It is such a beautiful morning in Connemara. All mornings are beautiful in Connemara. It could rain, it could be cloudy, there could be a storm, and yes, sometimes, we could even see the sun, just there, pointing a little beam of light from behind a cloud. The sun! Who cares about the sun? Always trying to sneak in, to hide our beautiful clouds from view. Those white, grey, black shapes of fluffiness. Just like us.

Some of the old ones say that clouds are what sheep become when they die. I don’t believe that. I think clouds just live there, in the sky. They don’t need to have been something before. We have never been something before, I think, so why should they? I think clouds are just the sheep of the sky.

I like doing this. Staying in the middle of our field before anybody else has even noticed that the day has restarted, watching how the world lights up, changes colours, seeing what the clouds are up to when they wake up, munching on some grass.

I always turn towards the huge pointy rock. The old ones say that the humans call it “diamond hill”. The say it is because it is a bit shiny… I don’t get it. And who cares what the humans call things? I call it the huge pointy rock. At least it’s clear. It’s not like anybody would get confused by that. Humans are good for nothing really, going around on our grey trails in their big shiny metal things (I bet they call them diamond wheely beasts, or something), so I don’t see why we should bother with them.

It is almost time. I can feel it. The air becomes different. The birds change their tunes (they are clever things, the birds: They know), even the grass changes taste (maybe the grass is also a clever thing, not only a delicious one). So I turn around until I find the huge pointy rock. It is always there that the show starts.

Something is not quite right though. It is not quite like it was in times before. The colours, the greens, the browns, the greys and the blacks, are not where they used to be. It is the same general shape, but not quite in the same way. Someone has been messing with my huge pointy rock. I bet it is the humans. I will have to tell the old ones when the day has properly restarted.

OK, the light is coming. The light is coming? That can’t be correct!

Messing with the colours is one thing, but with the light! That can’t be allowed. Even the clouds seem to have noticed: The light is not in the right place!

It always comes from behind the huge pointy rock. That’s why I look that way. But now, it is coming from behind me! It is shining on my bottom!

I’m so confused I forget to munch on my grass.

I see someone waking up over there. It’s Bé. I ask him: “Have you seen this?! The light, it’s in the wrong place!”

Bé looks at me as if I’m some kind of a crazy thing, like a human or something: “Baah… Isn’t it always there?”

I go to somebody else. It’s Bé. She is not in any way more helpful. I ask: “Where are the old ones? I need to talk to them.”

Nobody knows. Not Bé, or Bé, or even Bé, who is always sticking close to them, to make himself look good. He thinks that, in this way, he will become a white cloud when he dies. Bé is a bit stupid like that.

I think… What happened before the lights were turned off? The big one outside, and the small one inside my head. What did we do before the day stopped? We went, as usual, to eat at the bottom of the huge pointy rock, and then the human and the dog pushed us back to our field, as always.

I like the dog. He is always so happy to tell us what to do that nobody ever feels like not doing it.

But something was different. Something was not as usual, as always. What was it? I remember feeling strange. Feeling like it should not be that way.

The Water! It was the water! When we go back, it is always on the side of my bad ear (I have a bad ear. It got stuck once in some pointy wire thing put there by the humans and was hurt). But not that last time. That time, the water was on the side of my good ear (I have a good ear. It is… not bad). So… it means that this is not our field! We are somewhere else!

I need to tell the others, but they won’t see it. They won’t believe me. This has grass, a grey trail over there, the huge pointy rock. It is like our field. I need to show them that this is different. I need to show them how to go back.

But how to go back?

I think some more. We are somewhere else, but we can still see the huge pointy rock. The light usually comes from behind it, but now, it comes from behind me. Does this mean that I am behind the huge pointy rock? On the other side?

It has another side?

Wherever I am, it is the only thing I know. I can go there. I can climb it. I know that when I climb on a small rock, I can see more. If I got all the way to the top, maybe I will see the water, our field, the old ones. Maybe I can tell the others and they will believe me.

Climbing is hard. It takes time. The light is fully on now. The sun has tried to come around a few times, but my friends the clouds have pushed it away, at the back of the sky where it belongs.

I thank them in my head. As if to say that they heard me, they send water. Clouds are great like this.

Finally I’m at the top. I’m exhausted, but I’m close to them. I can almost touch them. And they are many! All around, in all directions, a lot, and a lot, and more of a lot of clouds.

I look down… At first, I think I have gone crazy. I see the huge pointy rock, but I’m on it. I know I can’t see the thing I’m standing on over there… And there! It is there again, and again, and again. The huge pointy rock is… more than one!

I can see water, but it does not have the shape of our water. I can see grass, but I can’t tell if it is our grass. I can’t see the old ones…

I will have to try another one. Another huge pointy rock. And if I still don’t find them, I will try another one, and another one again.

Yes Connemara, my beautiful home, you might have suddenly become bigger, but I’m not afraid.

I am Bé, I have a good ear and I’m friend with the clouds. The light is turned on every day for me, whether I’m in front, behind or on top of a huge pointy rock. And I will see the day restart at each and everyone of them if I have to.

 

By Mathieu d’Aquin

Images by Lindy Buckley and Stefan Jürgensen

“Someone should rather tell me what is all this shenanigan about!”

He was cross…

“I have all the presents to prepare, my sleigh to service, and now this! The baubles look minuscule on you now…”

And I look minuscule too, I thought.

“Mr. S. sir, I don’t think anybody is doing this on purpose,,,” I said hesitantly… and regretted it straight away: Big S. (that’s what we call him) was looking at me now, clearly not quite sure what to answer. And the others were also looking at me, like if I was a traitor even though I was trying to defend them. It is true that they were big enough to defend themselves, if you pardon the incongruity of this comment: I was the only Christmas tree which had not grown by 3 meters in the last 3 days. And it looked like they were not finished growing yet… Minuscule – that’s what my 1.20 meters felt like today indeed.

Big S.’ air of anger and despair was slowly turning into one of resignation.

“Go and see the boss”, he said, in a roared whisper, “she said something about making some anti-soup” he carried on while turning back towards the workshop “might make you small again she says…”

We could hardly hear this last part, but it didn’t really matter.

We only call him Big S. when he is not around, but the boss is a different story: Nobody would dare calling her Mama S., even if we knew she was a hundred miles away. She isn’t bad or anything, but she would surely find out. She always does… about everything. And a bad look from her is enough to make you shake from all your branches, up to your trunk. Plus, Sam was always with her.

Don’t ask me how Big S. and the boss managed to have a son, they don’t seem to have any seed falling off them to make that happen. Plus nobody has seen him coming out of the ground. One day the boss went to bed feeling more unhappy then usual, and the next morning, he was there with her, feeling more happy then usual… which mostly meant that she looked like this (“_“) instead of like this (— _—)

It was all very suspicious.

He is a nice enough boy, but he is always in our branches, moving from one tree to the other as if we were his toys. Nobody dares saying anything of course, but it is really a bit awkward and I generally prefer to stay away from him. Actually, right now, I prefer to stay away from everybody – following the “talk” from Big S., the others are now hoping in their pots, which are barely able to contain them anymore, towards the kitchen, making the whole North Pole shake.

I was going to say something, but the look on my friends’ faces (which you guys can’t see – Christmas trees’ faces. Don’t ask me why, it is just right there! On the tree!) make me think I should rather not. We are clearly not friends anymore.

Christmas treeWait a minute! That’s not fair! It’s not my fault that it did not happen to me. They all started growing super quickly 3 days ago and haven’t stopped since. I’m sure it has something to do with the Northern Lights – they were particularly bright the day before, and almost, but not quite exactly, of different colours than usual. I know that: It was my turn to turn them on and I remember precisely thinking that while eating my dinner of canned sunshine and its side of soil nutrient concentrate, with a glass of water.

The water was frozen… as always.

I know! I will go check them tonight, it’s not like I have any business to do with the boss anyway.

The Northern Light switch is just a few minutes walk away. While I go there, I think about how it is to live in the North Pole, Big S., The Boss, Sam and all my friends – it will go back to normal and all will be fine, I’m sure. Big S. will distribute the presents and we will have a nice big party afterwards, as always.

Ah! Weird… Sam is here.

“Hi Sam, what are you doing here?” I ask.

“Oh, hi. It is my turn to switch on the lights.” He replies with a faint smile.

“Ah…”

I just stay here for a bit, expecting him to get back to the boss any minute.

It’s getting long…

It’s getting awkward…

“You’re staying?” I enquire, as innocently as possible.

“Well, you know, with everything going on…”

Yes, indeed, I know, but…

I wait a bit longer. More awkward moments in the cold.

“Don’t you want to go back now? You must be cold…” I try after some more minutes of nothing.

But, wait, why does he have ice under his eyes?

“Sam?”

He is crying! What am I going to do? What will happen if she finds out?

“I didn’t want this to happen.” he says sobbingly “I just wanted to be like you guys.”

Now, if you could see my face, you would know what a Christmas tree looks like when in shock.

“What do you mean Sam? Are you responsible for what is happening to my friends?”

“Yes…” here replies… more shock on my face… “I thought that if I looked like you, you would agree to play with me.”

“So, I have been mixing some of your food with my soup… except… the other day, my bowl fell into the container and…”

I connect some dots: “And I wasn’t affected because I had already taken my dinner with me to the Northern Light switch.”

I think a bit, and connect more dots: “Sam… you don’t need to look like us for us to be friends…. I’m sorry we were not nice to you. It is our fault. I will tell the others and if it is soup that made this happened, the anti-soup the b… your mother is making will undo it.”

We go back together, a big smile on both our faces (you still don’t believe me about the face, do you?)

He asks: “You won’t tell her, right?”

And I reply: “I can promise you that… but I can’t promise you that she doesn’t know already.”

 

By Mathieu d’Aquin

Images by Matthew Savage and Mark

“Bit chilly, innit?”…

That’s what she said… all of what she said.

I mean, she has the reputation to be rather mysterious, but nobody has seen a snowstorm for the last hundred years! And as much as my documentation from that time can tell me, this is a big one, so yeah… it is a bit chilly…

She is now looking over the edge of the roof, into the void that starts where the rooftop of the “Bletchley Tower” stops. She does not even seem to notice the snow flying all around her, accumulating on her shoulders, and on her head.

She does not seem to care.

She likes being here — on the roof. The rumours say that the tower was built here, in Bletchley, because this is just where she use to live as a child: In a small house occupying a spot on Brooklands Road, 51 floors below us.

Maybe this is what she is thinking about. And maybe she is thinking about the snow. Nobody is too sure how old she is, but she must have been a young woman the last time this happened — a snowstorm I mean.

It must have been before 2034, when Hugo — the Inventor — sent all these nano-machines to the atmosphere to control the climate. From then on, it could always be sunny where you lived, fields got exactly the right amounts of light and rain… all of it being entirely controlled from here: The “Bletchley Tower”…

So, how can she be so calm about it is what I don’t get. I have to do something!

“Hummmm… Miss Chloé?”

“Yes, Mathieu.”

“I have just been told that the weatherbots” (that’s what we call them) “are still working”

Her response comes after five (long) seconds, still looking out to the dancing snow: “So, why are they not doing what we tell them do you think?”

Ah! That’s the question… It was bound to happen one day or the other. Hugo disappeared shortly after sending his invention to the atmosphere, leaving all the computers and equipment just running there… And nobody knows how it works!

Sure, we tried to understand it, but could only get little bits. After a lot of discussion, and a lot of not being sure how to deal with it, the governments of the world decided to use it. And who better to be in charge than Chloé: She was not only Hugo’s sister, she was also the only one clever enough to get it to be used for the benefit of the highest number of people…

“We believe that they are receiving instructions from somewhere else…” I’m attempting to respond.

“Did I ever tell you that you have the same name as my father?”

Yes, she has told me… about a million times….

“Really? What a great man he must have been!”

It is always better to stay on her good side.

“It’s French… He came from France… but I guess you didn’t know that either — France does not even exists anymore… countries don’t exist anymore…”

Ah! That I didn’t know! She must be feeling nostalgic. I have heard of France, in History lessons at school, when they explained that, thanks to the weatherbots and to Chloé’s clever management, all of Earth’s resources were optimised for everybody to live well. All governments centred around The Bletchley Tower: No need for borders and petty conflicts anymore. We are all citizens of a world that provides for everybody.

“We are trying to figure out where the interference comes from, but…”

I’m really nervous. She is too calm and I don’t have anything more to tell her.

She turns around to look at me. Her large dark eyes surrounded by her long curly hair… grey and white… full of snow.

“You won’t find anything.”

And again, she says that without a sign of anxiety or doubt… it’s just the way it is.

“What do you mean? Do you know what’s going on?”

She smiles… slightly.

“Nobody knows what’s going on… Ever… Except him.”snow

She can’t possibly suggest that it is Hugo doing this… Nobody has seen him for almost a whole century! He must be dead!

She is back looking out to the falling snow…

“Don’t worry. It will stop soon… I like it you see… the snow…”

I can hear a small tremolo in her voice! The most important person on Earth, and somehow also the nicest and most composed woman I have ever met… with tears in her eyes!

“He is sending me a birthday present… I’m 120 today….”

 

By Mathieu d’Aquin.

Images from Dragan and Thomas Richter.

“Isn’t the Mona Lisa in Paris?” asked the assistant Hugo had brought with him on his trip to Madrid. His name was Mathieu. He was a good guy… but a tiny bit thick.

“There are different versions of it”, answered Hugo, “the one at the Prado Museum was made by one of Leonardo’s assistants…”

“Well, the one that used to be there anyway” he added, contemplating the empty space left on the wall where the painting used to be.

“The teenage mutant ninja turtle?” asked Mathieu.

Hugo preferred not to answer that and just gave Mathieu a look that he knew meant that he should rather stop talking.

“They didn’t take anything else. Not “Las Meninas” or all the invaluable paintings from Bosch or Goya. Just this one.”Mona Lisa

And how they did it was the tricky question. As an internationally renowned detective (and sometimes spy), Hugo had seen a lot of crimes. This one however was a puzzle — they didn’t leave a trace! The alarm didn’t go off, and it was only noticed that the painting was gone when opening the museum at 10am that morning. That was exactly why they called Hugo specially from Milton Keynes. They could not possibly solve this mystery on their own!

It was a that moment, when Hugo was biting his nails (a sure sign that he was thinking very hard) trying to figure it all out, that she arrived.

“What are you doing here!” he cried as Chloé entered the room, dressed as usual like a princess. For many years, they had been rivals, competing for the title of the greatest detective (and spy) in the world. They were solving mysteries after mysteries hoping the other would finally recognise that he or she was the cleverest of all.

“I was already in Madrid, so I volunteered my services” she answered with a wide smile on her face (showing all her teeth).

Hugo was furious! How was he going to concentrate with such a… woman around?

“You have no idea what happened, have you?” she added, nagging him “I have an interview with the director of the museum, maybe you want to come and see how a real pro solves a mystery like this?”

Hugo was desperately trying to ignore her by staring at the wall where the Mona Lisa should have been. The wall was clean — not a trace! You could almost still smell the paint from when it was last renovated. Finally, realising that he was not going to get rid of her, he muttered “Yeah, OK” through his teeth.

The director was a pleasant woman called Marylène, who they met in her office on the third floor. She was not taking this very well…

“I don’t drink coffee” she told them straightaway “but I would definitely need one now if I did.”

Chloé started questioning her: How much was the Mona Lisa worth? How important was it for the museum? What would Marylène give to get it back? Had the press been alerted?

Hugo was getting impatient. Suddenly, he interrupted:

“The security system has alarms and cameras, right?”

“Yes” answered Marylène “of course!”

“So the thief would have had a lot of trouble not only taking the painting, but even more getting it out of the museum, correct?”

“Yes, I bet they did” said Marylène intrigued.

“Well, maybe not…” Hugo replied enigmatically “and it is the only thing they took and left no trace…”

“Hey this is my interview!” interrupted Chloé who was getting red in the face with rage.

“Maybe, but I think I know where the Mona Lisa is, and who did it…”

“Tell us!” cried Marylène to a Hugo who was sporting a triumphant smile. “Come with me!”

They stopped in front of where the Mona Lisa should have been. “So, where has it gone?” asked Marylène, who was getting impatient.

“Nowhere”, he responded.

“Oh, come on, stop being so mysterious, I can’t stand the stress!”

And so, he explained:

“You see, it is much easier to leave the painting where it is than to take it away… Look at this wall, is there nothing suspicious about it? …”

“It looks cleaner than the others — it is fake! The painting is behind it!”

Marylène quickly called for men with tools to join them. They quickly found where the fake wall had been added and removed it: Several pieces of wood painted over. Once removed, they could find the Mona Lisa as predicted, and at that moment , she had a face that seemed to say “here I am!”

“Incredible!” said Marylène “Who was it? And how did you know?”

“I noticed the wall earlier, but I thought it was nothing…. and then, while being upset about Chloé showing up, I thought: How did she know?”

“You had not told anybody that the painting was stolen, you said it yourself earlier.”

“She said she was already in Madrid. I think she came yesterday with the wood panels hidden in her enormous princess dress, waited until it was closing time and everybody was gone, and stuck them over the Mona Lisa with a glue stick disguisedrunning away as a lipstick.”
“I think she wanted to pretend to have found it after a bit, so she could be the hero, and get everybody to think that she was the best detective.”
“Wow!” exclaimed an impressed Marylène, “She should be arrested… but where is she?… She’s gone…”

“I guess I will have to chase and find her” said Hugo with a grin “but before that, I have another mystery to solve…”

“What is that?” asked Marylène, who had had enough today already.

“Find my assistant Mathieu — I bet he got himself lost again….”

 

By Mathieu d’Aquin

Images by Thomas UptonZona Retiro and jenny818

“A beard is a pain!”, thought BB, “but what can I do, we rats don’t have shavers.” His beard, all wet, was indeed dragging him down as he was pulling himself up the bank of the river.

It all started when his friends — well, you could hardly call them that, could you — decided to dare him to swing himself from the bottom of the bridge, using his long, messy beard as a rope. Yes, of course, I hear you: He could just have refused. But, you know, when you are rat, you listen to what the dominant males say. It’s like that… It’s instinct. And when you are a rat with a beard, you could forget about even dreaming of being a dominant male. No really… a rat with a beard isn’t all that common. In fact, BB was the only one he, or any rat, cat, dog, hen, mouse, cow or sheep around those parts had ever heard of. This is why his friends (again, not really an accurate description) found it funny to call him BB — the Bearded Beast: A bearded rat with a name that sounds like “baby”.

It was not likely that the fish of the river had ever heard of a bearded rat either, but BB didn’t know that: He never asked them. Rats don’t talk to fish, which is a pity as a little help would have come handy in BB’s current situation, desperately trying to pull himself out of the river, after a long time desperately trying to swim in it.

Yes, here we were. The inevitable happened. His beard snapped in two under his weight while he was swinging under the bridge for the enjoyment of his fellow rats. One of the halves was the one wet and dragging still attached to him. The other one was hanging, rather miserably, from the bottom of the bridge, still swinging a little, but mostly because of the wind. BB’s friends (yes, I know, I need to find a better name for them) didn’t get quite the entertainment that they were expecting and went home, not too happy. Don’t get me wrong though, they were not sad or concerned for BB. They were just a bit disappointed that they might not get another chance to make fun of him… ever.

But let’s skip forward a bit. BB having managed to lift himself up on the bank, exhausted and quite a bit disorientated, found himself in a place that looked nothing like home. Did he really swim so long that from a bridge in Milton Keynes, where he lived, he had travelled all the way to Spain? The answer to that is: No! Of course not, you fool!

All around him were brown mounts of hearth, grey piles of gravel, and rocks and sand, and… oh my… worst of all… enormous yellow creatures making strange noises like “brrrrr” and “clank” and “bip bip bip”. I can tell you, I would not like to see the look of a bearded one of those.

Now that BB had had a little more time to compose himself, he could see that he was not actually that far from where he lived with his… other rats. There was also something that made him uncomfortable. He wasn’t sure what it was at first, but after observing the yellow beasts for a while (rats are good at that — observing — and a bearded rat being naturally wiser, BB was even better) he could see that they were not staying still: They were moving… They were leaving the nest.

And they were going… towards the house of the rats. Now again, I hear you say “well, whatever, they were not really nice to him, so why should he care?” Sure, of course, you are right, but they were his… rats, his companions, his family even. So, paying no attention for a second to the danger or to his own exhaustion, BB started running. Running like mad. Running without tripping over his beard – having had it cut in half at least had one advantage.

He ran for a long, long time, following the same instinct that get migrating birds back home every spring.

When he arrived, the yellow beasts were already there, and it was chaos! Rats were running everywhere, thinking that the end of the world had come.

BB, not thinking twice, climbed on the highest point he could find: The bridge (yes, really… It had to be there…)

He shouted with the loudest, most bearded voice he could gather:

“FRIENDS,” finally, “I have observed the yellow beasts. They are no beast at all. They are machines, controlled by humans!”

“Humans are afraid of us! Machines have cables that can be bitten through!”

“You are the perfect army for this!”

Following BB, it didn’t take more than a minute for the rats to get the humans to leave, and for the machines to be rendered useless.

After that, everything went back to normal, except that nobody made fun of BB anymore. He didn’t become a dominant male, but when they call him BB now, it is with a palpable tone of deference and respect.

By Mathieu d’Aquin

machines

 

Images from Adriano BIDOLI and Nathan LeClair

 

Ssssshhh…. Winter has been tough! The biting cold was specially hard for cold blooded things like me. But spring has now come and brought with it yet a new bunch of offsprings. At least Hunting is not a vain task anymore.

As I move through the woods, slowly — some would say sneakily, I wonder what this day will bring to my fangs. Warm blooded animals get foolish at this time of the year…

Oh! Here it is! A wild boar!

It might be quite a bit too big for me, but I can kill it now and bring the kids for a meal out later — my poison is always ready!

I approach… not too quick so not to frighten it, but I’m not worried: These things are stupid! He could not even see me if I started dancing in front of him!

I have no legs for dancing anyway.

I get a bit closer by pretending to be still, but moving. Now I stop. I like to wait a bit, see the enormous beast in front of me live its last moment, unaware that fate will fall on him any second now. (fate is not my name, by the way, I’m called ssssshhh.)

I leap forward. It only takes a moment that the boar (I think he should be called Steve) does not even have time to notice. For me though, it all happens in slow motion: ssssswwwwwooooossshhhhh…. BITE!

WHAT IS THIS?!

That’s not the woods I see around me while I fall back on the floor, still in slow motion. I missed the boar… Don’t blame me: the thing has just disappeared!

My brain, although rather small, starts thinking very fast: Could it be possible that the old stories of some magical creature transporting you into some not less magical land were true? I start exploring. There is a wall of rocks behind me and some strange landscape in front of me. Strange landscape it is then.

BANG!

Now this day is getting tough… An invisible wall?!

I spend several days going around between the wall of rocks and the invisible one — Nowhere to go… As per magic (well, it is a magical land after all), mice have appeared. I though about saving them for the kids, but I’m starving and I’m starting to think that I might never go back to them…

A giant creature is approaching now, making some strange noises. I don’t know if I should fight or submit. It puts something on the floor….

Snake BabyIt’s my kids!

This clearly is not like the woods, but it’s comfortable, and at least we are together now…

I relax.

I wonder what happened to Steve.

I wonder what the strange drawings on the giant creature’s double skin means.

I don’t know it, but it says: ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.

By Mathieu d’Aquin

Images from Kristine Paulus and Andy Purviance