Author: Eric Zeitung-Kellogg
Publisher: Ibis Young Talents
Fantasy/adventure novel. Ashley Orswell and Zach Eubank are two bored teenagers living in the American nowhere town of Dampmine. One day, Ashley receives a letter containing a severed eyelid. As they investigate further, Ashley and Zach discover a way to open 'trapdoors' in the ground, leading them to a parallel world beneath Dampmine, known as Pandemonium. Here, they become embroiled in a series of battles between demons and demonesses.
Zoning Out made a minor splash in fantasy and horror circles upon its release, but was criticized for its awkward dialogue and poor prose (the author's first language being German.)
"We could read that," says Kaspar.
"No, doesn't sound very good. Index! Find: Random."
Author: Louis Dennehy
Publisher: Homet Press
Convoluted, surreal thriller, which takes place in an unnamed, seedy city and unfolds in three sections, all of which seem to end at their beginnings and interlock in surprising, time-bending ways. Möbius Strip was released to moderate critical acclaim, mainly praised for its numerous plot twists and experimentation with form, but criticized for its overly bleak atmosphere.
"No, let's not read that," says Alex.
"No, not that, definitely."
"Index! Find: Random."
Beauty and the Blood Stains: The Giallo Films of Pupi Soavi
Alex grimaces at this title.
Author: Mark Trelkovsky, ph.D.
Genre: Film studies
Publisher: Georgetown University Press
Trelkovsky's comprehensive study of Pupi Soavi is the only work done exclusively on this largely overlooked Italian director who worked mostly within the so-called giallo genre of blood-soaked Italian mystery-thrillers from the 1970's (named after the cheap crime novels with yellow (giallo) covers, from which they were often adapted.) Trelkovsky includes a brief biography of Soavi before launching himself into a series of in-depth analyses of the director's entire filmography, from his weaker, early films such as the sleazily exploitative A Smile and a Raised Skirt (1970) and Sex Fever of the Sanremo Nuns (1971) (in which Trelkovsky, with some effort, manages to find merit), to his true giallo masterpieces, The Laughing Eye of the Ibis (1975) and The Church of Tears (1976), ending with his more bizarre and disturbingly violent Until the Last Drop of Blood is Squeezed from her Breast (1979), which was banned in Italy and large parts of Europe. Although the discerning reader may be vexed by Trelkovsky's adoring efforts to raise Soavi up into the pantheon of true giallo masters like Argento, Bava and Fulci, this is a fine work with many enlightening analytical points about not only the giallo genre, but Italian 1970's cinema and society at large.
"Index! Take us to: 039.494. Beauty and the Blood-Stains: The Giallo Films of Pupi Soavi."
Alex' command is obeyed, and a light shoots out from the Screen, floating to their right into the factual half of the building where Alex has not yet set foot. Just as before, the light guides them deep into the labyrinth before hovering static like a hummingbird at the correct shelf, which is at knee level. Alex crouches down and pulls out the book. He goes in, with Kaspar.
Beauty and the Blood Stains: The Giallo Films of Pupi Soavi
Table of contents
Pupi Soavi: A Life between Art and Exploitation …. 6
The Aesthetics of Innocence: A Smile and a RaisedSkirt (1970) …. 12
Subverting the Clichés of Erotic Cinema: Sex Fever of the Sanremo Nuns (1971) … 19
Stepping into the Night: The Laughing Eye of the Ibis (1975)… 30
'To show the audience my most beautiful nightmares': The Church of Tears (1976)…. 42
Cinema of Cruelty: Until the Last Drop of Blood is Squeezed from her Breast (1979)…. 55
An Occultist himself: Soavi's Obsession with Baphomet …. 59
Forever the Auteur: Soavi's Legacy in Italian Cinema … 63
Bibliography…. . 66
"Go to: Page 30."
Stepping into the Night: The Laughing Eye of the Ibis (1975)
Hailed as both Soavi's crowning achievement and a milestone within the giallo genre, The Laughing Eye of the Ibis seemed to arise, financially, from out of nowhere, like the mysterious Egyptian figurine that emerges from the waters of the Mediterranean in its opening scene and nudges fatefully against the naked thigh of the adolescent protagonist Lisa. After Sex Fever of the Sanremo Nuns, Soavi had established himself as a capable director of efficient B-films on tight budgets, but it seemed unthinkable that he would ever be able to gather a crew of true artistic brilliance to match his own, let alone set foot within the Cinecittà studios in Rome.
However, in 1975 he reportedly gained access to the office of executive producer Marcos Franzinetto (who had previously backed several giallo classics including Alessandro's Seven Dresses Stained With Blood (1971) and Ferraro's The Tongue of the White Serpent (1974)) and pitched his plot outline for Laughing Eye, complete with barely comprehensible self-drawn storyboards. Franzinetto was convinced not so much by the idea as the personality of its presenter: "I found him absolutely fascinating – this small, gaunt, bearded man with this sort of – melancholy air, as if he were already sad about all the beautiful women that he would have to kill off, quite brutally, in this dream film of his. It's a sad business really, being a horror director. It's like working in a slaughterhouse – you have to kill all these beautiful women. It's sad but it must be done."43
Franzinetto, who was a man of great resources and influence in those days, with a passion for the giallo genre, pulled the necessary strings to get pre-production started on Laughing Eye. The opening scenes of the Swiss boarding school class visiting Barcelona were to be shot on location, while the scenes back at the Swiss boarding school for girls were done in Cinecittà, with remarkably elaborate matté-paintings constituting the alpine backdrops seen in the balcony scenes. Luigi Kuveiller, who had worked on Lucio Fulci's Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971) and Dario Argento's Profondo Rosso (1975), was brought on as director of photography, while Bruno Nicolai, the brilliant apprentice of Ennio Morricone, was commissioned to write the memorable score.
The opening shot of Laughing Eye immediately sets the film's underlying tone of sensual fascination with youth and innocence, as the camera pans along the crowded beach in Barcelona and zooms in on the flurry of laughing Swiss girls (all played by Italians) in their navy blue swimsuits. As Nicolai's score swells, with its heady strings and vaguely melancholy hapsichord, the credits flash across the screen in a white, subdued typeface. We see the controlling headmistress, Frau Winkler, played by the great Alida Valli, as she addresses the girls: 'Don't go out too far! And don't talk to the men! And if you see any jellyfish, swim away from them! I want to know who goes in the water and how long they expect to be there! You're not allowed to stay in the water for more than fifteen minutes at a time! And remember to put on sun lotion! You all have very fragile skin.'
We cut to Lisa and Gretchen, our lovable protagonists, two 14-year-old girls with more spunk and wit than most adult heroines in any Italian 70's film. As they listen to Valli, they smile secretively at each other as their hair blows in the breeze. 'Jellyfish and men – and devils and mountain trolls – why are there so many things to watch out for in this world, Gretchen?' says Lisax jokingly as they traipse down to the water.
'I don't know Lisa – ooh, so cold!' says Gretchenar, as they both step into the water, and the film stock slips into loving slow-motion of their bodies shivering and hopping in the knee-high waves.
Character type #937.292
The Adolescent Girl on the Brink of Sexual Maturity
Appears in: Drama, romance, horror, sleaze, fairy tales
This is a simple, but popular type of character, often lovingly and melancholically rendered by authors such as Vladimir Nabokov or photographers such as David Hamilton. Adolescent Girls on the Brink of Sexual Maturity form strong friendships with each other, characterized by lesbian overtones that remain sweetly latent. The innocence of the Adolescent Girl on the Brink of Maturity – which is her main trait – is like a sunset: Beautiful, but always doomed to fade to darkness. The archetypal example of the Adolescent Girl on the Brink of Sexual Maturity is found, of course, in the tale of Red Riding Hood as collected by the brothers Grimm.
'You have to stay in it; you'll warm up to it. That's the secret,' is Lisa'lex's answer, which indeed may be applied to the giallo genre itself. 'Come on; live a little.'
In the next shots, we are given a beautifully steady overhead view of LisaAlex and GretchenKaspar swimming slowly across the brilliant blue waters. From shot to shot, they seem to separate, until suddenly we are only seeing Lisa, now floating, face up, with a calm smile on her face in the sharp sunlight. Nicolai's score becomes particularly ethereal and haunting, with wordless vocals by the great Edda Dell'orso.
"I'm so sick of the way this guy writes," says Alex. "I just want to watch the film. Do they have films in here?"
"No, only books," says Kaspar. "But we can read the script."
"Yeah, get the script."
"Index! Take us to: 039.495: The Laughing Eye of the Ibis, by Pupi Soavi and Roberto Gianviti. Go to: Scene 2."
SC 2. EXT. OCEAN
LISA is floating in the calm, lapping waves, face up, with a smile on her exquisite face. She is humming the TITLE MELODY. Her LONG BLACK HAIR is fanned out beautifully in the water. She opens her eyes.
POINT OF VIEW shot of the SKY.
CLOSE-UP on LISA'S EYES.
Back to the SKY, which is now DEEP RED.
Back to the SKY, which is a sickly YELLOW.
LISA's(ex's) mouth opens; she GASPS, and the saltwater laps at the corners of her delicate MOUTH.
oh I can taste it, Alex mumbles
Cut back to the SKY, which is a poisonous GREEN.
What is happening? What is this?
POINT OF VIEW shot from something emerging from the WATER, bobbing up and approaching LISA slowly, closing in on her bare, smooth THIGH. The score turns ominous.
An OVERHEAD shot reveals a small, black FIGURINE nudging against LISA's THIGH in the clear, brilliant blue water.
LISA shifts from her floating position, treading water now. She stares calmly at the FIGURINE and grasps it. A CLOSE-UP reveals that it is distinctly EGYPTIAN, depicting a GOD, a MAN with the head of an IBIS.
LISA swims back inward, holding the FIGURINE OF THOTH.
SC 3. EXT. BEACH
LISA walks, shivering and dripping wet, back to her CLASS. The GIRLS are laughing, running around, playing BEACH TENNIS. FRAU WINKLER is struggling to keep an eye on them all. LISA lies down on her TOWEL, hiding the FIGURINE in the sand under it.
A HAND clamps down on her shoulder, rolling her onto her back.
(lying on the adjacent TOWEL)
Lisa! You disappeared! I swam around looking for you!
I'm sorry Gretchen; I went exploring!
That's okay Lisalex – I know you'll always come back to me.
I'll always come back to you Gretchen.
The LOVE THEME swells on the soundtrack. GRETCHEN's golden hair falls towards LISA's face, like a CURTAIN hiding them from the sunny, noisy world in the BACKGROUND.
Aah, the sun is so hot!
Don't worry - I'll be your shield.
GRETCHEN lies down on top of LISA, pressing each limb and fingertip against those of LISA.
That feels so good Gretchen! I want to be like this forever.
I thought this was a horror film," says Alex
Kaspar shrugs. "It's all build-up
A SHADOW falls over the girls.
What are you doing there? Stop this silliness! People are looking!
Cut to three YOUNG SPANISH MEN, grinning and watching.
LISA and GRETCHEN get up, giggling, and run away. The SCORE grows more lively and light-hearted. There is a MONTAGE of the two girls buying ice cream – talking to the three SPANISH MEN for a moment, then running away – playing BEACH TENNIS.
SC 4: PASSEIG DE GRACIA – DAY
The CLASS is walking down the wide BOULEVARD in the late afternoon light, still in their SWIMSUITS, heading back to their FIVE-STAR HOTEL. LISA and GRETCHEN are walking at the back of the group. LISA holds the FIGURINE behind her back.
SKYLINE SHOTS of BARCELONA in the dusk.
SC 5: INT. DORMITORY HOTEL – NIGHT
The TWENTY-FIVE GIRLS are all in their beds, behind MOSQUITO NETS. Most are whispering to each other, including LISA and GRETCHEN, whom the camera tracks in on.
I don't want to go back to Spitzer-Höhe tomorrow – it's so nice here.
Don't you miss the lakes? And the mountains? Everything is so flat here.
But it's so nice and hot here! In Spitzer-Höhe it's chilly.
Only in the evenings.
Yes, you're right. (sighs) Well, goodnight Lisa.
Goodnight Gretchen. I love you.
I love you Lisa. Forever and ever.
Yes. Forever and ever.
Their gazes linger on each other for a moment, before they close their eyes. LISA opens hers again. She rolls onto her other side, reaches under her mattress and produces the FIGURINE. She stares at it, mesmerized, turning it over in her small hands.
SC 6: EXT. PLANE - DAY
The plane back to Switzerland is flying above the CLOUDS.
We see LISA and GRETCHEN in their seats. GRETCHEN's head is on LISA's shoulder; she is asleep. LISA stares out of the window in the sharp SUNLIGHT.
SC 7: EXT. SCHOOL – DAY
A BUS drives up the steep mountainside road to the BOARDING SCHOOL, around terrifying hairpin turns. It stops outside the SCHOOL, which is half-timbered and quaint, yet looming and ominous. The CLASS emerges, carrying identical, small black SUITCASES, dressed in navy blue UNIFORMS with grey pleated SKIRTS and long white SOCKS.
"Oh I love the air up here," Alex remarks. "So pure."
"It's not the real Switzerland, you know," says Kaspar. "Anyway, you're starting to sound like your character."
SC 8. INT. SCHOOL HALL – DAY
The GIRLS are coming in with their suitcases and proceeding to the BALCONY or KITCHEN or up the SPIRAL STAIRCASE to their ROOMS.
Now I want you all to unpack first and shower before dinner, where Frau Winkler will make a short speech to welcome you back and talk about the fall semester.
SC 9. INT. SECOND FLOOR BEDROOM – EVENING
In the four-bed room, LISA slumps down on her back on the top bunk. Below, GRETCHEN, FRANKA and ROSAMUND are unpacking. LISA sighs, lifts up her legs and pulls her socks off, dropping them over the edge.
Hey! You dropped your sock on my head! Smelly!
(opening the window shutters)
Aah – the mountain air is so nice.
It really is the end of summer – seven o'clock and already it is dusk.
The DINNER BELL tolls. Amid tired exclamations, the GIRLS leave the room – except for LISA on the top bunk.
Shots of the empty second-floor HALLWAYS in the dimming DUSK.
LISA on the bed – there is a RUSTY, SCRAPING noise. Her eyes snap OPEN.
This is strong magic
Shot of the DINING HALL downstairs, where the entire school – fifty chattering, laughing girls – are sitting down with full plates.
Back to LISA in the BEDROOM.
ZOOM-IN on her open suitcase on the floor – below a folded white SHIRT, we can see the head of the familiar FIGURINE poking out. She has brought it back with her.
We hear the SCRAPING sound again.
LISA props herself up slowly and looks down. She lowers herself over the edge, climbing down the LADDER in bare feet, onto the wooden, creaking FLOOR. She approaches the door to the HALLWAY. She looks around the DOORJAMB, visibly AFRAID.
SHAKY POINT-OF-VIEW SHOT from behind the far corner of the HALLWAY. We see a BLACK-GLOVED HAND pressed against the wall. We hear someone's heavy, raspy BREATHING. The person RETREATS.
Back to close-up on LISA. She frowns. She looks down the other side of the HALLWAY. Then back.
She hurries out, silent and cat-like, toward the SPIRAL STAIRCASE that leads to the cheerful noise of the DINING HALL below.
ALEXisa turns around, stunned.
CHARLOTTE has emerged from the far corner of the HALLWAY. She is BAREFOOT, HAIR WET, and wearing the same WHITE BATHROBE that she wore in the HOTEL SUITE in MILAN.
It's me. Charlotte.
Who's she? Why isn't she speaking Italian?" Kaspar wants to know, shaking Alex by the shoulders. Alex's head lolls back against the bookshelf. Kaspar's voice echoes in the lifeless hall of the Great Library. "She's yours, isn't she? You mentioned her name in The Woman in the Snow as well." He sounds hurt, angry. "She's real, isn't she? She's
approaching. Alex stands still, a deer in the headlights. CHARLOTTE is wearing black leather gloves.
Alex. Stop hiding from us. You have to come out of there.
out of where
out of all these fictions. Your mirrors.
there's too many mirrors
It's your reflection. It's all you. It's all your own reflection. You're entranced by it. You're Narcissus. And at the same time Echo. Pining for yourself. Nothing more than an Echo. The original sound gone; the original shell gone. You don't exist anymore, Alex.
Maybe that's why you've chosen to hide in a place that doesn't exist anymore. The Great Library of
(smiling calmly, reaching out for Alex's shoulders, his neck)
lex!" Kaspar is sobbing now. "Come back to me! You said you'd always come back to me,
GRETCHEN sobs, shaking Alex's shoulders
It's me, Alex. I'm your wife. You're a doctor.
And you never understood -
(strangling him now)
You never understood –
(killing him now)
Behind CHARLOTTE, we now see UMBERTO, GLENN and ALISON, all CLAPPING, SMILING, as if at the end of a CONCERT, an OPERA, at the end of AIDA by GUISEPPE VERDI –
My colleagues seem to think we're on holiday
h God," Kaspar sobs, throwing himself back against the opposite bookshelf, wailing uncontrollably. "I'm losing you. It's all too –
Like the joke about the guy who needed a pair of scissors
to get through the packaging
on this pair of scissors.
I don't get it," Kaspar says, sniffling. "Is that the joke?"
Yeah." Alex starts to laugh.
He tears himself away from CHARLOTTE with surprising ease, and she SCREAMS in fury as he runs down the SPIRAL STAIRCASE to the DINING HALL
but the WALL is dissolving
and HOOKS are shooting down; a fisherman's HOOKS
a fisherman of souls
Live a little
I'd had too much coffee that night I couldn't sleep I'd had too much coffee that night I couldn't sleep I'd had too much coffee that night I couldn't sleep I'd had too much coffee that night I couldn't sleep
LISA reaches the DINING HALL, where the other 11 MONKS
were consuming their humble evening meal, as prepared by brother Trogonovskij, brother Tolvonech and brother Zacvílec. Brother Sapranovich closed the door quietly behind him, to make up for the brisk manner in which he had burst into the tranquil hall. He found his place at the middle of the western bench, beside Lidianov, who smiled happily up at his friend.
Abbot Mendelvok, sitting at the end of the table below a painting of Saint Dmitri, had presided over the opening prayer as usual. At the opposite end, nearest to the door, sat the woman. No one had ever sat at that end before. She seemed almost a challenger, an opponent, even as she meekly, silently finished her cauliflower soup and smiled gratefully at Mendelvok. Outside, the wind howled.
"May one ask – why you are two minutes late for our evening meal?" asked Abbot Mendelvok, wiping his mouth and pouring himself another glass of slivovits.
"Abbot, I am terribly sorry – I was – completely caught up in restoring that icon of Saint Pietrovich."
"Very well." Abbot Mendelvok resumed his conversation with brother Eisenstein about the evils of Moscow.
Brother Golgonov, who sat opposite Sapranovich, looked at him with a bovine naïveté. "But I thought you'd finished with that icon yesterday?"
"Golgonov," said Sapranovich with a warning look and a tired tone.
Golgonov looked down at his soup, realizing his error.
Sapranovich felt a hand on his thigh below the table; he winced, then smiled distractedly at Lidianov to his left. The beautiful young man looked up at him with those dark, deep eyes that seemed constantly hungry for both the pleasures of knowledge and of physical tenderness.
"Can I come to your chamber afterwards and study Revelations with you?" he asked.
Sapranovich considered whether it was safe tonight. "Yes," he said, finally. "Yes, come."
"Good." Lidianov's smile widened. "You're safe here," he whispered. "You came back to me, Alex."
"What? Kaspar?" Sapranovlex hissed. "I thought you were Trogonovskij?"
"I switched characters. You can always switch to someone else."
"Oh. How did I get here? I didn't go back through the Library to get here."
"Shortcuts. You went sideways."
Abbot Mendelvok cleared his throat and rose. He spoke the same words he always uttered after every meal: "Thank you all for your hard work today. Thank you all for sharing this meal with me and each other. And let us all thank God our Lord for his continued aid and protection of us in this our shelter." His lips hovered apart for a moment; he stared down at the rough oak table. He looked up at the woman. "And may I again bid our guest welcome. May she recuperate quickly and soon continue her life outside of these walls."
The woman smiled up at Mendelvok, the palms of her hands flat on the table on either side of her empty bowl. Her face was cleaner and smoother now than it had been earlier, with more colour; prettier. For a second it became Charlotte'salmost frighteningly beautiful, as the candles flickered and caressed it just so. Then, it was the woman's normal again, just about.
"Good night to you all," said Mendelvok, visibly unnerved by something.
The woman's smile did not waver. She gazed around at all 12 monks.
They rose. Trogonovskij, Tolvonech and Zacvílec cleared the table. Sapranolexvich retired to his chamber. He went to the window and gazed out at the still raging blizzard. He breathed a sigh, and the snowfall seemed to intensify, as if fuelled by his breath, by some un-Christian sorcery.
the Sickness is the cure
There was a knock at the door. Lidianov. Sapranovich closed his eyes and smiled in a moment of tranquil gratitude. "Enter."
Lidianov stepped in. He closed the door behind him and smiled up at the older monk. They met in an embrace, rough hands sliding over the rough fabric that concealed their torsos, pulling at it. Sapranovich held the back of Lidianov's head firmly, grinding his mouth against his own, and Lidianov let out a little moan as they kissed, which sounded like a hurt animal, caught in the trap of his own lust. Time would stretch out now, as it always did when they were in each other's arms; time would slow down, because as we all know, the saying that time moves faster when you're enjoying yourself is not true. Time slows down, and you think that it really must speed onwards soon; you must tear yourself away; you have things to do, and you don't deserve indulgence. Lidianov was too young, simple and lustful to feel this strain, but Sapranovich felt it, along with the danger of what they were doing, and so he was always the one to quicken the habitual progression of their trysts, lifting Lidianov's cowl off his beautiful body, guiding him onto the bed and inserting himself within him.
Outside it was still snowing.
"This is nice," sa ys Kaspar, as Alex fucks him. "Have you done this before?"
"I don't know," Alex breathes (maybe? College?), frowning for a moment, his hips still grinding under Kaspar's raised, smooth thighs, his sweaty chest against Kaspar's, his forehead on the mattress beside Kaspar's ear, their stringy hair touching. The world is all breathing and warm, tight skin.
"It's good," Kaspar's lips whisper, next to his ear. "It's good."
In some cases, the Friend is revealed to be the Enemy (Character type #1.1) or becomes the Lover (Character #2.5).
He is young; his stomach flat and tight, his breathing not even labored yet; he has stamina –
My whole life
You know I'm useless
and Charlotte and his 40's and the Sickness and Milan are far, far away
Why are you like that?!
He groans, shuddering, blowing his load (obscene expressions are so apt) in Kaspar's rectum and
My whole life
The Lover is an expansion of the Friend, offering the same helpful attributes, but with the addition of the physical act of sex.
pushing up with his arms, feeling like a rearing stallion, like a porn star, feeling great, looking down, seeing Charlotte.
Charlotte, seeing him, sitting down on the edge of their Egyptian cotton bed, purple, in their Notting Hill flat, annoyed about something, no, angry, taking off her black high-heeled shoes. Her dress is Versace, no, something more subdued, black, her hair pinned up in an almost Edwardian style, which looks slightly ridiculous. All this material everywhere, all of it so expensive. (He was earning more back then, but doing less important work. Funny how the world works.) They've been to a party.
"So you didn't like Marc?" Alex says; Marc is the hospital director, very witty, too constantly witty even for Alex's taste at times.
"I'm not saying I didn't like him." She gets up and puts her shoes in the closet. She looks around for something else for her hands to do. She goes past Alex, to her purse on the dresser, taking out her cigarettes, lighting one. Her movements have always had all the grace that her words lack. She exhales smoke. "I just didn't like the way – you two were making fun of me."
"We weren't making fun of -"
"Oh, no – no; don't say that; don't be such a worm."
Alex grins to an invisible audience; "Oh God -"
"You know you were mocking me. Don't try to hide -"
Stop hiding from us. You have to come out of there.
She shakes her head. "What is it with English people?" She often does that; regards 'English people' as something separate from herself. Perhaps she's entitled to; she lived in Chicago with Robert for three years. "You're always – just about sticking the knife in me, and then I turn around and you're smiling and hiding it behind your back. It's so fucking frustrating."
"What do you mean?" Alex says, still grinning in astonishment. "What knife?"
"Why are you like that?!"
"It's my stupidity, Alex." She takes a step towards him, ash falling from the cigarette. "It's my stupidity. My uselessness. You know it. You know I'm useless. You know I'm – I'm not – I can't always respond to everything in a fucking – sparklingly intelligent way. I can't always be here one hundred percent. In fact I'm rarely here 100 percent. You know that. Remember, remember last week? When I said something like god I'm so tired today, and you said well clear the front page; that's news. And the worst thing about that was –" He can hear the tears coming. "- that – I don't – it didn't even feellike you were annoyed with me; it just felt like a fact, like, oh, the sky is blue today; oh, Charlotte's tired. Charlotte's not really here. Charlotte's not quite good enough. Charlotte's useless. Let's laugh at Charlotte. Let's make little jokes about her that she doesn't quite get. At parties, in front of people. She's pretty, but God is she useless. Well fine. Well fuck it then. I'll just let you do that. Why the fuck not. There's no need to – there's no need to respect me. And you know - I've always been good at not reacting. Not responding. Even to insults. I've always been great at that. I'm great at being really, really passive. Aren't I. Aren't I, Alex."
Alex stares at her. She's turned half away from him. She goes to the window, opening it, staring out over Campden Hill Road. It is a summer night, warm. July? Alex starts taking off his butterfly and can't, somehow.
She smokes her cigarette.
"I'm dull," she mutters. "I'm dull. In both senses of the word. Boring, but also – like a dull colour. Plain. I'm background. Despite my looks. Looks – still don't matter that much. The world isn't as superficial as people say." She flicks her cigarette into the darkness. Might start a fire in the front garden. It's dry out there.
She turns back to him, hands on the low windowsill in a weirdly casual pose. "And you know I'm not even – it's not like …" She looks down. Saying all of this clearly isn't having the effect on her or him that she'd wanted it to. There's something unsatisfying about this. Even this. "It doesn't feel good, Alex. It – there's nothing that feels good anymore. It all feels awful. And I'm not sure what to do. I just don't like – how everyone looks down on me. I don't like being mocked. And being looked down on. But clearly that's what everyone does. That's what people do, all the people I know. All the people I've ever known. My family. My friends. My boyfriends. That's what you all do. That's never going to change, is it? I think that's how it is. And I don't know what to do."
He asks: "How long have you felt like this?"
She's looking down at the bed. Her next words still manage to make a hidden part of him cringe, the part that mocks her, the part she thinks she's seeing all the time, the part that wants to distance itself from all this melodramatic nonsense. Her next words are: "My whole life."
"Charlotte -" It sounds to both of them like he's going to say something more. But he goes and hugs her, by the window, in the night breeze.
She doesn't cry after all. He thought she was going to, but she doesn't.
And that was July, yes; late July; and it was one of the healthiest moments of their marriage, probably, and as they were hugging she started rubbing his crotch, and then she was trying to kneel down and unzip his pants, and he said no, no don't do that, not when you're feeling like this, God, Charlotte, I don't want that
"you never want that," she mumbled, not talking about blowjobs but about the whole idea of a beautiful woman submitting to you and your cock, something which most heterosexual men would indeed want; and he felt awful, suddenly, because she shouldn't be with him; she should be with someone younger and sexier, someone hornier –
- because some small, cruel (, objective?) part of him was thinking that yes; she was right; she didn't have much else to offer than her beauty -
and that was when, as if reading his thoughts, she started to cry, but she stopped surprisingly quickly, and they went to bed, and he couldn't sleep,
I couldn't sleep that night I'd had too much coffee
but she could; she slept like a baby –
come back to me please Alex
and the next day was a Sunday and he didn't know what to do all day or what to say to her
The first few months when I first met you, it was like being under a spell
It was like some … weird dream
He's remembering other conversations with her now, at other times, or is he? No, that's not her; that wasn't her, the woman who said she'd been under a spell; who was that
Stop! Gretchen! Stop! Don't go there! You are under the spell of the Black Ibis –
You seem to be waiting for some kind of perfect happiness that's never gonna come
Why are you like that?!
come back please Alex
My whole life
and he is back in
Knowing I lov'd my books, he furnish'd me
From mine own library with volumes that
I prize above my dukedom
He is back in the Library, with Kaspar, sitting on the floor in the aisle opposite each other, backs against the shelves, legs sprawled. The book lies closed between them. A thin portfolio – the film script. The Laughing Eye of the Ibis – by Pupi Soavi and Roberto Gianviti.
"Where were you?" Kaspar asks. He is always quietly concerned. It's starting to annoy Alex. "I liked what we did just now … in the monk story." The fucking.
"Oh. That was okay."
"Where did you go after that?" Kaspar looks slightly hurt at the dismissive response from his f(F)riend (/l(L)over). In truth Alex thought the sex was amazing; he doesn't know why he wants to brush it aside.
He says: "I was just … in a room with my wife."
"You have a wife?"
"Let's read another book." He gets to his feet.
"What? Are you sure?" Kaspar staggers after him, back through the labyrinth of factual literature, towards the centre and the Index. His tread is unsteady, as if his anus is still aching (could it be?) after the pounding it received in The Woman from the Snow. "Haven't you had too many?" As if talking about alcohol, to a drunk. "Don't you think we should take a break? Just spend some time here -"
"No! God!" Alex laughs as they emerge in the central space, the arena. "I need more. I need to – hide -"
stop squirming Alex
The building groans. The stone floor shivers. Outside, there are dark clouds on the horizon, above the Mediterranean, which is disturbed.
"- or they'll pin me down, like a butterfly."
This is an escape
like a butterfly."
This is an escape story, not a forced exile
"Who are they?" Kaspar asks.
"Mummy and daddy." He snickers dryly.
Stop hiding Alex; come out of there
"Charlotte and Glenn."
You continue to remind me of my parents
"I liked you better in the beginning," says Kaspar demurely. "Now … you're not so much fun as before."
"Oh." Alex laughs. "Index! Find: Random."
The Unhappiness Factor
Author: Alexis Burns, Clive Donaghue
Publisher: Ibis Young Talents
Dystopian, humorous sci-fi. In a nation called 'the Holy Land' in a distant future, it is illegal to show signs of Unhappiness. 10 citizens who have attempted suicide are taken to a military base, where they become participants in a reality show, forced to "learn to be Happy."
"Index! Find: Random."
Author: Brett Westwood
Publisher: Salvytine Fiction
Cyberpunk/fantasy novel. In a distant future, a device known as the Panacea has become popular due to its ability to let you enter a malleable dream world. But the dream world – Pandemia – has a side effect: In the real world, people are starting to kill each other and themselves for no apparent reason.
"I think I saw a Japanese cartoon like that. Index! Find: Random."
Author: Cillian Mara
Publisher: Baphom Fiction
Coming of age story. Young Jonathan Downer has graduated with a Bachelors in literature, but doesn't know what to do with his life. He wants to be a writer, but lacks the confidence. Without telling anyone, he goes to Denmark for a few days. He seems to have stopped caring about anything. When he returns to England, he has lost his job and moves back in with his parents, feeling strangely optimistic about everything.
"That just sounds weird. Index! Find: Random."
The Seven Agonies of the Magistrate Basseiro
Author: Comtesse d'Olaveiro
Genre: Classical erotic fiction
Publisher: Ibis Classical Fiction
Year: 1994 (originally published: 1861)
We're all fucked, aren't we?
It seems likely that we are, Mr Singer
Alison smoked her cigarette, staring at the screen, waiting for the hidden directory on Glenn's laptop to transfer to her memory stick. The nicotine hit her; she hadn't smoked in a while (God she missed pot too; she could use some right now, but she had to keep her mind clear); the smoke rising until dispersed by the ceiling fan. Glenn was in the hotel gym downstairs; he'd left 15 minutes ago, and he usually took 45 minutes. But the transfer was fucking slow. If she pulled out the stick before it was done, the failed transfer would show up in the error log; he'd see that she'd been copying his stuff, his dirty secret, the WATER_? folder.
Outside Milan was buzzing. She stepped out on the balcony. The ordered rectangles of little lights reminded her of Washington. She'd been a PA for some aldermen there before moving on to rockstar scientists like Glenn. And what a difference that had made. Politicians and scientists were equally corrupt. Actually, scientists more so, if what she'd found out about Glenn and Umberto was true. About the Sickness. Fucking disgusting.
She closed her eyes for a moment. Glenn could step in right now and see the transfer bar on his computer and understand. He'd probably kill her. Unless she killed herself first. Yes, if he stepped in she'd just jump. Fourteen storeys down. She could just jump right now. Fuck this world. They could all just keep dying without her.
There was a chime from the computer.
had finished transferring.
She rushed to the laptop on the faux baroque dresser, ripped out the memory stick and stuck it in her panties at the hip. She went out, nodding to Glenn's guard, big muscly guy who looked vaguely like John Wayne with designer sunglasses. He followed her as she walked down the hallway. Shit. Shit shit shit. Why was he following her? She could see him in the elevator mirror doors. She stabbed the button. Going down. Her plan had been to go straight to Alex's room. Had to tell Alex. Had to tell Alex everything. About the Sickness. About what his friends were doing. Well, not friends; he obviously despised them. Colleagues. Enemies.
Lovely Alex. Cool, strangely handsome, very English Alex. Fuck. Why did she want him so badly? Why was everything combined? She needed to help him cure the Sickness. And she was in love with him. Why was everything mixed up like this?
The guard got in the elevator with her.
They went down.
The lobby was full of doctors wasting their time talking to the Italian press or flirting with each other (or the Italian press), just one big shallow pathetic party, and she pushed her way through. The lobby was partly a small shopping centre with a bookstore, a Starbucks, an electronics store; on the plasma TVs on display, there was the sole bit of seriousness in the area; CNN scroll about CLUSTERS OF SICKNESS DEATHS CONFIRMED IN NORTH KOREA (clusters; what a strangely beautiful word to use; like crystals; clusters of babies dying) and 'MOSES' TERRORIST GROUP BELIEVED BY CIA TO BE RESPONSIBLE oh yes, a scapegoat; of course; but they didn't exist; she knew for a fact that Glenn had invented Moses; it was all in WATER_? and it was all too clever and biblical for one of those idiotic sexually frustrated muslim terror cells; come on; the nine plagues; death of the firstborns? Why would they use Christian concepts -
She was body searched at the exit (memory stick in her panties memory stick in her panties; don't think about it; if you don't think about it it'll be temporarily not there) and let through.
The evening was warm and smoky. She walked toward the Piazza del Duomo; she could see the cathedral. A Slowdive song was stuck in her head; Alison; your cigarette still burns; your messed up life still thrills me; shit, her cigarette was still burning in the hotel room; oh well; that wouldn't tell Glenn anything; stop freaking out stop freaking out
and she turned for a moment as if lost, at a corner, to see that yes, John Wayne with Ray-Bans was still on her trail, stopping now, not even trying to look as if he were doing anything other than shadowing her.
Why had she gone out? She had to make up a story in her mind, something to inform her actions and convince John Wayne. She had gone out to find a man. She had gone out because she was just a ditzy young PA, young and horny. She went into a nightclub that was suddenly right in front of her, CLUB INFERNO; how original; 10 Euros to get in. Red and blue strobe lights hit her; the place was pumping even now at 11; people in Milan went out early (went home early). She pushed through the crowds; lots of young loud guys checking her out; obnoxious but she didn't mind; in her story, horny fictional Alison was happy to have opportunities here. She ordered a shot of vodka at the bar, looking over her shoulder. John Wayne was at the exit, doing what he did best, standing guard. Fuck.
She downed the vodka. Someone said are you German you're beautiful in her ear in a heavy northern Italian accent. She said yes. The guy was handsome, obviously on mephedrone or some such shit, too poor for MDMA. She danced with him, jumping like the teenager in front of her, who was now asking if she wanted to fuck, and she said yes (really Alison? Really?); instantaneously, like a horse commanded to gallop, he dragged her to the men's room, grinning and repeating himself; are you beautiful you're German; God, English was just sounds to these people, like the acid house playing now, just noisy rhythmic sounds leading to sex, now, possibly –
but no, in the men's room she saw what she wanted to see, a window; fucking perfect; an open window – people were climbing in from the alley, avoiding the entrance fee –
- all the booths were occupied, and the guy smiled sheepishly at her; not even the only guy in here with a girl, waiting to get (somewhat) private, waiting to discharge his excess fluids within her (sex really was like going to the toilet, a necessary regular activity, and these people were literally going to the toilet, emptying themselves; life is all about emptying oneself, dropping the ballast to get higher)
- and she was getting higher now, taking off her high-heeled shoes and stepping up on the condom machine to climb out the window –
"what the fuck you are doing! You are crazy" the guy shouted (adding that to her qualities, beautiful German crazy), angry and laughing and probably already spotting another girl to go after -
- and she squeezed out the window; more Italian guys in the alley, laughing as she emerged; è pazza; they were sharing a joint; fuck it; she pointed and asked if she could have some
take it it's good for you
and yes she could; she puffed on it, said grazie and left, walking then running down the alley to a piazza, the asphalt hurting her bare feet, the memory stick still in her panties; John Wayne shaken off; good.
Where is Alex?
And why is the sky red?
ALEX is in ALEXANDRIA