*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.*
The following night Lena was restless. The images of her childhood crush kept popping up in her mind, creating a colourful kaleidoscope of different sceneries and scenarios. In one fantasy, they were children sneaking out to the woods with cigarette buds snatched from the adults’ ashtrays. In another vision, they were adults themselves, resting at the back of the old mill, on the sunny grass patch full of wildflowers. The scenery was frozen in time as the mill and trees in her dream had not aged. The only thing that changed was the pair of them as grownups.
He greeted her with a warm smile, as he did in the churchyard earlier that day. Only this time he moved closer and closer until his warm breath tickled the skin on her neck. Then suddenly he pounced at her like a wildcat ripping her blouse.
Lena woke up, gasping: -”Holy shit!”
She threw off her covers and sat in silence, listening to her heart pound.
She slipped out of her bedroom, quietly not to wake her cousin, and made her way to the front porch. The sky was bathed in the pink and golden glow of the approaching dawn. Far in the distance, a rooster crowed.
Lena rested on the rocking chair, sliding her hand down between her thighs. She traced a slow circle with her finger, sinking it in the wetness of her labia, gently playing and caressing the tip of her clitoris. She moved her finger faster, and faster until a violent electrifying shock went through her spine, bringing a short but satisfactory wave of relief.
She jumped off the chair and wiped her hand with the edge of her nighty. That will do, she decided, for now.
By the morning, when Lilka woke up, Lena had a freshly formed plan in her head.
-”I think we should phone him”- she asserted- “I fancy a trip to the lake.”
Lilka’s face stretched in a huge grin, her eyes shining with a devilish spark. — “I bet you do! But imagine if you get caught! Wedding called off, scandal in the whole village”.
-”What are you on about?”- Lena grimaced- “I just want to catch up with an old friend”.
Lilka smirked — “Sure. So what are you planning to tell him about yourself? You’d tell him how you nearly failed high school and became a satanist? Cause you know that last year stuff is out of the question, right?”
Lena lowered her head- “Right. I mean…”- she scratched her head- “I could wash it down a bit, leave the worst bits out…”
She scanned her memory, searching for some mundane everyday life events she could use for small talk. Nothing came to mind.
-”See?”- Lilka shook her head in disapproval- “You may as well get straight to it and ride him at the bottom of that boat”.
Lena bit her lip. Lilka was right; they had nothing in common.
Lena’s life changed after her brother Damian ran away. Her mother’s dream of a happy family was then smashed to pieces. Ilona had never had a proper work career of her own. So with her son gone, her daughter remained her last chance for fulfilment.
Ilona decided to help Lena climb up the ladder. She wanted to make her into a successful and independent woman. Her ambitions created incredible pressure on her daughter, though.
Lena was forced to study many hours each day. She got punished for every low mark. She was not allowed to play with kids from her neighbourhood anymore in case they had a bad influence on her morale. At 12, Lena became a prisoner in her own house. Learning ceased to be exciting to her. It became a tiresome chore, and she hated every minute of it.
By the time she finally entered high school at the age of 15, Lena was a wreck of nerves. During these years she often looked at the night sky dreaming about a chance to escape. She imagined herself flying up to the stars, far, far away never to return.
High school brought her a soulmate though, her classmate Aga, whose parents also had unrealistic expectations of her. A shared love of heavy metal and rock music helped Aga and Lena to find comfort in the associated subculture. Two of them quickly became the class rebels.
The late 1990s were exciting times, to say the least. The Internet slowly made its way to people’s households, and mobile phones started to gain popularity. Technologies previously unavailable to the east of the iron curtain were booming. The approaching turn of Millenium brought new hopes.
But for youngsters like Aga and Lena, the appearance of teenage girls magazines was the primary source of interest.
Obviously, some papers of that sort did exist before, in their parents’ generation. They contained articles about sewing, knitting, cooking and advice on love matters. The new “hot stuff” magazines copied from German counterparts were something else altogether. Lena still remembered the day when the whole bunch of girls crushed in a toilet cubicle together staring at a picture on an erect penis.
Lena smiled at the memory of Aga from back in the day. She would have been an excellent help with the boat trip dilemma. As a skilled liar, Aga would have made up some stories, no doubt. She would probably say she quit high school to look after a dying uncle or something.
It’s not that Lena couldn’t lie. She didn’t enjoy it. Her dad had always said that people should not be scared of the truth.
Lena bit her lip gathering her thoughts for a minute. Eventually, she made her mind up:
-”I will tell the truth. I will tell him that I am going to university this year. And I will tell him that I suffer from depression”.
Lilka’s eyes widened in disbelief- “He’s going to judge you.”
However, Lena continued her speech, unmoved:
- “I will tell him that I am grieving cause my parents split up and because my brother left the house when I needed him to be there for me”.
Lilka nodded, pondering on her cousin’s words for a minute.
-”So you are planning to play the victim card”.
Lena was taken aback- “It’s not a game!”
-”So, what is it?”- Lilka crossed her arms.
Lena shook her head in disbelief:- “You really sound like a guy sometimes”.
-”I know. Welcome to my life”.
As cousins entered the kitchen, they saw grandma sitting quietly at the table. She sipped on a mug of a freshly brewed coffee playing solitaire with her old deck of miniature cards. She had an aura of tranquillity surrounding her, which made them pause their conversation. All they could hear were flies buzzing outside on the front porch.
On days like these, the air was still, and woodland gave out the sweet fragrance of pine tree sap. A light summer breeze tickled the tree crowns, the effect that grandma called the “forest whisper”. Now and then, a loud, persistent sound of woodpecker chipping an old trunk broke the peace.
For animals and peasants alike, this was the time of harvest, the busiest time of the year. The nights were getting colder, and soon enough, the ground would start to freeze in the mornings. Only two weeks were left now to the start of September.
-”Grandma, what happened to the old mill?”- Lena was the first one to break the silence.-”It’s been a ruin since I can remember”.
Iza scratched her head- “The ruin is still there, but you can’t go there anymore. The field was sold for property development”.
-”Really? What a shame!”- Lena exclaimed.
Iza shrugged- “How so? It was just another field.”
Lilka sided up with her cousin:-”So many memories gone.”
The mill was the forbidden fruit of their old days- rotting wooden constructions and falling boulders made it unsafe for children to play inside. Villagers claimed that one year, a local drunkard died after losing his footing on the steps leading to the old mill-wheel. Apparently, he cracked his head and bled to death overnight.
That story made a strong impression on the youngsters. The prospect of having one’s head cracked was frightening, to say the least. However, the fear of getting caught for breaking the rules was much more potent.
The escapades to the mill had become a local “dare” game. Kids of various ages went there in groups, trying to outdo each other in bravery. Each group appointed one or two people to stay on the watch and make sure no adults were in sight.
Lena frequently volunteered to keep the watch as she was not keen on scrambling like others were. One day, a local boy, Herbert, decided to keep her company. That’s when her childish little romance began. Although, he wasn’t that much into her until the ghost hunt story.
The ghost hunt at the mill occurred some time in mid-nighties, an event that cousins forever called the “Night of Terrors”. It all started after they finished watching the latest X-Files episode on TV. Damian, who just came back from a camping trip with the scouts, began to brag, how he had seen a ghost during his trip
-”I want to see a ghost!”-Lena exclaimed-”It’s not fair they never come to me!”.
-”You can summon a ghost”- Irena winked at her- “all we need is a candle”.
-”Yeah, that’s right!”- Lilka’s face lit up-”That’s what they do in horror movies”.
Herbert, who came to visit Lena that evening, was the first one to come up with the idea:
- “We could summon the ghost of the man who died at the mill. I’m sure he arrives as long as we bring him some vodka!”
The plan was risky. They had to wait until grandma was asleep. Herbert offered to go back to his place and snatch a bottle of vodka from his dad’s cellar. He then promised to meet them at the crossroads at midnight.
-”He’s doing this to impress Lena I bet”- Lilka giggled as Herbert left the room.
-”That’s right!”-Irena clapped her hands- “You two better don’t try kissing tonight, or you’ll be the first ones to get killed”.
Lena rolled her eyes: -”That’s why we give the ghost an offering. So he’s not angry that we were disturbing him”.
Damian was sceptical of the whole thing: -”What makes you think, he’s just hanging in there, all by himself. You’d be more likely to find him in a bar.”
-”Because that’s what the ghosts do!”- Irena was annoyed-” Don’t you know anything
Damian shrugged- “Whatever, I am curious to see which one of you craps their pants first! For now, we need to figure out how to get past grandma’s bedroom without waking her.”
Grandma’s bedroom was situated next to the front door, which meant that windows made a more convenient route of exit. Irena, Lilka and Irena all shared the small bedroom behind the kitchen, on the ground floor. Damian’s case was more tricky as he got assigned the little room upstairs.
-”I’m gonna have to use the rope”-he decided.
-”We don’t have a rope”- Lena shook her head.
-”I can tie my jumpers by their sleeves”- Damian already had a solution- “I know how to make a solid knot”.
Next couple of hours the group spent on preparations for the trip. Damian brought his powerful torch, which they decided to take across the fields. Irena and Lena rummaged through kitchen cupboards to find a candle and matches. They also packed a bottle of water and some chocolate to take along the way. Lilka’s role was to keep an eye on grandma’s movements and make sure she wasn’t indeed ready to retire. Finally, when everything was ready, they switched their lights off and pretended to go to sleep.
They even managed a short nap before, a quiet knock on the window drew their attention. It was Damian. Irena quietly moved the hinges of the window. She was the first one to climb out, landing on the soft grass underneath. Lena followed her steps, and Lilka went last. Her teeth were chattering in excitement.
Herbert was waiting for them at the crossroads, as planned. A strong smell of vodka hit their nostrils as they approached.
-”What has taken you so long?”- He mumbled on their arrival- “I’m freezing here, had to take a few sips to keep myself warm!”
-”Vodka was meant for the ghost!”- Irena raised her voice slightly-”Now he’s sure to be angry!”
-”In that case, I may as well have some too” — Damian reached out for the bottle- “It won’t make a blind difference since he’s already pissed off.”
-”Stop!”- Lena called out in terror- “You’ll get drunk!”
Her voice woke a dog in the nearby cottage. Loud barking echoed across the field, alarming another dog.
-”Keep your mouth shut”-Damian hissed in disapproval- “If someone finds us here, we’re in big trouble”.
By this point, Lena started to feel uneasy. Neither of them spoke as they entered the path leading to the mill. Herbert and Damian lead the way, gulping on the bottle of vodka. Irena followed them staring at her feet and playing with the streaks of her hair.
The wind rustled in branches of old beech trees along the road. Far in the distance, they heard a hoot of an owl. Lilka, who stayed behind with her cousin, quietly whistled the “X-Files” tune.
As they made their way across the fields, Herbert started to have doubts:- “Are you sure we should be doing this? Is summoning a ghost, not a sin?”- He faced the group, screening their faces with his eyes in search of support.
-”Stealing is much worse”- Irena pointed her finger at the bottle.- “Especially from one’s own parents”.
Herbert froze in fear- “I don’t want to go to hell!”
Lena padded him on a shoulder- “Don’t worry, you can always go to confession next week”.
-”If he’s still alive, by then”- Lilka remarked.
Damian burst out laughing, but Herbert was not amused.
-”I want out. It was a mistake”.
-”Well, if you separate from us, you’re guaranteed to die first!”-Irena was visibly concerned now- “That’s the golden rule of every horror movie”.
They all fell silent when the severity of the situation crept upon them. The dark outline of the mill building was now visible to them a short distance away. Even Damian felt goosebumps form on his skin.
-”Perhaps we shouldn’t go inside”- he whispered- “It is really rather unsafe”.
Irena quickly picked the idea:- “I’m sure the ghost can hear us from here”.
Herbert refused to take part, but the rest of them sat on the ground forming a circle. Irena placed the candle in the centre and ordered others to hold hands together.
-”We are summoning the spirit of the old man, who lost his life tragically in this place”- her voice got trapped in her throat as she recited the sentence. She cleared her throat and then added- “Show us your presence”.
Lilka grabbed the bottle out of Damian’s hand and rose it above her head:
-”We’ve got something for you!”
A sudden ghast of wind blew out the candle. Neither of them moved a muscle as the darkness surrounded them from all directions.
Lilka was first to see it, a strange black shape moving across the path. At first, she thought, it was a person walking or rather racing towards them. Until she realised she heard no footsteps. Just then, she heard her sister scream. They were all screaming now and running through the stalks of barley.
Lena was the exception. She stood still staring at the path in front of her. The dark shape was gone. She picked the bottle from the ground and held it up in her hand:- “That’s for you, buddy”- she addressed the emptiness, as there was nobody there. She took a sip from the bottle and put in down on the ground, overcome by a sudden wave of euphoria.
Herbert, standing a short distance away, let out a sigh of relief.
-”You are so brave!”- he whispered.
From that day, Herbert got convinced that Lena was a witch. He never left her sight for the rest of the summer.
-”What do you think of the ghost now?”-Lilka smiled, remembering her panic from the “Night of Terrors”.
Lena smiled: -”Most likely an optical illusion and shared paranoia. Although we will never know for sure.”
She paused, focusing on her bodily sensations. She felt her stomach jump up slightly, a little echo of euphoria from back then. It didn’t matter if the ghost was real. The whole experience gave her a sense of inner power.
From that day, and for days to come, Lena was always ready to gaze into the abyss. She asked questions, and she demanded answers. Dad used to call her a “young philosopher”. She was forever lost in her books, analysing and trying to work out the ways of the world.
-”Remember, kid”- her dad’s voice rang in her mind- “The flock will gladly follow the shepherd to the slaughterhouse. Use your mind. It’s your weapon”.
Little she knew what happens shall the abyss gaze back.