Skip to content
Words Without Borders is one of the inaugural Whiting Literary Magazine Prize winners!

Panic: An International Exquisite Corpse

By José Eduardo Agualusa, Theodora Dimova, Naz Tansel, and Prabda Yoon
Translated By Daniel Hahn, Canan Marasligil, Mui Poopoksakul, and Angela Rodel

Words Without Borders partnered with SLICE to produce an International Exquisite Corpse story, written by four writer/translator teams from around the world. Below is the resulting story (in both the English translation and the original languages), which was published in issue 21 of Slice Magazine.


Words Without Borders is thrilled to partner with SLICE for a second time to present an international Exquisite Corpse, this time on the theme of Panic. Here’s how it worked: One writer penned the first segment of a story. The next writer received the final line of that first segment and continued the story. And so on, and so on. The end result is a story stitched together by a group of writers from around the world, each one not knowing what came beforehand. Because this is a multilingual Exquisite Corpse, each part of the process involves layers of translation, as, for example, the final line of a section written in Thai was translated into English and then into Bulgarian so that the narrative could continue. The writers featured and their talented translators—working in Thai, Bulgarian, Portuguese, and Turkish—have created a dynamic and richly layered piece that reflects the remarkable storytelling that is possible when we bring together a multiplicity of artistic voices and perspectives. 

—Jessie Chaffee, Editor of WWB Daily

SLICE is committed to striking up conversations about and through writing. We also like to throw parties. I savor that moment right before a SLICE gathering when I’m not sure who I’ll meet or what we’ll talk about but I’m certain that whatever happens, I’ll be surrounded by people who love words. A great party has a certain spark. Conversations are not forced or rehearsed. They’re unexpected, spontaneous. Several years ago we took that spark and put it on a stage. In front of a high-spirited crowd, about a dozen writers composed an Exquisite Corpse story out loud. They wore headphones and bopped to a lively little mix tape. One by one, they removed their headphones, received a fragment of a story, and took it from there. The result: a hilarious tale about aliens, wildlife, and a key party. Next we decided to throw an Exquisite Corpse party in print, one that crossed borders. So with the help of Words Without Borders, we invited people from all over the world to participate. Ah, what a spark! 

—Celia Blue Johnson, Creative Director of SLICE


Panic: An International Exquisite Corpse (English Translation)

Part 1
By Prabda Yoon, Translated from Thai by Mui Poopoksakul

The wet sheen of the surface and the puddles, little and large, that littered the road provided evidence of the rainstorm’s visit late in the night, after she had gone to bed, and of its departure or demise before she woke up. These were among the innumerable occurrences that took place while Jinda was fast asleep, and they were not the most alarming or disturbing of them, even though the shower that had painted the town had the potential to create more than a little inconvenience for her in her morning routine.

Five thirty a.m. was a rather normal hour for Jinda to make her way down the side street from her apartment building to the bus stop. The long, narrow road was lined with an incredible number of shops, and between five and half past five in the morning, the crew of proprietors or their employees would ordinarily begin to switch on some of the lights, arrange their wares, and dust and sweep and mop and wipe, in preparation for service. The coffee shop halfway down the street and the mom-and-pop grocery kitty-corner from it would usually have welcomed their first customers by that time, even if they weren’t entirely set up. This was the scene Jinda should have observed when she walked by, the same one she saw every workday, no matter the weather. At the very least, the warm, bitter aroma of freshly brewed coffee should have wafted over, brushing her nose, the aroma that possessed a soft magnetism, slowing her steps and triggering thoughts of a blanket and the sound of pages flipping. It might be a memory, burrowed deep from her days as a student, or mere fantasy without rhyme or reason; regardless, she savored her strolls past that scent. This morning, there was neither the sight nor the smell that she was accustomed to. Every shop, every door was dead shut, every light off, the scene still and silent, as if everyone had decided in unison to sleep late, wrapped in the sweet, soporific spell of the clean and cool air after the rain.

Once at the bus stop, Jinda was struck by the peculiarity of the new day with even greater vividness. The vicinity within her eyes’ reach was completely devoid of people and vehicles. The would-be blue up above was still cloaked in gray clouds, leaving not a crack for light to shine through, or at least not a sliver made its way down to the spot where Jinda was standing, glancing around, confounded. She hadn’t taken another step before she heard a male voice, hoarse and grave, fired down from the upper floor of one of the buildings nearby, echoing in the emptiness of the street: “Stop already, we beg you, stop, and go away already.” There was no way that those words were directed at her, that was the first thing that popped into her head. There was absolutely no way she was important enough for someone to open his mouth and ask something of her, she thought.


Part 2
By Theodora Dimova, Translated from Bulgarian by Angela Rodel

There was absolutely no way she was important enough for someone to open his mouth and ask something of her, she thought. She realized that there was not a single person who could call about her. They wouldn’t even know that she’d disappeared. They wouldn’t even start looking for her. She was alone in this wasteland, night had not yet fallen, the darkness had not yet com­pletely thickened. When she was horrified of being left in the dark in her own apartment, she always left one or two lights on during the night. Indeed, her pursuers might not find her, they might not catch up with her, but she would have died of the fear she had been carrying within her since childhood. That was her first memory from this world. She was eight months old, she had gotten sick with some virus, they couldn’t bring her temperature down for a whole day, during the night they had to take her to the hospital, the doctor who examined and admitted her skep­tically shook his head, telling her parents only this—they should have brought her there far, far earlier. She remem­bered how the cribs were set up in the enormous room, six in the middle, with a walkway around them, more lined up against the walls, she remembered the wooden bars of her crib, the unusual scent of the sheets, their coldness, and most of all the darkness, the loneliness, the pain in her throat from the constant bawling, her separation from her mother, her own horror at this separation, they would never be one again, never, in the end she was choking on her tears and had no more strength to cry, only then did the salvation of sleep come, it came from exhaustion, from utter weariness, and there were no words to describe all that and it sat like some ball in her body, which now, at the sight of this wasteland around her, once again began pulsating like back then. She saw a stone and sat down on it, wrapped her arms around her knees, lowered her head just to slow her breathing, just so as not to give herself over to that all-encompassing, sweeping ball inside her, and she would be saved, she knew she would be saved.


Part 3
By José Eduardo Agualusa, Translated from Portuguese by Daniel Hahn

She saw a stone and sat down on it, wrapped her arms around her knees, lowered her head just to slow her breathing, just so as not to give herself over to that all-encompassing, sweeping ball inside her, and she would be saved, she knew she would be saved.

There, with her eyes closed, she heard the night falling all around her, the distressed barking of some dog in the distance, the muffled crackle of footsteps in the foliage, the dark cawing of a crow, a brief flapping of wings. She covered her ears. She thought that if she kept her eyes really tightly shut, if she covered her ears, then maybe the night, as it descended on her, would not find her there. Maybe she would manage to remain invisible, like those animals that play dead to escape their predators, who are only interested in hot blood and pulsating flesh.

She tried to imagine herself on a beach, under a sun in a clear sky, naked and free and far from any danger. And yet even when she covered her ears, even when she squeezed her eyes shut as tightly as she could until her head hurt, she could still hear the rustling darkness wrapping itself around her, delicately touching her skin with its soft wings.

“If I think about the sun, I’ll be able to feel the sun,” she thought. “If I think with all my might, I will wake up in the sun, on a distant beach, like waking from a bad dream.”

But she could not think of the sun enough that she could feel the sun. What she felt was the cold breath of night. Then she heard a laugh, or something like a laugh, a small cruel laugh, and she took her hands from her ears and she heard it again, quite clearly now, the harsh laughter of someone (of something) that was coming closer, and must surely have seen her, and was mocking her, the vastness of her helplessness, as she sat there on a stone, folded into herself, her head pressed between her thin knees.

“I’m going to open my eyes,” she thought. “I need to open my eyes. I need to look, and get up, and face my fear.”

But she couldn’t do it. And there she remained, unmoving, as the night closed in around her, suffocating her, and someone (or something) got ready to pounce.


Part 4
By Naz Tansel, Translated from Turkish by Canan Marasligil


Panic: An International Exquisite Corpse (Original Language)

Part 1
By Prabda Yoon

Part 2
By Theodora Dimova

Съвсем сигурно беше, че тя не представляваше интерес за никого, така че никой нямаше да каже за нея каквото и да е. Осъзна, че нямаше нито един човек, който би могъл да се обади за нея. Дори нямаше да разберат, че е изчезнала. Дори нямаше да започнат да я издирват. Беше сама в тази пустош, нощта още не се беше спуснала, мракът все още не беше станал съвсем гъст, а тя се ужасяваше да остава на тъмно дори в собствения си апартамент, винаги оставяше по една, две лампи да светят през нощта. Преследвачите й можеше и да не я намерят, можеше и да не я застигнат, но тя самата би умряла от страха, който носеше в себе си още от малка. Това беше първият й спомен от този свят. Била е на осем месеца, разболяла се била от някакъв вирус, не можели да свалят високата температура в продължение на цял ден, през нощта се наложило да я заведат в болница, лекарят, който я приел и прегледал скептично клател главата си, казал на родителите й само това—трябвало е много, много по-рано да я доведете тук. Тя помнеше разположенията на детските легълца в огромната стая, в средата шест, около тях пътека, покрай стените наредени още, помнеше дървените решетки на своето легло, необичайният мирис на чаршафите, студенината им и най-вече помнеше мрака, самотата, болката в гърлото си от непрестанния плач, своята откъснатост от майка си, ужасът от тази разпокъсаност, никога нямаше да станат едно повече, никога, накрая се задавяше от сълзите си и нямаше сили повече да плаче, едва тогава идваше спасителният сън, идваше от изнемога, от върховно изтощение и нямаше думи, за да опише всичко това и то стоеше като някакво кълбо в тялото й, което сега при вида на тази пустош около нея отново започна да пулсира, както тогава, тя видя един камък, върху който приседна, обхвана коленете си с ръце, наведе глава, само да успокои дишането си, само да не се подаде на това всепоглъщащо, помитащо кълбо в себе се и ще бъде спасена, знаеше, че ще бъде спасена.


Part 3
By José Eduardo Agualusa

Ela viu uma pedra e sentou-se. Abraçou os joelhos com os braços. Curvou a cabeça num esforço para recuperar o fôlego, para não se render ao que a rodeava. Se fosse capaz de desfazer a bola que se formara no interior dela, então seria salva. Tinha certeza de que seria salva.

Ali, de olhos fechados, ouvia a noite descendo em redor, o aflito latido de algum cão ao longe, um abafado estalar de passos na folhagem, o escuro piar de uma coruja, um breve revoar de asas. Tapou os ouvidos. Pensou que se fechasse bem os olhos, se tapasse os ouvidos, talvez a noite, baixando sobre ela, não a encontrasse. Talvez conseguisse permanecer invisível, como aqueles animais que se fingem de mortos para escapar a certos predadores, aos quais interessa apenas o sangue quente e a carne palpitante.

Tentou imaginar-se numa praia, sob o sol claro, nua e livre e longe de qualquer perigo. Porém, mesmo tapando os ouvidos, mesmo cerrando os olhos com toda a força, até lhe doer a cabeça, continuava a escutar a escuridão rumorejando, envolvendo-a, tocando-lhe ao de leve a pele com as asas macias.

“Se pensar no sol conseguirei sentir o sol.”—Pensou.—“Se pensar com toda a força, acordarei ao sol, numa praia distante, como se tivesse despertado de um sonho mau.”

Contudo, não conseguia pensar no sol a ponto de sentir o sol. O que sentia era o hálito frio da noite. Então escutou uma gargalhada, ou algo como uma gargalhada, uma pequena gargalhada cruel, e tirou as mãos dos ouvidos e voltou a escutar, desta vez claramente, o riso áspero de alguém (de alguma coisa) que se aproximava, que certamente já a havia visto, e troçava dela, do seu imenso desamparo, ali, sentada numa pedra, dobrada sobre si mesma, com a cabeça apertada entre os joelhos magros.

“Vou abrir os olhos.”—Pensou.—“Tenho de abrir os olhos. Tenho de olhar, e levantar-me e enfrentar o medo.”

Mas não foi capaz. Continuou ali, imóvel, enquanto a noite se fechava à sua volta, sufocando-a, e alguém (ou alguma coisa) se preparava para saltar sobre ela.


Part 4
By Naz Tansel

Published Jun 20, 2018   Copyright 2018 José Eduardo Agualusa, Theodora Dimova, Naz Tansel, and Prabda Yoon

Leave Your Comment

comments powered by Disqus
Like what you read? Help WWB bring you the best new writing from around the world.