Sonntag, 11. November 2012

Stranded

He stood at the beach, looking out over the ocean. The sun was still high up in the sky, but had already visibly started its descent towards the waves. The air was fresh, with a caress of warmth. There were not many people left on the island. It was late, and the season had ended a few days ago.

This had been planned as a much-needed break between jobs. Only a week, and then Paul would return home, to his girlfriend and the new back-breaking responsibilities. Tina had said she would come, but he had known early on that there would be another emergency, another project she could not leave. It had been like this all their life together, and he would not complain, because he loved her passion for her job, and the fact that she loved working hard. Still, he had wanted to share the ocean with her.

And then there had been the stranger at the café. Bearded, smiling and dangerous. They had talked about the weather, exchanging polite nothings, staring at their cups more than at each other.

And then they had left the café together.

It was his last day on the island, and Paul was glad. His hometown would be sad and gray and rainy. Always the same - no surprises. It had taken him all night to get the voices in his head to quiet down, and he had only fallen asleep as dawn crept through the ugly curtains of his hotel room. Now he was staring over the waves eating away at the shore, leaving behind empty sea shells and tiny jellyfish, glinting in the sun. They looked pretty as they died.

Samstag, 18. August 2012

On moral

"But... don't you think there needs to be a moral to each story?" The man looked at her with surprise on his face.

"Why?"

His surprise turned to shock. "Because... because... I mean, stories are a great way to improve the world! To show your readers how to behave correctly, and how to improve themselves!"

"And who am I to show my readers how to behave?" she replied, head tilted.

"Don't you want to make the world a better place?" he pleaded. "Imagine all the good you could do!"

She thought about his words for a moment. "The only thing that is wrong with the world is that it can be pretty boring without stories. That, and that there are always people trying to tell you what to do."

Freitag, 6. Juli 2012

Underground



When the earth opened up and swallowed the dragons, the people were desolate. Where were they supposed to go for wisdom? How were they supposed to prove their courage? Priests asked their gods, but much as the dragons, they seemed to have disappear, or at least they had no answers.

The caves remained empty and silent, and after a while the people forgot that there had even been dragons. Human memory is fragile and tends to fade. There were still stories of dragons, but they were considered to be for children, and sometimes a wise man would sit down and write an article or even a book with many grand words on how the dragons were not really dragons, but instead symbols of fire and wisdom and the wild.

No one knew that the dragons were fighting for their lives below the surface.

Sonntag, 17. Juni 2012

Inside out

   Tako to ama, Japanese woodcut
  It was the third dead woman in as many months. The Japanese villagers were beginning to lose trust in the gaijin scientists. Not that they had ever really trusted them to begin with.
     The tiny old lady with the dark wrinkled face waited patiently while Kay fumbled with the foreign money. The numbers confused her. Everything appeared to be so expensive – four hundred Yen for a tiny bag of apples. Then again, her colleague had reminded her, that was only as much as five bucks. Still... five bucks for a bunch of apples?
     “Akkorokamui”, the old woman said, out of the blue.
     “Excuse me, I don’t speak Japanese.” Kay felt helpless. She should have taken the interpreter with her, but she had felt the strong need to get away from everything for a few hours. So she had strolled the streets, gaze fixed on the pavement, wandering without aim for hours, until her stomach reminded her that it was way past dinner time, and so she had entered the next store she found in search of something fresh.
     The shopkeeper flailed her arms as if she was a living windmill. “Akkorokamui. Onna-no shi.”
     Kay shrugged, puzzled, stuttered, “Sayounara”, and left the store. She imagined to have seen contempt in the shopkeeper’s eyes. Maybe she was mistaken – all Japanese looked kind of the same to her, no matter what their mood – but she felt they had pretty much used up all the good will.
Part of her dark mood was caused by the deaths themselves. Dead people were not uncommon in her line of work – she researched diseases for a living, and loved it with an almost perverted passion – but these were just... wrong. The worst dead she had ever seen. They had not received much international attention, or even local attention, come to think of it.
     “Government does not care for us”, the official interpreter had explained in his carefully rounded English, which sounded like a mixture of “The Simpsons” and Queen Elizabeth. “Hokkaido is far away from Tokyo.”
     He was right with this, as Kay had soon found out. As soon as they had left the bright lights and busy streets of Sapporo, the houses became tiny and crooked, with a strange mix of traditional and Western architecture. The people she met had flat, impenetrable faces, and even after more than a month she was unable to truly read their expressions.
     They had been called after the second woman was found near the beach. She had only been disappeared for a few days, and yet when her body was washed up on the shore it looked shrunk and shriveled, as if someone had magically removed all her internal organs.
     Which, as they found out during the autopsy, was exactly what had happened. Her organs had been ripped from her body – how exactly, they could not tell, since many creatures of the sea had taken a bite or two from her dead flesh. They had gotten to the tender parts first – eyes, lips, genitals. Most wounds were post mortem. For some, the exact timing was not sure – they might have bled, or not. The medical examiner alerted by the police had suspected some sort of poison, and had sent for Kay’s team and an marine biologist immediately. They had found nothing in the woman that had not been detected before, and then the third body had been discovered. Now they were at their wits’ ends. Every test they could think of had been performed, every swab imaginable taken and tested. They found the usual suspects – polluted salt water will do all kinds of damages to the human body – but nothing that could explain her injuries, or her strangely peaceful expression. Once again Kay wondered whether she would ever be able to read Japanese faces.
     Her hotel room was dark, tiny and furnished only with a minimum of objects. It provided a Western style bed, for which she was thankful. They had spent some time on the road, and sleeping on a futon was not exactly Kay’s idea of a restful night. She dropped her bright orange windbreaker on the floor, put her apples and the jug of milk in a corner and went into the bathroom. The light flicked on automatically.
     Her face looked pale, and strange. The Hokkaido winds had tangled her long brown hair, but neglected to bring healthy color to her cheeks. She slipped out of her baggy brown corduroy pants and the black T-shirt, pausing a moment to observe the changes time had left on her body. Her stomach was not as flat anymore, and her breasts slightly saggy. The pregnancy had left its mark on her body, and although she had worked hard, it was clearly visible that she was not twenty anymore. Or thirty, for that matter. Her daughter, seven years by now, had stayed behind with her father this time, for good grades were more important than travelling the world.
     The shower brought warmth back to Kay’s body and made her sleepy. She knew the others would be waiting at the hotel bar, but tonight she could not be bothered. There would be many more nights for them to drink and be moody, if they did not find out what caused these deaths soon. She grabbed an apple and the jug of milk, crawled between the clean-smelling sheets and opened her book, drinking straight from the jug. That was her idea of dinner.
     Tonight she found it difficult to concentrate on the development of algae in the Mediterranean. Her eyes kept wandering to the image on the wall next to the bathroom door. It was a colorful print of a famous Japanese woodcut, “The dream of the fisherman’s wife”. Every hotel room had its own print of the image, and the obsession of the Japanese with tentacles and naked women had been the cause of many jokes among her male colleagues. Every time, Kay had felt herself blushing like a virgin. She normally avoided looking at the scene. The woman on her back, enjoying the touch of the giant octopus, made her uncomfortable. Tonight, her gaze crept back to the image over and over again, and finally she put her book down and waited for her mind to settle.
     It is nothing, she told herself, just a picture of a woman with pubic hair who is enjoying herself.
     Still she felt uneasy, so she got up and put a damp towel over the print. Then she crawled back into bed, and fell asleep with a half-eaten apple on the nightstand right next to her head.
     Maybe it was the scent of the fruit, or the sea breeze coming through the open window, but that night Kay dreamed of tentacles, and of passion, and of nights spent naked at the shore. The waves caressed her feet, wet sand got into her hair, and someone was with her, next to her, driving her mad... his hands felt strange, and he did not talk, and everything he did smelled of seaweed and cheap sushi. In her dream, Kay tried to reach out to her lover, but he evaded her touch, and when he bent over her lower body and kissed her, she was catapulted into the skies.
     She woke sweating, feeling as if she had betrayed her husband. What a silly idea, it was only a dream, after all! Deep inside Kay knew she felt guilty because in her dream she had felt pleasure Carl had never been able to provide. A relationship was built on more than on flesh, but sometimes during her thirteen years together she had found herself craving another touch...
     With a vigorous shake of her head, Kay dismissed the guilty thoughts and went to retrieve her clothes from the bathroom. She smiled as she sat down on the toilet and the “self-consciousness defense mechanism”, as her colleagues had named it, was activated. The sound of mechanical streams and birds filled the tiny room, masking the sound of her peeing for what felt like hours. Then, after she had dressed in the same shapeless clothes as yesterday, she went downstairs, where she met her colleagues for breakfast.
     “Hey Kay, listen up!” Dexter waved for her to come to their table. His voice was loud and deep and resonated through the room, and he did not care about the stares he received. At almost seven feet stares were something you had to get used to. Some days, Dexter even seemed to enjoy the attention he received wherever he went. No one would have thought that loud, misbehaved guy was one of the world’s leading microbiologists. “Come over here! I told you, they are all perverted!”
     “Pass me the coffee, please”, replied Kay as she sat down. She poured herself some coffee and added two teaspoons of sugar to her mug. “What caused this realization so early in the morning?”
     Dexter smiled. “The hotel owner insisted on talking to me last night, after a few rounds of this piss he calls sake.”
     “So?”
     “He told me this cock-and-bull story about women who would swim off with that sea monster of theirs, Akkomuk – Okkamaku – whatever.”
     “Akkorokamui?” Kay felt a jolt of energy down to her toes.
     “Yeah, that one. He claimed it was a giant squid or something, falling in love with the beautiful women from this village and taking them to his underwater palace. I asked him what a squid would do with a girl, and he just stared at me as if he was trying to karate-chop me to death with his eyes.”
     Kay concentrated on her mug. The steam curling up to her face smelled bitter, and refreshing. An image flashed through her mind, of night skies and the sound of waves, and expert touch on her body – stop, she ordered her mind. The first hints of heat crept up her cheeks.
     “Let’s get going”, she said, “or else we’ll still be here come Christmas.” She stood up and emptied her mug. “We’ve got to find out what is happening to these women.”
     Dexter crammed half a croissant into his mouth, and strawberry preserve got caught in his grayish-red beard. “We should ask the hotel owner to help us”, he grinned. “Who knows, maybe that squid is eating these women out?”
     Yeah, Kay thought, maybe.

Donnerstag, 24. Mai 2012

The other kind of luck

I had just turned around when I saw that woman walking off with my red-and-white bag.

There was not much in that bag worth saving, but still...

I swam to the edge of the pool, pushed myself up, came to my feet and raced after the woman. The stones were slippery, and I had a hard time keeping my feet. "Excuse me, Madam, but you have got my bag."

She turned around and stared at me as if I was an insect that had done something interesting. "No, I have not."

"Yes, you do." I was smiling and trying really hard to sound friendly.

She shook her head. I might have guessed she was about forty, hair spun to gold by an expert, face covered in natural wrinkles caused by artificial sunlight. "This is definitely my bag. I came with it. I have had it all my life!"

"Maybe we have got the same model", I suggested. "I put mine down on that chair over there about half an hour ago."

"No, you did not." She did not react to my smile. Her cheeks were changing color, as if someone had opened a bottle of red color inside her head and turned it upside down. People were starting to look in our direction.

The pool attendant, too, had noticed something was not going as it should. Two women arguing by the side of the pool, one dripping wet - not a sight he was enjoying, obviously. "Can I help you, ladies?" He flashed us a smile.

"We've got our bags mixed up", I explained, feeling my cheeks change color now. Damn, he was cute.

"No, we do not", the other woman exclaimed, louder than before. "This girl says I took her bag, and it is not true!"

"Can I see it, please?" The guy held his hand out, and reluctantly the other woman handed him the bag - my bag.

He turned to me, "So, you say this is your bag?"

I smiled. "Just a mix-up, I suppose." But when I reached out to take the bag, he pulled it out of my reach.

"So you can tell me what's inside, I am sure." He opened it and looked inside.

Of course I could. But I'd rather drop dead. A trashy romance novel, a half-molten chocolate bar and my worn-out granny undies.

"Uhm... a bottle of water, a cereal bar and a brush", I improvised.

"Sorry, you must be mistaken." He smiled and handed my bag to the other woman.

My face was glowing by now. I turned around to the other woman who was trying to kill me with her righteous gaze. "I am so sorry! I must have put my bag in the locker with my purse and car keys", and I held up the key dangling from my wrist. At least I had also put my skimpy summer dress in the locker.

Instead of a reply, she just huffed and left.

The pool attendant smiled at me. "Don't worry, it happens."

I didn't know what to say, so I said, "I don't know what to say."

He winked at me, "Next time remember where you put your things."

I would. If there was a next time. With my luck, I'd be run over by a bus on my way back home. 

Freitag, 20. April 2012

Family traditions

"Damn crows", Andy muttered. If it weren't for them, he could spend the morning in bed, with his fiancée Sarah. As it was, he had to hide outside, with his trusted slingshot, to get rid of the black beasts before they could steal their seeds.

The men of the family had made a schedule, and since Sarah's father did not really like Andy, he was responsible for the time between three and nine in the morning. They all knew that Andy was afraid of the dark, and they kept making fun of him. Every morning when he finally returned to the house to grab some rushed belated breakfast, Sarah's father would grin and ask, "Seen any ghosts?"

And yet Andy was determined to do his part. He was the best slingshot shooter in town. If he hit one of the crows, they would croak and fly up, circling the air above the fields for a few minutes. And if that was not enough - some days the black plague was even more persistent than usual - he still had the gun, which he would fire up to twice per night. Of course this disturbed the other farm inhabitants' sleep, but it was better than having nothing to reap at the end of summer. And once Andy had even shot a fox intent on visiting the chicken coop, which had earned him a clap on the back from his future father-in-law and a smile from Sarah, who would have some fur to keep herself warm next winter.

The sky had only just started to light up, and between the trees where Andy was waiting it seemed to be even darker than during the night. He shivered. Dew had soaked through his jacket and pants. The birds were circling above the field, crawing nervously. This was not normal. What the heck was up with them? The young man looked around. Maybe another fox?

Behind him, to the right, something slithered through the bushes. Andy's head jerked around. For a moment he thought he saw something white, off in the direction where the family cemetary was located between the orchard and the fields, but whatever it was, it was gone in an instant.

"Geez, I'm gonna piss my pants if I start jumping at shadows", Andy muttered. His voice sounded too loud in the early morning stillness. He knew the stories, of Sarah's deceased great-grandfather, called "The Trickster". He had been famous for his practical jokes, and rumours had it he was still playing them from beyond the grave. Of course Sarah's father had only told him this to scare him. Everybody knew that ghosts didn't exist. Or at least everybody was pretty sure of this fact.

A branch snapped, and Andy flinched. He looked around, fingers clenched around the gun. The slingshot hung limp, loaded, from his other hand. Above him, the birds suddenly took leave, the whole flock flying towards the dark edges of the night sky as if commanded by a single thought. His heart started to race, and a tiny bead of sweat trickled down the side of his face.

Had he heard someone whispering his name?

No, impossible.

Well, now that the birds where gone he might just as well go up to -

A cold hand touched his neck.

Andy swung around, shrieking, and fired. The slingshot sang, an angry note, and the pebble whooshed into the dark. Not too far, though, before it hid a pale figure right between the eyes. It dropped to the ground and disappeared between the branches.

His first instinct was, RUN! But he stopped himself, and thought about it. Ghosts were not supposed to be hit by stones, right? Carefully he inched forward to where he had seen the figure disappear.

Sarah's father lay in the wet grass, unconscious. He wore dark clothes, and his face was blackened out. Maybe he had tried to continue the family tradition of practical jokes. Well, tough luck. Andy bent over him, muttering, "I am sorry, you bloody fool!"

With a groan, the older man came back to life. "You're a dangerous shot", he muttered, and his hand went up to his forehead, massaging the red stain left by the pebble.

Andy was glad nothing worse had happened, and it did not come to mind for him to wonder what exactly he had seen between the bushes. He did not wonder how his future father-in-law could have touched him from several feet away. And since he did not look up, he did not see the pale beared face hovering between the leaves, grinning with satisfaction, before the first ray of morning sun sent the trickster back to the grave.

Mittwoch, 18. April 2012

Mistakes at the office

Some days it is tough to admit that you were wrong. I like to avoid this as much as possible.

That brickhead Stevie... always a nuisance at the office. Not only rubbing in our mistakes, but tattling about them every chance he got. Especially to the superiors.

I used to say that he was full of shit.

Seems I was wrong on that matter. But where do I hide the body? The watercooler?









Just the tiniest of reminders that I am not dead yet... I promise I will work out a more regular posting schedule... there is tons of writing going on around here, just not blog-related...