Chantal Schaul, 2001
An enormously long time ago (although not long enough for the following events not to possess the ability to repeat themselves today) there was a little fortified town. A degenerate duke by the name of Carl the Hog, who was the result of many centuries of noble inbreeding, was the regent of the town, which was called, according to the regent’s family name, Hogburgh. Carl’s only pleasure in life was food, but he did not even possess the ability to insert it into his mouth by himself. His servants had to cut and pre-chew everything, because Carl’s teeth were so crooked that they had grown around his chin and up into his nostrils. He only had one finger on each of his three hands, and could not hold anything. He was not even able to walk, as his legs had grown into haywire directions and his hips were without any joints.
It is easy to imagine that Carl the Hog had a hard time ruling over his people. Not only could he never show himself to them, or they would have immediately run away, but also did he not possess the power of intelligible speech and could only mumble meaningless sounds. Not even his governor, Nathan Concoct could make any sense of Carl’s verbal trash. Out of sheer necessity, Nathan had taken on the role of head of state, being perfectly intelligent and physically presentable. Although, it has to be admitted, he did have one slightly disproportionate feature. His legs were altogether too thin for his stockier upper body. He managed to disguise this little flaw well however, by wearing very loose tights.
It is in desolate times like these, when physical and mental impeccabilities were not taken for granted, that our tale is set. In a house located at the outskirts of town, very near the Western fortification wall, three young men were spending their days. They were called Art, Daniel and Pinuke. Art was tall and boasted an abundance of thick blond hair, that, when it had grown beyond cutting level, often obstructed his view. Daniel was of medium height and was in the process of growing his dark wavy hair. Pinuke was tall and very thin, displaying a somewhat chiseled exterior, as if he had been cut from wood. His brown hair had already reached a state of growth that Daniel could but envy. All three of them fulfilled respectable functions in public life.
Art was a hirable spokesperson. His mother had called him Art because, as soon as he was born, he started to speak with such lucidity, brought forth such coherent arguments, weighed the pros and cons in his account with such eloquence, and could speak for such a length of time about any subject, without sacrificing any of his fluency and comprehensibility, that she thought him the most articulate person in the entire world. She therefore could not resist calling him Art, short for Articulate. Of such quality were his talents as a spokesperson that even the king had already appointed him on numerous occasions to write and perform his speeches. Hogburghian priests and even the bishop often hired Art to disguise as them and perform their sermons. From the moment when Art had started to play his reciting role in public, a surprising amount of people had become pro-royal and pro-Christian. Rumour had it that Art had an amazing career in front of him and that he would even be able to convince the king himself to instate him as his lawful heir.
Daniel was a Swiss lad who had left his native country to spread the art of Swiss horn building and cow bell founding everywhere in the world. He had ended up settling down in Hogburgh, as it had turned out to be a source of inspiration to him. Because the landscape was so flat, he had defined his new mission to construct horns and bells that carried an echo with them despite the absence of bottomless vales and unreachable mountain peaks. Some of these newfangled bells not only reverberated themselves, but also triggered the sound of a vigorous avalanche crushing down and, if you listened carefully, the minutest screams of dying people underneath the fatal accumulation of snow masses. No one ever disputed that Daniel was a master of his trade.
Pinuke, finally, was a trade scrutinizer. He worked for Nathan Concoct, who wanted to keep track of the amount and variety of production and sales in Hogburgh, in order to keep both tradespeople and consumers happy. Pinuke walked around town each and every day to observe artisans and workmen, and also to interview shoppers as to their consumer-satisfaction. What Pinuke liked most about his work was that he got to taste food outlet items for free, in order to test their quality. His favourite tasting place was a bakery called “Insatiables”, owned by a young woman called Cordelia Catherine Jessica. As is so often the case, her mother could not make up her mind as to which of these three names to name her daughter by, so that, in the end, she gave her all three names. But everyone called her by the abbreviated version, which was Deli-Cath-Essica. Deli-Cath-Essica’s bread, pastries, pies, cakes and rolls were the tastiest in all of Hogsburgh, and probably of the entire country.
Deli-Cath-Essica happened to be the neighbour of Art, Daniel and Pinuke. She shared a house with another young woman called Astrelle, who was a professional coach-woman. Everyone who wanted to be driven somewhere without delay, could give her a sign from the side of the road and she would provide the required swift distance-crossing service for a small remuneration.
In this way, the five neighbours peacefully lived their lives next to each other and had many agreeable get-togethers, until, one day, on the opposite side of the lads’ house, a lady moved in. She was accompanied by her servant, Ginger Nick, so called because he had long ginger cranial and facial hair. The lady’s name was Elusia Kayeffcee. She was reasonably tall, had a fuller figure and liked to wear skin-coloured and rather tight clothes. Her long and straight brown hair was always tied back in a ponytail, but in such a tight manner that it not only looked painful but also made her seem much older than she probably was. Only a week after her arrival she opened a hostel for homeless rabbits. For Elusia and her rabbits’ transport, she designed a seat and a basket carried by two wheels. In her intellectual ways, she called this a 'bicycle’, which apparently meant “two wheels”. Her servant Ginger Nick constructed the 'bicycle’ for her, according to her instructions. He always seemed to carry out each of her orders with incomparable devotion, whilst he was only allowed to reside in the back garden shed.
Elusia endearingly called all her rabbits 'bunnies’. Often, her neighbours could see her in the back garden, fooling around on the lawn with her sweethearts. She adored them to such an extent that she did not even refrain from getting up several times in the middle of the night, driven by a desire to hug her fluffy darlings repeatedly. Often she went into the freezing cold barefoot and only dressed in her gauzy nightie.
She admitted this little flaw of hers openly to her male neighbours as she went over to introduce herself, susurrating her charming – if perhaps slightly obsessive – little secret to the three young men in such an endearingly sweet voice and with such delightful eye movements that they were overwhelmed by her likeable personality. Elusia took an instant liking to the youngsters in her turn and, after a few more meetings, Art became her favourite because he was keen on intellectually conversing with her.
Elusia even invited Art for tea sometimes, just for the sake of the pompous conversation. She always let him win the argument, ever so often ejaculating: “Oh, that is so sweet!” and “That is such a wonderful idea!” One day, she explained to him that she wanted to hire his spokesperson’s talents in order to advertise her bunny hostel and her overwhelming altruism for the fluffy creatures. She wanted him to spread her love for bunnies in the whole town. Her own smiling face was going to be used as a logo, and her hostel was to be called 'Elusia’s Abode for Abandoned Bunnies.’ Art welcomed the offer of employment and wrote another one of his splendid speeches, which he delivered three times a day in the market place for three weeks, drawing masses of listeners from all over the world. Elusia and her bunny shelter became famous within days.
From then on, everyone who found an abandoned rabbit dutifully turned it in to Elusia’s hostel. She even made public appearances, so well loved was she by the public. Nathan Concoct became her regular host and invited her for dinner three times a week. What no one knew, however, was that Elusia was secretly and desperately in love with Nathan, although he was thrice her age and already paraded a headful of awe-inspiring silver-grey rippling hair. She sneakily planned to marry the governor and become duchess eventually, because the latter had informed her about the desolate and childless state that Duke Carl was in.
Thus the days went by until, one day in winter, it was so cold that Elusia could not ride her bicycle to Nathan’s dinner party, but had to comply with getting a coach. On a normal day, Nathan would have offered her to stay for the night, but on that day he was preoccupied with a missing person’s case. In fact, there had been many people going missing recently, contributing to such a huge work load for Nathan that he could not possibly afford any distractions.
There were, at the time, only two coach services in town, which were Astrelle’s and Nigel’s. He was an old man and his coach was drawn by three slow oxen. Astrelle’s coach, on the other hand, was whizzed around by two young steeds, named Opelle and Lepo. Elusia, although she had a natural dislike for Astrelle, decided to hire her services because she was in a hurry to hug her fluffy cutsters at her leisure.
Although Elusia was talking at length about her bunnies during the entire coach journey, Astrelle, because of her lack of interest in rabbits, was rather taciturn. To avoid being completely rude to a customer, however, she tried to pay EIusia a compliment after the fare had been settled, and said: “What a nice skin-coloured cloak you are wearing.” Little did she know that this innocent comment was to seal her destiny and that of a number of other good-intentioned people.
Not only did Elusia misunderstand the compliment and interpret it as being ironic, she also took it as a hint for Astrelle’s knowledge about her biggest and most well-kept secret, which she thought only herself and Ginger Nick knew about. Now she was not so sure anymore. Had Ginger Nick betrayed her confidence? Was he a scheming little devil? As soon as Elusia entered her property she quizzed G.N., as she abbreviated Ginger Nick’s name, not wanting to waste precious time on spelling it out all the time. But he was so sincere and so genuinely shocked as to the possible revelation of Elusia’s secret that she was finally convinced of his honesty. She concluded that she had only been paranoid. But she decided to be more careful in the future. She could not risk having her excellent reputation ruined now. And she resolved to mercilessly take her revenge on Astrelle.
One fine winter’s day, as Astrelle was driving Deli-Cath-Essica to her bakery, along the long straight road that led to the town centre, Elusia rode her bicycle in the opposite direction. She had put three male and three female bunnies in her basket, which, she knew, would execute her plan without failing. As she was approaching Astrelle’s coach, the bunnies were multiplying so rapidly in her basket, that, by the time the two vehicles crossed each other’s paths, the fluffY creatures were avalanching out of the basket, inundating the road with an explosion of fuzz. Astrelle kept calm, but the coachman who was driving behind her was so overwhelmed and confused by the effusion of furry pets which were threatening to drown him in fluff, that he made his horses accelerate.
The inevitable happened: the unknown coach driver shunted Astrelle’s vehicle. He felt so guilty that he couldn’t help but speed off, even though his two horses were badly damaged. Their jaws were broken and they were bleeding from their mouths and ears. One had lost both eyes. The other was leaking oats through a gashing wound in its stomach. Both had broken their front legs. Nevertheless, they galloped onwards, whipped to oblivion by the panicking coachman. They did not quite make it to the town centre, however, as only minutes later both horses simultaneously perished. The coach driver went completely out of his mind. He abandoned the dead animals and was never seen again.
Meanwhile, Astrelle’s coach had come to a halt. By the time she and Deli-Cath-Essica had got out of the wreck to assess the damage, all the rabbits had hopped off into freedom and Elusia had disappeared into a side lane, sniggering to herself. Her plan had succeeded. Astrelle’s coach was in a desolate shape. The impact had pushed it forward, so that both horses had been run over by their own cargo. They had been squashed under its wheels, into a sorry mess of torn flesh and broken bones. Their blood was quietly rippling down the hill. The coach itself had been rammed out of alignment completely and was useless. How would Astrelle be able to earn her daily bread now?
Deli-Cath-Essica accompanied Astrelle home and tried to console her. Pinuke, Daniel and Art invited them over for dinner, in order to take their minds off the terrible accident, but Astrelle was inconsolable. That same day, a friend of the three young men, called Victor, dropped in unexpectedly at a late hour and, even more unexpectedly, solved half of the mystery that surrounded the accident. Victor was the proud owner of an alcoholic drinks shop, called “Victor’s Wines, Ales and Ciders”, which was located on the same road where Astrelle’s accident had taken place. Victor immediately got to the point of his visit. He addressed Astrelle: “I saw how a coach shunted you today!”
Everyone in the room held their breath to hear Victor’s imminent revelation. “Who was it?” whispered Astrelle. “I don’t know who the driver was, but I saw something else, which will surprise you all.” After a moment of suspense, Victor continued: “I saw Elusia on her bike, throwing rabbits at the coachmen behind you and disorienting him so much that he could not avoid shunting your coach.” Art burst out: “Impossible! I know Elusia and she would never do such a thing!” Victor insisted: “I saw what I saw.” Deli-Cath-Essica, always keen on actions, rather than words, immediately devised a plan: “We are going to closely but secretly watch Elusia and find out what she is up to and why she would do such a thing.” Everyone, apart from Art, agreed.
Over the following weeks, they kept a close eye on Elusia. Pinuke went over to interview her about her consumer habits, but she disarmed him: “'You know that I am a close friend of Nathan Concoct, your superior. He knows everything about me, so you don’t have to ask me these questions to which he already knows all the answers.”
The following day, Daniel tried to sell her some Swiss horns and cow bells, in order to further quiz her, but she showed him her already abundant collection of such horns and bells, acquired on a recent journey to Switzerland, and so he had to take leave as well.
Art refused to spy upon Elusia because he was still convinced of her innocence, but Victor agreed to visit her as a tradesman, with a list of all the wines, ales and ciders that he was selling. He knocked on her front door repeatedly when, after a considerable wait, Ginger Nick suddenly appeared on the threshold. “What do you want?” he said in a challenging voice. Victor remained polite and answered: “I would like to show your mistress an array of alcoholic beverages which are on sale in my shop.” Ginger Nick answered impatiently: “She is busy right now.” Victor was not to be defeated and handed him a voucher, explaining: “This voucher entitles you to collect three free beverages from my shop within the next three days.” Ginger Nick grabbed the voucher from him and shut the door in his face, without another word.
Victor immediately went to his friends’ house to recount the latest events. Nobody had found out anything so far. The only astonishing and puzzling news to be had was that Elusia seemed to be putting on weight rapidly. Her clothes were becoming tighter and tighter and would soon need expanding or changing altogether. Art tried to find excuses for her, arguing that people often put on weight during the winter. But deep inside, even he found Elusia’s weight explosion worrying.
Astrelle, frustrated and therefore prone to prejudices exploded: “I would not be in the least surprised if that woman was involved with the whole missing people affair. She is definitely very dodgy!” Art could not refrain himself any longer: “Astrelle, now you are going too far! How can a cute bunny-loving lady like Elusia be accused of somehow doing away with seventy odd people? This assumption is simply ridiculous.” No one dared to argue with Art, and the meeting was suspended at that point.
The following day, Elusia and Ginger Nick, against all expectations, made an appearance at Victor’s Wines, Ales and Ciders. The temptation to exchange the voucher for spirits had been too irresistible. Victor kept a close eye on the mistress and her servant, as they were scanning the shop for the most exclusive and expensive drinks. It did not escape his attention when Ginger Nick, in his clumsy ways, walked on, inadvertent of the fact that Elusia had just come to a halt to inspect a wine label, and bumped into her, pushing her against a heavy ale barrel, which she hit with her leg. She screamed: “Careful, you fool! My skin!” Then she suddenly became aware of Victor’s presence and of his inquisitive mien, and corrected herself: “My shin! I mean my shin!” Ginger Nick mumbled an excuse, but Elusia’s shopping trip had been spoilt. She just grabbed three bottles of wine and hurried outside, closely followed by Ginger Nick.
Victor pondered on the words he had just heard and related everything to his five coconspirators that evening. The story reminded Astrelle of the incident where she had complimented Elusia on her skin-coloured cloak but had merely received a sour look in return. Everyone agreed that the key to this mystery was somehow related to skin.
Deli-Cath-Essica devised another plan. “Art, why don’t you visit Elusia and drop a comment about her wonderful skin and then see how she reacts?” Art was offended: “Don’t drag me into this, I will do nothing to harm Elusia!” Deli-Cath-Essica persisted: “But if you are right and she is innocent, then a compliment on her skin will only flatter her and no harm will be done. You could do this to prove her innocence to us all!” Art reflected for a while and agreed in the end.
That same evening, Art went over to Elusia’s house and started a harmless conversation on the meaning of words. After an extensive and delightful discussion that lasted for three hours and gave Elusia many occasions to charmingly snigger at Art’s boundless wit, the latter finally said: “Elusia, may I pay you a compliment that has been on my mind for a long time now?” She giggled engagingly and answered: “Of course, Art. What is it?” – “Well, you know, I have always wanted to tell you that you have the most alabaster-like complexion. Your skin is so wonderfully fine and impeccable.” At this point Art fell silent, because Elusia’s face had contorted itself into utter fury. She jumped up within a split second, grabbed a pewter ashtray and hit Art unconscious.
Fortunately, Art’s housemates had not let him go into the lion’s den without protection. During the entire conversation, Daniel had been peeking into the sitting room through the back garden window, relating the events through sign language to Pinuke, Victor, Deli-Cath-Essica and Astrelle, who were silently sitting in the adjacent back garden.
As soon as Elusia attacked Art, Daniel, being very agile and sprightly by having grown up in the wilderness of the Alps, jumped inside the house through the window and approached Elusia from behind. She was holding a knife. Without hesitation, Daniel knocked the crazy woman unconscious with his bare Swiss steel fist. Then he admitted his friends into the house. They fettered and gagged Elusia and poured a bucket of water over Art’s head, thus making him regain his senses in an instant.
The house was searched for any suspicious and controversial material, but nothing could be found. Pinuke, always eager for adventures, suggested: “Let’s search the shed!” He led the way through the multitudes of quivering rabbits that were amassed in the back garden. Inside the shed there was a second door, which seemed to lead right into the thick wall against which the shed was built. But when Pinuke opened this door, he discovered to his surprise that the wall was hollow and contained a corridor. At the end of this corridor, which led further down into the ground via stone staircases, they found a large cavernous room that emitted a horrendous smell of raw decaying meat.
In the middle of this room stood a massive oak table with heaps of what looked like dirty linen on it. But when the six explorers perceived Ginger Nick, holding a bloody knife in the middle of working on a corpse that was also lying on the table, they had to trade in their innocent illusion for the harsh reality: what was lying on the table were not harmless sheets, but gruesome human skins. Some of the former membrane owners were heaped up in a corner of the cave.
Ginger Nick had become aware of the unwanted presence in his cave and, to start with, he threw his knife at Pinuke, who was still standing in his position of group leader of the group. But Pinuke’s wooden exterior worked in his favour: the knife bounced off. On full alert through the sudden attack, Pinuke, Daniel, Art and Victor stormed towards Ginger Nick. They incapacitated him by wrapping him in several layers of human hulls. Then they threatened him with his own knife, so that he would explain everything.
“Elusia hired me to kill people and skin them for her.” – “But why?” Astrelle interjected. “Because she wants to wear them,” was the hardly believable answer. “Have you not noticed that she is getting bigger every day? That is because she puts on more and more skins. Daniel inquired further into the workings of Elusia’s mind: “Why does she want to wear these skins? Ginger Nick shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. You have to ask her that yourself.” Baffled at Ginger Nick’s uninquisitive nature, they made a move to rejoin Elusia inside the house, taking Ginger Nick along.
Elusia, who had regained consciousness by then, realized that her secret had been discovered and, there being no more need for her to be sweet and charming, she changed her ways completely and showed her true nature, which was cruel and heartless. “Cut me loose or I will kill all of you!” she screamed. She even kicked a rabbit that was innocently hopping past her boots and flung it against the opposite wall, thus revealing her hypocrisy in bunny matters. Victor approached her and analysed her skin. He tried to find a seam by which the empty membranes were held together and, after a while, he indeed discovered one, located underneath her tight ponytail. When lifted up, this ponytail displayed a multitude of stitches and scars on the skull. Victor used Ginger Nick’s knife to cut the threads and, within a mere second, all of Elusia’s false skins came loose and peeled off consecutively. Elusia emitted a long, sharp and terrified scream.
What then was revealed underneath her false skins was hard to behold. The real Elusia was painfully thin and had such bad skin that it made everyone in the room hold their breath for fear of contracting some horrible skin disease. She was covered in pussy pustules and oozing ulcers. Blue veins stood out all over her body, pulsating and throbbing according to her panicking heartbeat. In some areas the outlines of her bones could be perceived. Yellow bilious colourings covered her entire body. Art gasped: “Oh my God! She is suffering from multiple skin diseases!” Elusia, thus exposed, and having no more energy to produce more screams, finally lost all her strength and broke down into bitter tears that soaked the scabs on her cheeks.
After suffering thus for a considerable length of time, she finally put her misery into words: “I was born with multiple skin diseases. Even as a baby no one could bear to look at me. Everyone hated me. I was never hugged by anyone. As a child I always tried to please my mother and be cute and sweet. I only wanted to be accepted and loved. I only wanted better skin.” Everyone, even Astrelle, took pity on Elusia after this heartbreaking discourse. But that had been Elusia’s intention, for, being free of all her layers now, she could easily slip out of her fetters, grab the knife from Victor’s hand and threaten the whole company: “You will not be my downfall! I will wear your skins with the pride of the skillful hunter! G.N.! You will be my first victim because you have proved unworthy of my trust!”
Before Ginger Nick could emit even one syllable, Elusia had rammed the knife into his eye, in order to leave his skin undamaged. He perished instantly. Her next victim was going to be Astrelle, when, suddenly, Elusia came to a halt. Both her eyes popped out and her skin sagged down like that of a cooked tomato, exposing her raw flesh underneath. The next second she fell to the ground without another sound. Art looked at her. “I was going to say! Usually people with multiple skin diseases don’t grow very old because their system is so full of all kinds of infections that they cannot live past the age of twenty-five. How lucky she died at this precise moment!”
After burying Elusia’s and Ginger Nick’s remains in the garden and setting all the rabbits free in a nearby forest, the neighbouring friends had a huge party expanding across the three houses. Elusia’s house was sold the next day and from the money Astrelle bought a new and shiny coach with three nimble but strong young steeds. In their leisure time, the six companions went on many a day or weekend trip to explore their country. And if their are still alive now, they are probably still roaming the country, or perhaps even the whole wide world.