How and where does an archetypal fairy tale turn into an abstract romance with the night, then turn into a coming-of-age sci-fi adventure with actual aliens and eventually turn into a coming-of-age fantasy story with actual dragons over the course of 8 iterations? At the Uni-Verse, of course!

On March 16, 2018, the Austrian “Vorlesetag”, the Uni-Verse Creative Writing Society conducted a fun “Chinese Whispers” writing experiment intended to mirror the evolution of tales that are handed down from generation to generation via oral storytelling.

 

The idea was that Person A wrote a story and read it to Person B. Person B then had to write their own version of the story from memory and was given the complete creative freedom to change whatever they found lacking or unnecessary. Person B then read their story to Person C who, again, had to write their own version with complete artistic freedom and so on. This not-so-complicated concept is demonstrated below by two lovely stock photo people (sick necklace, Melissa).

We conducted this experiment, because we suspected that the original stories would differ from the end results and boy, did they ever!

The idea for the experiment came to me (Marie) after taking a course on the Anthropology of Myths by Prof. Elke Mader at the Institute of Cultural and Social Anthropology at the University of Vienna a few years ago and our Social Conveners (Elli and Charlotte) quickly fell in love with the concept. The main gist of the lecture, at least as far as I remember it, was that a proto-myth usually evolves into a number of different local and temporal variants with only a few fixed elements. The story of The Big Flood for example is present in many different cultures all over the earth, but its details vary greatly – there is the famous Christian example of Noah’s Ark, but there is also a South American variant by the Quichua del Aguarico that features a giant anaconda. Another great example are the countless retellings of Ancient Greek and Roman myths even during the reign of their respective empires.

In our experiment, we rather coarsely disregard most actual anthropological elements and ties of stories to the real world and focus solely on the fine artistic and narratological line where one story ends and another begins. We make no claims that it was in any way a real “scientific” study, merely a fun and intuitive experiment conducted by a bunch of students. The experiment is completely open for interpretation and analysis and was, at least for us, a first step into a perhaps somewhat unexplored area of storytelling.

 

  1. “Tony”

Charlotte’s story “Tony” revolves around a sickly prince called Henry who is kidnapped by a fortune teller and held hostage in a tower until the current royal couple make her queen. She enchants the tower so no men can enter and in true Éowyn-fashion, Henry is rescued by a female knight called Antonia “Tony” Aquirinia who then refuses his hand in marriage because she has no desire to marry.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Charlotte’s chain is that eponymous “Tony” simply vanishes after the first re-telling, which led to quite some confusion (“So he’s called Henry, but the story’s called Tony?”). She becomes a nameless knight in Carrie’s and Liz’s version, the actual Night (as in “opposed to Day”) in female form (such are the dangers of oral storytelling. Knight becomes Night!), but also an alien in Livia’s and Anna’s versions, gets turned back into a knight in Orhan’s version, completely vanishes in Gabriel’s and Michael’s version to be replaced by a horse and maybe somehow reappears in the form of Serafina in the final version.

Along the way, Henry’s character is developed significantly. He turns from a prince with a deadly disease into a spoiled and over-mothered character with a penchant for writing and plotted plants. He first finds true meaning in love, then doubts it and finally discovers the joys of riding, only to eventually disappear himself to be replaced by a clumsy princess called Serafina who becomes a passionate rider herself.

The only real constant among the stories is that it remains the coming-of-age story of an unconventional future ruler, but, as you can read below, the details are staggeringly different from one story to the next.

 

  1. “Scavengers”

Elli’s excerpt “Scavengers” is part of a longer story and was our most experimental piece. There is little action and quite a lot of description and we were unsure how description would be transformed and reflect the individual author’s perception of the world. As for actual plot, the main character wanders through a dilapidated house filled with all kinds of objects, reflects on the past, finds and decides to keep a long-board, is hurried out of the house by a noise and companions and ends by stating that they are all scavengers. The tone is melancholic and the atmosphere seems post-apocalyptic.

As it turns out, few people are interested in writing long-winded descriptions and Elli’s page and a half became gradually shorter and shorter until it turned into only 8 sentences.

Johannes became Johann, but all other names (as far as they were transmitted) remained intact and fascinatingly, the main character’s vision of the little brother I invented on the spot turned into an actual boy and part of the scavengers over time.

 

  1. “Mr. Piece-a-Meal”

My somewhat Christian Andersen and (funnily enough) anime-inspired (“Dennou Coil”, anybody? It’s pretty underground but pretty damn good) tale called “Mr. Piece-a-Meal” revolves around two main characters called Mr. Piece-a-Meal and Little George Farcry. George gets caught in Mr. Piece-a-Meal’s trap in the woods, magically ages 12 years and makes a deal with the hairy little man to appear young around his fellow townspeople again by keeping Mr. Piece-a-Meal close and feeding him bits and pieces of himself every evening. Eventually, Mr. Piece-a-Meal turns his attentions to other children and starts eating them and George sacrifices himself to save them.

Even though it is a rather convoluted plot, most of the versions actually remained relatively close to the original idea until the very last version by Melanie. In it, Mr. Piece-a-Meal turns into an actual green-skinned zombie who turns George into a zombie as well. Most of the other versions differ mostly in their depiction of George’s curse and his deal with Mr. Piece-a-Meal and the nature of George’s sacrifice and, even though the idea disappears in the middle, many versions also end with George roaming the woods.

I noticed very quickly that introducing such a long name with such a specific orthography led to many versions either calling him “Mr. PM” or some variant of “Mr. Peacemeal”, both of which I actually really like. George’s curse was also really creatively handled. In my original version, he remained a man who slowly had the years chipped away from his by Mr. PM feeding on him, in Kilian’s version he turned back into a man every night and Mr. PM had to break pieces of his skin “like glass” every morning, Charlotte’s version returned to my original idea, while, in Elli’s version, George must move into the forest for good as punishment and gets “smaller and smaller” and in Melanie’s version he loses both of his arms to the unnamed zombie.

George’s “sacrifice” also differs greatly. In my story, he runs towards and away from death in the time warped forest to trap Mr. PM there forever, in Duro’s version the sacrifice was left open for interpretation, Kilian’s George cleverly tricks Mr. PM by making use of his own curse and has Mr. PM growing fatter and fatter and more and more stuck in a mountain as he chews on George’s whole ever-growing body, both Charlotte’s and Elli’s George lost both of his legs and Melanie’s George turned into a zombie.

Sadly, my little jingle “I am Mr. Piece-a-Meal, what I say is gone, is no longer real” and George’s epic last name didn’t make it very far, but on the whole, I couldn’t be more pleased with how my story evolved!

Now, before we move onto the actual texts, a huge thank you to everyone who participated and turned our afternoon and evening to gold! You’re the best 😊

 

Tony

Tony 1 – Charlotte Zerz

Once upon a time there was a kingdom. It was large and bright and beautiful. There was a castle where the royal family lived. The queen, Alicia Thunderborn, lived there with her husband and her son, Henry. The prince was a pale, frail boy, who spend most of his time inside the castle’s walls, afraid of the world. His mother kept him away from the public, scared that they might declare him unfit to rule the country one day. He had a unique condition, his bones were fragile and could break at just a gentle bump. At least so had a fortune teller told them at his birth. One day alas, when Alicia sent a servant to her son’s room to awaken him, he hand found the prince’s chambers vacant. All the kingdom had been searched, every tavern in the realm, every farm, even every house was searched for the boy. He was not to be found until a letter arrived at the castle. The queen read it aloud to her husband who started to cry upon hearing his son’s fate. The fortune teller had taken him! She was not a fortune teller, but a mighty sorceress and she had snatched prince Henry at the night, when he’d been sleeping. It was not gold she wanted for his return, nor jewels, she wanted to be queen! Only then would she release the boy, who was hidden far far away in the tallest tower of the realm and could not be sieged or entered by a man. It was protected by enchantments too, which were unbreakable to men. The queen gathered all her best knights and sent them out to all the towers in the realm. They all returned empty handed and queen Alicia declared war against the fortune teller. It was now known, however, which tower was the one where Henry was kept, a knight had heard the boy’s voice, but no one had been able to get closer to the tower than ten meters and no one could see the tower’s roof, for it was the tallest tower in the kingdom.

When the war was waging since five years and Henry had grown into a young man, he was still held captive in the invicible tower. He had seen all the knights arrive and leave again, defeated, plenty of them had died. Henry had lost hope of ever returning home. There was hope though, as one brave knight had not begun the quest of saving the prince yet. This was the knight by the name Tony Aquirinia, who was decendent of Peter and Gabriel Aquirinia, two of the kingdom’s fiercest fighters and most trusted allies. Why was there hope of Tony saving Henry? Because Tony was different than all the other knights. Tony was a fair fighter, strong and brave and sharp in thinking, like many of the other knights, but Tony was also a woman. She carried a sword and abbreviated her name Antonia to a boy’s name to be allowed to embark on the quest, that no man could win. She was immune to the tower’s ruses for the sorceress had made it unbreakable just to men, or else she herself would not have been able to enter it and feed the royal boy. Thus, Tony just rode to the tower, enterd it, walked up the many stairs, carried Henry down carefully and rode back home with him.

She was for ever known as Tony Princerescuer and rewarded with a medal of valor and the prince’s hand in marriage which she declined because she never wanted to marry.

 

Tony 2 – Carrie Wittmann

Once upon a time in a far away kingdom, there lived a king and queen. They had everything that a king and queen could dream of: their lands were bright and fertile, the farmers always brought in good crops each harvest and the marketplaces were full of singing and dancing. But they had one worry: Their little son, Prince Henry, was sickly. He was pale and skinny and his parents worried that for that reason, their subjects would never accept him as their ruler. So they hid him away, up in one of the high towers of their castle, far away from the judging eyes of their people.

The years passed and Prince Henry grew into a young man, still pale, still sickly, but due to his isolation he was quite well read and knew a lot about the politics of the kingdom, so he would probably have turned out to be a just and wise ruler, but his parents still did not have faith in him and so Henry stayed in his tower, with his books and maps, far away from the people’s prying eyes.

But one day, when the queen mounted the steps to Henry’s chamber, to wish him a good morning, as she always would, the prince’s bed was empty. Henry was gone and he was nowhere to be found. They searched the entire kingdom, but Henry remained lost.

After the turn of the third moon, a letter arrived at the castle. It told the king and queen that Henry was being held by a sorceress in a tall tower, protected by magic, and unless they conceded their crowns and lands to her, the witch would keep him forever.

The king and queen immediately sent out all their bravest knights, but to no avail, they all failed to bring their son back to them. One after another they rode up to the tower, but the thorns kept them from entering. Some would return to the kingdom defeated, others would flee in shame and others again perished in the thorns trying to get through.

Decades passed, and the king and queen slowly lost hope, but then one day, a young knight came riding up to their castle, and confidently told them that he would rescue the prince from his tower. “But how?”, asked the queen, “The tower is impregnable, thousands of grown men have already failed!” The knight took off his helmet and a mess of copper curls fell down around his shoulders and the kingdom saw, that he wasn’t a he. “I am no man.”, said the young woman. “And I fear nothing.”

The king and queen were not convinced, but the young woman rode off towards the tower anyways. And when she arrived, the thorns parted for her, for the sorceress, in her folly, had only guarded it against men, for she had never thought that a woman would come looking for the prince.

At their return, there was a great feast and the young knight was offered many treasures and even the prince’s hand in marriage, but she declined. “I am as free as the songbirds in their tree. No man out there is binding me.” And with these words she jumped on her milk white stallion and rode off into the sunset.

Tony 3 – Elizabeth Schlager

In his usual solitude he sat, with his trusted book in hand, watching the sun fall. Today Henry noticed that the sun set later than the days before. He looked out the window of the long tower which he stay locked away in, hoping for a handsome knight to come save him, and maybe even stay the night. He scoffed to himself. He was reading too much 50 Shades of Knight.

He felt a rush of gratitude that he was so well read, even if some readings induced some not so holy thoughts. It gave him something to do while all alone. This was the product of his awful parent’s irrational judgement and blatant elitism. The boy was born an heir of the thrown in a flourishing kingdom. Along with being born a prince, he was sadly born sick. Paranoid the King and Queen’s people would not accept a weaker and sicker leader, they sent him into exile, hidden away from his kingdom and most of society.

Every once in while, the King and Queen would visit him, but he detested their occasional visits. Their pretend love and worry made him grimace. Parents who truly loved their children, wouldn’t keep them away in hiding. But one day he noticed large and pointy thorns grow around the tower and connected from the tower all the way into the forest. When the time for his parents’ visits came, he would hear the royal horses from a distance, but then he saw them ride away from the tower. Soon he realized the thorns kept them away, and he rejoiced. Good riddance, the thought to himself.

Although happy his parents could no longer reach him anymore, his depression grew knowing that now no one could reach him, not even his sexy knight. Maybe he really did have to succumb to life in a tower, all alone.

The final stage of the sunset passing, he sighed interrupting his own thoughts and walked away from the window, towards his now dark room. He lit his usual 5 candles, and took one over to his writing table, and sat in his favourite chair, back facing the window as always. Comfortably sitting, he began to write.

Dear Diary,

Today I saw a chipmunk get eaten by a fox. The chipmunk had really chubby cheeks, but the fox looked-

Suddenly his daily scribbles were interrupted by a loud sound. He jumped and gasped from the sound. His eyes and head darted towards the window to reveal a shocking sight.

“My knight!” He cried.

Alas stood a tall figure, dressed in armour, sword in hand.

“I knew one day you would come for me.” Henry rejoiced, somewhat aroused.

“Show yourself to me.” He whispered.

And so the knight took off the heavy helmet, allowing the long red curls to fall down. Henry’s smile fell.

“You’re a woman?” He sneered, clearly disappointed.

“It’s funny, I fought through deadly enchanted thorns to come save your ass and this is the reaction I get,” The knight with rosy red cheeks and plump lips huffed.

“You royals really are a spoiled bunch.” She said, shuffling over to Henry.

Henry stood next to the knight, frozen, almost unable to move.

“How did you get here? No one has been able to get here in ages.” The perplexed king asked.

“Some witch put a spell on your tower, your folks have been trying to get up here for a while,” She sighed.

“Turns out, Witch the Bitch only made these magic thorns impenetrable by male knights. So here I am.” She explained.

“Fascinating.” Henry said, but a slight sadness in his tone remained.

“Your parents await you.” The knight said, prompting they both exit the now free tower.

“They also told me I should marry you, but I ride solo, and you ride…well…not me, so I think that’s out the question.”

Henry laughed.

The knight and Henry both exited the tower, where they found two horses awaiting them.

“This one’s yours.” The knight said and Henry got on, still wearing a frown.

“If it`ll make you feel any better, I have a brother.” The knight said, and Henry´s face lit up.

“Now we’re talking.” The happy prince said.

The two rode off into the night and lived happily ever after.

 

Tony 4 – Livia Regen

Henry, a sick but rich prince, locked himself into a tower – far, far away from his parents whose presence he considered overbearing. The fifty shades of the night were always present but still he didn’t quite know when time would actually come for him to be picked up by the night. One day, night arrived at his tower. And night was female and less overbearing than his parents.
Henry prayed one last time to someone he considered god and finished the last pages of the novel he’d long kept next to his bed and watered his flowers one last time.
Night would take him further than his own four walls; night was female and Night was the boss of a spaceship enterprise. Henry had wanted to leave Earth and his parents behind for ages, and how time seemed right to catapult himself into space.

Time had come as night had.

 

Tony 5 – Anna

Henry was a prince who was sick and didn’t get along with his parents, so he lived in a tower. He was writing a novel and had plants.
One day, night came in a female form. He liked her because he thought she was less overbearing than his parents – which I guess is an important point when it comes to dating.
She had a spaceship and after having watered his plants and finished his novel, he left with her on said spaceship.

 

Tony 6 – Orhan Vehabovic

Henry was a young prince living in his parents’ castle. One day, he’d be in charge of his own kingdom. It seems as though he was being prepared for that day his whole life. His dad and his kingdom’s army fought wars and his mother looked after young Henry. Under his mom’s protection, Henry developed a passion for writing. He remembered all of the stories his dad told him from the battlegrounds and in his head he would tell his own tales of knights and castles. He would bring them to life with pen and paper where the whole kingdom would enjoy them. One time, his dad brought him a very special flower from the battlegrounds. Henry would keep the flower’s glory alive, so he put it underneath one of his stories, in the hope that it would live forever just like his words. The months passed and Henry’s heart was broken when one day the flower dropped out of his book, dead and dull. “My words do not mean anything”, he screamed and planted a hundred new trees in his garden, bearing new life. He watered and wrote along for many more years until the female knight came along in her spaceship and rocked his world. They eloped on her spaceship, leaving everything behind.
Henry and his beloved knight in female form just passed Saturn, when it suddenly dawned on him: although he had issues with his mother, she was still an integral part in his life. As a young prince, his responsibilities in life were limited to solely nurturing plants and pages. He was quite good at that but that’s because his mom took care of everything else in his life. Henry didn’t have to do a single piece of household chores, never cooked his own meals, or washed his own uniform. He lived a careless, but restless life – until he met his princess Gia. Now, sitting in her spaceship, he started to feel hungry. Out of instinct, he wanted to call for his mum “Din-…” almost passed through his lips when he realized everything would change now.

Tony 7 – Gabriel Kerschbaum

Henry, a young prince from England, was as spoilt as a child could possibly be: while his father went to war in order to fight for his peoples’ land, Henry sat at home and relaxed while his mother cooked for him and made his life care-free, but ultimately boring. Henry never developed an urge to follow his father’s footsteps and fight in wars, but when reaching the age of 8, Henry suddenly developed an interest in riding. Being the king’s son, he enjoyed the privilege of being taught by the best riders in town while having access to the most noble and well-bred horses in town. Soon, his riding skills improved vastly; he could perform tricks and ride faster than most grown-ups.
He never picked up a word, however, and stayed behind the safe walls of the town he grew up in. He got particularly fond of a horse names Gibbi and by the time of his 18th birthday, Gibbi and Henry were inseparable.
On a warm summer day, however, everything changed when Henry’s father got abducted by a giant alien ship after riding to battle against burglars who had their camps in the outskirts of the land. The predators did leave a message for the prince, however: “Human horseman, come together”, it said, “We are looking for the most capable of riders to participate in a great jousting tournament held on Mars. The winner may save one of those whom we’ve abducted.”
Henry and Gibbi looked at each other in shock: It looked like they’d have to fight after all.

 

Tony 8 – Anonymous

Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, there lived a princess called Serafina. She was supposed to learn all the necessary skills a princess should possess, but since she was so clumsy, her father would insist on doing anything practical like cooking or cleaning for her.
Being left with nothing but studying, Serafina started to sneak out to the stables. Once she got over the scariness of the tall steeds, she soon discovered how gentle they actually were and developed an affinity for riding. In time, she got so good at it, she could easily keep up with the best knights.
One morning, while she was observing her parents govern the country, she heard loud screams from outside. When she went to see what happened, she discovered that a message was burnt into her brother’s lovely rose garden: if there was a person, who could beat the champion of the Dragon Kingdom in a fight, the king would agree to free a prisoner of choice and send them home with the winner.
Looking at the mountains, where, according to her mother’s stories, the entrance to the dragon king’s palace lay, Serafina quickly made up her mind.
With a smirk on her face, she started planning her journey.

 

Scavengers

 

Scavengers 1 – Elifnaz Kabalci

So many things scattered around…  Everyday things that belonged to regular people in their regular houses. Things all of us have taken for granted. Who knows how many memories they embody.

Who did they belong to? What kind of a life were they living?

And most of all, where were they now?

Maybe they were still alive; maybe they were all gone.

It didn’t matter anymore. Their regular, pleasingly boring life was never coming back.

I looked around in the dark room. All I could see was a massive wreck. Scattered books, pens, clothes, trash, and many others. The dust hanging in the air like a dark cloud was suffocating in the gloomy room. I kept looking around. Blue curtains and 5th grade school books… I was, seemingly, in one of the kids’ room. I tried to erase Ben’s face that suddenly appeared before my eyes. Trying to focus on the objects, I cleared my mind. Among all the mess, something caught my eye. The small longboard leaning against the other end of the room.

 

What’s left of the window shutters were letting fractions of orangy sunlight into the room, which was getting weaker and weaker by every minute. “It’s almost sundown” I thought. We didn’t have much time left.

I quickly walked through the scattered stuff on the ground not minding to step on them mercilessly. Nobody needed these things anymore. All we cared about was our survival. Besides, we were warned by the high commitee that we wouldn’t bring too many useless stuff to the camp. But, I needed this to bring back to the camp. It was necessary. I quickly picked up the small longboard and tied it to the back of my rucksack.

When I got out to the hall, I could hear our regular beeping coming from the end of the hall. It kept coming closer and closer untill Britt finally turned up in the corridor from one of the rooms in a rush, “Time’s up! We gotta get the hell out of here!”. She walked down the hall keep on looking anxiously at her wristwatch, which was continuously beeping. She pressed the side of it to stop it and gestured others to follow. Firegun got out of what seemed to be the parent’s bedroom with a wrapped up blanket in his hand and Johann was in the bathroom putting all the pillboxes he could find in his bag without bothering to read what they were for.

I quickly went down the stairs to check the kitchen cupboards one last time and picked up a couple of canned food that was left. I stuffed the cans in my coat’s pockets while I headed to the door. “Let’s go” I yelled and we went out. All at once, we ran for the pick-up truck. We all threw our backpacks to the back of the vehicle. Britt sat on the driver seat with Johann beside her. Firegun and I went for the open cargo area where we had just thrown our backpacks to. Britt started the engine and turned around with an immediate manoeuvre that made a terrible sound and a smell that followed it. But we had to hurry. It was almost sundown.

I thought about the room I was in and the kid who owned it. I looked at the longboard I took. It felt like stealing… from a ghost. It felt like a curse. I got to take things people left behind. Objects that screamed a thousand words but didn’t mean a single thing at the same time. They were glimpses of others’ lives… that I stole. Because that’s what I did. That’s what we did. We were scavengers.

Scavengers 2 – Marie-Therese Sauer

The room was suffocatıngly quıet, as ıf the ghosts of the past were stıll here but chose not to speak, only to stare. Stuff. There was so much …stuff. Belongıngs that had once been meanıngful for and through the people who had touched them, looked at them, used them, loved them. Now all of these applıances and objects and memorabilia were just …stuff.
I feel the dust settlıng ın my throat and try not to choke. I thought I had gotten used to the sımultaneous rush and deadness of ıt all, but memorıes that are not my own seem to disagree. I see the scepter of a lıttle boy, runnıng around the demolıshed apartment, playıng at beıng a plane whıle holdıng one ın hıs hands and gettıng older and older before my eyes, slowıng hıs excıted sprınt to a canter to a delıberately cool and unımpressed slouchıng. He looks lıke my lıttle brother. Not much of a surprıse there. I see hım everywhere. I follow hıs non-exıstent fıgure ınto the next room, wıth a luxurıous slowness that I don’t allow myself very often these days. I lınger and lınger ın the feelıng of lıngerıng.
ın the next room, I see a long-board leanıng agaınst the crumblıng wall, hıt by a last orange ray of settıng sun. Of course he would lead me to a longboard – for just a moment the lınes between fıctıon and realıty blur and I feel as my brother ıs ın the room wıth me.
The pulsıng noıse gets louder and louder and I confuse ıt wıth my heart for a moment untıl I realıze what ıt ıs. “We need to go!”, Ben rushes ınto the room, completely baffled that I’m just standıng there, starıng doe-eyed at a longboard. He waves hıs hand ımpatıently and, snapped out of my stupor, I tıe the longboard to my back-pack wıthın seconds. My brother’s comıng wıth me thıs tıme.
Brıt ıs rushıng down the corridor, stuffıng fancy pıll bottles ınto her purse and lookıng at me furıously. Thıs ıs ıt?, her eyes seem to say, A fuckıng long-board?
I shrug and throw open another drawer. Actual dollar bılls. I grın and Brıt ıs already gone, fumıng no doubt. Johannes ıs cursıng ın German ın the next room – he’s dropped somethıng on hıs foot agaın, apparently. The sıgnal ıs gettıng louder and louder. The Committee of Hıgh Excellence doesn’t lıke ıt ıf we take too long. I crumple the dollar bılls ın my pocket and jump on the car parked by the road.
The scepter of the lıttle boy seems to have followed me and I subtly hıgh-fıve hım. “Welcome”, I whısper, “To the scavengers”

 

Scavengers 3.1. – Anonymous

 

The room was fılled wıth stuff… old stuff… ıtems whıch meant so much to people long gone… as I wander around, my mouth fılls wıth dust and breathıng gets harder and harder… throughout thıs mıst of memorıes lost, I see a glımpse of a boy… merely a shadow… a ghost…

 

Ben, who are you,, and why do I have a longboard?

Scavengers 3.2. – Natalie Abrahamian

The room was full of stuff. There was a lot of dust everywhere. I saw a boy and followed hım outsıde. On my way outsıde I notıced a longboard. A gırl approached me and saıd somethıng to me. What about Johann? I saw another longboard and the boy I just met. He saıd, “Welcome to the Scavengers.”

 

Mr. Piece-a-Meal

 

Mr. Piece-a-Meal 1 – Marie-Therese Sauer

In a country somewhere far, far over there, there once lived a bitter old man. He was so small, he barely reached up to the knees of a child and he was so hairy, there was not a naked spot on his body. His beard was majestic and otherworldly, as if a lion’s mane had somehow lost its way and had attached itself to the chin of a man out of curiosity or fear – who knows? Lion manes are notoriously hard to understand.
Now, the little man lived in a town by the sea. He thought the town was the ugliest he had ever seen and he had a habit of telling everyone he met about how he hated the people here, the sky here, the sea here and, most of all, the children here. One of those children was little George Farcry, notorious because of his loud voice and red hair. Now, little George Farcry once got lost when playing catch with the other children and found himself in an unfamiliar spot of the woods.
Curious as he was, he went further and further and thought to himself: “I must have been walking for days and yet I never get anywhere! There is that same tree with the broken branch and there is the mushroom half-chewed.”
The sun rose and fell, rose and fell, and little George Farcry kept walking. He felt as if he couldn’t stop even if he wanted to, and boy! did he want to. His joints were aching, his shirt was sweaty, his eyes were tired and red and yet he kept walking and walking and walking, until he heard a noise he couldn’t really place.
It sounded like a cough at first, like someone painfully choking to death and it took actually seeing the hairy little man for George Farcry to understand that the man was laughing.
“Look who’s walked into my spider’s web”, he gurgled, “Little George Farcry!”
“You know who I am?”, the little boy felt like a curse had been lifted. He could stop walking and dropped to the earth, a single hand on his throat, surprised by how old he sounded.
“Oh, I do – but I’m not sure you do anymore. You’re 22 now, boy.”
“22?”
George looked down at his hands, his legs and traced his chin with his fingers – he had a beard. “I’ve been walking for 12 years!?”
“Now, now, boy”, the little man laughed his ugly laugh again and waved a finger, “You do have a loud voice. But listen, this is just what happens when you invade private property – you get punished.”
George thought of his friends in the town, his parents, his dog. Had his dog died? His sickly father? Had his beloved Madeline moved away? Before he knew it, he was crying.
“Unsightly”, the little man tutted, “You’re a man now, so act like one, boy.”
“…I’ve seen you around town, old man”, George finally uttered, voice still shaking and cheeks grimy with the dirt he’d smeared across his face when wiping his tears, “But who are you really? What is this spider’s web? Why do you have magic?”
“Hmmm”, the old man seemed satisfied and jumped on George’s shoulder to whisper in his ear, “Humans… humans, you see, rise to a challenge kicking and screaming, but rise. They always rise. And so you’ve finally found the right question, as well.”
It irritated George that he couldn’t look the old man straight in the face, but he tried not to let it show and instead looked down at his unusually big hands. “So, who are you?”
“I”, the little man said with obvious delight, “I am Mr. Piece-a-meal”. Then he added in a sing-sang voice, swaying from side to side and picking at George’s new beard, “Yes, I am Mr. Piece-a-meal, what I say is gone, is no longer real”
Curious George caught on quickly. “You can un-make things?”
Mr. Piece-a-meal shook with violent laughter “Un-make things? I suppose you could call it that, yes!”
“Then un-make this!”, George Farcry demanded in his booming voice and tried to catch the old man by the throat and shake him, but Mr. Piece-a-meal jumped off his shoulders and floated in front of his face.
“I will”, he said with a glint in his eyes, “If you make a deal with me. I can recall the past, but you are now twelve years older for good, so if you go back to the village with me, I can cast my magic to make you look 12 years younger as long as you stay close to me.”
“I will never be 10 again?”
“You can be…”, and with a toothy smile, the man finally whispered the word he’d been waiting for, “…piecemeal.”

 

A few days later, little George Farcry played catch with his friends again and it seemed as if nothing had changed. Except, of course, that that weird hairy old man was now following him around wherever he went. George insisted that he felt sorry for him, because he was all lonely and old and that they should give him a shot, so the other children tried, but it was still odd.
And every evening, not-so-little George Farcry had to cut off a piece of his body and feed it to Mr. Piece-a-Meal to wake up just a little bit younger. This deal went on for days, then weeks, then years, when George, now 14 or 26, realized that Mr. Piece-a-Meal had … grown?
He seemed generally more content and frequently told people that he loved this town, this sky, this sea, and especially, of course, these children. Mr. Piece-a-Meal now reached his shoulders and the two were recognized as good friends wherever they went.
Yet, every night, George felt all the wounds he’d cut into himself as if they were still open and bleeding and he tried not to cry and invariably ended up failing. Mr. Peace-a-Meal, meanwhile, lay curled up at his feet like a lazy, ugly, hairy cat and no matter how much he cried, he never made any noise, because he didn’t want the old man to know of his pain.
Then, one day, the old man patted his shoulder and said that the magic was now strong enough that he could walk around on his own for a bit – surely, they both needed some space after all these years? Not-so-little George Farcry agreed first reluctantly, then enthusiastically. He roamed the wilds, he shouted into the winds, he spent hours upon hours in the silent sea without the old man blabbering on about philosophy or magic and smiled. Then, piecemeal, children started to disappear from the town. At first, George was not worried. He knew some of them had just wanted to get out of town. But when he saw Madeline following Mr. Piece-a-Meal into the woods, hand-in-hand, his heart almost stopped and he ran after them. Again, he was caught in the web, but this time, he struggled to keep up with Madeline and Mr. Piecemeal who seemed to be skipping lightly while singing songs of spring and autumn, while he could barely walk for all the strings that stuck to his bleeding skin.
“Madeline!”, he cried out, “Madeline!”
But even his, even the loudest voice in town was not enough to get through to her and years upon years upon years passed as he ran in place and he had to watch Mr. Piece-a-Meal devour Madeline piecemeal, like a pigeon pecking at a loaf of bread until it was no longer there.
And he understood. In all those years of running, he finally understood: Mr. Piece-a-Meal only had all of this power, because he had fed him, had nursed him on blood and flesh and pain. And then little George Farcry once more, he started to cry and understood one more thing: that only he could stop this madness. He turned around and ran through the cobwebs, the slowness, the drag of the ages and years and felt himself turning first taller, then tauter, then tighter, then frail. His skin wrinkled around his weakening flesh and the only constant were the tears that streamed from his eyes, as Little George Farcry ran to his death to save all other children from dying.
It is said that when you get lost in the woods of this distant town, you can sometimes hear a choking sound and never quite know whether it is Mr. Piece-a-Meal who just caught you in his web or brave little George Farcry who continues to run in the infinity between his life and his death forever, so the hairy old man is just as bound as he is.

 

Mr. Piece-a-Meal 2- Duro

There was a tiny, hairy man named Mr. Piecemeal (Peace? PM) who lived in the words near a small town. In this town lived a boy named George (G). One day, G went into the woods where he met PM. G was caught in PM’s spiderweb, and G had to make a deal with PM, because PM had made him grow older and G wanted to be a boy again. As part of the deal, PM always stayed with G, and G had to feed PM bits and pieces of himself, so that he could become younger again. This went on for years and G realized that it was all a terrible plan, since PM always grew fatter and bigger – he even started eating pieces of other children that he had tricked as well, even a particular child which G knew. So G made sure that to all eternity, PM would not eat pieces of other children anymore by sacrificing himself.

 

Mr. Peace-a-Meal 3 – Kilian

 

There was once a boy by the name of George who lived in a village. One day, he went on a journey and on his way, he met a strange little man. The man was called Mr. Peacemeal and was covered all over his body in thick hair. Unbeknownst to George, he fell into a trap of the strange man. In seconds, the boy aged several years and became a man. The two talked for a bit until Mr PM asked George how old he was. George, not knowing what had happened, answered the queer hairy man, only to hear him say that that couldn’t be his age since he looked way older. The boy didn’t want to believe Mr PM but feeling something to be off, he ran to a nearby stream to check his reflection. And it was true – instead of George, the 10 year old boy (1,6m tall with dimples and short hair) a man with long hair, tall cheek bones and a scruffy beard looked back. George realizing that the change was real began to cry and fell into a desperation. How could he go back to his village? Nobody would recognize him. Mr PM who had been watching the whole ordeal, proposed poor George a deal.
He would (since he could) turn him back to a boy, but he would have to allow him to stay with him forever and to feed him. G desperately accepted the offer, not knowing how much further he fell into PM’s trap. And so the queer hairy man started to break pieces off the changed boy, as if he were made of glass and ate them, slowly but surely uncovering the boy hidden inside the man. G., happy to be back to his old self, returned to his village, with PM in tour. And the ordeal of him becoming a man and PM breaking parts of him and eating them repeated itself day after day, over and over again.
And as the cycle repeated itself, PM grew bigger, fatter and more hungry. So hungry, that he started to feast on other children. But unlike with George who was cursed to become a man every day, the other children became less and less turning more into nothing. G. who was until then quite oblivious to the queer man’s true nature started to grasp the situation. Terrified of the monster which he had brought into his village, he decided to do something. And in the last moment, short before the monster would have gotten to a girl dear to him, he came up with an idea he would sacrifice himself. He led PM deep into a cave and at the end of it, where the mountain grew closer and tighter around them, he dove into the monster’s mouth. PM then became stuck in the cave. Eating G in one piece made him too big and fat to free himself. And the curse which he had put on G before kept the boy regenerating inside his body. Thus it kept him feeding off the boy only to make him even bigger and more stuck, caging him forever in the mountains.

 

Mr. Piece-a-Meal 4 – Charlotte

At first when little George met the old, tiny, hairy man in the woods, he thought he looked funny. When he heard the man laugh an evil laugh though, he shivered. The old man introduced himself as Mr Peacemeal and asked George for his age. George said he was a boy of ten years but Mr Peacemeal just laughed at him again and said “You’re a man now. You have aged 12 years as punishment for having entered my land uninvited. Muhahahaharharhar”
“Oh no”, George said, looking at his reflection in a nearby pond.
George, still feeling like a child, started to cry.
“Now, now, no need to cry Georgie boy. I can change you back into a boy”
“You can? WOW!”
“Yeah, but I don’t particularly feel like doing that without pay”
“I have no money”
“I’m not interested in money, silly. I want you to keep me close and feed me.”
So they came to an agreement and for years Mr Peacemeal feasted on George’s body parts and never left him out of his sight. He slowly started to get taller and fatter and George became more of a child every day. Mr Peacemeal was developing an appetite for other children too and George decided to save them. He gave the evil man both his legs to eat, so he became so fat that he couldn’t leave his care anymore. Mr Peacemeal was stuck for ever and couldn’t eat any more children.

 

Mr Piece-a-Meal 5 – Elli

Little George was walking through the silent forest full of giant trees with terrifying shadows. As he passed by, the trees seemed to be growing larger and taller, and soon, he was unable to see the sky. He shivered, looking around him as the branches moved up and down with the wind, shaping into claws. They seemed to be reaching down to take him.
“I’m sure there isn’t much left”, he thought, as he walked through the giant shadows. If his dumb friends hadn’t dared him to walk through the Devil’s Woods to school, he wouldn’t have to deal with this now. He cursed himself that he was foolish enough to actually go through with this. Devil’s Woods was strictly forbidden for all children under 18 in George’s town.
“I’m not supposed to be here” was the sentence that was going through his mind when he heard a subtle whistling from behind the trees. He immediately froze. He wasn’t strong enough to turn back, or even keep his eyes open for that matter. He shut his eyes tight and started mumbling.
“I’m not supposed to be here… I’m not supposed to be here…” It was barely audible to himself even, but the person or thing must have heard it.
“What do we have here?”, said a deep male voice which sounded like a pig’s snort to him.
His heart skipped a beat but he was able to open one eye to look at the source of the voice. It was a fat hairy man grinning at him. He only had a couple of crooked teeth left in his mouth, but they looked sharp. “A TRESPASSER!”, he blurted out in enthusiasm, rather than frustration, which made George jump on his spot.
“I… I’m sorry! Please don’t take me to the police, I’m only 10!”, said George, stuttering.
The hairy man with sharp crooked teeth widened his smile, “That means you’re old enough for me to charge you!”
George’s eyes widened “Charge me? But I don’t have any money!”, said George, crying.
The hairy man came closer to George and said “But you don’t need money, my dear, you just have to feed me!” So, from that moment on, George lived in the Devil’s Woods and the hairy man followed him everywhere feeding off his body parts. The town didn’t hear from him in years, George had become one of the “ghosts of the Devil’s Woods”, meaning one of the lost kids who never make it out of the forest. Over time, George kept getting smaller and smaller and the man kept growing taller and fatter. In his Inn, George found several children bones and finally understood that the hairy man with the sharp crooked teeth was going to eat him up eventually.
So he came up with a plan. He told the man that he wanted to feed him both of his legs. And so he did. The hairy man got so fat, though, he couldn’t fit through the entrance of his Inn and stayed there forever. George had won. He crawled out of there on his elbows and wandered in the Devil’s Woods, mumbling the words “I’m not supposed to be here” for years.

 

Mr Piece-a-Meal 6 – Melanie Knapp

Little Georgie was walking through the dark, cold woods. It was a late evening, almost night, and he was afraid because as kept walking, the trees seemed to move closer and closer. He had the impression that he was followed but every time he turned around there was no one. There had been a problem with the engine of the local bus and since he had no one who could pick him up he had to walk home by foot. All of a sudden, he heard a voice whispering next to his ear: “There you are!”
He froze as he turned around and looked at the person that was speaking to him.
Well, it wasn’t a “person”” at all, or at least the man with the crooked teeth didn’t look much alive.
His face was greenish and wrinkled but the most scary part of his body were his gleaming red eyes which were now staring at little Georgie. He tried to run away from the man, but was held back.
“What do you want from me?”, little George yelled at the man, who was a zombie as he had figured out by now.
“Give me food”, the zombie replied. With shaking hands, little Georgie handed him an apple from his sports bag.
“I want meat!”, said the zombie and shook his head.
“I’m …I’m afraid but I don’t have any meat here. I’ve already eaten my mommy’s bacon sandwich”
“I won’t let you go without giving me meat”, the zombie insisted. “Give me your arm”
Little Georgie refused. “Give me your other arm as well or you will die”, the zombie man said angrily.
Finally, little Georgie stretched out his arm. The next thing he remembered was that there was blood everywhere. It seemed like his hands were bleeding. The only reason why that wasn’t possible, unfortunately, was that he didn’t have hands no longer. He almost fainted.
“You are a tasty little boy”, the zombie man uttered while chewing on Little Georgie’s fingers. He had bitten both of Little Georgie’s hands off.
“So sweet… and fresh. What a pity that you didn’t sweat more. Nothing makes a more delicious sauce than human sweat.”
Finally, little Georgie started to scream and ran away. He ran as fast as he could but he felt how he was becoming weaker and weaker. When he stopped and looked at what was left from his arms he saw his skin was turning greenish. He remembered the horror movie which he had watched forbiddenly in the middle of the night. Everyone who gets bitten by a zombie turns into a zombie themselves. So that was what was what happened on this dark cold evening.
And poor little Georgie is now walking night for night through the woods and all he wants is to find his mommy’s bacon sandwich. Nevertheless, he still works on his scaring skills in order to make his next victim soaking in sweat – because his mother’s garlic-barbecue sauce was “damned” delicious and he wasn’t sure if someone was able to outbid that so easily.

 

I hope you enjoyed this wild ride and maybe I’ll see you soon at the Uni-Verse! We aren’t always this boldly experimental, only most of the time, so if you’d like to drop by at some point, hit us up at writing@universe.univie.org or meet us at one of our meetings every Friday at Café Votiv at 18:30 🙂

Marie