This is a work-in-progress about Ellinor Kall that emigrates to the strange, living city Azza-Jono in her teens, grows up and gets drawn into a strange story concerning the future of the city, the world and most importantly: herself.
The city of Azza-Jono is created as a collaboration with several writers and artists from Ello. Seek out #azzajono for more stories over at https://ello.co. Tales From Azza-Jono is also collected by T van Santana here:
A * in the chapter title indicates the chapter is in fragments and not yet finished. New parts to the story will be added as soon as they are written. When all is in place I will make a thorough revision and only then declare it as finished. You can either follow my progress as it happens or wait until it is finished and get the whole polished story in all its glory.
It may take a while. Maybe it's a work-in-digress.
The cover picture is temporary. The face on the cover is me and the photo of the door by Denny Muller via Unsplash.
When we came in for a landing I saw the river and the wall like dark, wiggly scars through the sprawling, illogical network of streets. I got nauseated just by looking at it. Even in the oldest European cities there is some sense and order in how they grew out of villages. The conjoined city of Azza-Jono looked more like it had expanded in a violent, tumorous explosion than in an organic growth. Anything that grew like this was gonna be dangerous, I thought.
It all started about seventeen, maybe twenty, years ago when my mother got a new job and I moved with her to what we in my home country called: "The end station of the Western lands". It was in the age when there were big holes in the world. When entire countries were gone. When there was much confusion and turmoil all over the place. My mother was one of those that once saved that other "last city" many years before I was born. Now she was going to try help make things right again. So we flew for many hours over vast voids, hoping nothing would go wrong with the engines.
I think I was fourteen at the time and the hotel in my belly had not yet opened. I know I'm a late developer and I'm actually still waiting to grow up. Maybe that's what attracted it, what brought the encounter to me. It was drawn to my liminal body. Maybe it was inevitable. Opposites attract: I was soft and pale, it was dry like withered leaves and dark. Then again, I was in between many things and it was thriving at airports and places of transit. What a perfect match.
I never felt like I did belong. I never wished for the same mundane things as my classmates in the sheltered town where I grew up. I hardly ever used make up, had no sense of fashion and never understood the complicated games of the other girls at school. They were alien to me. And I sure as hell didn't fit in with the shallow restlessness of the boys either. I was on my own much of the time. Even the teachers were never quite certain which showers to send me to after gym class, I think they had to ask my parents to be sure.
Also, I think I had some kind of duckling syndrome. I thought – no, I was sure – that if I just waited long enough I would be transformed into who I really was, into something beautiful, and life would begin at last. So I struggled on, didn't care much about appearance or the outside world.
I never felt attractive, though there were a few, futile attempts to get close to me. But girls wanted too much attention and boys gave me too much attention. So instead I built my own world inside and isolated myself. Of course I always wore black. Got mistaken for a goth, emo, svartrockare, you name it. But I never was. I wasn't anything. I was just me. Waiting to hatch from the shell I had made.
Then I got to Azza-Jono and somehow was forced out of my safe harbor. Of course everything was different here – the smell, the dirt, the attempt to chemically imply sandalwood and vanilla in the lobbies, the confusing time-zones and the dysfunctioning gps-system. Orientation was somehow more difficult here than anywhere else. Imported electronics always seemed to malfunction. Even the electricity seemed different. I was out of my depth.
Already at the airport, when I had to walk through that degrading full body scan, I knew it. My shell was gone. My soft, unprotected body was left at the mercy of sea birds pecking away. It was a transformation. The moment the security guard saw my naked body my diffuse state of many worlds collapsed into one single reality. Like I finally became Ellinor in that moment.
Born into the world at an airport. My entire life was stuffed into the bag I carried with me. I had abandoned everything else, except my beloved paper books. I had just enough time before we left to put them in cardboard boxes and store them in my father's basement. That was the most agonizing part of leaving. I haven't seen them since, though I am assured they are still there.
Seen from above the only straight lines in the twin city were the landing strips at the airport on the Azza side of the wall. Around it a tangled web of chaos – much like myself. I had been rolled up inside myself like a ball of yarn for many years before this and it shocked me when I stood there at the airport. How the world felt when you were newborn. I stood naked to the world for the first time in a long while right there at immigration in Terminal 4. Somehow I had forgotten. Lost the feel of the world.
But while who I am today would have been exhilarated to start over and feel something that new and fresh, I got really scared that day. Because that moment of clarity and revelation was about to get very dark and muddled.
The man at the customs desk looked at me and asked:
"How are you?"
I've always had trouble answering this. No matter what I said, I feĺt like lying. It's an introvert thing. But this time it terrified me. Because I heard in his voice a second voice. I really can't explain it well, but there was another entity speaking in unison with him. And the question of the second voice had an entirely different meaning to it. It was a probe. It was fingers touching me. It measured me. It demanded something from me. It was dry, tangible darkness making words.
And I could not defend myself. Later I'd think of this as The Incident. My mother, who never understood what happened, called it: "That time you had an episode at the airport".
My life as I knew it was over.
But it was also the beginning of something else.
The chattering of many different languages grew louder around me as if to encapsulate me in a wall of sound and disorient me. I tried to make sense of the flood of words but they came and went much too fast. The voices got minced into a gritty mixture of mostly Azzine, English and Chinese that completely overwhelmed me.
My brain was hijacked and got caught in a feedback loop of trying to make sense of the input. All subconscious processes got busy and just stopped delivering information. I felt like I, my consciousness, was the only thing left at a great arena where both the loud band and the ecstatic audience suddenly just disappeared. This was probably when my body started convulsing at the floor of the airport lounge.
With all those parts of me, the subroutines and reflexes, turned off I was completely defenseless. Our human consciousness is slow and we can only keep one singular focus on the stage in the theater of the mind at a time. My reaction to stress was, and is, also complicated. So there wasn't much I could do to get out of the trap that was being snared around me.
The crucial point was when I got lost in the paths between Broca and Wernicke. My language disappeared and I couldn't dress my thoughts in words. Without the ability to name things my grasp of reality started to fail. I remember laughing at the absurdity of the world as it undressed. Around me I saw things but didn't understand what they were. I was rapidly slipping out of a dissolving reality.
That's when I first saw it. The source of the second voice. The floating darkness of absent words.
Later, when my words returned, I thought of its appearance as fragments of charred leaves and dry soil suspended in some kind of flammable aerosol. It smelled like autumn in the forest after a heavy rain – fresh but with a hint of death. This was of course not what it looked like at all, it was just my brain trying to make its best guess about the unknown.
When it touched my body it stung like the embrace of a giant jellyfish. The inside of my head burned as if the entity had vomited it's stomach acid all over my mind. There was also a hint, or maybe an aftertaste, of organic electricity in there too. I was a sparkler burning at full strength.
This is when it entered me. I lay on the floor, arched on my back, naked in my mind since the body scan, and I was completely open. It crawled inside me through the opening between my legs and lodged itself inside my belly. Though technically still a virgin I was imbued with some kind of negative pregnancy. I was suddenly pregnant with a dark depression.
For years I carried it inside me. People never knew why my belly grew, they just said I needed to diet. There was a darkness in there with its own life and I had no control over it. After a while I pierced my nipples and put in locked titanium rings because I was terrified of having to breastfeed the thing one day.
Some days I never thought about it, others it made me want to hide away from the outside world forever. As the years went by I spent days and days wrapped inside a blanket. Like it actually was I that was inside the womb of the second voice, not the other way around. That feeling scared the hell out of me and that fetal claustrophobia was the only thing that kept me from totally isolating myself.
People asked: "Ellinor, when will you grow up and marry, when will you start a family?" How was I supposed to think of babies when I carried that thing inside me? How could I ever let anyone get close, near my opening? What if the darkness came out when they tried to get in?
I couldn't tell anyone what happened that day. So it became my secret. I never even told my mother. When I collapsed at the airport she took me in an ambulance to a nearby hospital. But they never found out what was wrong with me. They thought it was some kind of allergic reaction to the peculiar air in this new environment. Mom was worried but eventually stopped asking.
We left the hospital when I finally had regained the last parts of my language and reality was coherent around me again. At least as coherent as Azza-Jono could be. I tried to ignore what had happened, tried to pretend I was ok. Yet I knew. I knew perfectly well what had happened.
In the taxi, on the way to the hotel where we were going to live for the first month in Azza, there were so many new impressions from the city, so much to take in. The wall, the inexplicable architecture, the smell, the sounds, the people – everything felt different. I knew that I much to learn about my new home city.
And I realized I had much to learn about myself too. About my new life.
Young Ellinor had died at the airport. I was the new Ellinor.
Things were different now.
© Ellinor Kall 2017
I wasn't sure if the bald man was dressed in an expensive, perfectly tailored gray suit and a red tie, or if it was an elaborate overall and the long red thing was an enormous tongue that was hanging out of his mouth. In any case it made me blush and giggle a bit.
Though it took five years after arriving to find it I wasn't surprised to realize that there was a Russmeyer Park in Azza-Jono too. It appeared to be a green oasis surrounded by a dense urban landscape, and it was big enough to get lost in. Which was fitting since that was how I found the place in the first place. I was on my way over to my friend Linnea when I thought I'd make a shortcut. It turned into a longcut when I by chance wandered into the park and lost a few hours.
It's namesake in The Other City (also known as the city that disappeared, or got erased, depending on translation) had been a very important place in another story, before I was born. Before we moved my mother had told me about the strange things that happened in that first Russmeyer Park. Bad things, dark things. And birds. I don't remember it all. It's another story really.
But we went there to play. She said it was fitting to reclaim the space, to claim it as ours, as a place of fun and games. A place to eat ice-cream. Her stories about her life before she had me were like parts of an ancient mythos. I didn't fully understand it all, but when I was a kid she was like a mythological hero to me, like Diana, Hercules or Gilgamesh. She continued to be a hero to me when I grew up, though in another way.
Anyway, if there was an actual connection between the two Russmeyer Parks, or if it in fact was the same place, there was no evidence. Except for my relentless feeling that this might very well be the case.
This park was all very similar, tough the paths, ponds and trees were placed in slightly different places. When I got past the initial confusion I felt comforted by the park. I started going there to have lunch or to relax and read after school. Alone time was, and still is, very important to me. That's how I reload my batteries. I tend to forget that sometimes.
One day, however, it turned out I wasn't alone. There was that bald, gray man standing in front of me. I sat on a bench and suddenly the sun was blocked out. I looked up and there he was. Hadn't noticed him coming up to me. He had a benevolent smile though he was staring at me as if he had something he wanted to say. That's when I got confused about if his red tie maybe was a tongue.
"Hi", I said to hide my embarrassed giggle at the tie or tongue-confusion. "How can I help you?"
The man didn't react at first. He looked at me, leaned in for a moment and I thought he was going to whisper something to me. The red thing like a snake between us. But then he straightened out again and smiled even wider. Eventually he spoke to me and his eloquent voice gave no clue to the tongue-or-tie duality.
"Hello, Ellinor Kall. It's nice to finally meet you."
"Who are you?"
"My name is Leonid Orange."
"What, like the fruit?"
"No, like the color."
"To distinguish me from others."
"Other Leonids, of course."
"Oh, yes of course."
He looked at me with kind eyes, still looking kind of amused. I noticed that his head was not shaved, it just lacked any kind of hair. He had some pressure-marks on his forehead, as if he had been wearing some kind of headgear before he stepped up to me. In a side pocket there was something bulky, but I could not see what it was.
The silence between us got on for so long that even I eventually felt obliged to fill it.
"Brandgul", I said.
"What is that", he asked curiously.
"It literally means fire-yellow."
"That's what they used to call orange in my mothers tongue. It's an old word. Hardly used anymore. I am old, but not that old. I learned it, cause I love words."
"I see. But you are not old."
"Yes I am, I'm nineteen, I'll be twenty soon."
"That is not... Well, compared to that being you carry inside you... That is something old. Really old."
I went from amused to scared in between two heartbeats. He knew about my secret. How could that be? Five years had passed since the incident at the airport and still I had never told anyone except my best friend. And I knew that meant my secret was safe.
Since a while after The Incident, maybe after the first month, when it squeezed around before it settled down, I hadn't felt any movement from my invader. It had been still ever since. And quiet. I had tried to make it talk again. I wanted to hear it talk again. I wanted to talk to it. To ask it.
I wanted to be sure it really had happened.
"Do you know what it is", I asked the gray man.
"I have never seen anything like it before. That's why I am here. I wanted to take a look at it."
"Can you see it?"
"No, but it looks like it is from the outside. And it's been hurt, from what I gather. Something unexpected happened to it before it became your passenger."
"But is it real?"
"That depends. Reality isn't what you think of as reality. It is a different horse altogether. Your brain puts together its best guess about what is going on around you. The guessing starts already in your eyes. Much information is gathered there, but most of it is also discarded even before it is sent further. Wavelengths is detected by two, and a defect third, kind of sensors in our eyes. Other creatures can have up to 19 kinds of sensors. What the eyes gather is a fuzzy approximation and most of the information is discarded and simplified before it gets transfered to the brain. And this is where colors show up, you know. They're entirely made by the brain, as a way to separate, to distinguish wavelengths. Color is not inherent in reality. Red waves have no intrinsic value that makes them red. It's all done in your subconscious. You have no access to raw, unfiltered information of your surroundings. Along the way even more information is discarded, or in some cases, only sent where you'll never notice except as intuition. An estimate based on generalizations, preconception and speculation is put together in a hurry and eventually rushed to that spotlight of single focus that is your consciousness. From the gathered dots of sketchy information your brain draws the lines in whatever order it thinks most suitable. Your see mostly what you expect to see. You experience some kind of picture, but only a part of the picture, and it's most certainly not a picture of reality. At most it is a representation. You never see reality as it is. It is impossible for you. From your point of view you might even say there is no such thing as reality. Starting to understand?"
"Very well. Ellinor, you'll have to decide."
"Decide what? Why can't you just explain it to me? Tell me as it is!"
"I'm not that kind of character. This is your story, you have to figure it out by yourself or you'll have learned nothing. I am here to point you in the right direction, but you must walk yourself. With me telling what I know there would be no growth. Now Ellinor: Walk and carry the shadow."
"Walk and carry the shadow?"
"That's right. Your mother will be proud of you."
"But what the fuck is this thing inside me? How do you know about it?"
"Sorry that is all the time I got for now. Got to go. Got other business calling. Give my best regards to your mother, if you'd please."
And then he was gone.
Angry and frustrated I snuck into some secluded bushes and masturbated, coming to the conclusion that it was neither a tie or a tongue but a giant dick protruding from his face. I wanted answers but all I got was an orgasm.
© Ellinor Kall 2017