Butterfly effect is a work in progress. It’s my personal tribute to the underground scene of Kraków, Poland, in late 1990–2000s: LGBT, punk metal, sex , drugs and the occult. These things happened on the margins of society. It’s a story of ugliness and beauty, love and hate, victory and loss.
The story is fictional, although it has been inspired by real events from my late teens and early twenties. The action begins in peaceful countryside, and slowly moves to the city.
It was late August afternoon, the ripening of the summer. Lena rested on the garden swing, gently rocking her body back and forth. It was best to let the swing mechanism wake slowly, allowing old hinges to warm up.
She took a freshly rolled cigarette out of her pouch, mellow strain of cannabis roughly mixed with tobacco. Her lips met the harsh surface of the roach as she ignited her lighter. She inhaled slowly surrendering herself to the upcoming sensations.
A light summer breeze nicely cooled her skin from the heat of the bright sunshine. She opened her eyes for a brief moment, looking straight into the golden fireball of the Sun. Then she threw her head back towards the garden full of late summer blossom, the magical garden nurtured by her grandmother’s caring hands.
-I’ll be fine -she smiled — all will be fine. She stretched her arms and yawned, and then she let out a wave of laughter. She let it ring in her ears, and it was a beautiful sound. Deep inside her chest, she heard her inner star singing the song of rebirth. She looked at the sky and saw infinity stretching all around her. Behind the blue veil of the atmosphere, there was blackness full of light. The Universe once lost now returned to her… hopefully this time forever.
Lena took out her notebook and flicked through her scribbles, overcome by a sudden urge to write once again. Right words were hard to find, and she had so much to say. She knew it was going to take years before she would come up with anything coherent. But then again, there was no rush. She had whole decades awaiting her. Lena smiled, looking at the blank page of her notebook. That’s who she was now- a blank page. Finally, she scribbled a few sentences:
I am taking this vow today, to my future self, so I never forget. I promise my future self that I will never give up. I will seek the truth, and find the answers we are not meant to find. I will continue to explore secrets hidden inside me, at the very core of my self. I have promised myself to become something better and stronger than what society wanted me to be.
A light wave of nostalgia brushed against her mind as she finished her statement. She turned the page and continued her stream of thoughts, softening her manner this time.
Your time here on this planet is precious, do not waste it! Because one day it will be taken from you. Being alive is the biggest miracle you will ever get to experience. We are born in here with a chance to explore, and to discover new lands. We’re here to love one another and to taste our lives to their fullest.
Instead, we cloud our heads with fears. From natural-born explorers, we become stiff and monotonous followers of our daily routines. Our death comes from within, and it eats us away long before our physical bodies can feel it. It is as though all humankind was in a coma, asleep and unaware of who they are and what they could be.
If my writing can save even one person from this horrible fate, then it is worth trying. I can only hope that one day I will meet the others, people who join me in my travel to the highest peaks of reality.
A sharp ring of a bicycle bell broke her out of her writer’s trance. It was Lilka, her cousin, coming back from shopping in town.
The wooden basket attached to the rear of her bike was so full she struggled for balance, wobbling from side to side, back wheel skidding in the sand, as she rested her left hand on the latch of the gate.
-Let me in!- the young girl giggled.
Lena hopped off the swing and ran to her cousin’s aid. She swang the gate open, and Lilka made her leap through the narrow passageway, parking her vehicle against the wall of the porch.
- I’m bringing you the abundance of the harvest- Lilka curtsied theatrically pointing at the basket. Lena’s eyes widened in awe at the sight of the summery goodness. The basket was packed full of fresh fruit. Peaches, apples and plums all mingled and piled on top of each other with a ripe watermelon proudly crowning the display. Lilka had a talent to turn everyday tasks into micro-celebration of some kind.
Lena turned her head back towards the road.
-”Is gran coming?” — she inquired.
-”Oh yes, she’s on her way”- Lilka confirmed- “She’s chatting with one of the neighbours”.
Lilka grabbed the watermelon and placed it gently on the ground, then she started to unpack the apples. Lena picked up the remaining fruit and carried it to the kitchen. At this point, she could see her grandmother, Iza through the kitchen window. Grandma was trotting along the garden path, pushing her bike. She was visibly lost in her thoughts. She looked comical in her big white sun-hat and round sunglasses. Lena often wondered what was going on in this old lady’s head.
Grandma walked into the kitchen with a massive grin on her face
-”What a lovely day we’ve got today”- she announced- “how about eating in the garden tonight?”
-”Could we make a bonfire?”- Lilka queried.
-”Well, if you can be bothered, why not. You’d need to fetch the wood from the forest. I’ve got none left in the shed”.
-”Oh, that’s not a problem”- Lilka jumped up in the excitement- “Lena, will you help me?”
- “Sure, why don’t we go now before the food is ready”.
It was over a kilometre walk through the field, and they decided to stop for a smoke before they reached the edge of the forest. Lena rolled another cigarette with a mixture of marijuana and tobacco. She lit it up and inhaled slowly, observing serene landscape stretching in front of her eyes. It was hard to tell what made her more peaceful; the weed or the countryside. For the first time in months, she was happy.
She passed the burning “joint”, as they called it, to her cousin’s hand, and their eyes met. Lilka looked peaceful too, but there was a slight shade of gloom in her eyes. Lena had often wondered if it was ever going to go away, the dark gaze of prematurely lost innocence.
Then Lena remembered they were both intoxicated again. Lilka seemed to have guessed her thoughts as she whispered.
-”It’s just like when we were kids, isn’t it? Only nothing will ever be the same again”.
Lena nodded, and they continued their walk in silence. The Sun disappeared behind the line of trees. The woodland in front of them was now bathed in shadow. That didn’t stop them, though. They knew this place inside out, and none of its secrets could frighten them any more than the stuff they’ve seen in the city.
When they were little, Lena and Lilka used to come to their grandma’s cottage every summer. Their family had regular gatherings there. Adults limited their stay to weekends only. Children were allowed to stay there for weeks at a time.
Each summer, the girls met with their numerous cousins and made friends with some local kids. They formed a big gang playing about the fields, the river and forest nearby. They explored every corner of the woods together and even established secret hideouts to hang out away from the adults.
In the evenings they often made bonfires in the back garden watching the sky and trying to spot meteors. On rainy days they spent hours at the attic playing hide and seek or telling each other creepy ghosts stories. These were by far the best years of their lives, a golden time for their friendship.
Coming back to the cottage just now was like a symbolic revival of the old times. It gave them a chance for a quiet reflection on everything that happened during the last couple of years.
Is this where our childhood ends? Lena continued her quiet contemplation as they approached an old oak tree on the edge of the field. After all, many of her peers seemed to have long forgotten their childhood. Their focus was on material down to earth matters like work career and search for potential partners. They acted, dressed and spoke like adults. And they appeared so unbearably dull… Lena feared she did not belong to their world. I must find the way out, she clenched her fist. I must find it. And Lilka is going with me.
She looked at her cousin -”Can we stop for a minute? I want to write something down”.
-”What, now? It’s nearly dark. We’d better hurry”- Young girl protested.
-”It’ll be a minute. You go ahead, and I’ll catch up soon”.
Lena kneeled down at the base of the oaks’ trunk. She took her notebook out once again and found a new page. She closed her eyes and leaned her hand on a curvy root of the tree. Then she began to scrawl.
My dream world is in the underworld, the land of artists, lunatics, outcasts and social misfits. The bridge between two worlds, where all is real and unreal at the same time.
My dream world is a world of nightlife- full of music and secrets of the dark alleys. But it’s also a land of silence. The silence of the woods and the dreamy roar of the sea. Journeys that begin and end inside people’s heads. The world where every man and woman is a Star. The place of wonders and the never-ending labyrinth of possibilities. The master that makes the grass green. The place which is not a place but rather a decision to be. My only home- always here but also never and nowhere. The landscape of the human mind. The place where the Magician gets born.
She ripped the page out and squished it hard in her hand. She shoved into a little burrow right at the base of the tree. She rose and walked away in silence. Don’t look back. Never look back.
Lilka woke up suddenly, covered in sweat, her heart pounding hard in her chest. It was a nightmare once again. Her mum Natalia and her sister Irena were both on a shore of the sea. It was a misty, gloomy day, with the strong wind sweeping across the barren landscape. Big waves broke right onto the beach, taking away rotten chunks of seaweed. Irena moved closer to the edge of the water. Any moment now she would be swept into the oblivion.
Natalia, apparently unaware of the danger, kept staring blankly into the distance. Pale blue eyes focused on the sky, a smile lingering on her lips. Lilka tried to call out, but her voice got stuck in her throat. All she managed to let out was a quiet squeaky noise.
Her legs stuck in the slushy gooeyness of the sand underneath her feet. She was not going to make it, not enough time. She tried to scream over and over until finally, her thoracic cavity was cleared.
She got woken up by her own voice “Renia! Renia!”, her sister’s pet name ringing in her ears.
-”I’m here”- gentle whisper brought her back to her senses. It was her cousin Lena, not her sister.
-”Bloody nightmares again”- Lilka sighed- “what time is it?”
-”Ten past three”- Lena scratched her forehead- “go back to sleep”.
Lilka stretched her body and took a deep breath. She wrapped herself in the blanket and closed her eyes. Yet she was unable to rest. Her mind started to wander back to her childhood memory from the early 1990s when Irena got severe pneumonia. Back then, they were both sleeping in the small room behind their grandma’s kitchen, the same place she was currently sharing with her cousin.
Irena caught a cold, or so it seemed like a cold, after having spent hours of her day swimming in the river. Soon enough, her condition declined so rapidly, the family were thinking of sending her to the hospital. Grandma Iza had another idea, though. She called a nun from the local parish who trained in fire cupping therapy, an ancient form of alternative medicine. Lilka had a very vivid memory of that evening.
The whole family gathered around her sister’s bed, with Irena herself laying flat on her belly when the nun entered the room. She was elderly, with a puffy red face and a comically large nose. She held a cotton sack full of old glass jars, a bottle of surgical spirit and a Thunder Candle in her hands. She greeted the family with a smile and a gentle nod. Gran Iza rose from her seat.
-”It’s so good to see you, sister! Thank you for coming!”
The nun smiled again and began to place all her accessories on the bedtime table. She lit the candle and asked everyone to recite Our Father prayer. At the same time, Natalia rolled Irena’s top upwards, exposing her bare skin to the flickering candlelight. The aroma of the candle wax and sharp tinge of the surgical spirit lingering in the room were still vivid in Lilka’s memory.
The nun carefully picked one jar from the table and moved it close to the candle flame to burn out remaining oxygen from the inside. She placed the jar upside down on Irena’s back. The vacuum inside created a strong suction on the girl’s flesh, forming dark purple bruise underneath it. Soon the next jar followed.
Lilka sat in the corner of the room, horrified and helpless. She tried to grab her mum’s hand, looking for comfort, but her mother pulled away instantly. She wanted to focus on the prayer.
Irena laid still on her belly with her arms clenching the pillow. She looked surprisingly peaceful, and she reassured Lilka that the procedure was not painful.
Irena eventually recovered from her infection. She received a course of antibiotics, so there was no proof that cupping therapy had any effect at all. Gran Iza always swore by it though, and Irena herself later developed an interest in alternative medicine. Meanwhile, Lilka was left alone with her fear and confusion for years to come.
Lilka shifted on her bed and adjusted her pillow. She was fully awake now with almost no chance of falling back asleep. Her mind was buzzing with images from the past.
She felt a sudden urge to get up and go outside to seat on the front porch of the house. She swung her legs and gently landed them on the carpet. She moved carefully as the wooden boards underneath were squeaky, and she did not want her cousin to wake.
A chilly gust of wind tickled bare skin on her legs as she passed the front door. Lilka jumped onto the rocking chair, pulled her knees back to her chest and stretched her jumper to give them some shelter. As she bent down, she caught a glimpse of her left big toenail. It was time to get a trim, she decided. Soon enough it’d be long enough to rip her socks.
She paused, staring at her feet. Suddenly she could feel a single tear-drop roll down her cheek.
“Fuck it” — she cursed and wiped it off.
Another, stronger wind gust managed to break through the wall of the porch, playfully teasing her hair.
She gazed into the blackness of night in front of her. All her suppressed feelings began to stir, forming a tight ball in her stomach, the ugliness of abandonment and betrayal.
These were unwelcome guests, and Lilka needed to banish them out of her body. She placed her hand in the pocket in search of her medicine.
A little chunk of dry herb brushed against her finger. She brought it close to her nostrils. Familiar fresh fruity fragrance carried years of precious memories.
She took a little wooden pipe out of the other pocket, and then she set it ablaze, watching red glow form the shape of a circle, a small refuge of light in the dark.
The familiar tickling of joy climbed up her spine and soon enough colourful visions in her mind formed. There she was, back at her grandma’s cottage, free and carefree. The next day they were going to take bikes and visit the lake, or maybe do some mushroom picking. Ceps were abundant this year.
She closed her eyes and daydreaming about the lake, but somehow it didn’t work this time. Memories of her sister’s illness kept creeping back on her with the whole baggage of issues. Irena’s health had always been poor. She had severe asthma, and she required regular medical supervision. Doctors told the family that heavy air pollution in the city was to blame. Both parents were busy attending to the girl’s needs, taking turns in travelling to the sanatorium. They had no time and energy to focus their attention on their younger kid, Lilka, who was frequently neglected as a child.
Lilka was never conscious of this at the time. She had the freedom to stay out as long as she pleased. Nobody ever asked questions about her daily endeavours. Her parents always overcompensated poor parenting by showering Lilka with money and gifts. To some extent, the little one had no reasons to complain.
Lilka shifted on the porch, as vivid visions of the past flooded her mind, popping up in front of her eyes in random order. She remembered her lonely walks back home, all of a sudden, unlocking the front door she was barely tall enough to reach. She remembered entering the flat, turning the lights on and looking for some leftover food in the fridge. It was cold in there, and it was a lonely place. Loneliness followed her steps like a shadow.
Lilka’s troubles began in elementary school final year when the principal teacher went on maternity leave.
A tight knot formed in her stomach, as the powerful flashback brought her back to the day the new teacher arrived; a middle-aged, obese guy with a bushy brown beard and square glasses. He had a look and mannerism of a cartoon character. His mind though was the mind of a villain.
He greeted the group with his loud humming voice and asked them to write their names on bits of paper, and handed out safety pins so they could make badges. A couple of kids giggled as this was an obvious opportunity for pranks.
The new teacher took them by surprise, though. He thumped the desktop with his fist so hard that the register and all books placed on its surface bounced off.
-”And don’t even think about trying to cheat!”.- He yelled. — “You may find it funny, but faking your identity is a criminal offence. My father was a police officer. I have no tolerance for criminals!”.
He stood there glaring at them, his face red and eyes shining with anger.
- “I am going to teach you some discipline. If you think you can get away with this type of behaviour in my class, then you are gravely mistaken”. -”This”- He continued moving slowly between the rows of seats, — “Was the first and the last time I’ve allowed you to make fun of me. I advise you to take me very seriously”.
He turned his back towards the blackboard as the whole group followed him with their eyes.
- “I am going to leave this room for five minutes. When I am back, you will all have your proper names pinned to your tops. Your manuals, notebooks and pens will be placed in the right corner of your desk. Your bags will be placed under the seats. All rubbish from the floor will be picked up and thrown in the buckets”.
He slowly made his way towards the door while all kids sat there, dazed and confused.
At first, Lilka liked the new guy. His presence was captivating, and he had skills to get his message across.
Soon enough she fell out of his favours though. He took a dislike of her because of her low grades and because she was a tomboy. He seized her with his eyes, a cold piercing glance shared by the gatekeepers of societal order. She knew this glance all too well by now. He looked at her as though she was a vermin, a threat. The society aims to eliminate vermin.
Children were utterly terrified of the new teacher. One girl ended up so stressed she developed a kind of morning sickness before school. She even made a complaint to the school counsellor. Still, nothing was done since most parents approved of the new teacher’s ability to apply discipline.
Lilka tried to raise the subject with her parents, but they showed overall indifference to her complaints.
-”When I was your age they used to spank me at school”- her father responded- “I can’t say it did me any damage in the long term. If you’re so bothered by this, why don’t you try to make him warm up to you? Do your homework, make sure your nails are clean…”
She did her best. She was always on time, and she did her homework. She even tried wearing skirts. Still, her marks always stayed low due to her dyslexia. The new teacher believed it was a made-up condition and refused to give her any additional support she requested.
It was around that time when Lilka finally started to realise that she was truly alone in this world. There was nobody out there to protect her. She had to fight.
Back on her granma’s porch, Lilka sat quietly staring into the distance with her arms wrapped around her shoulders. She imagined herself to be a little mouse hidden deep under the floorboards. The world was a dangerous and cruel place for small creatures like this. It’s was a constant chase and fight for survival. And odds are always against you, she decided. She had to fight even now, years later, obstacle after obstacle, and life ever raised the bar.
Back then, the first thing that came to her mind was to organise a strike. Her dad had always told her that striking was how people won their freedom against tyranny. So one day she convinced the whole group to leave school after the lunch break as an act of protest.
As expected, this incident caused a massive commotion at school. Everyone’s parents were called for an emergency meeting that afternoon.
The principal teacher was in a total rage.
- “We can not tolerate the seeds of decay among our youth”-he cried out- “First this, next there’ll be thefts!”
Lilka’s mum tsked- “Hang on a moment; this is going too far! My daughter is no thief! Why you’re making such a big deal out of this? It was a nice sunny day. They wanted some fresh air. I always said the school should provide more outdoors activities…”-
She never had a chance to finish her sentence as his voice overpowered hers.
- “Not a big deal! No big deal, you say! I say that for as long as those children are under my protection, disobedience is a big deal!”- He roared like a wild animal. -”For you madam, it’s already too late, perhaps, if you can not control your daughter! But since you failed to set an example for her, then I will!”
Lilka had never seen her mother more furious than the moment she left the conference room that day.
- “ I will write a grievance letter to the school director. We will have him dealt with, you’ll see!”- She hissed in anger.
She stopped outside to see if she could get some more parents to support her cause. Nothing came out of it. The principal and the director were on good terms with each other.
At first, Lilka’s parents tried to find her another school, but it was hard to get transferred through the midterm. She endured another seven months of this nightmare before she was finally free.
Suddenly Lilka’s mouth filled with blood. She must have been chewing her lip once again. The vision of the mouse under floorboards came back to her mind. She was now on a mission to find and destroy every single mouse grandma set in the basement. “Who cares if they shit into her flour”, she muttered. “The world is a big enough place for us to live alongside one another other.”
She hopped off the rocking chair and right into the hallway. She heard the familiar squeak of the wooden planks on the floor and the silhouette of her cousin emerged.
-”What on Earth are you doing in here?”- Lena whispered.
-”I’m going to down to the basement to destroy the mouse traps”- Lilka responded casually.
Lena grimaced, but then she waved her hand.
-”Ok, could you bring me some beer? I can’t sleep”.
-”Sure”- Lilka smiled. She loved it how Lena never asked dumb questions. As she descended the narrow staircase, she thought about her dream once again. Irena never fell into the sea, she realised, I did, and they let me fall.