Category Archives: Short Stories

Isabel Swan and the Evil Reed

EN

I started to write this story more than two years ago. It started with a silly, funny story I wrote for a colleague named Isabel.

I finished it today, after talking about dinosaurs with my friends’ children in the South of France.

Isabel Swan and the Evil Reed

Isabel was standing by a still pond. In the windless morning, the water was truly unmoving and grey. She couldn’t recollect how she had arrived here, only that she had felt compelled to stop by.

Something was missing but she couldn’t wrap her mind around it. It kept on eluding her –  something in the corner of her eye, a nagging feeling that… what?

She tried to calm down and explore her surroundings, trying to find clues in the icily beautiful landscape in front of her. It looked off – too cold, too dead, yes…

The pond, as wide as a small lake, mirrored the unbroken sky. Nothing was stirring in the liquid expanse overhead, not even a… ah, the thought had left again.

The dark water was still calm, but if she stared long enough she could make out darker shapes, big, dangerous fish lurking underneath, undisturbed by… by nothing, really.

The reed bordering the edge looked inconspicuous and safe. She slowly walked around the pond, embracing the mountains far away and the slowly setting sun. She tried to sharpen her senses. All she could hear was the chirping of… no, the bristling sound of the trees and the fluttering of bat wings. Wings. Interesting. She thought of… butterflies, exactly.

The reed was everywhere on the shore, perfectly nice and clean and out of the way. A bit incongruous. It was clearly trying to elude her attention but it looked much too calm to be true.

“Isabel…” she forced the thought… “Isabel Swan… You can remember… You can do it… Isabel Swan, that’s my name, a swan is… is something you’d find here… It’s not a swamp, no… like, swooning maybe? Or… swimming?” A sweet swearing word escaped her.

At last, she could see… a long neck… an ivory, sometimes ebony, soft beauty with a beak and…

***

She remembered.

***

Sixty-six million years ago. The sentient reed couldn’t stand them anymore. Those huge, hungry beasts were either trying to gulp it down or to devour each other. If only they had managed. Instead, they would trample flat every reed they would not eat. The clever plant had to do something to get rid of them.

So it created a spell – because the self-conscious reed was also able to make magic, quite frankly the only species on Earth – to curse the dinosaurs and all their descendants.

It made itself poisonous so they would die when they ate some reed, or something that had eaten some.

The dinosaurs disappeared in the snapping of a straw.

And now, you might remember, the birds were the dinosaurs’ children. In the reed’s parallel reality, they never existed because of the curse.

Was Isabel from a different world? Why did she know about the birds? She snapped reality back to where it should have been and gave life to the birds again.

***

They now roam the Earth as they were supposed to. They grace our skies with feathers and flock dances, our lands with eggs and songs.

***

The reed seems to have gone silent. But the dinosaurs aren’t back yet…

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You’ll find me in Whitechapel

EN

The doors of the overground carriage shut loudly, isolating me from the still slightly crowded platform at Whitechapel station.

It was already late and I just wanted to go home and sleep.

I was trying to shake off my growing, unexpected uneasiness by staring at my phone and I nearly didn’t notice something was wrong until an emotionless voice stated for the whole train’s benefit: “Stepney Green”.

Wait… That wasn’t the line or even the direction I was supposed to take. I wondered how I could have jumped on the wrong train, but I guessed I hadn’t paid enough attention. I had to go back.

Chuckling inwardly to reassure myself, acknowledging that these things happen, that this was just the harmless result of my lack of sleep, I walked down a few badly lit corridors and waited for a train on a shady platform full of drunk teenagers. I was back to Whitechapel in no time. The platform looked pretty much the same as ten minutes earlier, albeit less crowded.

This time I triple checked I was entering the right overground, a weed-smelling train heading north west. I cautiously took my e-reader from my bag and started to read a nonfiction collection by Neil Gaiman. I let the stations flow past in a blur, losing track of the world around me until Neil Gaiman asked the readers to look around them and observe their surroundings. I lowered my e-reader and looked. That’s when I noticed I was going back to Whitechapel.

Not again? What had happened? Dejected and slightly frightened, with a headache looming over, I got off hastily at Whitechapel and tried to figure out what my options were. It was now too late to take another train. Was the ghost of Jack the Ripper haunting this station? I surfaced under a cloudy night, wanted to call for an Uber, but my battery was out and I couldn’t see any taxis on Mile End.

I took a perpendicular street, which looked older and more unkempt than its neighbour. It was a quaint little thing, cobbled and deserted apart from a quiet stray fox. Nothing there seemed to have been built after 1901 and some window sills were holding drying laundry. Utterly fascinated, I immersed myself in this unusual gas lit atmosphere and followed the fox for a while, until I noticed a decrepit sign adorning what looked like stables: “Sights and Stallions”. Interesting… But I couldn’t think about going home on horseback, could I?

I had mounted a pony once when I was eight and a camel when I was twelve. That was hardly impressive. But did I have any choice? Wasn’t it the time to be bold and daring? I had to try something and didn’t feel like walking home yet.

I knocked at a shabby looking door leading to the brick horse stalls. A tall, bearded man with a top hat opened.

“What do you want, miss?” he asked in what sounded to me as a cliché, Oliver Twist cockney accent.

“Hm, do you, by any chance, provide carriages or horses? I appear to be, ha, stuck here in Whitechapel.”

His genuine laughter, devoid of malice, filled the empty street.

“Sure thing, Belzy will bring you home. Don’t you worry about him, he’ll come back here on his own. And the first mount is free!”

“Thanks a lot! But I…”

“Don’t trouble yourself, he is very kind with everyone.”

This was all very surreal – the stallion was, I could swear, looking at me with a hint of amusement and everything was so out of place. I mounted the horse with indeed very few difficulties and Belzy – was that short for Belzebuth? – seemed to know instinctively where I was going, for he headed almost immediately North West.

After a while though he started to recede, his stride less confident, and he finally turned around. Nothing I could think of doing was working and the horse left me right in front of Whitechapel station.

Again.

Would I ever go away?

My heart racing in a panic, I just ran as far as I could, people looking at me weirdly. I stopped to catch my breath, panting, and found myself back to where I started.

*****

I’m writing this on a notebook waiting for the morning train, hoping that this time I’ll manage to get out. I’ll leave this on a train seat and perhaps if I don’t make it, someone else will read it and find me. I’ll be waiting for you in Whitechapel station.

Asylum Stars – A Dialogue

EN

“So I’ve been told you’re quite mad, inmate.”

“Of course I’m mad. I’m the last witness of a dying star.”

“So you have traveled in time?”

“Don’t be silly. I watched it from my balcony.”

“Does it really matter, then?”

“Well, and you do?”

“If I… How dare you! I’m a rising star!”

“Yet I’m watching you restrained to this chair and you’re no brighter than a sun.”


I attended a very interesting dialogue masterclass by Claire McGowan – I’ve been trying to practice.

 

Urban Drift

ENI can’t stand my neighbourhood anymore but tonight it feels both great and wistful. On the piss-smelling pavement, old cats from decrepit houses are meowing. Suspicious dwellers close their shutters while teenagers play football on dirty playgrounds. It seems so grey and mediocre and meaningless but also alive and fascinating. At the junction between a real railway and an abandoned one, an open door leading to a council estate is daring me to enter.

And so I crouch alone in the dark, in an empty, post-apocalyptic looking courtyard, leaning back against a slightly mouldy cuboid building. I listen. The wind. Creepy noises in the trees. Trains passing by. Police sirens. A weird humming from a nearby electrical cabinet. The lights on the wall, dimmer than my phone’s backlight, don’t make this place more welcoming than a prison yard. Yet I’m not afraid. It feels right to stay here for a while and write. When I can’t feel my legs anymore, I just walk away.

(I learnt later this might be the place where a late great aunt had lived…)

Jurassic Coast

EN

Since I’ve been watching Broadchurch, a fascinating British series taking place around the Jurassic Coast in Dorset, UK, I fully admit I might have caught the “Broadchurch Effect“.

The coast’s cliffs are Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous. This is where Mary Anning discovered the first complete Ichthyosaur fossil.

I’ve written a very short text, inspired by the past, present and possible future of the Jurassic Coast.

Continue reading Jurassic Coast

Psychologie Potentielle – Nouvelle

fr-airshipUn petit texte écrit très récemment… En français pour l’instant.

Psychologie Potentielle

Continue reading Psychologie Potentielle – Nouvelle

Le Papillon de Noël – Nouvelle

fr-airship(Translated from: here, in English)

Au début, je crus que c’était un papillon de nuit. Dans la vieille bibliothèque poussiéreuse que mon grand-père évitait, l’insecte translucide voletait si vite entre les meubles Second Empire et les toiles d’araignées que je ne pus le toucher. Rassurée par la présence enveloppante des livres anciens et l’odeur familière du vieux cuir, je m’étais installée dans la pièce à la tombée de la nuit pour réviser l’examen de Probabilités et Statistiques qu’il me faudrait passer en janvier à l’université. Après avoir vainement tenté de poursuivre l’évanescent papillon de nuit pendant une demi-heure, je me décidai à rouvrir mes livres de mathématiques et j’oubliai bientôt le fuyant animal.

Mais le soir suivant, assise confortablement dans un moelleux fauteuil cramoisi, je m’apprêtai à saisir mon stylo plume lorsque de pâles ailes apparurent silencieusement devant moi. J’eus la sensation inexplicable qu’il s’agissait bien du même insecte que la veille. Mon grand-père m’avait laissée allumer un feu dans le foyer et les craquements sonores du bois brûlant me parurent soudain menaçants. J’avais peur que le papillon de nuit de vole vers les flammes, mais elles ne semblaient pas l’intéresser. Il préférait visiblement survoler une imposante mappemonde en acajou, comme s’il voulait créer un ouragan au-dessus de ce monde en miniature.

Je laissai tomber mon stylo sur la table et me détachai du profond fauteuil, scrutant les rayonnages jusqu’à ce que je trouve des livres d’entomologie. Je saisis délicatement un lourd volume tapissé de cuir sur son étagère polie et j’y cherchai des références aux papillons de nuit blancs. Mon petit voisin de bibliothèque pouvait-il être un Spilosoma Congrua ? “Spilosoma Congrua, disait le livre. Vol : d’avril à août.” En effet les papillons de nuit n’étaient pas censés voler en hiver, si mes maigres souvenirs de biologie étaient justes, et puis la frêle créature avait l’air plus grosse qu’un papillon de nuit blanc. J’hésitais à demander à mon grand-père mais il commençait à être vraiment tard et je me sentais mal à l’aise à l’idée de lui parler de mon nouvel ami. Je décidai donc de garder le secret. Après tout, l’insecte était visiblement inoffensif.

Pendant que je réfléchissais, il s’était posé sur les roses séchées que j’avais apportées quelques mois plus tôt, alors d’un bordeaux éclatant, et que mon grand-père avait oublié d’arroser. J’étais triste de le voir récolter machinalement  un nectar imaginaire sur les pétales morts, comme s’il savait qu’il n’y avait rien à manger mais ne pouvait pas s’empêcher d’essayer. Je réussis à m’approcher de lui pour le comparer aux images du livre d’entomologie. Il ressemblait plus à un papillon de jour que de nuit, avec ses antennes en forme de clubs de golf étrangement blanches.

Continue reading Le Papillon de Noël – Nouvelle

The Christmas Butterfly – Short story

EN(French translation: here)

At first, I thought it was a moth. In the dusty old library my grandfather didn’t use anymore, among dark cobwebbed Victorian furniture, the translucent insect fluttered so quickly I couldn’t manage to touch it. I had come here at dusk, to study for the Probability and Statistics midterm exam I would need to pass in January at the University, reassuringly surrounded by ancient books and smelly, familiar old leather. After half an hour spent in vainly chasing the evanescent moth, I decided I should get back to my mathematics books and I soon forgot the elusive animal.

But on the next evening, I was sitting comfortably in the mellow crimson armchair and was just reaching for my inkpen when pale wings appeared soundlessly in front of my eyes. I had the unexplainable feeling that this was the same insect than the day before. My grandfather had let me light a fire in the hearth and the crackling sound of burning wood felt suddenly threatening. I was afraid the moth would fly towards the warm gleam but it didn’t seem to be interested in it. Instead, it was circling around an imposing mahogany globe as if trying to cause a hurricane over this miniature world.

I dropped my pen on the table and rooted myself out of the deep wing-back chair, scanning the bookshelves until I found some entomology books. I carefully extracted a heavy leather bound tome from its polished shelving and searched for white moths. Could my small library neighbour be an Agreeable Tiger Moth? “Spilosoma Congrua, the book said. Flight: from April to August.” Indeed moths were not supposed to fly in winter, that much I could remember from biology lessons, and anyway the tiny creature looked much bigger than a white moth. I thought of asking my grandfather but it was getting really late and I suddenly felt squeamish at the idea of telling him about my new friend, so I decided to keep it a secret. After all, it was clearly harmless, not like clothing moths or other bugs.

It had landed on the dried burgundy roses I had brought a few months ago and that my grandfather had neglected to water. It was so sad to see it half-heartedly gathering some imaginary nectar from the dead petals, as if out of sheer habit, as if it actually knew there was nothing to eat but couldn’t help trying. I managed to draw nearer and compared it to the pictures in the entomology volume. It definitely looked like a butterfly more than a moth, with its strangely white golf club shaped antennas, but the next day, when I came back right before noon, I couldn’t see it in the library anymore.

Continue reading The Christmas Butterfly – Short story

Traité sur les laboratoires secrets de l’Empire (16 – Fin)

fr-airshipEn direct du train New York – Boston, voici enfin l’épisode FINAL du Traité sur les laboratoires secrets de l’Empire, la partie IV – Interprétation des Résultats !

Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4
Episode 5
Episode 6
Episode 7
Episode 8
Episode 9
Episode 10
Episode 11
Episode 12
Episode 13
Episode 14
Episode 15

Traité sur les laboratoires secrets de l’Empire, IV – Interprétation des Résultats

– Cinq ans après, une République dirigeait Europa. Ophelia avait tenu à ce que le pouvoir revienne à l’héritière légitime, Virginia. Mais la jeune femme avait refusé, arguant qu’elle n’avait aucune capacité à diriger un pays et que l’Empire allait battre de l’aile après la série de scandales qui avait ébranlé l’opinion publique sur Wilfrid. Ophelia s’était rangée à son avis et avait organisé des élections. Elle réalisait actuellement son rêve en s’installant à son compte pour produire des robots en tous genres, sauf des guerriers. DC1 l’aidait souvent ainsi que son mari Ivan qui s’occupait des comptes. Ophelia fournissait le vieux Timoteo dont les montres connurent un grand succès. Quant à Virginia et Alessandro, ils étaient devenus professeurs. Virginia avait repris ses études et elle donnait des cours aux côtés de son compagnon. Ils amenaient souvent DC1 à leurs élèves et leurs disaient :

Continue reading Traité sur les laboratoires secrets de l’Empire (16 – Fin)

Traité sur les laboratoires secrets de l’Empire (15)

fr-airshipEn direct de Cambridge, Massachusetts, voici l’avant-dernier épisode du Traité sur les laboratoires secrets de l’Empire, la fin de la partie III – Mise en oeuvre !

Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4
Episode 5
Episode 6
Episode 7
Episode 8
Episode 9
Episode 10
Episode 11
Episode 12
Episode 13
Episode 14

Traité sur les laboratoires secrets de l’Empire, III – Mise en oeuvre – Fin

– Et pour le remède, ça a marché ? demanda Virginia en criant pour se faire entendre.

Continue reading Traité sur les laboratoires secrets de l’Empire (15)