Nula: Butterflies Rise is a decision-making game that explores the experience of living with anxiety.
Inspired by puzzle adventure games of the early 90s like Myst, the surreal comedy of Flann O'Brien, and the author's experience of living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Nula creates an immersive textual experience, an insight into the daily struggle anxiety can be.
Algenon Takes the Low Road
Algenon Overling is a freelance correspondent based in Chalfont St. Giles. A self-styled ‘subcultural chameleon’, Algenon infiltrates various communities seeking authentic experiences in an attempt to capture the essence of their lifestyles and prove that ‘despite socio-economic disparities, we have more in common than that which divides us.’
Monday, 17 September
‘There yar, pal’, the man said as he took my Scotch tender, twisting his forearm to reveal a tapestry of faded Glasgow Rangers tattoos. He was clearly ‘the real McCoy’, and I found myself reciting some of the ‘jock’ patter I had prepared before the trip.
‘Ah yes, the Ibrox Stadium’, I said, ‘Marvelous. And how’s your chairman doing, Mr. King?’
The man said nothing and continued down the carriage, ‘Teckets please!’
He didn’t mean to be rude of course, that’s merely their manner. He wasn’t to know that unlike so many of my contemporaries, I had committed to absorbing as much culture as possible during my travels, and that, with God as my witness, I would soon be one with the sensibilities of ‘The Scots Fowk’. It would be another 30 minutes before we reached Adrossan and I chewed on a piece of tablet (a kind of dry fudge they eat), wondering how I could unlock the affections of this beguiling people.
‘Alight heyar far the Arran Ferreh’ said the tannoy, and I hurriedly stuffed the last of the sweets into my sporran, snatched my bag and got off.
Here I was at long last, Adrossan, a small town on the North Ayreshire Coast, on the shore of the Firth of Clyde. The weather was dismal in the full, lathering the landscape with a brume of delicate grey. A passing throng of gilet wearing old ladies were talking aches and sticky buns and without thinking I followed them, sure that they would lead me to a local treasure.
Sure enough, after a short walk, we were at Taylor's, a nondescript coffee shop which positively ached with Celtic authenticity.
‘Wh c’na do ya fer?’ Said a woman as I entered, her ruddy face primed like a bag full of barely restrained fists. ‘Oh err, Eym looking far a bet of horn and spune, lassie.’
‘Eh?’ said she.
‘It’s what you call food and ‘drenk’, if I’m not mistaken?’
She shrugged her shoulders and said nothing.
‘Oh aye, you, errr ‘dinnae ken’ how much I’ve been after some horn and spune ...lassie.’’
The last ‘lassie’ left a bit of a smell, so I ordered a coffee and repeated the word in my mind confusedly as she cranked at the machine.
I was on the train again and we were now within 15 minutes of Glasgow. I was disappointed with my experience in Adrossan, despite my abortive efforts to connect with the locals, I felt no closer to ‘The Auld Enemy’. In my dejection, the urban grandeur of Glasgow and its tenements seemed a welcome retreat, but I wouldn’t give up just yet.
For a moment I lapsed into Englishness as I said to a burly fellow sat opposite, ‘I say, sorry to interrupt your hawking and knuckle-cracking, but I’m looking for a slice of vintage Scotland. The best, the ‘Top of the Scots’ if you like. I want this ‘is-ness’ of this nation. Now where should I go to find that, my good man?’
He kept my gaze as I laid the train map on the table in front of him. Without looking he slammed his finger on the next stop.
‘Ye’ll have an experience there.’ he said. ‘Now pess off.’
I thanked him profusely, ‘I shan’t forget this act of kindness, old cock, but I must know your name.’
‘John the Bastard’ came the reply. What a dry sarcastic fellow!
Perhaps we were beginning to intercourse socially ...
‘And why on earth do they call you that, John?’ I gushed, patting him jovially on the shoulder.
He swatted my hand away. ‘Because I’m a bastard’, he replied mirthlessly, eyeing my windpipe.
I alighted at the stop John suggested and found a residential area. The roads were dimly lit and neo-brutalist structures towered. Though even under these vast totems of architectural economy, the wind seemed to whisper visions of ancient woad-bedaubed faces, and the antagonistic wagging of genitalia. I walked along some anonymous streets for half an hour or so, before spotting a little park in the middle of a housing estate.
I approached a small concrete football pitch and in the centre circle, a group of young boys, no older than 14 were crouched around a plastic bag sniggering. They seemed likely lads, and I approached with all the highland chutzpah I could muster: ‘Hullo! Whit like are ye?’ (how are you), I asked. I stuck out a hand toward the biggest of the four, ‘Whit’s yer name?’ I said. He left me hanging, but out came a grunt: ‘Bryce’.
I pointed to the plastic bag he was holding, ‘Is that a local delicacy?’
They said indeed it was. ‘Marvelous’ said I, we were getting somewhere!
They started to turn back, and, conscious that I was losing them I engaged them again, ‘Er, sorry to interrupt, but I'm new in town and so wondered if in the spirit of guest-friendship, I might join you, and partake in...whatever it is that you’re doing?’ There was a pause. They conducted a wordless conversation.
‘Aye’ said Bryce, finally, and the bag was plonked in my outstretched hands, ‘all yoo-urs’.
‘What do I do, chaps?’ I said.
‘Ye sneff et’ said one of them.
‘A local rite!’ I thought, ‘an authentic experience!’ With butterflies in my belly, I clasped the bag in a funnel to my nose and breathed deep, as they had done.
And then another.
After a third, my brain rattled and clear high note rang like the point of a tuning fork had been pressed atop my skull.
Things became ...odd.
Within seconds I was lost in an inner cinema of abstract images and the shunt of discordant sound.
L O A F O F B R O W N B R E A D
F L O P P I N G F L A N K S I N E W
I was laughing, like a maniac. Like a dog in a dream, I pedalled in the air, searching for ground level.
S L O P B U C K E T
W E T K I S S
C A K E W A L K
I thought I felt my kilt being lifted, and the prick of icy air on my exposed goolies. There was some laughter from my new friends.
“Et’s leyk a tooth peck or a wee wurrum”, said a voice.
‘‘I’ve nae seen a buzz leyk that from baggin' before’ said another.
‘Bagging?’ I asked, in no particular direction.
Wild, untamed imagery continued to assault me, stark and untempered, my mind’s self-protective limits obliterated. I longed for comfort and familiarity and spasmed now like an overcurious fish, flapping and slapping desperately for life upon the shore.
A R C H I B A L D L E A C H
G I G A N T E S I A
G R A V Y B O A T
‘Focus Alge’, I told myself, ‘get it together, don’t let your mind …’
B O T C H E D E U L O G Y
O R B I T A L B O N E
T H U N D E R S M U T
I recited my times tables, desperate to prove that my faculties were intact, I could only remember half of Henry VIII’s wives, ‘In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man as ...as …’
C O B B L E D D R I V E
B A S S O O N S O L O
B O U L E S R E L A T E D I N J U R Y
But the no words came. Nothing. Suddenly incensed, I moved towards the blurry, bleeding shape of the boys, ‘Bryce!’ I screamed, ‘you...you little yobbo! What have you done to me?’ I was hurling punches. ‘You’ve fucked it, you’ve fucked it all you little shit!’ Bryce must have been in a few fights in his time as he was able to casually dodge my haymaking swings.
Finally, they grabbed me and held me down, ‘Calm doon, man. Stop stressin’, Bryce said. Then ...oblivion.
I woke up, unsure of how much time had passed since I ‘bagged’. Morning was now approaching so it must have been some hours. My possessions were strewn around me, but intact, though the chaps were nowhere to be seen.
There was a strange band of white on the horizon and with a chuckle, I realised it was a licked Rizla stuck upon my forehead. Rousing myself with a slap to the chops I brought the world into focus. Written upon the note in a thick, vandalous hand was a short message:
EASY BIG MAN. FUNNY AS FUCK
I took in the words as I picked up my things, and thought of all that had happened since I came northward. What on earth had happened? And then I was upright, and though I wasn’t able to walk without listing to the left, I was now moving, and the wind was blowing in my hair, and a plaintive, forgiving note seemed to hang in the air, and I reeled toward the station, altered, older, beaming.