Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Jean Epstein, French Impressionism, and "In Case We Fall"

Creative Response to Jean Epstein's La Chute de la Maison Usher

“In Case We Fall Too Fast”

            He can’t feel it as his hand falls to the ground. He sees it, watches as his fingers twitch, as the dust flies up around him, but he doesn’t feel the tiny rocks dig into his skin.
            He should probably. He should probably be able to feel that, shouldn't he? Then again, he should probably be concerned that he can’t feel it, but he would need energy to do that and energy is the one thing he doesn’t have right now.
            Swallowing, something thick coats the inside of his mouth. It’s choking him, he realizes. It’s choking him. He’s dying. Oh god. He’s dying, isn’t he?
            The burning cough that tears its way out of his chest a moment later seems to be his answer.
            He can’t die. That’s the only thought that seems to register. He can’t die. If he dies, what’ll happen? Something bad. He knows that. He knows it’ll be bad… He just—He can’t remember what. What’ll happen? Something bad. What will happen?
            Something--bad.
            Curling onto his side, his hand slips in something dark and red and warm. That’s not supposed to be like that. This isn’t supposed to be like this at all.
            He squeezes his eyes shut, feeling something split inside him. There’s something wrong. There’s something—
            His eyes snap open.
            Peter.
            “Pet—“ he coughs. “Peter—“ But the word won’t come out. Instead, blood starts spilling from his mouth and he’s choking. He’s dying. He cannot be dying—
            Everything starts to go dark. It’s fading away. He’s losing it and he'll lose everything and all of his work, all of his struggling…
            Then there are hands on his shoulders. He can feel those. Nothing else, but he can feel the way the hands wrap around the side of his neck, scrabble in search of a pulse. “Jason!” a familiar voice screams, echoes around the space. “Wake up! Get up, Jason!” And Jason wants to turn over and answer that voice. He needs to take the panic away, take the pain away. That’s his job. “Jason!”
            His breath shakes in his chest, entering and exiting with an odd sucking sound that he knows isn't supposed to be there. But he has to do something. Something... So despite the heaviness he can feel weighing him down, despite the exhaustion, his eyes crack open—
            Peter.
            Peter staring down at him. Peter screaming his name, shaking him, demanding he get up. Peter crying, tears burning where they fall on Jason’s forehead.
            And he can’t die. He can’t die. He can’t die.
            “Jason, please. Stay with me. You’re going to be fine—“
            Fine...
            “Please, just stay with me.”
            Jason wants to. God, does he want to. He doesn't want to go like this.
            But then the pain hits.
            And he hears himself scream.
            He can feel the burn spread all the way out to his fingers. He can feel the pain split his chest in two. He can feel the hole in his chest and the heat of the blood that pores out of it.
            But he can’t feel the pebbles digging into the back of his hand. And he can’t feel the hands he knows are wrapped around his chest, trying to keep him from biting his tongue off or breaking his arm or something as he convulses.
            Funny someone thinks that it will matter.
            A tear runs down his cheek. He tries to gulp in air.
            It doesn’t work.
            “I’m—“ He chokes, “—sorry. I’m so sorry.”
            Everything goes black to the sound of a screamed denial.

            The star blinks and disappears. He’s seen it so many times before. So many hundreds of times. Hundreds of times all the same.
            Sighing, he pushes himself to his feet. His knees should hurt, he thinks. His feet should be worn and weathered. His legs should be weak with age and lungs should be gasping for breath they can no longer find.
            But instead, he turns and runs and it’s as easy as it was the first time.
            Crossing the field, he leaps over a root and slips into the line of trees, entering the forest.

            When he wakes up, it’s to the sound of beeping and the feel of a relieved sigh against the back of his hand. “Thank god, you’re awake.”
Though doesn’t know exactly why, he feels a relieved sigh of his own slip from his aching chest. And he’d respond if he could figure out how. His throat feels raw, destroyed, like he swallowed gravel at some point and it glued itself to the inside.
            A hand presses against his forehead. “Water. Right. You probably want water. I’ve seen movies. I know what I’m doing.” Then the hand is gone. A pathetic strained sound pulls its way from Jason’s throat as he tries to respond, a comeback right on the tip of his tongue. He gives up quickly enough though as another sad, really disappointing sound scratches it’s way out.
            He’ll speak later.
            “Here,” the voice offers, and then his head’s being tilted up and water is rushing down his throat. And yes, this is definitely magical water. Magical water that can melt glue because the gravel is gone and this is definitely the best moment of his life.
            And then he peels his eyes open and this is definitely the best moment of his life. Peter is standing there and they're both alive and Jason can breathe again. And that's good. That's what matters. That's all that matters.
A smile pulling at his lips, Jason rasps, “Thanks.”
Peter rolls his eyes and steps away, letting out a sigh. “Jesus, never do that again.” And okay, Jason isn’t really planning on it… Whatever it was. He can’t remember the details. He can't remember what happened, why it happened, why he let it happen. He just remembers pain, and now he’s in a hospital.
That's really all he needs to know.
“Um… What happened?”
There’s a moment of silence during which Jason begins to regret asking. Because the look on Peter’s face is terrible, horrible, so pained and he doesn’t want to be the one responsible for putting it there. “Motorcycle accident.” Peter nods to himself, throat bobbing as he looks away. And Jason tries to push himself up to sit, tries to reach out and make the look go away, but pain shoot through his bandaged chest and he gasps instead. Which causes the look on Peter’s face to just get even worse “We lost you a coupletimes.” And he knows he’s glad he can’t remember any of it, any of the pain and agony he must have felt, the terror. But swallowing, goosebumps breaking out across his skin, he knows Peter doesn’t have that luxury.
Jason nods, just nods because he doesn’t think that there’s really anything else for him to do. Except—“It’s okay,” he whispers. He clears his throat, trying to return normalcy to his voice. “It’s okay. I’m okay now.”
And the relief he can see as Peter looks up at him, the slight upward tilt of lips and half-nod, makes it worth it.

            He slows as he passes the familiar turn in the path.
            The tree that stands on the corner is the oldest as far as he can tell, the strongest. It’s spring now and leaves are just starting to spread from its branches. Though he knows that if comes back here, if he turns and deviates from the path he’s followed for as long as he can remember, the leaves will be falling. It will be dying and will blink out of existence before the star is ever able to.
            As he continues on, he drags his hand across the bark.
            He feels like he should apologize to it, feels that way every time he comes through here. Because he should be stronger. It shouldn’t have to suffer for him.
            But he never actually does it.
            Selfish. So selfish…

            He doesn’t know what to say, what explanations to give to the police when they ask.
Peter tells him everything he knows and pieces of the experience have started to filter back in, snatches of light or color or sound or pain slipping through his mind. But when that happens, he usually doesn’t pursue it. Usually, he does the opposite. He ignores it. He pushes it away because remembering seems like a daunting task.
Like a tragedy waiting to happen.
            So it’s written off as a hit and run, an accident. And that's fine by him. It probably was anyway. Maybe. Possibly. Who knows? Not him. And again, he doesn’t particularly want to.
            Pursing his lips, he pokes at the leg sitting next to him with his toe. “Get me food,” he whispers, putting on his best ghost voice. “Foooooood…”
            Which only awards him with a glare that’s more amused than angry. “Get it yourself.”
            “Can’t. I’m broken, remember?”
            “Ah, I wish that was it. At least then, you could be fixed. “ With a sigh, the body gets up off the couch and starts towards the kitchen. “Unfortunately, there is no way to heal profound laziness.”
            “Hey, I do track. I am not lazy.”
            The snort that echoes back into the living room says more than any number of words possibly could have.

            His feet still fly across the ground, though he knows that by the time he rounds the next corner, his legs will begin to ache and a stitch will begin to spread in his side.
            The quarter mark, he knows. That’s where it always happens.
            ...He’s got time.

            The walls around him are cold. He can practically feel the ice radiating through them and cold-soaking him. Shaking, he reaches out towards the flickering fire, hoping it will do something for the goosebumps spread across his skin. Maybe melt them away.
            “Jase?” He flips around to see Peter, a blanket wrapped tight around his shoulders. “What’s going on?”
            “Nothing,” he answers, crossing his arms over his chest, trying to hide the traitorous rises in his skin. Because he’s fine. He’s not cold. It’s not a problem. It’s all…
            There’s a quiet sigh. “Jase…”
            “It’s nothing, Peter. Go back to bed.” He turns around to look at him, hoping that something in his eyes will stop an argument from occurring. It’s never really worked before, but hey, there’s a first time for everything.
            But no. This will not be the first time. Of course not.
            “Why’s it so cold down here?”
            Silence.
            “Why’re you sitting like that?”
            Jason stays quiet. The darkness sinks in around him, the fire only throwing out a limited amount of light, not enough that he can see into the vanishing corners. But even if it wasn't so dim, was strong and massive and powerful, the light itself even seems cold tonight. It flickers… It flickers too much, too often.
            He shrugs. “Why not?”
            Silence.
            A pop echoes from the fire.
            “Have you heard from Mom and Dad?”
            “No,” Jason answers, maybe too quickly, probably too quickly. Peter will pick up on it, he knows. But the question is whether or not Peter will care enough to keep asking questions about it. He shouldn't. Jason doesn't anymore. They left weeks ago and if they couldn't even find it in themselves to come back when he was dying in the hospital, they aren't going to come back now that the gas has been turned off.
            Feet brush against the ground behind him, a warm blanket dragging against a cold wood floor. A floor that will get much colder in the coming weeks. He needs to do something about that. He needs to fix that. But what little money he has right now is going towards food.
            It's much easier to explain away shut off gas (broken furnace, miscommunication with the company...) than it is to explain why they have to starve.
            “They didn’t have a choice, Jason.”
            Jaw firming, forehead wrinkling, Jason scoffs, “There’s always a choice.” Because after they made theirs, he made his. And so far, it’s worked out just fine.
            The footsteps come to a stop as Peter sinks to the ground next to him, and out of the corner of his eye, Jason can see him wrap his arms around his legs, rest his chin on top of them. It’s a familiar defense, one Jason realizes Peter probably picked up from Jason himself. Whenever he feels alone, whenever he feels like the universe is too big for them, whenever he feels like they really are nothing.
            Crackling slips through the air, and Jason feels himself flinch. It’s much too close to the sound of gunfire, the pop a step away from the boom of a grenade.
            He knows Peter is going to speak probably before Peter even knows it. The sudden, quiet intake of breath, the pause in his repetitive, too constant blinking… “I have to wonder sometimes,” he says. Just that. And even though Jason cab predict when he's going to speak, he can never predict what he's going to say.
            So he asks. “What?”
            He feels ice inch across the tips of his fingers, starting across the back of his hand. And he knows that it will only continue to spread.
            There’s no heat left in the fire.
            “Our lives,” Peter sighs, gaze falling to the ground. “I have to wonder if it’s worth it sometimes.”
            Jason doesn’t agree, isn’t sure if he wants to. Because some part of him says that he knows the answer. He’s supposed to know whether it’s worth it or not.
            The fire flickers out and they’re left sitting in the cold darkness.

            He hates the silence. And in this part of the woods, it’s everywhere, everything.
            Including him.

            The knock on the door shocks him out of his head, pushes him to stand up and go to the door. It’s light out, but the sky is gray, dismal. Going to snow, probably. That will do wonders for their already broken roof.
            With a sigh, he pulls the door open—
            And freezes.
            There are two men in a uniform standing on their doorstep. Men in familiar uniforms he realizes with startling clarity aren’t policemen. They're wearing red and blue, some faux attempt at patriotism. “Son, we’re here to collect.”
            He blinks.
            Swallows.
            Opens his mouth to say something—no words come out.
            “Just let us in, kid. It’s that easy.”
            He blinks.
            “That easy,” Jason repeats, tongue numb in his mouth as the words stumble out, trip over themselves to escape. Because easy isn't a word he understands, especially not where these people are concerned.
            The put upon sigh reminds him why that is. "We warned you we'd be back. This is your last chance, Jason. You let us in. We take you and your brother clean and simple. Otherwise... Well... You know the otherwise, got a glimpse of it the last time."
            The last time.
            There was a last time?
            He blinks.
            “Come with us and you can join your parents.”
            Jason freezes, gaze darting up to their faces. That’s why. That’s why. He made his choice and his choice wasn’t them. That’s why he knows. That’s why—
            The door slams in their faces as he falls to the ground. He hears them yell his name, start to pound on the wood an he knows that it won’t be long before they break through, come in and drag him out of the house.
            They’ll do the same to Peter.
            None of that can happen.
            That was his choice.
            Jason…
            He rips his gun out of his waistband and flipping around, he fires two shots.
            Two shots straight through the wood of the door.

            Everything gets really quiet after that.

            With every step, it gets harder to breathe. The pain in his side feels like someone is stabbing him up and under the ribs, right next to the heart. And under any other circumstances, he would stop. He would slow down and let the stitch work itself out.
            But he can’t here.
            His legs are starting to turn. Jell-O would be more useful.
            But he can’t stop.
            Halfway there…

He knows.
            He knows what happened and he knows why.
            Oh god… This wasn’t supposed to happen. He wasn’t supposed to remember.
            But he does.
            He knows what they did.
            And he knows what he did.
            And he knows why he almost died.
            He said no. They tried to kill him. Motorcycle accident. Hit and run. Hit and run and run and run…
            Peter doesn’t. Peter doesn’t know which is kind of what matters right now. Despite the strange looks he gets as he orders the kid to pack his stuff and get in the car. The looks he gets as they drive and drive and drive and then stop in the most run down, decrepit looking motel he can find.
            Peter never asks.
            And that’s good. That’s… that’s easier.

            They’re driving again. The road is cracked and broken beneath them, potholes trying to swallow their tires whole. There used to be fields on either side of this highway, he remembers distantly. From the family road trips they used to take. There were fields of corn and boringness stretching on for miles and miles.
            Now there are the remnants of a battlefield.
            Decaying bodies can still be seen strewn across the ground. The wheat is gone, replaced with dust and ash and chunks of dried blood.
            Jason wishes he could say that this is a novelty, something hardly ever seen in these parts. But in reality, that’s all there is anymore. War. Death. Pain. And it’s everywhere he looks, everywhere they can see.
            Dead bodies.
            Destroyed fields.
            Darkness.
            And gray ash eating up what was once dirt.
            But then, out of what once was dirt grew what was once a field of corn. And what was once a field of corn ran next to what was once a highway. And what was once a highway used to carry what were once hundreds of millions of cars. And in what were once hundreds of millions of cars were at one time, hundreds of millions of families.
            Turning his head, his eyes fix on Peter, asleep in the passenger seat.
            Too young to drive on this road, Jason thinks. But even as he does, he isn’t sure whether he’s referring to his brother or to himself.

            Peter sinks down on the edge of the bed. He’s perceptive, always has been. So he knows.
            Jason doesn’t know why he thought he could avoid that conversation forever.
            Of course Peter figured out that if they came for their parents, they’d be coming for them soon enough. An army needs soldiers. And what better soldiers than those completely and totally under your power?
            Peter’s breath shakes, but his eyes still meet Jason’s. Which Jason thinks is pretty impressive for a thirteen year old.  “If you don’t let them take your soul… they’ll kill you,” he says. It’s quiet, almost like he thinks that by saying it, men will appear out of the dark to murder them. Like a twisted spell. Dark magic.
            “Only if you piss them off. Otherwise they'll keep trying to recruit you.”
            Peter nods, head bobbing like he’s trying to process information that refuses to break down. “We gotta go with them, Jason. When they come.” That's what Peter thinks. When they come, they'll go and it'll be okay. They may not have their souls anymore, they may be lost to the world, to each other, but they'll be fulfilling their purpose. They'll make their mark on the Great War. Peter looks up then. “We don’t have a choice.”
            “There’s always a choice,” Jason shoots back before he even has time to think about it, an automatic response.
            A response almost too automatic.

            He hates this part. He hates it so much, so much that he can’t put it into words.
            This is where the forest gets dark. The trees hang and creep and sway over him. Their branches have gone mangled, twisted like those in that Disney Snow White movie from so long ago.
            The ground turns uneven, rocky, broken.
            It won’t be long now.
            And even as his lungs feel like they’re about to explode, a strangled sob tears its way out of his chest.

            “What did you do?” the voice shouts and Jason knows he has to answer honestly. If he doesn’t, there’ll be no coming back from it.
            “What I had to.” And that’s true. That’s as true as it gets.
            The car lurches as a foot kicks out against the tire and Jason knows that that has to hurt. It’s not like Peter has steel-toed boots on or anything. Just normal, regular tennis shoes that are not meant to kick large metal objects. “That’s not good enough, Jason. Try again.” Silence. Jason says nothing. Because he can’t. He physically can’t.
            Peter takes a step back, and his voice shakes as he says, “Did you kill them?”
            Jason can’t answer that one either.
            But that seems to be answer enough. “Jesus—I told you to leave it alone! What is wrong with you?”
            “I couldn’t let them. I can’t go with them. I can’t be like Mom and Dad.”
            “Jesus…” Peter turns away, gaze traveling up the abandoned road they’ve pulled over on. Like he wants to follow it. Like he wants to take off and leave all of this behind.
            Jason can’t really blame him.

            “I’m sorry.” It’s all Jason can offer, standing in the doorway of another motel. The motel they got to after he all but shoved Peter into the car. “I just… I had to stop it.” And he couldn't leave Peter there on the road. Whether Peter wanted to stay on that road or not, whether he wanted to walk to the nearest army base and give himself up or not. Jason couldn't let him do that.
            Peter looks up at him and Jason is hit with how terrible he looks, face and eyes turned dark red, twisted lines across his face from where he was resting on the crinkled up sheets. “You’re an idiot.”
            “I know.” Because it’s true and if it makes Peter feel better, then he’ll take any insults thrown at him.
            “You shouldn’t have done it.”
            “Okay.” He won’t agree with that one. He’ll respect the fact that Peter seems to think that he shouldn’t have, but he won’t say that it was wrong. Because it wasn’t. He wasn't going to sacrifice their souls, not like their parents did. Their parents who gave up and left them alone in order to fight in some war that will never end.
            He can never be like that.
He hears Peter sigh, something longing and empty in that sound alone. “What’s going to happen?” he asks and Jason looks to see arms pulling tight around a too thin frame, around spindly legs.
Soul or no soul, Peter would never survive war.
So Jason sighs, forces a smile, and ruffles his hair. “Nothing. Nothing’s going to happen.”
That doesn't seem to make him feel any better. In fact, Peter's chin drops further into his chest.
            “You know we’re not going to die, right?” Jason offers, trying to infect his words with as much belief as he can. Because maybe if he can get Peter to believe that, then Peter will understand that this is right. They won't die which means they'll be free, their souls will be free and they'll be okay.
            “You can’t promise that,” he’s told and he supposes that’s fair. There’s an end out there for everyone. But it hurts that his brother can see that. Especially when he spends all this time trying to keep that end away from them.
            “Well if I did, who’d look after you?” That’s what he says. He doesn't even bother to say, if we did, because that's the one thing they won't do together. It'll be him or no one. That's the way it will work.
            So he says it. But he’s thinking, if I did, I’d lose you.
And the selfishness of that thought makes him turn away.
           
            It’s coming. He can see it. He can see the light slip through the trees ahead, the clean-cut green grass through the mangled, gnarled branches.
            But he’s not there. He’s too far away.
            And the branches are scratching at him, vines reaching for his throat, his wrists.
            And he wonders again whether he’ll actually make it out alive.
           
            The scream he hears isn’t human. It’s strangled and torn and desperate and broken.
            And more than anything, he regrets listening when Peter had begged him to pull the car over. He regrets allowing Peter to leap from the car, to throw himself into the field of death and blood. And he regrets following him. Because if he hadn't done any of those things, then maybe it would have turned out different in the end.
            It doesn't for Peter to come to a stop, to freeze in the middle of the graveyard.
            And with the grayish-yellow sky as his backdrop, it didn't take him long to sink to his knees with a strangled scream.
            So now Jason wraps his arms around his brother’s chest, dragging him back to the car and away from the one thing he never should have had to have seen. Limbs are flailing and the screams are raw enough that Peter probably won't be able to speak again for years. Hot tears beat at his forearm, a too strong, too determined body lunges against him. He has to get him out of here. He has to because not only is he loud enough to bring every soldier in a twenty mile radius to their location, there's a desperation, a destruction spreading across Peter's face that Jason never wanted to see, Jason never even knew could exist in another human being.
           How he knew they were there, Jason would like to ask. But he doesn’t. Because he fears that Peter will tell him that he looks. That he’s been watching this whole time for someone they knew to appear among the dead.
            Because there are their parents.
            Dead.
            Lost.
            Gone.
            Just two of the thousands.
            It takes what seems like hours for him to get his brother into the car.
            And as hours later, Peter goes quiet, terrifyingly so. All tears cut off. All sound fades. And Jason has to check every now and then just to make sure he's still breathing.
            Jason wishes he could figure out how to tell him. Figure out how to tell him that they lost their parents the day they gave their souls away, that in reality, their bodies had been the only parts of them that were left.
            But he stays quiet as the car lurches beneath them.

            The motel they’re sitting in is about as dirty, dingy as they come. The wallpaper is stained, bathroom tiles moldy, ceiling so full of water spots, he isn’t sure what the actual color is anymore. “We haven’t seen any for awhile. I figure we’ve lost them,” Jason offers. He wants it to help, wants it to make things better.
            But Peter doesn’t even blink. He’s been staring with that same empty blankness in his eyes since he went quiet in the car.
            That was twenty-four hours ago.
            “We beat them, Peter. We’re awesome.”
            Nothing.
            Jason’s arms fall against his sides, the sound too loud. Too loud for a room silent all except for the clanking of the radiator.
            He lets out a sigh, coming to sit on the end of one of the beds. Peter sits on the floor with his back against the footboard, sits on the green floor that was probably, at one time, tan.
            “We’re gonna be okay,” Jason tries. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you. I wouldn’t. You know that right?”
            Silence.
            The radiator clicks. The faucet drips.
            “They’re not going to kill us.”
            That doesn’t get a response either.
            Swallowing, Jason forces his way to his feet, heading for the bathroom to get ready for bed.
“Maybe it would be better if they did.”
It’s said so quietly Jason barely hears it. But as it processes, he turns around, gaze locking onto the still figure on the ground.
“What’d you say?” Because he couldn’t have heard right. He couldn’t have. Because Peter knows. He has to know why. He wouldn’t say something like that because he knows it wouldn’t be true. He knows…
But Peter stays silent.
And Jason has to wonder whether he really heard anything at all.

He slips to his knees in the middle of the clearing, gaze shifting up towards the sky. The stars are scattered, large spaces of emptiness between them and as he watches, one flickers. Preparation. Like dimming will make it more bearable when it too blinks out.
Swallowing, he knows he should get up. There’s no point watching the end he knows is coming. He’s seen it so many times before, but…
He’ll just… he’ll just rest for a moment.
And then he’ll go again…

He’ll run again.
Every time.

He doesn’t really have another choice.

...And even if he did, he knows he wouldn’t take it.

            It’s always that one mistake… That one screw up that destroys your life and those of everyone around you.
            Sloppy. It was sloppy and a stupid mistake and now he’s being forced into the center of a ring, men standing around him, above him. A guard has his arms wrapped around Peter’s chest and not for the first time, Jason finds himself thinking that his brother was never cut out for any of this. His brother never wanted this, never understood.
The tear tracks on his cheeks flash silver under the industrial lights.
            He wants to say something, something to make this better. There has to be something. He can buy time for them. Maybe someone will come by. Maybe the other army will attack and free them. He needs time. He needs—
            His mouth opens—
            The gun goes off.
            And his knees hit the ground.
            He hears Peter’s scream echo around the abandoned warehouse, sees him lunge against the arms around his chest. But Jason can’t move. He can’t do anything as his body tips to the side and his hand falls against a rocky ground.
            Fingers twitching, dust flying up around him, he can’t feel the rocks that should be digging into the back of his hand. He can’t feel—
            Swallowing, something thick coats the inside of his mouth. It’s choking him, he realizes. It’s choking him. He’s dying. Oh god. He’s dying, isn’t he?
            He can’t die. That’s the only thought that seems to register. He can’t die. If he dies, what’ll happen? Something bad. He knows that. He knows it’ll be bad… He just—He can’t remember what. What’ll happen? Something bad. What will happen?
            Something bad.
            His eyes snap open.
            Peter.
            “Pet—“ he coughs. “Peter—“ But the word won’t come out. Instead, blood starts spilling from his mouth and he’s choking. He’s dying. He cannot be dying—
            Everything starts to go dark. It’s fading away. He’s losing it and if he loses it…
            Then there are hands on his shoulders. He can feel those. Nothing else, but he can feel the way the hands wrap around the side of his neck, scrabble in search of a pulse. “Jason!” a familiar voice screams, echoes around the space. “Wake up! Get up, Jason!” And Jason wants to turn over and answer that voice. He needs to take the panic away, take the pain away. That’s his job. “Jason!”
            Peter. It has to be him. It’s him, right?
            Breath shaking in his chest, Jason knows he has to do something. So despite the heaviness he can feel weighing him down, the exhaustion, his eyes crack open—
            "Just stay with me, Jason." And Jason will. He needs to. He won't leave him here-
            It’s him. It’s—
            But then he turns his head and he freezes.
            There, across the room.
            There’s a body.
            A still body.
            A body too still to still be alive.
            A body not breathing.
            A man in a uniform turns the body over but Jason already knows. He already knows.
            It’s Peter.
            The person grabbing at him, trying to force him to stay isn’t. They aren’t Peter.
            They were never Peter.
            Peter is dead. His brother is dead.
            Then he hears himself scream.
            He can feel the burn spread all the way out to his fingers. He can feel the pain split his chest in two. He can feel the hole in his chest and the heat of the blood that pores out of it. The hole in his chest and the pain in his body and the ache all through him that is far deeper than the physical.
            But he can’t feel the pebbles digging into the back of his hand. And he can’t feel the hands he knows are wrapped around his chest, trying to keep him from biting his tongue off or breaking his arm or something as he convulses.
            Funny someone thinks it matters.
            “I’m sorry,” he tries to say, needs to say. Because there’s an empty, broken body over there that was never supposed to look like that. Broken, empty. All life lost. The only life he needed to save. “God, I’m so sorry.” And as the image of a dying tree flashes through his mind, he knows he’s never meant anything more in his entire life.
            Selfish. So selfish.
            A tear runs down his cheek. He tries to gulp in air.
            Around him echoes the sound of a screamed denial.
            Who's scream?
And when everything goes black, he welcomes it.

            “It’s said that time stretches as you die. What’s really only seconds can feel like years as you take your last breath.
             "Some say you relive your entire life… But if that’s true, how do we know that we’re not reliving our life right now? How do we know that in reality, we’re not actually six seconds away from being dead?
             "If we are, what happens when we die here, in this reality? In our minds or wherever we are? Won’t we just relive our life again in our last six seconds? And then in our last six seconds in that life, won’t we relive our life?
            "Won't it be a never ending loop?
            “Maybe that’s what they mean by fate...”

            When he wakes up, it’s to the sound of beeping and the feel of a relieved sigh against the back of his hand. “Thank god you’re awake.”
            And though he doesn’t know why, he feels a relieved sigh of his own slip from his aching chest.

Research and Explanations

French Impressionism

With its roots in the early twentieth century, the French Impressionist movement has become one of the defining movements of early cinema. Initially beginning in art and painting, the themes of this movement easily shifted into film, a medium becoming more and more popular as technology developed. It is a movement that spread quickly, widely. Though France is largely regarded as the epicenter, all over the world filmmakers were, either consciously or not, using techniques that sprung up within this movement to further their stories and their characters.
Despite this, French Impressionism is a rather loosely defined movement. Historians argue as to the exact characteristics, as to what actually makes a film part of impressionism. Some argue still whether it should actually be characterized as a movement, whether there are enough identifying aspects of it to establish it as separate from the films that came before and the films that came after. Part of this is that many of the films made today follow in the same vein of French Impressionism, taking aspects of the movement in order to create something new.
French Impressionism is defined largely in terms of the content of the film itself. This movement was focused on humanity, on the feelings and thoughts of people, on the internal reactions one has rather than the external circumstances. Filmmakers in this era attempted to dive into the minds of the characters and relay their experiences to the audience. They take the emotion of the characters and attempt to make the viewer feel that as well. It becomes an attempt to access the empathy within the audience, to force sympathy. As a result, creating art of this type is a psychological exercise. It’s a search for the patterns, characteristics, events that will trigger certain desired emotions.
Often times, these emotions were accessed subconsciously. In a sad scene, the director would have it be raining, matching the tears on the character’s face. In another instance, the director would use dark, hard lighting in order to reflect the inner turmoil of that character, maybe even to reflect their disturbing nature. Even further, the idea of shooting from a character’s point of view was established during this movement and used frequently. In addition, directors began to develop “optical tricks.” These were things such as strange twisting camera movements, overlays, transitions, and other “special effects” that work to relay odd human experiences, often times being drunk, drugged, having a lucid dream, or even just out of body experiences.
 This area of the movement was based around “subjectivity.” As much as possible, the director wanted the outside world, what the audience was seeing on screen to be representative of the internal state of the protagonist. To do this, they would ask themselves questions such as If I were falling into a state of depression, what would the world look like to me? What does depression look like? or What does loss look like? or even What does joy look like? In this way, it was about creating emotion and having that emotion understood even if the character never said anything, never did anything, just sat there and allowed the emotion to move from them to the audience.
However, this conveyance of emotion was sometimes done very explicitly as well. Dream sequences and flashbacks were common during this time. The story would actually go into the mind of the character to reveal parts of the story, of their mental state. Symbols were another common thread in this area of filmmaking. Instead of explicitly stating how a character felt, directors often attempted to make parallels in order to make the emotion more understandable, accessible to the audience. For example, a wilting flower will be used to represent the character’s sense of helplessness, their perceived weakness.
In addition, one of the other common characteristics of films in this movement is found in unreality. Films in this vein do not focus on the reality we know. They do not exist within the world as we see it. This is because, as is said, the movement explores the perception of reality rather than reality itself. One person’s view of reality is not the same as another person’s. An individuals thoughts, dreams, past experiences all act as filters through which all information is processed, coloring and emphasizing certain aspects of life whilst twisting and warping others. As a result, these films tend to be unsettling. They create a world similar to our own yet so vastly different, we find ourselves lost. If done correctly, the goal of these films is to move one person from their reality into the reality of another. The result of which is a loss of intellectual understanding, of intellectual access to the world of the film. Instead, the audience is left with fleeting impressions of emotions and thoughts and through those, the audience is meant to search for the deeper understanding that “can only be reached for.” It is theorized though, that by reaching for it, the viewer may find his or her own reality.
As a result, the French Impressionist movement was largely centered around the internal, the things only thought but never actually seen. It was about conveying the human experience as clearly and fully to an audience as possible, emphasizing the subjectivity of reality while at the same time, focusing on the unity found in emotion.

The creative piece I have written attempts to build on the themes of Jean Epstein’s La Chute de la Maison Usher, one of the identifying films of the impressionist movement.

In Case We Fall Too Fast: Impressionism and Epstein

My creative piece, titled “In Case We Fall Too Fast,” at first seems to center on a society in which people sacrifice their souls to the higher powers when they turn eighteen. Within this universe, Jason, the protagonist, must figure out how to keep his and his brother’s souls in tact. However, in doing so, he may find that he loses his soul a different way. This story builds on the themes of the French Impressionism movement, focusing specifically on those explored within Epstein’s La Chute de la Maison Usher in order to reach the emotional transference lauded during this artistic era.
The clearest connection between these films and my creative piece should be visible in the writing itself. Much of the writing focuses on the thoughts of the characters and how they relate to the external world. The story is told through a third-person limited perspective, similar to the perspective seen in an impressionistic film. We see the external world but at the same time, are seeing it as a particular character does. Therefore, it becomes about that character’s relationship to reality and their individual perspective of that reality, as was the focus of impressionism.
In addition, the story cuts in between what we perceive to be reality and some place else, some place more symbolic and spiritual. There, Jason runs in a never-ending loop, a separate manifestation of the loop Jason keeps following in life. This symbolic situation relates back to the impressionist idea of internal conflict exhibited by the external.
However, this also ties into another theme of impressionism. In one reality, Jason is aware of the loop, knows that he keeps running the same path over and over again. The other Jason, the one that appears to exist in actual reality, doesn’t seem to know any such thing. As a result, we are left with a question of who drives the loop in the first place? Is Jason unable to stop running because the other Jason keeps reliving his life? Or is the other Jason unable to stop reliving his life because the first Jason keeps running? The obscurity of what is actually reality and what is fantasy emphasizes another impressionistic concept. As reality is so subjective, it is quite possible that what one sees as reality is the exact opposite of what another sees. In this case, what one person thinks to be the real Jason might be different than what another thinks. Impressionists strove to redefine reality within the confines of human psychology. By twisting the idea of reality, I attempt to do the same.
Within La Chute de la Maison Usher, much of the emotion, the induction of the audience into a new reality, occur in moments of emptiness. Particularly at the beginning of the film, there is very little to fill the frames, both in terms of action and in terms of set decoration itself. The house is more or less barren, only a few objects of furniture scattered here and there. The walls are cold, dark stone, and as a result, even though the film is silent, the audience can practically hear the lonely echo of the characters’ voices. From that, time in this film seems stretched or even lost. At certain points, it is difficult to tell whether it is the same night or a night a week later. At other points, it seems like so much happens, so many twists in the story itself, that it could not possibly have happened in just one night. At other times, it seems as if an event being shown should have ended minutes ago, yet the scene goes on.
I attempted to recreate this sensation in my own work during the moments in which the characters do little more than just sit and talk, narration focusing on the quality of their surroundings. In doing so, not only do I attempt to enhance the sense of oppression that Jason feels from his guilt. In addition, I attempt to write in such a way that time seems to progress naturally. By emphasizing characteristics of a moment such as the silence, I hope to create a sense of the speed at which things are occurring, showing each moment as it happens instead of jumping those that are not necessarily important.
One of the central themes in La Chute de la Maison Usher is that of life and death. It largely focused on the affects of death on the individual, what happens to someone when they die, what happens to their spirit, their soul. In La Chute de la Maison Usher, Madeleine, Usher’s wife, has her soul more or less taken from her. As a result, she becomes weaker and weaker until eventually, she collapses and is declared dead. However, Usher asks that they leave her unburied as he refuses to believe that she is dead, feels that a part of her is still alive. It focuses on the suspension between life and death, the possibility that there is a space between within which a person has their own experience.
In “In Case We Fall Too Fast,” the entire piece is centered around the relationship between life and death. As a person dies, what do they see? What do they feel? What lies after? The recount of Jason’s experience with death is his subjective reality. It’s the portrayal of a concept all are familiar with through the perspective of someone actually experiencing it.
The next theme I attempted to focus on was that of the selfishness of human nature. Though not necessarily a characteristic of the impressionist movement by itself, this was a prominent aspect of La Chute de la Maison Usher. The main character’s drive to finish his painting makes him blind to the suffering of his wife, something that ultimately results in her “death.” His obsession, his drive ruins the life of the woman he claimed to love.
Within “In Case We Fall Too Fast,” every time Jason reaches the end of his life, he finds himself relieved when he gets to go back and do it over again. This way, he thinks that he will never actually lose his brother. He will get to see him everyday for the rest of eternity. However, at the same time, he is haunted by a feeling of selfishness. He feels extreme guilt at his relief as every time he comes back to the beginning, he watches his brother suffer and die. It’s a perpetual time loop of pain, one both he and an image of his brother are trapped in, but it’s one he’s happy to be trapped in as this way, he doesn’t have to move on to a place where he may never see Peter again. As a result, he finds himself relieved that his brother is suffering. As long as they’re together, he thinks it’s better than the alternative. His selfishness, much like Usher’s, leads to the suffering of someone he cares about and also like Usher, that suffering isn’t enough to make him stop.
Lastly, the creative piece strives to force the audience to think about their own relationship with the world and with life itself. As was a common idea in the impressionistic era, it was hoped that another person’s subjective reality would push audiences to look for truth in their own realities. Through the eyes of Jason, this story questions what our own connection is to life, whether there is any reality at all, let alone an objective one.
Loosely based on the Edgar Allen Poe story “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar as La Chute de la Maison Usher was based on “The Fall of the House of Usher, “In Case We Fall Too Fast attempts to borrow many of the techniques of the French Impressionism movement in order to reach its emotional climax. In doing so, the thought is that the piece will force the audience to revaluate their outlook on life, their own perspective on the events occurring around them. As a result, as was a common desire of films of this movement, it is hoped that the audience will find some aspect of truth in their own reality and will be able to find some form of emotional understanding with the non-reality of the story through that.

Bibliography

Srinivasan, Srikanth. "French Impressionism." The Hindu. The Hindu, 26 Oct 2012. Web. 1 Oct 2013. <http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/chen-columns/french-impressionism/article2801136.ece>.

Barreiro, Solina M. "Epstein's The Fall of the House of Usher: research on altered states of consciousness." Literature-Film Quarterly 41.3 (2013): 197. Academic OneFile. Web. 28 Sep 2013. <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE|A339018764&v=2.1&u=lom_interlcfa&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&asid=7f98f70a01abe1406824b024ecedfcb0>.

Williams, Alan Larson. Republic of Images: A History of French Filmmaking. United States of America: President & Fellows of Harvard College, 1992. 122-125. eBook.


             "The Fall of the House of Usher, 1928." San Francisco Silent Film Festival. San Francisco Silent Film Festival, n.d. Web. 30 Sep 2013. <http://www.silentfilm.org/pages/detail/2274>.

              Aragon, Gabriel. "Column: Adaptation | Edgar Allen Poe and The Fall of the House of Usher." Flambagem. Buckling: Movies, Games, and Comic Series, 07 May 2012. Web. 29 Sep 2013.
<http://flambagem.com/Colunas/coluna-adaptacao-edgar-allan-poe-e-a-queda-da-casa-de-usher/>.


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