Berit Ellingsen

Poison Ore Heart

For this story you must believe that the mind is imprisoned inside the body, that the body is separate from the rest of the world, and that the mind’s thoughts make up a whole personality. Only then will this story become true.

The world was an epic poem, but became a dirge. We wrung the air and the water and the soil like a rag until everything became too hot and dry. We shared our resources, but only with those who could give something back. The rest had to make do with history. Then the snow came. For a while it reprieved the heat and lack of sweet water, until the stream became a river and the river became a flood. The earth had turned as dry and cracked as our lips and liquefied until the snow buried everyone in white.
     It was then the memory of the poison ore heart came to us, suddenly and in a dream. The heart had fed us with flames until it was so weak it was no longer worth defending, always-halving but never-ending, like an old and dying sun. Reawakened, the heart might chase away the snow and bring enough spring for sowing. We had to do it.

This is where it ends: In a steel hall between reticent, snow-burdened mountains, under a mute sky, snow falling like ashes, and the air so frozen that metal tears the skin off your fingers. The lashing nettle-wind shrieks and tries every door and hollow window frame like a burglar coming at night, clinks across the shard lake on the concrete floor. The red-rusted leylines with the piss-golden insulators curve into the sky and sing of legacies lost, of eternal life squandered.

Rows of people dig a deep, wide hole in the sun-scorched ground. Their clothes are wrinkled with sweat and grime, their eyes hooded with resignation. Projectiles tear holes in their bodies, flings them around like plastic bags in the wind. The diggers pitch into the hole. Behind them, another group of diggers step up to the ragged lip, shovel over the first group, before they too dance like marionettes with cut strings. You fill your mouth with food, but you can only chew once before you spit it out, it tastes too much of ashes.

The heart starts with a shudder and a spark like the first flame, loops in tight, heating circles, Oroboros devouring itself with joy. The heart swells to fire and claws at the sky. The world explodes in heat and pain, like a cry of war or murder, but you run to it instead of away from it, because there is nowhere else to go. The poison ore heart will chase away the ages of softness and surety so far they may never return. But this is not the end, only a beginning.

You and I denote no one and no thing. They are simply chalk marks on the blackboard or letters on the page.

Berit Ellingsen is a Korean-Norwegian fiction writer whose stories have or will appear in SmokeLong, Metazen, decomP, Unstuck, Bluestem and other literary journals. Berit was a semi-finalist in the Rose Metal Press Chapbook Competition and a runner-up in Beate Sigriddaughter’s Ghost Story Competition in 2011. Her chapbook What Girls Really Think was published by Turtleneck Press in February 2012. Berit’s novel, The Empty City, is a story about silence (http://emptycitynovel.com). Find out more at http://beritellingsen.com.


  1. Dark and Darker still
    This dystopian vision
    Painted with truth
    Shaded with night
    Dare we look deeper?

  2. Reticent is a word that sticks with me on this piece. It is chilling how reticent the narrator is in the face of this dark vision.

  3. Thank you very much for the close reading and kind commenting, Yamabuki and Chatton!

  4. Thank goodness that this story is not true, although the words used to tell it are blindingly beautiful. How fine that "you" and "I" are just marks on a page.

  5. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on the story, Chris! :) I appreciate it a lot!

  6. By the way, I should say that while the words are beautiful, the vision is not. Just want to be clear that I'm talking about your way of telling, your choice of words. The vision is horrific, but if everything is just marks on the page, then none of this matters, because there is always another beginning.