Donnerstag, 31. Dezember 2009

Happy New Year!!!

[Yes, I ahve cheated, the younger story is actually posted beneath "Dishes". Both are fun, I hope, each in its own way. I will try to finish my big WIP, as I was determined to do in 2009, with just a few hours left - and only one of them for writing, after that I will be away from the technical stuff for a few days. I hope you guys and girls have a great time sliding from 2009 to 2010, and I hope that the next year will have many interesting events and stories for each and everyone.]

Mittwoch, 30. Dezember 2009

Dishes

Time to do the dishes. The kids have gone to school, and the carpets have been cleaned, and the cats are outside catching birds or dragonflies or something. Considering that it is early December, it is a very friendly day. Outside on the icy pavement, the sunlight is dancing, and as long as the wind holds his breath, it is almost warm.

Gods, what I'd give to get in the car and drive somewhere else. Especially on days like this. Just start the engine, feel the wind - in my dreams I am driving a cabrio, of course - and not stop until I'm running out of gas. Who knows where I might wind up? I could go to Paris, or to Prague. Christmas in London, or New Year's Eve in Budapest. Sounds lovely to me. I wouldn't pack too much - whatever you need you can get on the road. Even the toothbrush. All I would have to take would be some cash. The mobile phone would stay at home, and no one would find me unless I call them.

Sounds lovely.

And if I ran out of cash? Who knows. I could get a job, something small, on a day-to-day basis. Maybe I could take up painting again and sell portraits of tourists. Or beg in the streets? No, I'd rather be a pickpocket. Can't be that hard, can it? Or take up the oldest of professions. I'm not too plain or old to do this. And who knows, I might even enjoy the experience. Night life in a big city, always in the gray area of society... I wonder what kind of people you meet there... and what the lights look like in a life like that...

But there are the kids again, and lunch hasn't been prepared! Where were I with my thoughts? Stupid, stupid, stupid. Randy needs new shoes, and Vanessa has a piano lesson later in the neighbour village...

Well, tomorrow is another day.

Summoning evil

Kevin was sure he had done everything right. He had watched his parents carefully, hidden inside the old closet in the basement where no one ever put their things. The probably thought that he was asleep when they put on their long black robes and lit this funny stuff which smelled strange when burning. He later took a little bit from the tupperware where his mother stored it, and the label read "olibanum".

There had been other persons besides his parents. He knew some of them - the old couple living next door, the postman and even his teacher, Miss Summers. What a surprise! Through a knothole in the wooden doors he had watched everything carefully. Lighting torches, drawing the circle, chanting funny words that made no sense to him. Then Miss Summers had taken off her robe and there had been a bit of confusion, lots of smoke and a strange smell, like last summer when Dad set the lawnmower on fire. He had seen strange shapes moving, Miss Summers in the middle, moaning while the others kept chanting, surrounding what seemed like a strange dance. At some point Kevin had fallen asleep, so he did not exactly remember what came at the end, but he figured he would know what to do once he was there.

The big day had finally come when his parents went to the Museum of Modern Art - in every day life of course they did not wear black robes and act funny, they simply were his parents, with flowery dresses (Mom) and embarrassing shorts (Dad) and their walks to church on Sundays, where he knew his mother read her magazines instead of listening - and left him at home with his grandmother. Grandma had fallen asleep in front of the TV, as usual, and Kevin had gotten all his stuff and retreated to the garage. It was dusty in here and smelled of gasoline and of the old paint cans Dad kept in here although he never painted anything. He would have at least two hours until his parents came back.

Now, where to begin? Kevin stood for a moment, with a finger in his nose. Ah, the circle! His parents had used white limestone, but Kevin had found a red piece of chalk which was so much prettier! He drew a nearly perfect circle, with the ends meeting exactly (of which he was intensely proud). Of course he had no wooden torches, but through the small windows right beneath the garage's roof honey-colored beams of sunlight came inside and painted the concrete floor.

The incense wouldn't burn. Kevin stared at it, disbelieving. How had his parents done it? There had been something else, he recalled... one of those round little black things, maybe some kind of charcoal? He ran back into the house, climbed upon a kitchen chair and found them right behind the box with "olibanum" on it. How could he have forgotten! He took it, ran back into the garage - Grandma was snoring gently, and he put a blanket over her so she wouldn't get cold - and held the lighter to the charcoal. There were some sparks, and it worked. Soon the smell of incense filled the garage. He would have to remember to open the windows afterwards!

The chanting was easy. Kevin didn't remember all the words, but he figured it was not important what exactly you sang, as long as there was some chanting. He stood outside the circle and let the syllables pour through his mouth. And indeed, there was a tiny whirl of smoke in the middle of the circle...

... growing larger and larger...

... getting darker...

... the smell of burning plastic...

... and a huge figure appeared in front of him, part human, part lizard.

Kevin's heart beat fast. He had done it! Just like the grown-ups! Wow.

"Master, what is your command?"

"What do you mean? Can I tell you to do whatever I want, and you have to do it?"

The demon nodded solemnly.

"Cool!" Kevin thought for a moment. "Go stand on your head!"

The demon hesitated. Obviously this was not really what he had expected. "Wait, human, aren't you a little too young to be doing this? Where are your parents?"

"Out, to the museum. And I said, go stand on your head!"

"Oh, well..." And the demon turned around. He did not make a handstand, like normal people would. Instead, his head seemed to float downward, dragging his feet up to the top at the same time, like a snake curling up around itself.

Kevin's eyes stood open in wonder. "Wow! How did you do this?"

The demon looked at the child with impassive eyes and only the slightest hint of resignation. "Do you have any other commands, Master?"

"Yes!" Kevin smiled. "I want ice cream!"

The demon sighed and rolled his eyes. "I really have to talk to your parents one of these days. Now, what flavor do you want?"

Sonntag, 27. Dezember 2009

White

When they left their flat, the world had disappeared. The houses, the streets, the trees - which had lost their leaves weeks ago, maybe they had known what would happen and given up - everything was gone. All that was left was white and cold.

the others didn't seem to notice it. They made their sounds, which Phillip didn't understand, and they sounded delighted where they should have been frightened or devastated.

He started to scream. In all his life he had not seen anything like this. He stopped dead at the door and did not want to take another step. If the world had disappeared, who knew what would happen to him if he stepped onto the white? But the big ones only laughed, and Mommy took him and put him down again on the white. He expected to fall, but nothing happened. Only his feet turned cold almost instantly. Tears rän down his cheeks, but he stopped screaming. Instead, he watched the white carefully and saw that his feet left tiny marks. Obviously the white was not nothing. But it was scary as hell.

The big ones kept on walking towards a shape in the white that might possibly be the remains of their takes-you-from-one-place-to-another thingie that always made these funny sounds and smelled like burning plastik at the rear end. Phillip took a careful step, then another. His right foot slipped, only for a moment, and he froze in place. This white stuff was dangerous! But the others didn't wait, so finally he overcame his fear and hurried towards them. The big ones stood around the takes-you-from-one-place-to-another thingie shape and were talking in their big one nonsense sounds.

"Don't you think he is a little too young? He is only two years old!"

"Oh, come on! Who knows when we will have snow again? I loved sleigh-riding when I was a kid! Besides, there's this great hill behind grandpa's house..."

The big ones closed the doors, cleaned the white from the thingie and opened the doors. A few minutes later they were on their way. The world was still white and had still disappeared. Phillip fell asleep.

Mittwoch, 23. Dezember 2009

Legs Inc.

Standing in front of the plain glass door, Sally feels insecure. The sign says "Legs Inc.". Lately, she has not had much sleep, and she is afraid her thoughts may be confused. Now, she has this appointment, but maybe she should go home and reconsider... No. She will do this. It is only fair.

A friend handed her the business card right after Paul had left her. "Here, this will help you fell better. He deserves it. And you deserve it." She confirmed having used this special service as well, "and I put it all on his credit card!"

Sally does not know how she feels about all this. Last weekend, she found Paul in bed with his secretary. How pathetic! She was angry, devastated, sad - the whole program. Then she packed her bags and moved in with her younger sister. And now she is here.

Sally is ushered to the office. It is furnished with only a few tasteful pieces - chrome and glass and a little bit of dark, gleaming wood. A surprisingly young woman with dark hair cropped close to her scalp sits behind a large desk and smiles at her politely. "Take a seat, please. Good morning, how may I help you?"

She hesitates. "Well... you see... I got your business card from a friend. She advised me to see you because of - uhm, special circumstances in my relationship..."

"I see." The lady behind the desk waited, politely, the smile not changing.

"Well... I was wondering... see, this business card. It says -"

"If he breaks your heart, we break his legs. I know. It's the slogan of Legs Inc., my mother invented it when she started this business after her divorce. So, what can I do for you? Blackmail, maim, kill?"

And Sally smiles.

**********************************************************

Dedicated to Andrea.

Grandmother's christmas visit

[This story was published in this year's christmas edition of SOFTWHISPERS MAGAZINE. My first published story! Yikes! Have fun!]

“No, I won’t have any of this! And what kind of Christmas is that anyway? You folks are nuts!” Christina jumped up, angry, and only seconds after the door slammed behind her. The rest of the family looked at each other over the old round oak table.

“Gods, now that again”, complained Susie. For her six years, she was very grown-up and easily annoyed by teenagers. “What’s wrong with inviting grandma over? She’s crazy.”

Mum put her slender hand on Susie’s tiny, chocolate-smeared paw. “Deary, don’t say such a thing about your sister. It is a difficult age.”

“Oh.” Susie thought about that. “I am going to skip that whole teenage stuff, if you don’t mind.”

The parents smiled at each other over the table. The candles in the middle of the gleaming wooden surface made their eyes shine, although the room was rather dark. It smelled of bee wax, winter spices and freshly cut fir tree. The room had been thoroughly decorated, Christmas stuff on every room that had been unoccupied up to now.

“Why doesn’t she like your mother, anyway?” asked Mum after a silent minute.
Dad shrugged. “I don’t know. They seemed to get along so well before… you know. Maybe it upsets her that Ma won’t go to church with us anymore?”

“You’re probably right. I will go and talk to her later. Now, let’s see that we get everything planned and outlined and the invitation on its way. There’s a gratin in the oven that doesn’t like to wait, you know.” And she smiled at him sweetly. After all these years, their marriage was still strong, and she had never been bothered by her mother-in-law. She looked at the photos on the mantle, over the dancing flames that cast coiling shadows on the small round of old-fashioned pouffes where the family liked to gather during the dark season to tell each other stories and drink tea, hot chocolate and the occasional spiced wine for the grown-ups. In honor to the time of the year, there were blood red and dark green blankets and cushions everywhere.

“Now, is there anything special you would like to do this year?”

Susie raised her hand, and a chocolate stain became visible on the tablecloth. It obscured one of the tiny silver snowflakes that had been embroidered upon it during another long winter season, when Mum and Dad still were young and just waiting for their first child to be born, all excited and insecure about how things would turn out. Dad looked at it and contemplated how lucky they were. Nice kids, great jobs, a nice house not too far from everything – shopping malls as well as forests and rivers – and good family ties. That after all these years his wife would go to so great lengths just to have his mother here as well…

“Yes, Susie, what is it?”

“I will play a tune on the violin. After dinner. When everybody is telling stories, before the games start.”

“This sounds lovely.” Mum mustered a smile. Susie hadn’t been playing the violin all that long – only two months – and every sound she had gotten out of that instrument so far had been torture. But she was so enthusiastic, and surely the family could endure a little lopsided tune for love’s sake.

She wrote it down in her careful, neat handwriting. “Is this everything that is to change?”

Her husband looked at her affectionately. “Why should we change a celebration that has brought so much joy to the family over the years?”

“You’re right, Darling.” Once more she smiled at him sweetly. Christmas was always a bloody lot of work, but she didn’t mind. In fact, she rather liked the whole decorating and Christmas gift shopping and the cooking and planning. She loved to make her home the best possible place for her family, and she enjoyed it when friends of them or their kids showed up spontaneously to catch a bit of this special kind of warmth. It seemed that this was not as usual as one might imagine. Of course, she too had read the statistics about suicides indicating that around the shortest day of the year, an above-average amount of people decided they couldn’t stand it and jumped off something or… she shuddered and determinedly pushed that thought away as far as her conscience would allow.

“Now, then let’s get prepared.”

“Do we need Christina for this?”

“No, three people should do nicely. Besides, I don’t want to let your Ma wait any further. She will think we completely forgot her this year.” Mum turned her head. “Susie, Deary, will you pass me the Ouija board? Now, take each other’s hands and think of our beloved grandmother….”

Samstag, 19. Dezember 2009

Things to cure lover's grief

The smell of dark chocolate.
Early morning silence.
Sad music.
Long walks.
Cold air filling your lungs.
Your favourite mug filled with Oriental spiced coffee.
His head and heart on a silver platter and the mess he left in the basement.

Donnerstag, 17. Dezember 2009

Witch Child

Selina wrapped the scarf carefully around her head to hide her destroyed head. The people living in her street thought she was eccentric for never showing her face out in the open. But she would take being considered eccentric over pity every time. Only close friends were allowed to see the molten thing her face had become.

On her way to the market Selina passed the church. It gave her dark delight to live so close to this special place. Her family had lived here for decades, prospering on the white tourists who came to see "picturesque" life in an African village. Some of her uncles and aunts had sold souvenirs. Her grandmother had even opened a tiny bed and breakfast, very simple, very successful. And Selina's father had spent his life as a pickpocket, steeling everything the tourists would not want to spend.

Maybe as a kind of atonement, her mother had been a devout member of the church. She had taken her children to service every Sunday - Selina and her two brothers, small dark children with black curls and yellowish eyes in smiling faces. They wore their best clothes and tried to get to church as clean as possible.

Especially Selina listened to the preacher with big eyes and her mouth shut tightly, so she would not miss a single word he said. She firmly believed that he was right, that his words came from God and that she might be saved from whatever it was she needed saving from if only she was a good child.

She didn’t know for sure, but she strongly suspected it was this intent listening that first brought her to the preacher’s attention. From there to that special night it was only a short way. Several small steps, all innocent, leading to doom. Selina’s amber eyes – the eyes of a lion, or maybe a demon. Her habit of painting in the dirt besides the road, with sticks and stones, and decorating her pictures with leaves and colorful pieces of cloth.

That night they came, yanked her out of bed and brought her to church. There were people she knew very well, and others she had never seen in her life. They had lit candles and chanted ecstatically. Selina was brought to the front. The shaved her head, leaving her naked and surrounded by black hair, coarse as lamb’s wool. She was afraid and listened carefully, trying to understand. People whispered and looked at her disgusted, keeping careful distance at the same time. It almost seemed as if they were afraid.

“Witch” – one whispered word, repeated over and over, had destroyed her life. To prove his point, the preacher sprinkled her with what he claimed to be holy water – and he didn’t lie, he was a servant of God, so part of it surely was holy water. It was meant to show if her soul was corrupted or pure. Evil would be singed away at the first encounter with it. And to be sure his show would go smoothly, he had mixed the water with something different – sulphuric acid, Selina suspected, but she didn’t know it. This mixture had eaten skin and flesh off her bones and almost killed her. Finally they had left her, “defeated”, as they claimed, supposedly dead.

Two days later white people had found her and taken her to hospital. It had been too late to save her face, but not too late to save her life. She was brought far away to live with another family. And there she had learned everything she needed to know about the craft.

Today was a special day. Selina only had a quick glance for the church where her first life had ended. She had returned to this very village, and people who remembered her were afraid of her. But they came to her in the dark of the night, asking for potions and ointments to make their wishes come true or slay their enemies. Selina was the first one in her family who didn’t have to live at the tourists’ mercy. Once or twice she had been asked to perform her “mumbo jumbo” as part of the great African show, but she had refused. Her life was good the way it was. And in a few moments she would meet a special business partner. He had assured her that he could fulfill her needs. She was a tiny bit nervous. Nothing she had tried had helped her. She was a master of the craft, but this needed more powerful intervention.

“You have what I need?”

He nodded and opened one of the large canvas bags lying in the dust at his feet.

She looked at his goods and handed him a wad of bills. Dollars, the only thing of real value around here. Then she took her purchase back home. White limbs. Human limbs. A very special treat to restore herself.

Tanzanian albino. Magical flesh.

**********************************************************

Two true tales woven into one.

Even today African children are accused of witchcraft and are beaten, maimed or killed.

At the same time the flesh of human albinos is considered a magical cure for many problems, and children as well as adults are killed for superstition (and money, of course).

Dienstag, 15. Dezember 2009

[Announcement.]

[No, I haven't given up on writing. It's just that I have been really busy. Sorry for that. I'll give you some new stuff during the next days, got notes and scenes ready to type. Wish me some boring evenings! Oh, and thanks for all your comments!]

Donnerstag, 10. Dezember 2009

The other side of the fence

Henry always says that I'm terribly curious. And a gossip. But that simply ain't true! Well, you know I just like to be informed about what is going on in the neighbourhood. We have been living here for more than thirty years! All these people coming and going, falling in love, cheating on each other - I don't need that stupid television! Ha!

When we were younger and moved here, everything was tidier, of course. The people were different. White picket fences everywhere, literally! But then they started moving away or dying - oh, that dreadful Mrs. Pringle! You think anyone showed up at her funeral? Well, of course WE went. "Henry", I told him, "Henry, we have to go." And of course he didn't want to, but... that's a different story. Now, where was I? Oh, yes.

Over the years younger people moved in, and some were very nice. Others... well, you can't choose your neighbours. I know that. But I wish... One or two times we een had the police around, and two years ago Mr. Hutchkins was shot in his own living room! You wouldn't believe it.

A few months back there was this new family. They bought the house next to ours - at least I think they bought it. They never talk to anyone. Very charming young man. Works as a mechanic somewhere downtown. And a lovely wife and son! Well, I was worried the first time I saw her outside in the garden with a black eye - our gardens meet, you see the fence? - but Henry said I shouldn't worry about other people's personal business. He thinks I am overreacting most of the time. He doesn't want to know about anything that is not in his precious newspaper. Heavens, when did he become so boring?

The woman was very quiet and you hardly ever noticed her at all. But I am good at spotting people. Once I almost ran her over in our old volvo at the supermarket. It wasn't my fault, she simply stood behind the car! I doubt she is very intelligent. But she takes good care of their child.

Several times I saw her with black eyes or bruises, and one day she was limping so bad on her way from the supermarket back home that I offered to give her a ride, but she refused. Henry laughed at me when I told him I had to talk to the officials. "Maybe she just fell? You can't go around telling the police some stranger hits his wife or something! At best they'll make fun of you! Don't get them in trouble, dearie, please." So I left it at that.

Come to think of it... I haven't seen her in at least a week, and the child seems to be at home all the time. Poor tiny creature, with his dirty trousers... I wonder where the woman has gone? Maybe something happened to her? Oh no, I can hear Henry laughing already, and I haven't even told him! He is right, I've got an overactive imagination. I guess the woman simply went out of town to visit some relatives. I'd better go inside and fix dinner.

Mittwoch, 9. Dezember 2009

Dark gifts

She was only an old lady - slim, not too tall, straight back. A pale face lined with wrinkles, sharp as creases. She wore a long, dark grey coat, and as she was looking at the shop display, everyone would have believed the camouflage.

In the old times, she mused - not seeing the expensive jewelery or the delicate china cups and saucers - people were afraid of her, but they would worship her nevertheless. In regular intervals, they had brought her - gifts. Special gifts. Things that were close to their hearts, irreplaceable gifts. They would act with a feeling of honour and commitment, and although it would make many families suffer - if the gift was their only one or if they loved it more dearly than it deserved - no one had thought about not coming to her.

Well, that was back then. The old woman straightened her shoulders and turned around. The time was near. She walked towards the traffic light, purse tucked tightly under her arm. A tiny hat with a dark grey veil sat on top of her silver-white hair, like a bird in its nest. She moved with grace and faster than most women of her age. She snickered at this thought.

The lights were red, and one of the kids next to her obviously didn't trust the official system. Seeing no car or bus near, he started running across the street.

The old woman's hand came down upon his shoulder like an eagle's claw on its prey. "Wait, boy."

"Hey!"

"The traffic light is red. Don't you see it?" She looked him straight in the eye.

The child hesitated for the shortest of moments, then freed himself with an abrupt movement of his slender shoulders. "You're not my mother!" he simply said and turned around.

And was run over by a bus coming around the bend.

"You're right, dearie. I am not your mother." The old woman's face stayed calm, while around her people started to panik. Excited voices, shouts, people hurrying closer. She would play her part till it was over - she knew what the scene would be like, creating it insider her head as time moved forward. The unconsoleable old lady, trying to save a kid but unable to.

A soft shimmer rose from the dead body and rose up into the cold december air. She plucked it from the cold, with a gesture so small no one noticed it.

If they didn't bring her gifts, she would come and get them.

Montag, 7. Dezember 2009

The monster under the sink

"Mommy?"
"Yes, darling?"
"Mommy, there's a monster under the sink."
"Now, Stephanie, aren't you too old to believe in monsters? The only thing under the sink is the trash can. Go to sleep."
"I love you, Mommy."
"I love you, too."

@ @ @

I stopped talking about the monster. But it's still there. Don't believe me? Go and see for yourself! It's eyes are glowing in the dark. Sometimes I am scared - although it's only a tiny monster, I guess, if it fits in there with all the stuff.
How I wish Joshua would go to the party with me. It's Christina's birthday. She is my best friend. And Josh - he is sooo cute! But I'm sure he won't ask me. Of course he won't. Who would go out with a crazy chick that sees monsters in their house anyway? Christina said something about a Ouija board. Sounds exciting.

@ @ @

They say they can't bear it anymore. They say I am crazy because I trashed the kitchen. But the monster attacked me, and I am glad I survived. They say they are going to take me somewhere with people who can help me. I wonder what they are talking about - exorzism?

@ @ @

I wish I remembered a damn thing from before my stay inside. Don't know what the hell they did with my memory. Maybe it was the drugs, or maybe it was the treatment. In my file I read something about electric shock therapy, but they must have made that up. I don't remember any of that stuff. I don't remember much at all. Hell, I don't even know why they brought me there.
Fortunately, Peter was there for me. We met after I was discharged, and we are going to marry in two weeks. My parents said they would move to Florida, so we will have the house to ourselves. They looked at me when they said it, as if they were waiting for something.
I am glad Peter is such a good cook. I don't like cooking. I stay out of the kitchen as much as I can. Funny, hu?
Oh, by the way - don't tell anybody, but I am pregnant. It's still a secret. You know how the neighbours are...

@ @ @

Lovely daughter. But something is wrong with her, I think. Yesterday when she couldn't sleep and I went to fetch her milk and cookies from the kitchen, she told me to be careful. She said something was living under the sink.
Children have really vivid dreams, sometimes.

Freitag, 4. Dezember 2009

Cherie

Bed, desk and most of the floor were covered with books. And papers. Lots of papers. Unreadable notes, scribbled on everything she had found in her pockets. Thoroughly prepared notes on projects she was working on, homework and presentations. Most of it was biology, her major. But there was also stuff for lessons she had taken on voluntarily. Her days were just as busy as her nights. Cherie loved learning and discovering new stuff, she craved knowledge other people craved foor (or sex).

A sharp knock at the door. Sylvie was worried they were running late. They shared this flat - and working place - and had become rather good friends. However, Sylvie never understood Cheries longing for her studies. "You work all night, why don'T you try and get some rest? Instead you're running after all these smartasses on campus. What if one recognizes you?"

Which was to be doubted. During the days she wore baggy clothes, no makeup and spent hardly any time on her hairdo. No one would even imagine... Cherie smiled at the thought and put her stuff in the desk drawers. The clients did not like it if she had personal belongings lying about. Probably reminded them of the fact that she had a real life. For a while she had tried taking them to a cheap hotel, but most would not pay extra for a room. So she always tried to make her place look as neutral and uninhabitated as possible.

Sylvie was the one who had brought her into the business. "With a name like yours, you have to try it!" And Cherie had liked it. Okay, she had not liked it, but at least she hadn't disliked it completely, and the money had convinced her.

It was cold, but she chose her clothes carefully. Expertly applied makeup. Maybe a touch too much for most occasions, but perfect for where she was going. Dark mascara framed her grey eyes. She did not have to make her lips look bigger using lipstick, every guy loved her mouth just the way it was. She chose fire engine red - a signal, "Come hither."

For just a second doubt crept through her brain. Life had always been dangerous out on the streets, and for the girls more than for most other people. But this kind of work paid her rent and made sure she had enough time to study. In a year or two, maybe, she would be a marine biologist. Surely her body wouldn't be the next to be fished out of the river. Lady Fortuna was always close to her. She touched the old coin that hung on a chain around her neck. The surface was smooth and unreadable.

"You're ready? You know, the guys won't wait for us!"

"Just a moment", Cherie yelled back. "Have you seen my garters? Oh, found them!" Shegrabbed them from her keyboard and fixed them thoroughly. Most of them was visible under her skirt. Her mother probably wouldn't call it a skirt. Oh, screw it. She was loaded for bear. One last look in the mirror - she looked gorgeous. None of her fellow students would recognize her like this.


Her thoughts wandered to the ocean turtles she visited at least once a week, down at the zoo. They always seemed to smile.

She forced her concentration back on work.

The night was hers.

Donnerstag, 3. Dezember 2009

Home sweet home

Terry hadn't wanted him in the delivery room with her, and he was thankful. Not that he was afraid he would throw up or faint or something, but all the gorey details he had heard from friends who had been there, all the blood and slime and - and all that woman stuff. He was perfectly content to sit in a corner among the other visitors, read his magazines - PHOTOGRAPHER'S NEWS, DIGITAL EYE or MODERN MANAGEMENT, for his job. Sometimes he would go downstairs, get some coffee at the cafeteria or smoke outside the hospital. There would always be a small crowd, standing closely together, huddling in on themselves against the rain and the wind and the cold. They were like the freemasons, kind of. Well, only less secrete and less exclusive. Everyone could join them, as long as they had the money for cigarettes. Modern incense.

From time to time, while he was sitting outside the delivery room, a nurse or a doctor would come out to assure him that everything was alright and that his lovely wife and child would be with him soon. When they opened the double doors for a moment, he could hear Terry swearing. Boy, he hadn't known she knew so many - uhm, words. And where had she learnt them anyway? He looked at his watch, decided his next smoke could wait for another hour or something and tried to concentrate on this article about the latest developments in apertures. At least all those difficult words and long rows and columns of numbers halped him not to worry. It felt like shoe-shopping... he was sitting here and wondering what the hell Terry was up to. Ha, probably she would come out without a child, because she didn't find what she liked...

"Mr. Rogers?"

He looked up from his magazine. "Yes?"

"They are ready. If you want, you can come and see them. Room 231."

He put the magazine in his bagpack, stood up and went down the corridor.

"Hey, honey. How are you doing?"

Terry looked exhausted, pale and beautiful. She was wearing one of these ugly hospital gowns, her long blond hair was tousled and looked more like a bird's nest than something you should wear on your head. The smile, however, made up for all this. She seemed to glow, as if she had just heard a choir of saints singing. He bend over her and kissed her lightly on the forehead.

"You want to hold her?"

"Sure." He was not really sure, but if he didn't hold her, Terry would never let him forget this. So he waited and she handed him the child and he took her in his arms expertly. He had had much time to practice when his nephews were born two and three years back.

"Isn't she beautiful?" Terry said. "Let's call her Emma."

And right this moment, he didn't have the heart to go against her wishes. Their daughter really looked like an Emma.

They went home and survived the first weeks as newborn parents, and Emma was a really quiet baby and grew and smiled a lot.

But something was wrong.

He could not put his finger on it, but he felt that something was completely wrong. Sometimes he would look at Emma and she would look right back at him. And he knew it couldn't be true, because children this young could not focus. Terry always laughed at him. "You are such an evil man, and yet you are scared of your own daughter?"

"Well, I should be", he teased her back and tried to smile, "she's got my genes. That's like learning from the best."

Later, he would be convinced that Emma laughed at him. She had this smile, this way of looking at him, and he felt as if she was making fun of him. She let him hold her, let him feed her. At least when Terry was not around. As soon as Terry entered the room, Emma would struggle to get back to her mother. Terry would laugh and take her and make her wave at him, and Emma would wave and smile her twisted, toothless little smile.

And a few months later Emma began to move on her own. When he was sitting at his desk, working or reading or going through their paperwork, she would sometimes come crawling towards him, determined. He started closing his office door, but Terry laughed at him. "At first you say she doesn't like you, and now you are worried because she wants to play with you? That's ridiculous!"

And Emma smiled.

He started feeling uneasy. This place was not safe any longer.

Mittwoch, 2. Dezember 2009

Bite me

It had been a very, very long day. Too hot for work, too much work to do to ignore it. Sally had been running errands all day, and now she was dying for a cup of tea. Literally speaking.

Tea, she had often heard her mother say, is the best beverage for hot days, and over the years she had come to appreciate the advice. Her mother had probably never even dreamed of her daughter living and working in a hot climate as this. But Sally had always been a restless girl, she had wanted to see so much of the world, and at the age of forty, she had seen a lot of it. Maybe now, she would stay here. At least for a while.

And every day at 4 p.m., no matter how busy she was or how much work was waiting for her, she would have a break of ten or maybe fifteen minutes and have a cup of tea. Not only the usual black or green tea, she would also try all kinds of herb teas and exotic mixtures.

The water took about an eternity to boil, and Sally spilled some of it on her left hand - her good hand, the one she used for most of her tasks, since the other one... Never mind. When the tea had the right color, she threw the tea bag away, took her cup in her left hand - ouch! Be careful, she reminded herself - and took the stairs back into the basement, where she had her tiny office. Honestly, it was more of a broom closet, but it was hers.

Just as she turned the corner at the food of the stairs, someone crashed into her. Sally spilled tea over a white shirt, felt an impressing body beneath her hands. Oh, fuck! It was possibly one of their clients, and she had ruined his suit. She apologized, using the national language, and started kneeling down to collect the shards of her favorite cup.

"Stupid woman!" the man snapped. Sally repeated her apologies, but obviously it wasn't enough. Already the guy at the main entrance threw them curious glances. In a moment or two, he would start coming over to them.

What the hell - ? That guy had kicked her!

Sally didn't think. Her ribs hurt. She turned and put her teeth to good use. Blood filled her mouth, and she could feel the tender flesh of his lower leg giving in.

It worked. He jumped back, almost tearing a chunk of flesh from his leg, and stared at her in horror. "She bit me!"

Yes, I did, Sally thought and grinned. It surely was no nice view. She felt something dripping down her chin. Blood or saliva? She didn't care, not really.

No one moved but her. She picked up the shards and took the stairs down to her office. She would be in trouble soon. Again. Sally smiled and started packing her belongings. If she hurried, she would be out of here before they started asking questions. It was never wise to be accused of hurting a national guy.

Okay, Sally reassured herself, nothing wrong with you. Time to move.

Montag, 30. November 2009

Muse

She wakes up from a dream that was so perfectly story-shaped that it was irresistible. She does not know where it came from or if it will work out on paper, but she knows her muse woke her up so she could take some notes and maybe start working. Time is precious for someone like her - job, two kids, household tasks. Every minute she spends writing has been stolen from "something more important", as the voice of her father - deep inside her mind, he died years ago - keeps telling her.

But now she will write. Writing is the only thing that keeps her functioning in the outer world. Her muse's voice is louder than the dead man in her head.

The small table where she usually works is covered with playing cards and dried up cocoa cups. Her younger daughter had some friends over last night, and the apartment is small. There is a chocolate stain on her cheap note pad. She doesn't mind. Things like these happen.

On her way to the kitchen with her hands full of cups and dishes, she crosses the living room. The cats have made a mess of the plants on the windowsill, and she puts down the flatware. Much time and care goes into her plants, even more since her children are almost grown up persons and so utterly independent. She ignores the whisper - only a few moments and it will be done.

The kitchen is a mess, but now she is in a hurry. In less than half an hour her family will get up, and then there will be no time for writing. She creeps back to her table. Where is that damn biro she uses for her notes? After frantic searching she finds it next to the TV set. Someone used it to circle interesting TV shows in a magazine. Why can't they leave her stuff alone?

Don't be so egoistic, she calms herself. Maybe they were in a hurry.

As she finally sits down, her head is quiet. The pictures from her dream have got lost on the way, and her muse is silent once more.

Outside, the cold winter sun starts climbing the roof of the city.

Peaches

Of course, "Peaches" was not her real name. But somehow no one ever called her by her real name, and I am not even sure anyone would recall it. She was kind of sweet and fresh and - well, juicy. Of course in an absolutely politically correct way, no double entendre or anything. Even after long days at the office she gave the impression of life and joy and nice surprises.

Unfortunately, there is a rule against this kind of people. Office gossip did its work. Peaches dressed too bright, laughed too loud, was too friendly to some and too honest to others. Of course everyone smiled at her and said nice things when she was around. For Peaches would help you with whatever problem was at hand. She would look after your kids or pets, go grocery shopping for you if you were ill or busy and listen to your problems. But as soon as she was gone, they would start complaining. She was not like the others, and the others knew it.

I mostly kept to myself. I had known Peaches ever since she started working here, and I genuinely liked her. Of course, I probably wouldn't have worn the same colours or the same short skirts, but with her it seemed okay. It was simply who Peaches was.

At some time, however, Peaches became aware of the stories that had started circulating. She became quiet and thoughtful, and from time to time she would glance around the cafeteria as if she wanted to find out who had started these rumours.

Summer went by, and autumn started tinting the world. Peaches and I often took the same train home, and it always was a pleasant walk to the station. Sometimes we would talk, sometimes there would be silence. That special day, the sun was shining, but you could taste autumn in the air - old leaves and wet earth and small beasts dying in the undergrowth. Peaches was silent, and I kept going over my shopping list. My family has lots of birthdays in October and November.

As usual, our train was late. We stood at the edge of the platform to avoid the clouds of cigarette smoke the other commuters produced. We could hear the wind rustling the yellowing leaves. The station was the frontier between civilizaton and the woods. Honestly, I am more of a city girl. I don't like mud and bugs and getting soaked in the rain. But I like having the sun on my face just as much as the next girl.

"What do you think goes on in those people's heads?"

And of course I had an idea what she was talking about, but I didn't say a thing. Sometimes the best thing you can do is stay out of it.

"You know, I am so fed up with everything. I don't know why I keep doing these things, and when everything's done it still isn't good enough for them." Peaches paused for a moment. She seemed deep in thought.

I got a feeling something was about to go horribly wrong. This feeling in your stomach when you're riding the roller coaster, and you've had this dream last night about a crash and people dying and everything... I turned around just in time to see her go.

Her green and brown coat was too bright for a respectable office person - or that's what the others had said - and her red and yellow curls had resisted all attempts at a reasonable hairdo. Her steps were determined, not too fast. She walked along the platform until she reached the end of it, and then she stepped down and disappeared into the woods. The colourful clothes hid her perfectly in the autumn sun light.

Right that moment my train pulled up to the platform. I stepped inside. What else was there to do? I never saw Peaches again.

Freitag, 27. November 2009

Can't choose your family

[Fiction] Friday Challenge: The family has just sat down to enjoy a scrumptious and beautiful Thanksgiving dinner (one which the hostess spent weeks preparing and hours baking), when an uninvited guest unexpectedly shows up …


"Peter, darling, could you go and get the door, please?" Sylvie was busy setting the table. Although there was no family worth speaking of and all their friends had other invitations, they would have a great Thanksgiving. Food was prepared - she had put all her skills into making a "false turkey" from ground turkey meat, complete with stuffing and elaborately formed, mashed potatoes, peas, turnips and a spiced pumpkin pie. The kids were already sitting at the table, waging war with their cutlery.

"Stop that, please. Remember, this is about being grateful."

"I am grateful that I won!" shouted Stephan and brought the end of his children's knife down on his little sister's hand. Tina started crying.

"Steph! Put that down and apologize! Now!" Sylvie gave him that evil mother stare, he shrank back in on himself and muttered something that might well have been an apology. Sylvie wondered who might have been at the door and went to fetch the steaming plates and bowls.

Through the half-open kitchen door she suddenly heard the children shouting, chairs crashing to the ground. Her heart stopped beating for a moment, then she realized nothing was wrong. They were excited to see someone. But who...?

An elderly woman was standing in the dining room, long violet coat, matching hat with a playful tiny veil. Thoroughly done silver-grey curls, body a little plump, but still very feminine. She glimpsed an expensive-looking conservative old ladies' costume under the coat and forced a smile on her face.

The kids were excited. "Grandma! What a surprise!"

Peter smiled, but his eyes were full of questions. He came over to her and asked in his whisper-voice that probably carried through half their house, "Hadn't you told me your mother was dead?"

"Well", she whispered back and felt her cheeks glowing, "it's kind of a long story."

"But she is your mother and not some crazy old lady who is going to kill us with, like, her hatpin?"

"Yes, this is family." Sylvie put more force in her smile to make up for her husband's impolite behaviour. Peter never was good around other people. But he was so sweet! She closed the distance between herself and the old lady and made herself embrace the visitor. The same smell, despite all the changes, despite all the years... obviously not everything had changed.

"It's good to see you, Da- I mean, Roberta."

The old woman smiled hesitantly. "I hope you are not mad at me for bursting in on you like this? You never liked surprises, even as a little girl... I brought gifts for the children, if you don't mind."

The kids grinned. Having a grandma wasn't that bad after all.

Sylvie gathered herself, straightened her shoulders and nodded. "That's all right. Peter will take your coat and hat. Why don't you sit down and dine with us? Want some wine?"

"Whatever you got, my dear."

Peter did as he had been told, but he threw her another curious glance. Here was hoping he'd behave himself until after dinner. This would give her the time to find out how to tell him that her mother had indeed dies years before they had met. And that the old lady sitting at their table, admiring the tasteful interior of their house was - her dad.

Wishmasters

The door of the shop is made from glass, and the young woman hesiting on the other side of the street is clearly visible. I know she is here for our offers, although she has spent the last twenty or something minutes staring at the display of the travel agency. Well, she must know the fake kangaroo and the little plastic igloo by heart. As she has studied the offers, I have secretly studied her. We don't get many customers, but they pay whatever we ask. You could say, we grant wishes. Wishes of a special kind, but wishes nevertheless. Of course, we don't tell those people whether what they wish for will actually make them happy. That is their business. We grant the wishes, they live them.

This young woman is dressed promisingly - she will pay what we ask for without second thought. The long, well-tended fox fur coat indicates she is far from poor and knows how to preserve wealth. She is tall, I'd probably only come up to her shoulder. Long bottle-blond curls are tied together with an exquisite silk scarf, but the wind has messed them up nevertheless. Some things, not even money can guard you against. I have noticed her slender legs in their soft, well-worn leather boots. Low heels. When you're that tall, you really don't need heels to make other people feel small. And I guess she has the expression to make up for the lack of heels anyway.

I don't want to appear waiting, so I start minor tasks around the shop. There are no dusty spots - I am very strict on dust. What we sell is really fresh and new, so dust would not be very becoming. Instead of those neon lamps that all the modern fancy supermarkets are so fond of, we have small, elegant lamps scattered all over the shop, casting highlights on our offers. Tiny faces, shimmering eyes, the best cloth money can buy. On other shelves there are more simple objects, made from the things you find on your trips into the woods and fields. The corn puppets have become very fashionable, and I am especially good at making them. And they work even better than the expensive porcellaine dolls we only buy and - well, charge.

As the wind chimes over the shop door begin to tinkle softly, I actually have my back to the door. I take my time, putting a small doll carefully back in her seat, arranging her skirt, only then I turn around. "Good afternoon, how may I help you?"

When this woman has made up her mind, nothing can stop her. This much becomes clear right away. "I want a child."

"Have you and your partner tried?" I look her straight in the eyes, but she doesn't even blush.

"Of course we have." She has the grace to look down on the counter. But that one glance was enough. I know her story. I know our service wil work for her. Some cases are hopeless, the women like deserts to our touch. No amount of wish-granting could give them what they want. And instead of selling them our products nevertheless, we tell them. Honesty is very important.

Well, not in all areas. I could tell this woman that her husband had a vasectomy. That he doesn't want children. Or that he is cheating on her with his secretary. Clichée, clichée. But if a child is what she wishes for, we will give her that.

I take her further into the shop, where she looks around at all our dolls and puppets. Hundreds of them, each prepared to make this special wish come true. Some only distinctly remind you of human shapes, others are done elaborately. This doesn't affect what we charge. It's the amount of what we put into our products that decides the price. I watch the young woman - she has a beautifull face, made up very expertly, but dull eyes, grey like dishwater. I know she is friendly and a tiny bit shy, deep inside. But she was raised to fill a certain position in the world, her family had great hopes for her. She wants something that is her own, so desperately, with so much force...

She has settled on a tiny doll, thoroughly made from black twigs and clothed in the most wonderful of little dresses, with flowers embroidered on it. I remember how much time I spent preparing this one.

I give her the instructions and mention a number. She doesn't hesitate. And it seems she has heard we only accept cash. From her shiny dark brown purse she pulls a wad of bills and hands it to me. "This should cover your services. And your discretion."

To others it might seem rude, but I take the time to count the money. Deperate women have tried all kinds of tricks on us before. one was almost as good as I am. It took me several seconds to realize that what I had taken was not money, but a pile of yellowish paper, cut from old letters. She didn't make it far, I saw to that. And I kept the letters and made good use of them.

I watch the woman go down the street with brisk steps, she has a goal in life. I use our tiny kitchen to make myself a cup of tea. From teabags, of course, did you think I would spend hours cutting herbs and stuff? Then I sit down in my comfortable armchair, relax and look into the cup. The steam rises up into the air, and I look into the cup and see - golden liquid, nothing more. I take a sip. Ah, delicious!

Montag, 23. November 2009

Dark alleys

This is not a safe area, and she knows it. Her purse clutched tightly to her chest, she hurries along the broken pavement. It is getting dark. Very few women would be brave enough - or stupid enough - to walk around on their own here after dark.

She is used to the offers she receives from the men around here. They don't approach her because she is beautiful or something (she is too short, her hair is a nondescriptive brown and her eyes and mouth are too large for her small, pale face), but because she is a woman and, as they put it, "available". Which means without anyone to protect her.

She has been working in this area for more than two years, and she knows how to handle these situations. Sometimes one of her customers will see them and come to her rescue (no, she is not that kind of girl, you know, she works in a bar and is highly respected - has been ever since she broke that big guys jaw with a heavy beer mug. She had to pay for the mug, but the reputation she gained was really worth the money.

Of course her job requires feminine clothes. Short skirts make the men go thirsty, she knows it, and she uses it. She needs the tips, too. But she makes sure her outfit doesn't get too offensive to be out in the streets.

She feels her heart beating faster. There is something in the air tonight, and it chases goosebumps up her arms. She trembles slightly under her long black coat which hides her curvy legs from view. The wind plays with her hair, pulling long brown strands from the bun at the back of her head. She stumbles ofer a crack in the pavement. Damn high heels. Hopefully next winter boots will be killer fashion accessoires.

Steps behind her. She walks faster, pulling the black fabric closer to her body. It is almost half a mile to the next bus stop, and there are many dark alleys along the road... she glances back over her shoulder. Someone is walking behind her. Not too close, with a steady pace. Hard to say whether he is following her or not. Does she know him? Not sure about that...

Suddenly he starts walking faster, the coat tangles around her legs and she has to stop for a moment to catch her breath. Her heart beats faster, and she can feel her body tremble. She knows what will happen next, but she is not ready for it. She walks faster, almost jogs, stumbles again.

And he is upon her, drags her into one of the dark alleys, presses her against the cold brick wall. She can see his eyes glinting. His hand is strong and steady on her shoulder, his breath hot against her face. He's too strong for her, she knows.

And she rises against him, pressing her lips against his face, feeling the stubble on her cheeks. "Hi Darling. I thought you wouldn't do it."

She has always wanted to live out this special fantasy...

Donnerstag, 19. November 2009

Stanley

It is late and dark and rainy. Honestly, I don't want to go out on a night like this. But Stanley looks at me with his huge, pleading brown eyes and makes these whimpering noises in his throat that I hate so much. So I get up from the couch, put on my boots and take the leash. We don't need it, really, but you don't want to be caught without when the police guys are out. I don't think we'll see them tonight - with this weather they prefer staying inside with their coffee and cookies, daring to believe that the bad guys will do the same.

It is early November, and everywhere Halloween decoration is still out. You know, I have heard all the stories on how it was an old tradition and the dead family members would come home and all. Bullshit. It's just another excuse to get money from people who are so bored with their lives they need "official" reasons to celebrate.

My coat is thin, and within a few moments I can feel the cold rain seeping through the dark cloth. Damn. Next weekend I will go and buy a sensible winter coat. Shoulder pulled up almost to the ears, I hurry along the sidewalk. Stanley is somewhere a few paces in front of me.

With his white fur, he is the perfect dog for night walks. To be honest, I never wanted a dog. My ex fiancé got Stanly from the animal shelter on a whim. It was on another whim that he slept with his best friend's sister. Bastard. Well, here we are now, both better off without that lame excuse for a guy. Kicked him out so fast he didn't even get to pack all his clothes.

I burned the rest.

Finally we reach the park where Stanley usually goes about his business. Hurry, I beg silently, just once hurry and don't go about sniffing everything like Sherlock Holmes. But of course he is a dog and does exactly what dogs do outside. The light from the street lamps is faint, but I can still see my 80-pound-puppy bustling through the wet bushes. Great, now I can dry both of us when we come home. Let's hope he doesn't collect all the vermin. Stupid dog.

It is very quiet around here. There are mainly old people in my quarter, and the people who want to avoid the city altogether use the roads on the other side. I see a bike passing by not too close. No lights of course. Who needs lights? That douchebag knows where he is going.

I wouldn't admit it out loud, but nights like these creep me out. Some people put lanterns in their front yards, and to me they look like grave lamps. I shrink in upon myself even further and try to get as much warmth from myself as possible. This is the perfect weather for telling ghost stories. Sitting in front of a fire, of course, not standing out in the rain, all alone... no one would know if I was assassinated out here. Until I would be late for my job because I would be dead by the time. Nasty thoughts. I resist the urge to look around. If there is an axe murderer on the loose, I surely won't see him until it's way too late.

The wind drowns out all other sounds except for the rain hitting the already-wet leaves. As if a bored child would shake pebbles in a plastic bag. But there, faintly, is a soft howling.

I look around. No white spot roaming the dark park. "Stanley? Stanley!" That stupid dog. "Stanly, goddammit, come here!" He probably got beat up by the neighbors' cat once again. That's a nasty furry bitch, I can tell you.

Ah, there he is. Coming straight at me. He is moving funny. I hope it was nothing worse than the cat. I guess he will be limping for the next few days.

The speed with which he is coming in this direction surprises me. Usually, Stanley is rather lazy and slow. Especially when it comes to obeying orders. His eyes are gleaming in the faint light.

Dull red.

Wait, that is not exactly my dog...

Not yet dead

The reporter looked around curiously. He had heard tons of rumors about this strange family, but no one had ever had the chance to interview them in person, write a full report about their life - and their illnesses.

Inherited hypochondria.

That was the key word. For generations, every child of this family had studied medicine or become a nurse or taken on another health-related job. All had done so to cure their own diseases. Which, in most cases, did not exist.

The family had been a town joke, a good story to tell on long winter nights, a famous rumor. On old photos the members were easy to spot. They all had pale complexions, hollow eyes and looked as if they really, really suffered from something.

The fact that these diseases only took place in their imaginations had probably helped them to not only not die at a rather young age, but mostly grow almost contemptibly old. Of course they all stayed healthy like young horses - no physician outside the family had ever found anything. But that was probably due to one of those world-wide conspiracies that were the latest fashion.

Carefully, the reporter stepped over a young, pale boy who was sitting on the door step with outstretched arms.

"Here, wanna see? I'm a leper."

Of course there was nothing to be seen.

"You have to come closer, it's quite fresh."

Politely, the reporter declined. Just in case.

Up to now there had never been the necessity for these people to let someone else into their strange and twisted lives. But recently, one of them had made it to the highest possible office they would ever dream of. Secretary of Health and Human Services. Gossip had it he had not been clever enough to be a "real" doctor, so he had tried something different. Male nurses had so many problems in this country, after all, with the complaints being filed against them and everything...

The Secretary was already waiting for him. "No photos, please. We will provide you with appropriate material from our archives. Splendid idea, this home story, really wonderful." He coughed. "You must excuse me, my poor condition makes this task so much more difficult..."

It was a very lively family, everything considered. Kids were running around - okay, some were limping, and one sat in a small box with wheels propelling himself with his arms (nothing seemed to be wrong with his legs, but who was the reporter to judge this?). The grown-ups were a little bit more civilized. They came in to complain about something, holding their hands over various body parts, moaning softly. But they were very friendly.

An old lady in a wheelchair brought them some tea. The reporter started feeling uncomfortable. He considered getting up and offering help, but the old lady - obviously, she was the Secretary's great-grand aunt - tsked him back into his chair. "There is nothing that can be done, but at least I am still capable to do small things around the house." She placed the cups on a tiny table between their arm chairs, smiled and left.

The Secretary shook his head mournfully. "She was such a great physician, you must know. Almost won the Noble Prize for her work on severe accidents in riders and possible cures. Many years ago."

The reporter thought he knew what this was about. The Sueperman curse and everything. "So, is that why she is sitting in the wheelchair? A riding accident?"

"Oh, no. She diagnosed poliomyelitis."

"You mean, it was diagnosed."

"No, she did it herself. We don't let any of those quack doctors near our family. When she realized she could not get up anymore, she conducted the tests. Must have been some thirty years ago."

The talked for another while, and suddenly there was a crash in the hallway. The reporter jumped up and was at the door within nanoseconds, but the Secretary stayed in his seat. "Be calm, nothing to worry about. It is probably just Henrietta. I guess she died."

"Died???" The reporter peered through the door and saw a tall, slim figure lying in a heap at the foot of the stairs, not moving. A cat came closer, sniffed the snow-white hair and stalked down the hallway.

"She does this all the time. Poor girl. Must be the third death this month. Trust me, she will recover from it."

Donnerstag, 12. November 2009

The man in the basement

Two years ago I started keeping the man in the basement. It started out as an opportunity. One cold winter night there was this hobo in our street, knocking on people's doors and asking for a place to crash. Well, most people wouldn't let strangers into their homes. Fear of being robbed or raped or killed. I am not afraid, but I didn't let him sleep in my house, either. Or at least not in the above-ground part of the house. I offered him my basement, though.

And that is when it all started. The next day, I simply didn't let him out. I don't know why exactly. It somehow just happened. I kept feeding him and giving him water, and he would beg to be set free again. But outside it was dark and cold, and he surely was better off here with me.

I started conducting small experiments. When the lightbulb broke down, I didn't give him a new one. So he didn't have any light at all. I started experimenting with diets for him, and I decided to call him Frank. For a week or so, I let water drip on a metal plate right in front of the basement door. The sound was audible even upstairs in my bedroom. Frank showed no reactions.

From time to time I would also provide him with water and soap for a bath. I spoke to him and ignored his pleads. I bought a chemical toilet when the stench became too bad.

No one missed Frank.

Probably no one even remembered Frank.

I know for sure that there was no police anywhere in our area looking for a lost hobo. So it was good he had me at least.

Some time ago Frank started behaving strange. He would bang together his food and water bowls hour after hour, singing nonsense songs or talking in a language I don't know. Some days he would jump at the door like a mad tiger, forcing me to keep him away from the sunlight using a long pole or a shovel.

And yesterday he stopped making any sound at all. I wonder what he is up to. Or if something happened to him. He was very old, after all. It's a sad thought. I always liked having him around me.

Maybe I can bury him in the garden.

I wonder where I will get a new one.

Almost six o'clock

ALmost six o'clock. Must hurry. Put the laundry up, do the dishes. It has been a busy day.

Sometimes I miss going out into the world and subdueing other enterprises or helping economies grow or whatever the current en-vogue job is. Ever since we decided to have kids, it was clear I would stay home until they were old enough to cope on their own - at least some of the time. By now we have three lovely - and very lively - kids, youngest almost three years old. I have stayed at home for over eight years, and the thought of going back into the outer world where I might have to fight for a good position scares the shit out of me. But sometimes I wonder what it might be like. When I have enough time on my hands to daydream.

Today, though, was one of the busier days. I mean, I get up early every day, feed the family, make sure everyone leaves for school and work and kindergarten. Then I go grocery-shopping or clean the windows or mow the lawn - we have a beautiful lawn, it came with the house we bought two years ago, it is really lovely but also lots of work - or vacuum the carpets or - well, basically run around trying to fix everything. And just when I thought I had finished everything, I got an e-mail from hubby.

GONNA BRING THE BIG BOSS HOME FOR DINNER TONIGHT, FIX SOMETHING FANCY PLS.

He is like that, always busy, always using caps. I heard it was considered shouting on the internet, but I don't mind. I mean, it's not as if I was living online, hu? In real life he is very sweet. If only he weren't such a spur-of-the-moment guy...

Okay, back to the store, getting something fancy that won't take forever to cook. This might be THE EVENING - we have been waiting for a promotion. On my way back home I call my parents and arrange "grandparents night" for the kids. They love it, my parents always let them stay up late and eat all kinds of sweets. And why not? I am not uebermom.

Besides dinner, I also have to "fix" my own looks. Despite the children and my age, I still look quite presentable. Most of the time. Okay, sometimes. When I have the time to get my hair done. Today I will have to improvise.

At seven, everything is ready and I look relaxed. The hardest part is making it all look so easy. Everyone knows it. I have only just sat down with a book when I hear hubby's keys turn, and the men come inside. I hurry to help them with their coats and be a good hostess. The boss looks around approvingly. Hubby, who is easily embarrassed in front of strangers, gives me a peck on the cheek. "Hi Darling! How was your day? You look lovelier than ever. Man, I wish I had that much time to enjoy myself all day long..."

Montag, 9. November 2009

Minotaur

Long time ago on a sunny island in the Mediterranean there lived a cursed king. Or at least his people thought he was cursed. For although he had a beautiful wife and a daughter who was as lovely as spring itself, he did not have a son.

Well, that part was not really true. The people thought he had no son, because the king's son was hidden away from the world and never shown to anyone. He had strange deformities on his head, like tiny horns, and his whole body was covered in fur. When the king saw his child, he immediately thought that his wife must have betrayed him, and he prepared to kill this ugly deformity, a child that was barely human.

But his daughter, beautiful Ariadne, pleaded for the life of her brother, and the tears from her blue eyes convinced the king. So the child was hidden away, playing in gardens that were surrounded by huge walls where no mortal was allowed to enter. The royal family, of course, did not count as mortal, so that was all right. Once a young page got lost on the huge royal estate, and when he was found wandering the beautiful gardens, the soldiers instantly cut his throat.

Despite being cared for like hardly any other child on the island, the boy grew to be a really wild child. He wouldn't be touched by anyone, and raw meat was all he would eat. With disgust his parents discovered that he was not only able, but indeed delighted to hunt small birds and rabbits. Sometimes you would find him sitting in a corner, all covered in blood and bits of fur. The chirping of the birds died out in this part of the island, and no one knew what had caused this. But whispers arose that this might be another sign of the king's curse. There were rumours of revolution.

By this time, although the boy was dangerous and hideous, the king couldn't bear to have him killed. So one of his wise men buit a maze for the boy, where he was brought and hidden and forbidden to ever come out again. In time, the boy forgot how the sunlight had felt on his skin and what fresh air tasted like. Without people who talked to him, brushed his wiry fur or talked to him, the boy grew ever wilder and stronger, trusting no one but his sister Ariadne, who would sometimes sit at the entrance of the caves and sing to him.

Sometimes other children were sent to him - slave children usually, or children from far away who had been found separated from their parents and were lost anyway. They would wander the mazelike caves for a few hours, frightened and crying, until the boy jumped out, playing tag with them until he tired of it and tore them apart. Those kids broke so easily. Their bones were scattered all over the maze, yellow and white and gnawed.

As the boy grew older, it became more and more difficult to keep him hidden away from the people and the world. His parents and his sisters had warned him that the sunlight might kill him, but one night, when no one was standing on watch and the ocean lapped at the beach right in fron of his caves, he carefully left what he considered to be his home for the first time.

This was only the first in a long series of secret excursions. Every time he became bolder, sneaking through the villages and peering through windows at other people doing what people do. He felt strange desires rising up inside him. It was not food or companionship he craved, but - something. One night he tried to get this something from a young girl who was out at night, waiting for her lover. The girl was shocked into frozen silence as he appeared in the dim moon light, and it was over before he really knew what had happened to him. He left the girl and ran back to his safe caves. Her family found her later, mind lost beyond recovery, wandering around the village naked, covered in blood and bodily fluids.

Still his family kept sending him companions to play with, so he wouldn't get bored or starve. He started playing with them - the young men they sent him only irritated him, so he got them out of the way as fast as possible, but he kept the women around for some time to enjoy their company.

His sister Ariadne, meanwhile, had heard the rumours of demons abusing the village girls. She went to the farmers and collected all the stories they wanted to tell her. She always brought special food and gifts to make sure she was welcome, and especially the old people told her lots of stories to while away the boring evenings.

At last, Ariadne knew she had to kill her brother. She prepared everything, and when they sent new people into the caves, she was ready. She waited outside, keeping the thread in her hands that would lead the young man back into broad daylight. She had given him a sword, her parents knew nothing about it, and planned to escape with him. She was still beautiful, but her eyes had taken on a haunted expression on hearing everything her brother had been accused of having done. She had spent long hours sitting with the crazy women - for there had been other women and girls, just like the first, some even worse, if that was possible. Now she listened to the sounds that came from the cave, the angry screams and the sounds of metal hitting stone. She imagined seeing shadows fighting at the back of the cave. Her heart beat fast.

Suddenly, there was silence.

Ariadne stood there, holding her breat, waiting for whoever would emerge from the cave.

Freitag, 6. November 2009

Down

Ah, here you are. They told me you were coming. Follow me, stranger. Follow me deeper down into the catacombs. That's what you are here for, right? I'll show you things no one else can show you, at a very reasonable prize. Come on, follow me. Careful, the steps are uneven. Don't trip. I hope you are not afraid of the dark. We have old-fashioned torches - electricity does not work down here, for whatsoever reasons. Stay close to me, and I will be your guide. You are safe with me. The ceilings are a little low, don't hurt yourself! There, I told you. Is it bad, do you want to go back upstairs? No? Fine, then stay with me.

These are the dead. Some of them died peacefully, in their sleep. They didn't know their time had come. They had plans for the next days, weeks, maybe even years. They went to sleep and never woke up again.

Others died in terrible pain. There are more illnesses down here - don't be afraid, it is not dangerous anymore - than you will find in your medical books. Most people do not know about them, but I remember. I remember every one of them. The putrid smell, the pus, the bumps on their bodies... I have seen them come and go. Be careful, those stones are very sharp. Don't cut yourself. You may not take them with you, but we sell souvenirs when you get back upstairs.

Many of these people were tortured and killed. By murderers, by the mob, by officials. No one has knowledge of pain like the dead. But you do not see who is who or who died in what way. All you see is bones, smiling faces with empty eye sockets. Rats used to carry the bones away - I don't know what they did with them, maybe built a rat cathedral. These people are all mixed up, their body parts scattered over this huge maze. But they are safe down here, with me. Just as you.

Come on, the tour is not over yet. Are you cold? It is always chilly down here, and the water ruins your joints in time. For tourists it is not a problem, but if you are of my age and have stayed down here for so long, you can feel time trickling through your own bones. How long I have been doing this, you ask? Many, many years. Follow me.

This huge cave is the only thing that is not man-made down here. Do you see the paintings on the walls? They are even older than the oldest bones down here. Some say they are magic. See, they seem to move in the firelight. There is a mammoth, and a gazelle, and what must be some big cat. There are more paintings, but they are hidden behind the walls of bones. Everything is laid out and sorted down here... femurs here, rib cages and spines over there. In the back - there, you see it? - is a collection of hands. Not all of them were attached to their owners when they came down here. So many stories, so little time to tell...

Yes, here we are again. Go up the stairs, be careful. Is your head okay? Don't trip. No, I won't come upstairs with you. I stay down here, always. You will find the souvenirs on the right.

Donnerstag, 5. November 2009

Honesty

They are sitting in the car, engine running, and it is cold. Outside it is even colder, but not by much. The exhaust fumes rise up into the air in thick white clouds. The old buidling they parked in front of is hardly visible.

It has been a terrible evening. Both have been longing to see their friends from college - another happy-ever-after-couple, an item for as long as they all can remember. The visit has been planned for a long time. And somehow, in all this planning and preparing, Phil and Vivian have forgotten to tell them that nowadays they hate each other and are getting a divorce. Instead of playing scrabble and drinking to the old times, they spent the evening sitting on the sofa and listening to their friends insult each other and feeling embarrassed and a little out of place.

Now they look at each other, and suddenly he switches the engine off again. "This is what happens if you lie to each other. If Phil had told Vivian he wanted to go on vacation alone instead of coming up with this bullshit about a business trip..."

"You are right."

Silence. Then she speaks again, "Let's make a deal. Let's always be honest with each other."

"I thought we always *were* honest with each other."

She sighs. "You know what I mean. All the - all these little white lies, the sins of omission, the convenient stories we tell when we are afraid the truth is not good enough."

"Okay", he agrees. "From now on."

They wait. The car engine ticks softly. It is rapidly getting colder inside.

"Is there anything we should tell each other?"

He hesists. "Well.. I can't stand your parents. Or your brother." There it is, spoken out loud.

"It wasn't that bad." And he smiles, relieved.

She consideres this for a moment. "The blue shirt I told you had gone lost somehow in the laundry... I threw it away. I thought it was ugly."

Revelations come faster now.

"Your roast beef tastes like cardboard."

"You're a lousy guitar player."

They look at each other and smile carefully. She shuffles her feet.

"When we're making love, I fake it. Most of the time."

He turns his head, switches on the car engine. Another cloud of exhaust fumes. They are still in front of the old building.

"Now, it's good we talked about it." Carefully he steeres the car onto the icy road. It is going to be a long drive home.

Mittwoch, 4. November 2009

A safe harbor

Tanya stared out over the harbor. The sky was clear blue, as it was most of the time, and already it was almost too hot to move. Seagulls were sitting idly on wooden poles, waiting for the inevitable tourist to drop them some french fries or fried fish. They had adapted to the modern way of life.

Tourists were the main source of income in this part of the country. They came by airplane and crowded the hotels along the beach and in the beautiful cities. They spent their money on colorful trinkets, overpriced clothes and imitations of designer handbags or shoes. They loved the climate, the culture - and the many possibilities to get wasted in the discos along the so called "fiesta mile". Where in most areas of the world you only find the passed out drunks on weekends, around here you stumbled over dead-seeming bodies every given day.

There was another kind of tourism - gleaming, elegant sailing boats and small motor yachts, drifting from one Mediterranean island to the next until their owners got bored with this life.

Envious, Tanya watched a young couple, all dressed in white and blue, enter a pasty shop to try one of the island's famous small cheese cakes. She knew the cakes were shipped all over the world, and even the most famous gourmets claimed there was no food experience like this in the world. Tanya hadn't even tasted them. And how she loved cheese cake.

The corner of the harbor where Tanya lived was not as impressive. Old, rusting trawlers and abandoned cargo ships formed a small floating city of their own, connected with each other until they did not look like a group of dead ships, but like a futuristic city from a science fiction movie. The inhabitants watched everything from their improvised homes and also watched over each other.

Most of the ships came from East European ship-owning companies. When the money had run out, the captains and officers had fled, and as if by magic, many of these ships had come here. The sea men and women were from East European countries as well, and in the evenings, when they gathered around the small kitchen fires for food and drink and merriment, a wild mixture of languages could be heard. Some would sing, some would tell stories or read out loud the letters they had gotten from the families they had left behind.

For the last two years, Tanya had not received any letters anymore. She had left a husband and two sons behind - twins, lovely children who must be ten years old by know. They could barely walk and speak a few words when Tanya had last seen them. She had come to work on a trawler because in her home town there was no work - not for men nor for women. The ship-owning company had not wanted to hire her husband, but they had offered her a job - at seventy percent of the usual salary, for after all she was only a woman and wouldn't be able to work as hard. And she had accepted.

Of course there hadn't been any money after the ship had been abandoned. She took whatever job she could find - showing tourists around, cleaning, cooking. Sometimes the other tourist guides would chase her away, and many tourists frowned upon her cheap and neglected appearance. She didn't have the money to dye her hair regularly, and there were few places where people would let them shower or wash their clothes. Whatever money she could save, she sent home to her family. At first they had counted the days when they would meet again, and her husband had told her everything about the progresses their sons made. After the letters stopped, she kept sending them money, hoping it might help somehow.

Deep in thought, she watched the harbor and the tourist life on the other side of the water.

Donnerstag, 29. Oktober 2009

Fertilizer

Everyone entering the small house could immediately see that Mrs. Wintersmith was immensely proud of her plants. This was not so much due to the medals, certificates and polished cups on shelves and cupboards - no, the trophies could hardly be seen behind all the leaves, branches, flower petals and air roots. The cachepots gleamed as if they had just been polished (which was not alltogether improbable), and you could instantly see that they were nothing cheap.

Between all this twinkling and gleaming and all the green living beings, Mrs. Wintersmith was just a tiny black spot, silver-grey hair tied in a tight bun at the back of her head. Ever since her first husband Oswald had died, she had mainly worn black and only abandoned the colour scheme for the short periods of time that she had shared with her next two husbands Martin and Ross, both of whom had died and given way to even more black clothes. When Mrs. Wintersmith had been a young woman, black silk and lace had complimented her porcellain skin and gold hair beautifully, but with age nothing of that female beauty had lasted. She had shrunk in on herself, grown ever smaller and tinier with the weight of the years, and now she was just one of many strange old women roaming the streets on weekdays when every sensible person was working or trying to get some more sleep at school.

People had always whispered about how unfortunate that poor woman was, with three husbands gone before their time. There had been no children, not the usual dogs or cats to keep her company, only the beautiful flowers which she bred in the hothouse in the backyard - the first thing she had bought after poor Oswald had had that terrible accident in the basement. The basement had been sealed ever after, because, as Mrs. Wintersmith put it, she couldn't stand to be with her "beloved husband down there". She had given all her love and attention to the plants - not roses, that would have been too simple, but irises, dipladenias, ficus trees, ... - simply everything that caught her fancy.

When she had married Martin, she had notgiven up on her plants, as many had expected, and the happy couple had been seen many times in the garden together, obviously happy. Martin had been captain of a cruise ship, and from his voyages he brought her even more exotic plants for her collection. It must have been at this time that Mrs. Wintersmith - Wintersmith was her maiden name, actually, to which she returned every time she lost a husband - started breeding Bonsai. Soon her tiny trees became famous all over the country.

It looked as if finally the woman had caught a bit of good luck. But then Martin retired, and only three weeks later had disappeared. His car had been found, engine still running, high on the cliffs, and after some investigation the police had been sure thatthe old man had committed suicide, not being able to bear life without his beloved sea. People had condoled the grieving widow, secretly feeling that she had lost her man to his first love.

The collection of plants grew and grew, and Mrs. Wintersmith started collecting prizes for them. With the years she became more and more peculiar, talking to her plants, carrying them with her in a shopping bag and referring to them as her "children". The people in the village liked her even better for this behaviour, and they were wuite suspicious when a new man turned up at Mrs. Wintersmith's doorstep. But they wouldn't have to worry long... the old people (Ross was a gardener and had been asked to redecorate the Wintersmith garden at first, but he had stayed for more redecorating, it seemed) behaved like teenagers, madly in love. But they were not young anymore, and maybe it had been a bit too much for the husband, for only a few days after the marriage (very small, very stylish - and with Mrs. Wintersmith all in white, once more, wearing the very same dress she had worn twice before already, ignoring all talk about bad luck, omens and fate) he had been dead. Simply lying there, not breathing, when his loving wife went upstairs to bring him his tea. Heart attack, the doctor had said.

The widow had behaved very guardedly, obviously keeping back her tears. She had returned to wearing black and talking to her plants. Surely there were no more marriage plans now.

Little Timmy, from the neighbours, insisted there were sounds coming from the Wintersmiths' basement, but his parents didn't believe him. "You have been reading to many horror stories. What do you think you heard in there? The rooms have been sealed for many years!"

Timmy's mother, Mrs. Gullet, nevertheless decided to talk to the old woman. Maybe there was something nefarious going on in the house without the old lady knowing about it? She went over and invited herself in on a cup of tea. At first Mrs. Wintersmith seemed not so happy about the prospect of having foreigners in her home, but dutifully she went and put the kettle on the stove. A few moments later the delicious smell of really good tea filled the room.

Mrs. Gullet stood in the living room and admired the plants. "You really have the green thumb, you know."

"Oh, I am just an old woman with too much time on her hands", replied Mrs. Wintersmith. She was balancing china cups on a small tray and managed to move gracefully despite her age. Mrs. Gullet could see why the men kept falling in love with that tiny old woman.

"Are you not afraid of dangers for your health? You know, chemistry and all that."

"Surely not." Mrs. Wintersmith sat down. She seemed offended at the idea of using chemistry on her precious children. "I don't use all that modern stuff you can buy. You see, Ross", she paused for a moment, "he tried to persuade me to try them, but I will stick with the old recipes."

"You won't go ahead and tell me they're growing this gorgeously on water and love alone?" Mrs. Gullet smiled. "Go ahead, tell me your secret!"

Mrs. Wintersmith thought about that for a while. "Well, you know what they say... blood makes the crops grow."

And Mrs. Gullet thought she understood. "So you're using the old-fashioned oxen blood fertilizer?"

Bear jobs

Bear has been waiting for more than two hours at the employment bureau. He is really huge - and furry - and the other people aiting keep their distance. When he was younger, he used to get upset about this kind of behaviour, and he would be mad at them and growl, but this didn't improve the situation at all. Nowadays he sits on his chair, still, reading one ofthe old papers lying about, ignoring the others.

But finally it is his turn, his number gets called up. Bear sighs and gets up from his chair. He tosses the paper back on the table. The ceiling is low, and he has to stoop down a little. But he takes great pride in being able to stand on his hind legs all the time, and he moves with a grace that you would not expect in anyone waiting around here, least of all of a bear.

The walls are painted in a shade of grey that probably was meant to be soothing, but it is more likely to depress people. The hallway seems smaller than it actually is, and the harsh lights coming from overhead make you look old and wrinkled, even if you are just a young guy looking for an apprenticeship after a short night.

Bear is not young. He is not certain of his age, and in the beginning it was a problem for the employees around here. The got used to the fact that he wouldn't produce any birth certificates, reports or anything. Whenever he got transferred to a new employee and the new guy pointed out that the papers were missing from his file, he would simply bare his teeth. This worked like a charm - way beter than explanations about how bears usually didn't go to school and had a hard time getting all the papers you needed today.

Bear knocks at the door, waits a polite moment, enters. The woman behind the desk has a grey face and grey hair, she fits into this environment. But she smiles at him - a sad little professional smile. "Well, Mister - uhm, Bear, I have to inform you that there's no vacancy for you at the moment."

"Really, nothing?" Bear is a tiny bit upset. He doesn't like living in the city, coming here on a regular basis, being stared at on the bus. He misses the good old times when he would stay in the forests as required, scaring some people, helping others, just as the fairy tale scripts told him to. Few people knew it, but fairy tales did not simply happen, they had to be conducted carefully and according to exactly laid out plans. Bear had been good - no, one of the best - but then people simply stopped believing in fairy tales, and there was no need for new ones. And there he was.

"Well, I know there is a Russian Circus in town - no offense, but maybe they could use someone with your... skills?"

Bear sighs. It is always the same. He takes the papers from her desk, looks at the adress. Well, it is not too far away from here. And he could do with a walk right now.

Dienstag, 27. Oktober 2009

For their own good

[I asked via twitter for someone to hand me three random words, around which I was going to produce a short story, just for exercise reasons. Here is what I got:

Gong - Priority - Changeling.]

************************************

Cyrus gave up. There was no use in trying to meditate when his mind was still buzzing like a bee hive. Carefully, he got up and brushed the tiny bits of dust from his sandcoloured robe. Just as carefully, he picked his way through the others, sitting in what appeared to be eternal bliss, eyes closed, posture and breathing relaxed. Everybody was doing better than he.

No, he tried to explain to himself patiently, they are not better. This is just a lesson you have to learn. (And with "you" he was of course referring to himself, but even when talking to himself just happened inside his head, he found it difficult to debate with himself, always saying, "No, I am wrong if I think..." or "That was a good perception I made when..." or stuff like that. He felt he had the choice between sounding like a Schizo or sounding like a fairy-hugging freak.)

Not having grown up with the concept of meditating instead of lying on one's knees in the dirt, praying to a revenge-loving God (with a capital G), he had found this concept of a church suspicious at first. He had only come to the gatherings to please his then-girlfriend (who was now his wife) Cynthia. For what he thought to be a sect member, she had always seemed so happy and open-minded and not the least bit uptight. Now, he had thought, what could be so bad about a church that produced this kind of people? Cynthia had never pushed him, but after a few weeks of dating he had been curious enough to accompany her. Everyone had been nice, there had been no secrets, and maybe Cyrus was even a bit disappointed at how very ordinary church service was held. Soon they went to a seminar instead of going surfing on Hawaii, and now here he was - on a sabbath year, fully supported by the community, trying to enhance his understanding not only of the world, but of life and the universe and all.

As far as he could tell, there was no hierarchic structure. Of course, some people had more experience and were the ones who prepared and held the services, but no one made the rules, it seemed to him. Even before he and Cynthia got married, no one had frowned upon them spending their nights together, and no one seemed to mind that they still were without child after more than two years of marriage. Having what they called "a good life" took highest priority in the whole concept of improving oneself and finding one's place in God's creation.

The gong sounded, soft and earthen and aethereal at the same time, and called everyone to dinner. Cyrus thought about changing into everyday clothes, but decided he would go and look for Cynthia instead. She had left him to meditation and said something about giving a lesson for the kids.

The community's children were educated by all of the people together. There were regular school visits and exams and all, but in their free time, they never were left to themselves (exxcept if they really wanted to), and there was always someone to learn or play with them or teach them something about the things that surrounded them. The plants, the animals or the history of the country. Probably Cynthia had shown them how to paint using colours made from fruit, earth and stones. She was good at that kind of thing (and others as well).

The only thing that Cyrus missed was meat. The community lived on vegetarian principles. Today it was lentils, if he remembered correctly. His favourite dish, and he could not deny he felt more healthy than ever. He spotted Cynthia, her red curls fighting the laws of gravity succesfully, and walked over to put his hands on her slender hips. She leaned back at him, and from the corner of his eyes he could see her smile. "Hey, honey, did you have a good day?"

"It was wonderful!" She turned around to face him. "The kids were great!" She took his left hand and almost skipped over to their dining facility.

Most of the people who had gathered here slept in tents. It was warm enough for it all year, and the only buildings around here sheltered the ill, the very young and housed some of the machines they used for field work. The kitchens were also in small huts, and in front of each of them long rows were forming now, each person bringing his or her own dish and cutlery.

While they lined up beside each other, Cynthia went on about how the day had been fun as well as enlightening. But suddenly she stopped in mid-sentence, thought about something for a minute and switched topics. "Did you hear about tonight's service?"

"What about it?"

"Well, they drew the lot, and it's Sammy's turn." She looked down on the ground.

Cyrus took a deep breath. "They found another one?"

Recently, the community had been faced with a large problem. Changelings. That's what they were called. Children that had grown up in the community, beloved and all, who turned out to be... different. Demonic, some people claimed. Spawned by evil beings that came to lie with their women, enter their dreams and their bodies. Something had to be done, and so they had started special services - nu pun intended - to purify the children. During the last three months, eight kids had been put to the rescue procedure. It involved a lot of hot metal, huge quantities of salt water and the strong believe that they were doing God's work.

In a dark corner Cyrus felt doubt rise up through his belly-warming happiness, and he pushed it back. This was not a sect or some dangerous cult. He was sure of it. Nothing prohibited, no one asking for their money. Most of the people he had talked to so far seemed very relaxed and friendly and wise. It probably was only for the children's own good.

He breathed in. Ah, lentils.