Berit Ellingsen

“Tache noire is the dark, red-brown stripe that develops horizontally across the eyes when the eyelids are not closed after death.” – from

The red cabin by the sea used to house a serial killer. The small structure looks just like the one in the middle of your parents’ plot in the communal garden, only this is by the ocean, instead of in a city. Your mother always wanted a summer house at the coast.

The sky is a lid of low, round clouds. Light peeks in only at the western rim, where the sun has vanished behind the sea in a dark, bruise-purple glow. The water reflects these colors in reverse, violet at the edge of sight, oily black where the waves lap silently against the shore, daring not to splash or foam.

The sunken sky, the close-cropped lawn, and the round granite backs on the stone beach below the structure summoned you to this place. The view from the living room resembles that from a building during a class trip in middle school, similar beach, similar sky. A storm covered the small sea side town and the electricity gave out. Your teacher lost control and all the kids flew screaming through the rooms, ran across the tables, kicked the candles, cups and glasses, the cutlery impotent white plastic. The only adult present clutched his head, not knowing who to shout at or seize first.

The next morning they found him, a freckled snippet of a boy, the most proficient of the class in chasing a leather ball around, hence he thought himself a stud. Yet when it really counted, he proved himself a gelding. He lost his father in a drowning accident the previous summer, now he had found the same bucket of water.

“Drowning, it must have been,” the teachers said and averted their eyes from the bloated moon face and the blond bangs that drifted with the surf, passive like a jellyfish. A little later and the tide would have carried him away without a single complaint.

“Just like his father, as above - so below, oh how bad fortune favors the family line,” the grown-ups said, around the kitchen table at home, in the cafeteria at school, in the pews at church, at the bench on the playground.

You just wanted to talk, to ask him what it felt like to be appreciated and admired despite his personal characteristics, but when it was all done you realized there is nothing in the world that tastes so good it can’t be repeated.

From the window in the main room of the cabin you watch the ocean roll onto land. The cold single-layer glass reaches from a foot above the floor to the moisture-stained ceiling. The broad, red-painted sill has only dust and dead flies on display. Beneath your naked feet the carpet feels like very thick and very short hair, moist with salt water or blood mixed with piss, the tufts still stuck to a concave piece of skull. It’s like the rug in your parents’ cabin when they bought the plot. The space even smells the same; rotten cigarette smoke and bodies defeated by circumstances they could not resist any more than a fly can ignore luminance at night or a sick man refrain from pleading his deity for help.

You remember how the victims died here, in neat, moist pieces on the carpet, flailing arms hacked from the torso at the shoulders, kicking legs severed at both angles of the crotch, shrinking genitalia sliced from their hirsute base, shaking head ripped from the neck, bulging eyes pulled from their holes in the skull, gaping jaw cracked off at the hinges like a chicken’s wishbone, preventing the bodies from ever touching or walking or fucking or thinking or seeing again, barring them from the animal comfort they yearn for, no matter how much they scream or wail or beg. Their demands for a happy future transmuted into pure and lonely silence. Now their needs will remain ignored and forgotten, like the prayers to a god that has already ascended. All done with an axe, an axe meant for chopping wood and carrying water, a crescent of red paint down the broad blade to make it seem more of a tool, at the end of smoothly lacquered handle, identical to all the other axes in the store, and not like it had a cracking purpose and a thick, coagulated fate.

In the crucial moments of this house, the world was no one and the rest of humanity receded from view, as if they were ghosts, as if you had already murdered them all and only silence was left. What they would think or say or do when they found out what you had done, didn’t matter at all, only your compressed, grave purpose did. And the best thing with violation is that it never really leaves you, unless you willingly let it do so. Hence, you stand inside the nightly chill, the loathsome dampness of the artificial fibers licking at your feet, the black waves pushing mutely against the stones on the beach. More serial killers, from news footage and TV shows and images online, arrive at the cabin. They flow through the door like rising tide-water, yelling who are you, what are you, and why are you being here?

Nothing is worse than being killed by a killer, by a bad person, by someone evil, you say. It cancels out whatever good you did in life, annuls the honors and the accomplishments. Was a good woman or man? Check. Raised a family that loved and respected each other? Check. Got kids that grew up and managed their own life? Check. Yet this is no protection against violence and injustice in life? Check.

Have you considered the space between the perpetrator and the victim, the causality that strings them together, the blind gravity of chance? you say. Surely, the offended cannot be blamed for the crimes against them. They are pure in thought and word and deed.

On the other hand, is the mass murderer, the serial killer, the evil wrongdoer, a stray vessel, a tree that floats down the river and bumps into barges on the way, empty and causeless, the other hand of the same body, or is the evil person bred and born evil? you say. Does evil give rise to evil? Is god a tree that floats down the river and bumps into barges on the way? Is god immanent or transcendent, and left just one hand clapping?

But no one replies, there is only silence. There is only so much you can think or say or do. There is so much you can think or say or do. You fold at the hips and sink down on the smelly carpet with your head between your knees, while the serial killer moves back into the cabin.

Berit Ellingsen is a Korean-Norwegian writer whose stories have or will appear in SmokeLong Quarterly, elimae, Metazen, decomP, Unstuck and other literary journals. She was a semi-finalist in the Rose Metal Press Chapbook Competition in 2011. Her novel, The Empty City (, is a story about silence. Berit’s short story collection, Beneath the Liquid Skin, will be published by firthFORTH Books at the end of 2012. Find out more at