback that teaches you new perspectives of your own work.
AM: Thank you!
Visit her gallery at www.marcelaBolívar.com.
Despite having been professionally formed as a graphic designer, Marcela Bolívar thrives in fields more related to art and illustration. She currently works independently for editorial and musical projects, as well as an instructor in private workshops; but the development of her personal work is her constant motivation.
Bolívar currently lives in Cali, Colombia, where she finished her professional degree and where she has developed a personal vision through the observation of the local lush landscapes, focusing progressively in the human’s body relation to nature and visually exploring their own complexity.
Bolívar likes to stage imaginary situations through mythological figures and constructed personal symbols. In her work, artificial objects and a detailed representation of flora intertwine human bodies and objects with fantastical representations which are made out of photos, paintings, and sculptures serving as metaphors of a human life that wanders between daydreams and reality.
Disguise plays a pivotal role in her images, not only through the use of hybrid anonymous characters as protagonists, but also in regard to her work process, in which she aims to disengage photomontage from its automated nature by pushing the technical limits of digital media through the mixing of photography, hand-made elements and painting.]]>
After a breakdown at college landed Emmeline Kalberg in a mental hospital, she’s struggling to get her life on track. She’s back in her hometown and everyone knows she’s crazy, but the twelve pills she takes every day keep her anxiety and paranoia in check. So when a voice that calls itself Escodex begins talking to Em from a box of frozen chicken nuggets, she’s sure that it’s real and not another hallucination. Well … pretty sure.
An evil entity is taking over the employees of Savertown USA, sucking out their energy so it can break into Escodex’s dimension. Escodex needs Em’s help to save his dimension and to keep hers from collapsing. But Em isn’t certain she wants to help Escodex. She has other things to worry about, like staying off the Savertown USA bowling team, busting her sister’s chops about her new found religion, and getting out of Clear Falls, PA.
When her coworkers start mysteriously dying, Em realizes that she may be the only one who can stop things from getting worse. Now she must convince her therapist she’s not having a relapse and keep her boss from firing her. All while getting her coworker Roger to help enact the plans Escodex conveys to her though the RFID chips in the Savertown USA products. It’s enough to make anyone Stay Crazy.
Order Stay Crazy now from Apex Publications.
Dr. Atchison never trimmed his nose hairs. That was the first thing Emmeline Kalberg hated about him. There were other reasons to hate him, of course: his condescending tone, his haughty manner, the way he’d tear apart your room when you were out at group therapy — all in the name of “mental health,” of course. But the nose hairs, those were Em’s main complaint about the good doctor, and she trembled with the urge to leap over his weathered oak desk and pull them out herself.
“I’m not sure you’re ready, Ms. Kalberg.” Atchison flipped through the thick file in front of him, brow knitted. He paused for a long while before setting down the file and placing his pale, manicured hands atop it.
“Please, Dr. Atchison,” Em said, “I have to go home today. My mother is driving all the way here to pick me up.”
The doctor sighed, a little high-pitched whine that made Em want to strangle him. “Well, the other doctors seem to think you’re well enough to go. They’re probably right.”
What you mean, Em thought, is that my insurance ran out.But she forced a smile, and kept her mouth shut.
“Now, Em, you do realize that you’ll have to take it slow. It will take a while to recover. I want you to promise me that you won’t make any sudden changes to your routine, at least not right away. Your only job right now is to get yourself well. I’m reminded of —”
As Atchison droned on and on, Em stared out the window behind him. A thicket of young trees lay beyond the chain-linked perimeter of the hospital. It looked flat and unreal, like a painting by a first-year art student with a limited range of pigments.
“Ms. Kalberg? Are you listening to me?”
“What was that?”
Atchison stood, shaking his head. “I want to speak with your mother when she shows up. When will she arrive?”
“In an hour.” Em closed her eyes. “She called from the car.”
“Okay, then. You can go get your things together.”
Em slid from the chair and padded to her room in her too-tight blue slippers. It didn’t take long to pack. She’d arrived with nothing more than the clothes on her back, and while she’d picked up a few more things in the past month, everything still fit comfortably into the lime green duffel bag her favorite nurse had brought her. She sat on the creaky hospital bed with her bag in her lap and waited for her ride.
It would be good to get back home, away from the stifling environment of the hospital. At home, nobody would tell her when to eat and sleep. Nobody would snatch a book out of her hands and tell her it wasn’t a good thing for her to read. She wouldn’t have to share her room with a black-clad goth named Amber whose crying jags were only interrupted by surreptitious vomiting.
Amber appeared on cue, a melancholy ghost summoned from Em’s daydreams. “You’re leaving.”
Amber’s eyes welled up. “You’re leaving because you hate me, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am.” Em knew Amber wouldn’t believe anything else. Em slung her bag over her shoulder and went out to wait for her mother in the lobby.
Trevor the Jesus Freak stopped her. He was a thirty-year-old former meth head who had shocked himself while preaching a sermon atop an Episcopalian church and holding onto the church’s weathervane for support. Before Em could smack his hand away, he anointed her forehead with a smudge of dirt. “I heard you were leaving, so I asked the Lord to bless your journey.”
“Well, thanks. I guess.”
“Jesus wants you to take care of yourself. When I opened my Bible this morning for my daily readings, He had illuminated your initials. When I saw the illumination I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and goodwill, and an urgent need to tell you of these things.” Trevor laid one of his filthy hands — he had been anointing people all afternoon — on Em’s shoulder.
Em brushed it off. “Yeah, well, like I said, thanks. But I’ll tell you who’s really in need of some peace and goodwill. Amber. She’s in my room right now in a terrible state of despair. I’m sure Jesus can do something about that.”
Trevor beamed. “You’re right. I shall go visit Amber.” He brushed past Em, his dirt-caked hands extended in benediction.
After perching on an uncomfortable plastic chair, Em gazed through the picture window to the concrete ocean of the parking lot. That’s where her mother’s midnight-blue sedan would be when it finally showed up.
Em imagined their reunion. An ecstatic Bea Kalberg would embrace Em in a hug and cover her with kisses. That alone would make these last two months worth something, to know that she would be going home to somewhere warm and safe, full of love.
When she was eight years old, Em’s father had gone out for cigarettes and ice cream and never returned. A lengthy search turned up nothing, and since then, her mother was all she had. Their relationship wasn’t perfect, but Em always knew her mother cared for her. Events had transpired to put her in this place — events that she still couldn’t remember — but that wouldn’t change anything between Em and her mother. It couldn’t.
A shadow loomed over Em. She looked up. It was a thin-lipped woman in a gray windbreaker, a black pocketbook under her arm. Mom.
“Come along, Emmeline. Let’s go.”
Em spent the next week on the living room couch, covered with a blanket, while her mother worked at the bank and her sister went to school.
“Hello, folks,” said the television therapist with the bald head that was always on channel 64. “I know a lot of people out there are feeling blue right now. It’s a hard, hard world, and sometimes it seems there’s nobody you can trust.”
“You got that right,” said Em.
“Some of you no doubt feel that you’ve hit rock bottom. That’s when you’ve gotta take a good look in the mirror, and trust in me, Dr. Wes Summersby. When you buy and listen to my five-disc emotional healing course on DVD, a magical thing will happen. You’ll feel more confident. You’ll start to take more pride in your life and in yourself.”
Em peeked under her blanket. She was dressed in two-day-old pajamas with a milk stain on the front.
“Buy my DVDs today, and I not only guarantee you satisfaction, I promise you a new life.”
“No sale.” Em flipped to a rerun of Seinfeld.
After months of expansion, Em felt like her life had contracted to a single dot, the space bar on a keyboard, the short silence between words. Every movement became deliberate, like punching her way through a roomful of cotton. The laugh track buzzed in her ears like feedback distortion.
She watched reruns. She laughed, but only when it was appropriate. At least, she hoped.
That night, Em’s mother turned off the television. “Em, can we talk for a minute?”
Em let the fuzzy blanket fall in a pile on the floor. She was suddenly self-conscious of her greasy hair and lack of baths. “Shoot.”
“I think you’re spending a little too much time cooped up here. It’s time you got a job.”
“You’re not too crazy to work at a store a couple of hours a week. I’ll take you down to Savertown USA tomorrow. They’ll hire anybody.”
With great concentration, Em sat up. “I don’t think I want to work at Savertown USA.”
“Well, honey, we all have to do things we don’t want to do. Savertown USA is a fine place to work. We’ll go down there tomorrow after I get home.”
“But I don’t want to work there.”
“I’ll be home at six. Be ready.” She left the room before Em could reply.
Em put the TV back on. Law & Order: Whatever. She took the blanket from the ground and re-swaddled it around her filthy body.
The overhead fluorescents of the Clear Falls Savertown USA hummed like the whirring of intelligent insects burrowing their way into Em’s brain. The walls blazed with thick red, white, and blue stripes. Giant decals printed like cobblestones clung to the floor. Street signs, marked with names like “Electronics Terrace” and “Maternity Lane,” sprouted where two footpaths intersected. Pop country droned from the overhead loudspeakers.
“Try not to blow this, Em.”
“I won’t have to try to blow it. That just happens.”
Em’s mom rolled her eyes. “You’ll do fine.”
At the back of the store, a glassy-eyed worker with a bleached-blond perm sat reading a romance novel. “Hello, my name is Bea Kalberg. My daughter Emmeline would like to see the manager about a job.”
The woman looked up at Em’s mom, then at Em. She then returned to her reading.
“I called earlier today. The manager said we could go in and talk to him personally.”
Without looking back up at Em or her mom, the woman picked up the intercom. “Mr. Pendleton, there’s some people here who say they need to talk to you.”
“Send them in,” a scratchy voice said.
The woman absently gestured toward the “Employees Only” door. The office was walled in clear plastic, presumably so the boss could keep a close eye on his employees as they mingled in the lounge directly within sight. The man inside — Pendleton, Em guessed — unhooked the latch to the door and gestured Em and her mother inside.
Em felt fingers digging into her back like a cattle prod. “My daughter wants a job here.”
“Is that so?” Mr. Pendleton was a slight man, who wore perfectly round glasses and a shirt buttoned all the way up to the top of his neck. “Are you sixteen?”
“Nineteen,” Em said.
“You ever work in retail before?”
Pendleton gave her a hard look. “This is a serious business. We are all very dedicated here at Savertown USA. Dedicated to business. If you don’t want to work hard, we don’t need you.”
Em tried to look into Pendleton’s eyes, but the overhead lights conspired with the glasses to block them out, creating two small suns. “I’m dedicated to business.”
“We have an opening in the frozen food section for a stock person. Part time.”
Em couldn’t stop staring at his glasses. The reflection was mesmerizing; it completely distracted her from whatever Pendleton was saying. She stared at the two white orbs until she felt her mother’s elbow in her side. “Okay?”
Pendleton held out his hand. It was hairy and covered with scabs. “Welcome aboard.”
Reluctantly, Em shook Pendleton’s hand.
A thin black woman with a crooked smile fitted Em for a red, white, and blue Savertown USA vest. It made swishing noises when Em moved her arms, and the cheap fabric seemed designed to never smooth out completely. Somewhere along the line, she was given a nametag with “Emma” written on it.
“That’s not my name.”
The woman squinted, then affixed a “final markdown” price tag sticker over the last two letters. “There. It’s perfect.”
An elderly man sat her down at a desk and popped a DVD into a nearby player. Somehow she didn’t think it would be a rerun of Gilligan’s Island.
“You have to watch this. It’s about the company. We all had to watch it.” He turned down the overhead lights.
The video opened with an exterior shot of a Savertown USA store. Generic music played over the image, and the camera zoomed into the store. A pleasant narrative voice kicked in.
“Savertown USA Stores Incorporated was founded in the spring of 1982 by William St. George, a humble grocer from Lexington, Kentucky. Mr. St. George had one goal in his life: to provide affordable products to American consumers in a clean, well-organized environment, where they could get all their shopping done in one convenient location.”
The narrator rambled on and on about the achievements of William St. George: about how he was the youngest self-made person to make the Fortune 500 list, about how he had gone through a string of three wives before becoming born again. The narration was underscored with photographs and artists’ renderings of St. George as he progressed through life. The discussion of William St. George ended at his death, which had occurred at the tragic age of fifty-seven during a rock-climbing expedition.
Em had stopped watching the film long before St. George’s demise. She instead traced the pattern of the fake wooden desktop with her fingers while humming a song.
“At Savertown USA, we respect the ideals of William St. George every day when we price our goods. We believe, as he did, that family is the most precious thing in America today, and we are dedicated to bringing the American family the very best in products and services at prices they can afford. So, new employee, as you prepare to embark on a fulfilling, rewarding career with Savertown USA Stores Incorporated, remember that your number one goal must always be customer satisfaction. Nothing is more important than the happiness of our customers. Because our customers are America, and America is —”
A scream sounded. A flash of light shot from the television, narrowly missing Em’s eyes. When she looked back at the television, the afterimage of a complex mathematical formula filled the screen.
The overhead light came on. “Enjoy the movie?”
It was the man who had put the video on. Em looked him over. He didn’t hear the scream, she thought, or see what I saw. He can’t see it even now. I must be hallucinating. Did I take my meds today?
She stood up. “Yeah, I guess.”
“Well, that’s all you have to do today. You don’t start work until tomorrow.” He ejected the DVD and put it back in its protective sleeve. “Are you okay? You look a little sick.”
“Must be the flu. Don’t touch me, it’s catching.” Em tucked her vest and name badge under her arm and dashed through the little fake village to the parking lot, where her mother was waiting with a full trunk of groceries.
“How did it go?” her mother asked.
“It was fine. Totally fine.”
Em’s mom raised an eyebrow. “You don’t seem fine.”
“Look, I know if I’m fine or not, okay? Just drive.” Em leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes. Just a hallucination.
As Em drifted off to sleep that night, she heard loud whispers through the wall behind her bed. She slid out of bed and padded to her sister’s room.
“Jackie, what are you doing?”
Jackie looked up from her clasped hands. “Saying my prayers.”
“We’re not religious.”
“You’re not religious.” Jackie quickly crossed herself and squinted her eyes at Em, like a hex.
“Just keep it down. I’m trying to sleep.” Em looked around her sister’s room. The walls were lined with photographs of old white men in funny suits–preachers, maybe. Thick tomes lined her bookshelf. “So you’ve found Christ, huh?”
“He found me.”
Em considered telling her about Trevor the Jesus Freak, but decided not to. It always made Jackie nervous when Em talked about the hospital, or the other people who lived there. “Why? Are your friends into it or something?”
“I’m part of a Bible study group. We meet every Monday and Friday.”
“You know we’re Jewish, right?”
“That was Dad,” Jackie said, with a tone that seemed to say and that sure worked out well for him, didn’t it?
Em never understood the appeal of religion. There’d been a few Bibles in the paltry hospital library, but Em thought it was slightly improper to give people who couldn’t tell fantasy from reality a book about imaginary beings. Trevor, of course, hadn’t spoken to her for days after she pointed that out. “Well, that’s nice. Does Mom know about this?”
“No.” Jackie refolded her hands and returned to her prayers.
Em stared at her sister for a few moments before leaving the room. The whispers continued for another twenty minutes.
Stay Crazy is available now from Apex Publications.
She scrabbled in the dirt, sifting through dust piles, raising turrets and smashing castles. Her hands were coated with grime, the mud dark in the lines of her palms. Pushing her skirt up around her thighs, she examined her socks, gray with grit. She crouched down closer to the earth, and pressed both hands, fingers spread out, into the impressionable ground.
“Ket!” her mother shouted from the doorway of the bunker. “Come to dinner now.”
She ignored her, lifted her hands up slowly, and stared at the print of her palms and fingers. A minute passed. She looked around her and saw the small pile of sticks that she had stacked earlier to represent the fortifications of a city.
Removing the top twig caused the structure to collapse, but she was done with it anyhow. With the stick, she outlined the shape of her hands, marking the curve of her wrist and nails more clearly in the ground.
She glanced up, her short hair catching in her mouth as the wind smacked her face. The air was sour on her tongue.
“There’ll be storms tonight,” she heard her mother say to someone inside the bunker. “Kick up the dust.”
Storms meant sealed windows and no sunset. It meant masks as they slept, and the old car battery running all night, hooked up to the radiation detector. She was reluctant to go inside.
“You don’t come in now, Ket,” her mother’s voice dropped a note, “and I’ll eat your supper for you.”
She pretended not to hear. The sounds of the trucks on the road, coming home, rumbled in the hot air. A few birds sprung noisily into the sky, scared away from their roadkill. One landed close to her. She ran towards it, and it flapped up and forward, landing again a few feet further on. Cupping her hands in front of her, she crept towards it. The bird cocked its head at her, looking with one eye. The feathers on its neck and wings were black, but they shone almost copper in the sun.
“Here. Kawr.” She tried to imitate the sound of it, but soft and nervous.
The bird ruffled its wings, and then craned its neck back to peck between its feathers.
“Here.” She crouched and held out one arm now, in imitation of the falconer in a picture she had torn out of one of the old magazines.
The doors slammed as the men climbed down out of the trucks. Their voices were one indeterminate grumble. In a rush of dust, the bird flew away.
“Ket.” Her father’s voice left no room for willful deafness. He spoke to the dog who had jumped out of the truck after him. “Get in here, pup, and you eat up her food.”
The dog hobbled into the bunker after him, and her father went in without waiting to see if she would follow. Her throat was angry hot. The other men had already filtered in. The sun shot through the cloudy windows of the trucks, red and unforgiving. She rubbed out the tracings of her hands with one socked foot and turned reluctantly toward the bunker with hunched shoulders.
“We found a tank and twenty-odd guns there,” someone was saying as her eyes adjusted to the dim light.
“You’re not taking down the walls with twenty guns, odd or no,” her mother said. She stood by the fire, the glow of the burning wood sharpening her chin unnaturally. Her eyes looked black.
“But with a tank?” Her father held a spoon up before his mouth but wasn’t eating. The muscles at the back of his jaw were tight.
“It seems to me that there’s no point in any of this.” It was Heva in the corner who said it, but her father looked up at Ket instead.
“Just because you lost your kid don’t mean I should lose mine,” he answered finally, still not looking at the corner, but finally turning his bloodshot eyes away from Ket.
In the silence that followed his words, her mother banged the ladle sharply against the pot over the fire and Heva stood up.
“You shut up, Pim. And don’t you compare what happened to Pete with you not wanting to register your girl. Pete ain’t coming back from where he’s gone. If I could have kept him alive by putting him down in records, by saying ‘hiya, I had a girl and her name is Kettar, and she’s close on nine years old,’ then I would.”
“It’s none of the council’s business.”
“You act like you don’t remember what it was like before.” Heva laughed, but it wasn’t friendly. Heva also laughed when she was skinning jackrabbits. “Like you don’t remember hospitals and certificates, and having names that gave you a right to something in the world.”
“Shut the hell up, Heva.” Ket’s father’s hands were both on the table, balled into fists.
“That world you’re talking about,” her mother spoke for him. “It led us here. And we don’t want no government to have that control over us again. You said you thought the same when you came to us.”
Heva smiled, lips closed. Ket could tell where her teeth were missing, knocked out sometime before she had come to the bunker. She only spoke again when people had started moving for the food and finding places to sit by the table or on the blankets and cots. “And so I do,” she said. “I just think there’s a difference between defending yourself and attacking others.”
No one showed that they heard her. Ket peeled off her socks and threw them into one corner of the room. She sat down at the end of the table closest to the fire and tickled the cold concrete with her toes. Heva cleared her throat, kawr, and glanced at Ket before shuffling off into the back room.
“A beer or whatever you have.” Ket threw down two bits and perched on the stool. The bartender glanced at her and then the money.
“Not that I wouldn’t like to do a pretty face a favor —”
“Have it your way. You’re going to need something more than that.”
She sighed and covered the bits with her hand. The bartender looked at it and then at the bird on her shoulder.
“Which kind are you?”
She shifted in her seat, and with her left hand felt the knife strapped to her leg. She acted as if she hadn’t heard his question.
“Hey,” his voice rose. “Answer me when I’m talking to you.”
She curled her fingers around the bits, feeling the slight delay in the reaction of her muscles. Offsetting the delay with readiness worked most of the time. Not always. She swallowed.
“I don’t see that you’ve got the right to ask.”
“You’re sitting in my establishment.”
“I haven’t been served. As you so rightly point out, I don’t have the money. So I’ll just move out.”
“You think that I haven’t seen your types come through before?” The bartender leaned over the bar and held her hand in place. She looked quickly to either side. Two men sat in a corner, both almost dozing in their seats. Heva rustled in alarm at her shoulder. “So, you’re one of two types. You’re fighting for the government and this here is a hand for your troubles. Or you’ve got this off the black market.”
“Either way, it’s none of yours.” She pulled her hand free. Her left hand had not left her leg. Heva flapped to the bar and cocked his head at the bartender.
“They carry diseases,” he said.
“So do you.”
“Watch what you say to me. I have a mind to turn you in to the sergeants.”
“On what grounds? General cowardice?”
He snarled and grabbed for her arm again while reaching beneath the bar. She avoided his grasp and moved quickly, throwing one leg onto the bar and then pulling herself up entirely. She kicked out, pinning the bartender’s shoulders against the wall. He dropped the small pistol he had only just pulled out. She slid the knife out of its sheath and held it to his throat. This close, he smelled like stale alcohol and fried potatoes.
“The landlord across the street says that you might know where I could find a man called Corvu.”
He stretched his neck as far from the knife as possible. It wasn’t far.
“This hand, it might not be flesh,” she said softly. “But it will move fast enough.”
“The sergeants will come,” he whispered.
She glanced at the drunkards in the corner, their heads dropping to the table.
“I don’t care about the sergeants,” she said. “I don’t care about anyone but Corvu. Tell me where he is.”
“The man’s not stupid enough to be predictable. I don’t know where he is.”
“Think.” She pressed the knife into the skin, so that it gave a little under the blade.
The bartender grunted deep in his throat. “The records can tell you where he works, but he never says things to me.”
She lowered the knife and curled her legs back over the bar. Holding out her arm for Heva, she jumped to the ground. The bird spit a shiny pull-tab into her hand. She slid it into her pocket. The bartender rubbed his neck, clearing his throat again and again.
“I should kill you,” she said. “But I don’t feel it. Perhaps you’ll return the favor?”
He stared at her, hardly blinking. She knew he would call for the sergeants once he thought her out of the way. She slid her bag over her shoulder, collected her two bits, and left the bar.
“Here, Ket, help me with the laundry.” Heva pushed a basket at her, flowing over with soiled socks and long johns. She crouched at the door to the armory, listening as best she could through the thick metal to her parents’ voices raised in anger, mingled with the complaints and grumbles of the other men and women.
Heva’s face was very pale when Ket finally turned away from the door. She could only catch one word in three anyways. The woman was almost twice as tall as her, but she carried herself in a way that made her short, hunched at the waist.
“I don’t want to,” she said.
“You’ll do it.” And though Heva looked nervous and her eyes were squinted against the dim light in the hall, her voice was stern.
She thought it easier to do as she was asked than argue anymore. The basket weighed her down as she stumbled behind Heva to the bunker door. It was cloudy outside, the sky still dim with the sand of last night’s storm.
“It’s safe,” Heva told her when she paused there, looking out.
“Low enough levels for the likes of us.”
“What are we like?” she asked but Heva pushed her forward.
She didn’t have shoes on and the dirt was sharp and stung her feet. The air was hot and pressed in on her as if intent on pushing through the skin and saturating her blood. Heva had already moved ahead and was waiting by the water tank. She stooped down and turned the spigot. Water bubbled out, thick and gray. Heva let it run for a minute until it was clear, then shoved the washing tub underneath the spigot. Ket dropped the basket beside her.
“Stay here and help,” Heva ordered her when she stepped back.
She shook her head and turned her back on the tank. The sky was almost black on the horizon, and there she could see the faint lights of the town and the spiky silhouette of its fortifications.
“It’s dark still there,” Ket said, her words redundant but necessary to her.
“The soap.” She knew that Heva’s hand was outstretched with the ball of soap that made her fingers powdery and itchy. She shook her head again.
All the trucks were pulled up in a circle around the bunker as if to provide an extra wall of defense. The antennas for the radio stuck up like whiskers over the domed roof. It was a small edifice against the backdrop of sand and sandy sky if you were looking at it with your back to the town on the opposite horizon. There was a road that cut through the dirt somewhere between where Ket stood and the endless waste, but it was hard to pick it out.
Heva had given up speaking to her, so Ket moved out further, weaving back and forth as if looking for tracks or patterns in the clumps of brown grass or among the fine pebbles. As the darkness lightened on the town’s horizon, a flock of birds whirled up into the sky as if dragging the black clouds away with them.
She watched them as they flew toward the bunker, swift and straight, flecks of light glinting off of their feathers. If any animal were akin to the night sky, it would be this constellation of birds.
“I want one,” she said to herself.
“What was that?” Heva shouted from behind her.
“I want one of the birds,” she said, turning back and running toward the woman. Heva was bent over the tub, her arms sunk into the water and red from the harsh soap.
“You don’t have enough ill omens in your life?”
Ket looked at her and did not say anything, but she set her lips together until she was almost biting them. Heva glanced up and when she saw the girl’s face, remorse or shame or a blush crossed her face.
“Those are birds with revenge on their mind,” she said as if to distract Ket. “They remember a face and they pass that memory down, one from another. But they can’t do anything to purpose. They’re small and they steal trinkets and whatever shines, whatever takes their eye. They brood and they skulk and they wait.”
“Nothing’s beautiful anymore, Ket.”
She said it with the determination of doing a chore. Heva stared into the water and not up at her anymore. Ket turned her eyes back to the skies and to the flock of birds still aloft.
“Who are they angry at?”
“Who do they remember?”
Heva dropped the soap in the water and had to fish it out again. Her face was flushed. “You talk too much.”
Ket frowned and moved away again, prancing, walking, weaving out away from the bunker. Soon, the sound of Heva splashing clothes in the water and the rattling of the sand hitting the metal sides of the trucks faded. There was a heavy silence and she slowed and stepped quietly so as not to break it. The birds were diving in towards the ground. They landed with rustling and rough laughing and hacking sounds. She crouched down, her knees digging into the dirt. This time she did not try to imitate their own noises. She searched the black eyes and oily feathers to see if she recognized one bird from many.
At first, the birds pecked at the ground, ignoring her. Then one lifted its head, and Ket thought she recognized the glint of his eye.
“Do you remember me?” she whispered. The bird threw his head back and swallowed down an insect he had snapped up.
“Press your thumb to the panel.” The clerk’s voice was bored. He pointed to a luminescent square attached to the wall next to the glassed-in desk.
Ket looked at it, then leaned her face closer to the glass. The clerk looked up as her shadow fell over him.
“I’m just looking for information on a friend’s workplace,” she said, trying to smile.
“I still require ID,” he answered, an edge of annoyance present now. “Thumb, please.”
She settled back and pushed her thumb firmly against the panel. The clerk craned his head forward until his forehead was almost bumping the glass to confirm that she was performing the action correctly. He murmured to himself, and typed rapidly at his computer.
“I’m sorry. It must not be working.”
She dropped her arm. He glanced at her hand as her index finger twitched once against her leg.
“Perhaps if you used your other hand.” He narrowed his eyes. You should know that the machine can’t read prints if they aren’t there.”
“It won’t make any difference,” she said.
“Your left hand is natural, yes?”
She raised her left hand and pressed it against the glass. “Yes.”
He jerked his head toward the panel impatiently.
“But I’ve never been registered,” she said.
“That’s impossible,” he answered without moving his eyes from her face. A red color was creeping up his thin neck from the collar of his standard-issued uniform.
“It seems to be.” She provided no other information.
There was a silence between them. She heard the carousel door whisk open and shut again. There was a noise of footsteps on the parquet floor and the shuffling noise of someone waiting behind her.
“I would like to know where Corvu works.”
“All children born after the bombs are to be registered within their own precinct. This information is gathered annually by councils and sent forward to be included in the databases.” He sounded as if he were reading from a training manual.
“That makes no difference now.” She had not removed her hand from the glass.
“I’m afraid,” he paused, and the sentiment was true independent of the larger sentence. “I can’t release any information to an unregistered citizen.”
“Here, girl, move on, will you?” The man behind her was impatient.
“I need to know where Corvu works.”
“I can’t —”
Braced by her left hand, she swung her right up and into the glass. Cracks splintered across the surface. The clerk jumped up and backed to the far wall of his cubicle. The only door out, though, led into the foyer where she stood. The man behind her grabbed her shoulders, attempting to restrain her. She turned on her heels and used the momentum to throw her left hand, her hand of skin and bone, in an uppercut to his chin. The man’s teeth crashed together. He stumbled back.
“Give me info on Corvu and I will leave,” she said, spinning back and placing both hands on the glass. Tears stung the back of her eyes.
“Do you have any other name for him?” The clerk crept back toward his console. “Please, give me a full name and I will hand over whatever information you want.”
“All I know is Corvu.”
She kept an eye on the man who now leaned against the wall, holding his face in his hands. There was blood on his fingers. The clerk worked frantically on the keyboard and screen, swiping left and right through the images stored in the database.
“I have only two men by that name who live in this precinct. Father and son. But he’s a former member of the council.” He looked up nervously at her. “I hope the bounty is worth it.”
She lay in bed and listened to the drone of the batteries. There was a gentle clicking noise beneath the hum and drone that she imagined to be insects dancing and singing outside. Or the black bird clacking its beak at her, its eyes lit up with something like recognition. It was hard to breathe beneath the mask which pinched at her cheeks. She sat up and looked to see if anyone else had yet come to bed. The room was empty, the cots and mattresses spread in a neat line from her to the door, blankets spread this way and that, but with no one using any of them. There was no blinking red light, no shrill of alarm, so she knew the battery was running as a precaution. It would be safe for her to remove her mask for a few minutes.
She slipped the mask down beneath her chin and breathed in deeply. The bunkroom smelled close and stale. But there were lighter notes of herbs and soap which reminded her of where her mother slept, and where Heva usually lay. She herself smelled like water and old towels. Her mother had insisted on giving her a bath, despite her father’s grumblings of wasted resources. The blankets felt new and rough on her legs because her legs were clean. While she sat and looked around the room, dimly lit by some lamp from the hall, she idly picked dirt out from under her fingernails and toenails.
Perhaps it was because she had fallen asleep again that her mother’s screams seemed so unusually loud. She opened her eyes, found herself leaning against the wall, still sitting up. Her mother roughly yanked the mask up over her face. The lights were on in the bunkroom and in the hall, but her mother still looked gray.
“Up, Ket. Up and with me.” There was no time for socks, and it was rare for her to wear shoes, so she ran after her mother, barely keeping herself from tripping, her feet slapping against the cold concrete.
She saw Heva, and then was three feet beyond her. She glanced back over her shoulder. The woman was standing in the hallway, her face crumpling. She was not wearing a mask. Neither was Ket’s mother.
“Is it the dust?” It was hard to speak or shout loudly enough while running, while struggling to keep hold of her mother’s hand.
“It’s not radiation,” her mother said.
They were not running deeper into the bunker. They were running toward the door. The door was open and Ket could see the desert and sky. There was a roaring sound now, louder than the batteries.
“Quiet, Ket,” her mother ordered before she had a chance to ask another question.
Her father was running towards them from an intersecting hall. “Too late,” he was screaming, and his face was entirely red. It looked like there was blood on his cheek. “Too late!”
Then there was an explosion. The floor shook beneath her.
“Get her away from here, Re.” Her father was waving wildly at the open door.
Ket ran toward it, but her mother’s hand had fallen free from hers. She was turned away from the door, looking at her father’s back as he retreated further into the bunker.
“What are you doing?” Her mother’s voice cracked between anger and tears.
“The guns,” he shouted, hoarse.
Ket stood in the doorway, watching them both, her mother overlapping her father, like two paper dolls cut out with the greatest care.
“Give it up!”
“No.” He stopped and turned and looked at her too. “I can’t leave them, Re. It’s years of work.”
He said something else, because Ket saw his mouth moving, but another explosion drowned out any words. She grabbed at the door, backed out until she felt the sand under her feet.
With the third explosion, she saw light before she heard anything. The hall was suddenly gone, replaced with clouds of fire. She stumbled further back, gasping for air. She ripped off her mask and threw it from her. Hot air blew violently over her. She held out her right hand in front of her face, edging backwards. There was flame then in her skin, in her hand. She saw the flesh peel backwards as if releasing some waiting fire inside. She screamed and ran from the bunker, throwing herself down into the sand beside the water tank.
There was insufferable heat, and then she felt very cold. She could not feel her hand at the end of her arm, but she could not really feel her legs or arms or toes either. There was a sound of screaming and something whining in the air, a noise of metal cracking in a furnace.
“I left my socks inside,” she said quietly to herself.
She climbed in through a second-story window via a drain pipe and a conveniently placed bunch of cables. The house was fairly well kept up for a town still recovering from being in one of the central blast radii. Before she climbed over the sill, she crouched there on the side of the house, fingers dug into the wood of the frame, and glanced down below and to either side. The alley was empty, but she was more interested in the view over the fortifications of the town. She’d been told that before the bombs there had been buildings which blocked out the sky, but now she could see unobstructed beyond the stakes of the wall. She could see the dark sand that drifted up against the town. She imagined she could see beyond the horizon, to blackened rubble and a single water tank still intact but useful to nobody but nomads now.
Heva fidgeted nervously on the sill, inching her talons close to Ket’s fingers. Seek cover, he said. Kawr, he said. Perhaps he had seen the sergeants milling through the main streets, eyes on the alert for a slight woman in black clothes and the weapons of a bounty hunter. She lifted herself over the window sill. There was a twinge in her hand where the skin had cracked over her knuckles.
The room she found herself in was for a child. There was a gas mask on the nightstand but it was partially hidden by a sports jersey and a mechanized toy that would occasionally spasm as if the batteries were dying. She stood still, looking from the bed, to the nightstand, to the pastel walls. It was something like what she had seen in the old homemaker magazines. When her mother caught her with this type of magazine, she had been ordered to toss it in the fire. There is no point, her mother would say, but Ket could no longer remember what there was no point in doing. If a boy lived in this room, he was a magazine boy, two-dimensional, glossy, and constantly amused.
She had known that Corvu would have money as a former council member, as a current drug runner, but was still surprised at all the tokens of it. The portraits on the wall, the rug on the floor of the hallway, the running water in the bathroom. The house was silent except for her wanderings, the creak of her footsteps, the stifled amazement of her breath, the soft click of her gun at her belt when she moved. She found Corvu’s room. A large bed dominated it, but there was also a mirror, and a bureau, and a small bookshelf of paperbacks. She ran her fingers over the spines of the books. She could not read the titles.
She lowered herself into a sitting position in the corner furthest from the door. She pulled her knees up to her chest and rested her right hand, with the gun, on her knees. Shadows shifted across the floor as she waited, crossed and criss-crossed by the light coming through the blinds. Dust motes drifted in the sunlight, hard to see individually, but almost overwhelming in their cumulative number. She reached one finger out and watched the dust part around it. Her finger was alight, the sun reddening the flesh, turning it transparent. Her bionic hand trembled and the gun tapped her knee. She bit her lip.
She could no longer remember what her mother’s face looked like. Of her father, she could only call to mind his silhouette running back into the bunker. There were words and parts of sentences in their voices, but the silence, with a deafening noise of its own, was growing.
Kawr. Heva’s talons ticked at the wooden floor as he hopped towards her. He stopped in the light, and his black feathers were copper, and his eyes were translucent.
“Maybe he will not come home. Maybe the clerk will tell him that I am waiting for him.”
Heva cocked his head to listen, snapped his beak at a dust mote.
“And if he does not come back, where will I look?”
Heva opened his wings. They were always wider and longer than she expected. His shadow stretched out ragged against the lines of light. He kicked off from the ground and came to a clumsy landing on her knee. His talons pinched her arm as he moved to her shoulder.
They waited, as the light grew dim between the blinds. Absently, she picked the dirt out from under her nails.
Something was picking at her face, sharp and frequent. Ket opened her eyes. It was dark. The stars were clouded by smoke and she could hear the gentle crumbling sound of a dying fire. She sat up, panic welling in her chest and throat. She threw up and wiped her mouth absently, eyes searching for something she recognized. Behind the water tank, a rosy glow illumined the blackness of the sky, turning it red, yellow, pink, and then blue, before fading back to black.
Kawr. She looked down. The black bird was watching her, poised as if to fly away at any sudden or unfriendly moves. The red of the fire was reflected in his feathers. She put one hand on the tank to steady herself and pulled herself upright. Edging around the spigot, she was forced to stop abruptly. The sight of the destroyed bunker hit her, stunning her, sticking her feet to the ground. She was aware that the sand was still hot where she stood. She stumbled forward. The bird, alarmed by her jerky movements, fluttered up into the air and landed further away.
“No! Stay!” She was desperate. The numbness frayed at the edges of her consciousness and she felt a pain, huge, immense, pressing in on her. She was scared, terrified, that if the bird flew away, it would take with it, like a thread unraveling, any small amount of control she had.
The bird hopped an inch closer. She fell to her knees. The ground was gritty and warm on her skin.
There, in the shadow of the tank, she waited as the sky lightened in the east. The fires of the bunker settled as the red of the sky sparked and grew. Wings and feathers tickled her ankles. Occasionally, the bird dipped his head and nipped at her leg, but he did not leave.
When the morning was so close that the air had turned cold and the sky like gauze, she heard trucks across the desert, their engines backfiring. She saw them, a line of four trucks, cutting off from the road and toward the bunker. There was a moment when she thought that it was her father, or at least other men that she knew, back from a raid. But these trucks were uniform, painted all one color. They moved in sync and, when they came close, spun out into a circle to surround the front of the bunker. She pressed herself closer to the tank.
“They’re done,” a man said, climbing down from the driver’s seat of one of the central trucks.
“Should we check for injured?”
The first man walked toward the bunker and kicked at the debris furthest out from the fire. Ash exploded into the air like dandelion fluff.
“If they’re injured here,” he scanned the desert, “then they’re dead.”
“Corvu,” one of the other men shouted and the first lifted his head. “Councilman on the radio for you.”
Corvu took the comm and leaned his head over it so that his face was just a shadow against the rays of the new sun. “I can report that the dissidents have been taken out, sir.”
She leaned back so that she no longer had to look at the trucks, or the bunker, or the silhouette of the man on the radio. When she heard the engines roar again and the sound of the pebbles spinning out under the tires, she peeked around to see them leave.
She made herself look at her hand. Feeling was returning to it. She screamed, and the sound of it chased the men back across the desert.
He came into the bedroom like a tired man. His head was bent over his arm as he unstrapped his watch. His shadow on the floor grew closer to her, though the light had fallen to dusk now. She hardly breathed, watching him. Her left hand tapped silently on the cloth of her knee. The right was still and gripped the gun. Her index finger hovered stationary over the trigger.
So the clerk had not tipped him off, or at least the news had not reached him yet. And the bartender had not called the sergeants. It seemed extraordinary luck. The silence in the room was heavier than any four walls could hold. The city held its breath, waiting. It knew that Corvu had to die.
He looked up. He saw her. She stood up.
“Who are you?”
It was a word that had meant nothing to her for a long while. Or, at least, it had meant only what her parents were. She knew the word better now.
He was thinner than she had expected. But he was also older. In many ways, he was not the man she had seen while she crouched behind the water tank. He stared at her as if waiting for more explanation, and she had no more to give. Even as she studied his face, she could remember the shadow of his head in the desert sun. But she could not see her mother’s face or her father’s.
“Those are birds with revenge on their mind. They remember a face and they pass that memory down, one from another. But they can’t do anything to purpose. They’re small and they steal trinkets and whatever shines, whatever takes their eye. They brood and they skulk and they wait.”
She could remember Heva talking at her, and the sound of the water gurgling into the tub of laundry.
“Why are you here?” He knew, but he asked anyways.
She hated him for being the face that remained, the face she remembered.
“There’s a bounty on your head.” All of what she felt she had no words to say.
“Trade union?” He hooked his thumbs under his belt and settled into a bartering stance.
She held the gun out. Her arm was straight. Her hand did not tremble. It was not designed to.
There was a silencer on the gun, so when she pulled the trigger, the explosion was muted. There was a sensation of flame, a flash only a second long. Heva screamed and threw himself into the air. A black feather drifted in the air between the barrel of her gun and the white wall beyond marked with red. Corvu slumped to the ground.
“Here’s your latest kill.” Kiernan waited on the printer, hand outstretched to catch the paper before it fell.
She looked up. Heva’s talons scrabbled on the tile at her feet.
Who is it?”
“Corvu Meiter. Retired councilman in a desert town some fifty miles from here.”
She stared at her hand. “Not a bad deal, is it? A hand in exchange for a job. You’ll be a productive member of society.” Kiernan held up a coin, blackened from use. Mints were no longer operational. “Or a coin in your pot and I leave you alone.” She sat, with her legs bent up near her chin, a bowl for coins at her feet. Though she felt shame for it, she held her right hand out in front of her when she begged for money.
“Why does he have a bounty on him?”
Kiernan examined the bulletin. He wore glasses with one of the lenses knocked out when he needed to read things. She had been working with him for going on five years now, and she still forgot the color of his hair and the shape of his nose when she wasn’t looking at him. He was a man bred for forgetting. It had proven useful in his line of profession.
“One of the first things you have to remember,” he told her, sitting by her bed as the technician examined her hand. “You remember the bounty. No one remembers you. It’s the only way to get by. Otherwise, you make one kill and you’re out.”
“Seems he’s angered some unions down that way. They want him out of the way for negotiations.”
“That’s all?” It seemed that if this man’s name were to be spoken again to her, that he would be connected with some greater crime or some greater virtue. His death deserved a more fitting reason.
“We’ve had bounties for less. You want me to pass it on to one of the others?”
He was, strangely enough it seemed to her, not an unkind man. That said, the first thing she learned when her hand was healed and functioning properly was to shoot a gun with it. “Sight down the barrel,” he reminded her as they practiced in the shooting range he had set up behind the old run-down apartment complex that it seemed Kiernan owned. “Always best if you can take care of the target from a distance. This business runs on anonymity.”
“No. I’ll take it.” She stood up. Heva flew to her shoulder.
“He’s said to frequent this bar.” He handed her the bulletin, tapping at the list of known addresses. “Make some inquiries.”
“Yeah.” She folded the paper up and stuffed it in the pocket of her jeans.
It was almost completely dark in the room before she moved again. She could only see by the street lights outside the window. Corvu, or what had been Corvu, looked like nothing more than a pile of blankets at her feet. She put the gun back into the holster under her jacket. She waited for Heva to come back to her from wherever he had been rummaging in the room. When he did, he held a bright metal wire in his mouth. She took it from him and threw it back to the floor.
Kawr. He turned mournful eyes on her.
“We need to leave,” she told him.
She moved out into the hallway and pulled the bedroom door closed after her. A shadow shifted opposite her. She stood still and waited. In the gloom, she heard shoes shift on the carpet. Hesitantly, unsure if she was marking herself as a target, she drew out her lighter. With a rasping click, a little flame flickered near her hand. In the small circle of light, she saw a boy pressed up against the wall, his eyes wide.
What had he seen? Her breath caught in her throat.
“I’ll call the sergeants,” the boy said, so quietly she almost couldn’t hear him.
Heva shifted on her shoulder. The boy did not move.
“And what would you tell them?” She kept her voice quiet as well.
He didn’t answer. She flicked the lid over the lighter. The hallway fell back into blackness. Footsteps pelted down the hallway to the further bedroom. She heard the static of a radio and the boy’s voice, trembling.
“Someone shot my dad,” he said. “A woman with a crow.”
She put the lighter back in her pocket and zipped up her coat. Though there was no wind, she felt cold. Heva’s feet dug into the jacket and into her skin beneath. She went down the steps, and walked through the empty rooms. The back door was unlocked. Before she opened it, she listened to the floor creak above her.
Anonymity, Kiernan’s voice whispered in her ear.
For a day, Ket could not force herself to move. She drank water from the spigot and she grew hungry, but the pain clouded out any thought of finding food. In the moments where she could think, she tried to recall the maps in the dining room, the names of towns, and how far away they were. When night came, when the stars stabbed at her, she thought to put her hand beneath the spigot. The water, lukewarm as it was, reduced the burning.
The black bird had left, but he came back now. His eyes scanned her over, recognized her face and her voice when she whispered to him. “Here,” she said. “Please.” He dropped something wrapped in shiny foil near her. As best she could with her left hand, she unwrapped the small piece of hard candy, melted and stuck to the foil. The sugar on her tongue almost made her cry.
She stopped in an alley three streets over from Corvu’s house. It was dark and empty, occupied only by a haphazard pile of crates. There was one street light that she could see from here, and it was far away, a yellow blink against stone buildings. The night was warm.
She crouched down, her back against the crates. She pulled her knife out and laid it in the dirt, close to hand. In the gloom, Heva’s wings brushed the ground and the crates as he searched for something only he felt the need for. She pressed her right hand into the dirt, but could not feel the fine dust or the pebbles.
Kiernan smiled. “It’s to both our advantages that you were never registered. To them, you don’t exist.” He gestured away from the yard, out over the town.
“Heva.” Her voice caught. The bird shuffled in the darkness and hopped near her. She could barely make out the black of his wings against the black of the walls and ground. Reaching out her hand, she stroked his neck with one finger.
A woman with a crow.
She crooked her finger around the bird’s throat. When he began to struggle, she slipped her whole hand around. His feathers were greasy. His voice rasped in terror.
Her memory was as dark and empty as the alley. She could see only the desert and the water tank. She could see her hand red and black and mangled. Before Corvu’s trucks, before the crackling radio and the lightening sky, it was night and she was in pain. Her parents were gone, and she could not remember their faces.
Hubble pictured stars incubating in fiery tips
Six trillion miles long into gaseous bulbs.
They appeared as late-night peninsulas,
contoured by neon glare in a nebula
seven-thousand light-years away and as old.
The ancient questions still bewilder me.
“Why more nothing than something?
Did something come from nothing—
or was there always something?
Are we from a ‘what’ or a ‘who?’”
My first wrinkle is an asteroid fissure.
My first gray hair is a comet’s tail plunging into a dying sun.
Dread, a frozen moon, orbits around my bedroom ceiling.]]>
You might never have heard of them either. Jamin Winans and his partner, Kiowa Winans, make movies out of their house in Colorado. Ink achieved its cult status because someone pirated it, people on the pirate sites were delighted by it, and the Winans decided to roll with their new-found underground popularity. (Though, let us all pause for a moment to consider the mixed bag of being an independent filmmaker that finds himself with a movie adored by people who don’t want to pay for things — you’re having a kind of “success” that doesn’t make it any easier to make your next movie. Folks, you can now rent either film on Amazon for five bucks or buy them on DVD and do your part to keep the work coming.)
The movies are really different — Ink is about a father whose daughter is stolen by a bogeyman, The Frame is about a man and woman who meet under really strange circumstances — but they’re both concerned with what compels people to try to be the best versions of themselves. They’re both delightfully strange, fantastic in a magical-realist way.
And at the center of both films is actor Christopher Soren Kelly, who, considering the oddness of the situations he’s presented with in both films, has an almost preternatural ability to seem like a guy you know in real life. I looked around for other things he’s in and I learned that he also writes and directs. He made the short film, Chasseur, about a guy who hunts down the devil’s lawyer and is not that impressed by him, which I’d seen when it came out and hadn’t realized was the same guy—probably more testament to his ability to thoroughly inhabit his roles.
So, here’s a guy who spends a lot of time telling interesting and strange genre stories, either in collaboration with cool folks like the Winans or on his own. I wondered what kinds of thoughts he had about storytelling, especially telling fantastical stories with real constraints.
Christopher Soren Kelly so awesomely answered my questions.
APEX MAGAZINE: A lot of the films you work on, both as an actor and as a writer and director, are science fiction/fantasy. What attracts you to the genre?
CHRISTOPHER SOREN KELLY: I have always loved the genre. I grew up reading science fiction, Asimov, Herbert, Kim Stanley Robinson, and my favorite ‘normal’ fiction usually involves at least some fantastic element, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Blood Meridian, Gravity’s Rainbow. I think all art is world creation; even a single painting creates a world. Genre work makes that activity explicit. A big part of the joy of playing these roles is the richness of inhabiting a new character in an entirely new world with new rules. What would life be like if the whole world were different?
AM: I’d like to ask you about the end of Ink, (so, spoiler alert for readers, skip to the next question if you haven’t seen the movie). My experience watching the movie is that, as a viewer, I was watching this cool fantasy about the forces of good battling the forces of evil while, in the other storyline, this guy jerks it up while his family needs him. But then, at the end, when the two stories come together, I was sobbing for this dude who knows he’s a jerk and who suddenly realizes he wants to be better. You’re almost unrecognizable in the make-up and the costume, the setting is so weird and stylized. And yet, you somehow make that moment feel so crushingly real. At the end of the movie, my first thought was, “I want to be a better dad,” and I’m a woman and I don’t have kids. Maybe this is too big a question or too vague, but how did you do that?
CSK: Well a big part of the answer to that question is, obviously, Jamin Winans and the rest of the film-making team. There are a lot of elements involved in pulling that moment off, editing, music, make-up, costume, story, Quinn etc … So most of the credit goes elsewhere. One of the first rules of acting, though, is you need to see the world through your character’s eyes. And through our own eyes we are all the hero. Despite being a jerk, John is trying really hard and you begin to realize this and he has monumental guilt for his failures. At least one way of interpreting the Ink storyline is as an embodiment of John’s internal struggle. It is obvious from the very first scene in which John has to overcome his nature to play with his daughter, that he struggles to do what is right, but he wants to do what is right. So I just try to play every moment from John’s real hopes and fears. Hopefully, his vulnerability comes through even when he’s being an ass.
Haha. I am sure you’d be a great father!
AM: I read the interview you did at Starpulse with Jason Coleman where you talked about editing films you wrote and you talked about the importance of revising. You said, “I try when I approach the edit to just start over. Throw the script out and say what did we get and can I make a story out of it?” I find this to be the hardest part of writing, that revision where I have to let go of the story I had in my head and instead focus on improving the story I’ve ended up with on the page. For the writers who are reading this, how do you get in the headspace where you see what’s in front of you and not what you intended?
CSK: One thing to remember is that the original intention in your head is not a complete work of art. If it were, then making the thing wouldn’t be so hard. The intention in your head is just a vague outline, a shadowy shape, an idea. The making of a work of art is the slow movement toward that shadowy idea, but in that movement the very goal is shifting as it becomes real, it is being laid bare. The point is you can never know where you are going in artistic creating; you can have an idea of the general direction. But if you think you know exactly where it is, you almost certainly will never get there. You need to navigate the whole way, continually check and recheck that original feeling and intention and hold it in the ever increasing light. Like a child growing into an adult, there is a connection between the original idea and the final work, but the final work is so much more.
AM: I was blown away by your short film, Chasseur, about a guy with a grudge against the Devil who encounters the Devil’s lawyer. The story is fun and it looks beautiful. But I also read that you made it for what, in movie budget terms, is “no money.” I’m sure, as a filmmaker, you’d love to have a huge budget, but I wonder if, as a storyteller, you find some benefit to having those limits? Like, sure, if you had a billion dollars, you could have a huge CGI Devil and an apocalyptic fight scene but you have you, Joshua Bitton, an inside location, and an outside location. That must give you real focus on what matters in your story.
CSK: There are absolutely benefits to limitations. When I was young, I loved writing poetry with complicated structural forms. The limitations are essential to the form. Indie filmmaking is in many ways a different form than big budget filmmaking. The Tangle which I am editing now is an example of this. I wrote the script knowing the limitations of the budget and I think it will be film unlike almost any other because of that (that doesn’t mean it will be good, of course! though I am optimistic).
AM: You have The Tangle in post-production. What can you tell us about that?
CSK: Here’s a little info on The Tangle. Look for a trailer in September!
THE TANGLE is a stylish neo-noir hard sci-fi feature film to be shot in and around Los Angeles, Summer 2015. Set in a near future in which the Tangle connects everyone to everything including each other, a group of government agents try to protect humanity from within hidden technology safe rooms, rooms the Tangle cannot reach. A murder mystery, a love triangle, and an existential threat to humanity infuse this richly textured thriller with the flavors that made our classic sci-fi films, the dark style, and hardboiled detective of a BLADE RUNNER, the rich interweaving of stories of a 12 MONKEYS, the fully imagined technological future of a MINORITY REPORT.
AM: And last, will we get to see a feature-length version of Chasseur?
CSK: The feature version of Chasseur is in the works, but I plan on making it my third film. After we finish The Tangle, we will be moving on to Crossing the Flood, a metaphysical thriller about two men trapped in an alternate universe. The feature version of Chasseur will follow three storylines, Louis Chasseur, the devil hunter, Mycroft Coney, the devil’s Lawyer, and a trio of bank robbers. I can’t wait to make it!
(Editor’s Note: Watch the short film free below!)]]>
This story is very much about when you want something that you know is bad for you, but that knowledge makes no difference. You want it more, maybe, for knowing it will hurt you, break you, devastate you.
Times like those, situations like that–it feels almost as if the element of choice is removed. It feels as if you are under the pull of something stronger than yourself. That’s what I wanted to capture.
Because people do have a pull. (Aliens, one would think, might have an even stronger pull.)
Some people are magnetic. You can’t seem to escape the tug of their gravity. You get stuck in orbit. And it’s elliptical too–you’ll reach the farthest edge of that ring and think you’re about to break free, only to have them pull you right back in close.
As tragic as this story can be, I also view it as having sort of a ‘happy’ ending–in that the one this woman wants to orbit also wants to orbit her. It is not an unfeeling person, unwittingly pulling her into this tormenting cycle, but a caring entity trapped by her as much as she is trapped by it.
So in the end, they are both of them broken. And I like to think they’ll find each other, somehow, eventually, in the vast pin-pricked black of space.
Read “Fall to Her” by Alexis A. Hunter from issue 87]]>