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.

Montag, 26. Oktober 2009

Church upon a hill

"No! Let us out!"

It was no good. The shouts did not help. Slowly, the big doors of the church closed behind them.

Most of them were too weak to offer resistance. They were visibly ill - dark spots all over their bodies, eyes milky and blind, stinking liquids bursting from their bodies. With others, the illness was only just starting to show itself, and they were shaking feverishly. But a large group showed no signs of the deathly infection - yet. They had been brought here on suspicion, and it did not matter anyway. Within a day or two they would catch the virus, and it would be too late. The infection had proved almost one hundred percent lethal.

The inhabitants of the village had been stunned at the news. One windy afternoon, a foreigner had arrived. After weeks with only irregular radio and TV broadcasts (many of which in poor quality and in languages none of them understood), they had hungered for the news that had travelled towards them on an old-fashioned motorbike.

The news had been devastating. Large parts of the European population had died from an unknown disease for which no cure of vaccination had been found up to now. For months there had been no news from other continents, so it was very probably that the illness had spread all over the world, starting in a small village in Egypt, setting out to conquer the world.

Unfortunately, along with the news, the messenger had brought with him the virus itself, and since no one knew the signs, it had spread among them, making use of the good weather and the close personal contact that was part of their culture. Soon people were dying.

The village's only doctor, who was among the infected, produced the plan that might rescue the others - isolation. The old church on the top of the hill that had been abandoned two centuries ago with the flight of the last priest (upon being accused of performing satanic rites). The big windows were still intact, none of the stained glass pieces broken. Heavy wooden doors, almost black with age, had kept both humans and animals out, and apart from dust, cobwebs and a few white bird droppings, the old church benches were ampty and the cross hanging over the altar looked sad.

It took four of the villages strongest young men to open the church doors. Other people gathered the infected, the dying and the ones suspected of having caught the virus. They used chains, torches and long wood poles and did not give them any time to collect their belongings. The gathered people were shephearded up the hill, leaving behind their empty, burning houses, and into the church. Some collapsed on the way, and their captors poured gasoline over them and burned them on the spot, whether or not the last breath had already left their bodies. It was a matter of survival. The stench was terrible.

Devastated, the people stumbled into the old church, collapsed on benches or on the naked stone floor. Spots of coloured sunlight floated over them. Many were in shock or so far gone already that they did not realize what was happening, and the threat of being burned to death kept even the healthiest away from the slowly closing doors. The wood scratched over the uneven floor, the old hinges screeched, and with one last hollow sound isolation was completed, life locked out. The faint rattling of chains indicated the determination of the people outside to survive.

No food or water had been left for them, on the idea that life support in any form would only prolongue their suffering. The only things in here were those that the Christians had left long ago. And on the desperate march around the church interior, a young man stumbled upon a hidden treasure. Two old bottles of red wine and an unopened bottle of black ink. Looking for a way out, for a way to prove that he had existed, that he had breathed, he stared at the walls blanky, and his mind raced. Then he took the ink and a feather pen lying beside it in the dust. He walked over to the nearest wall and began to write.

Unfortunately, as is the case with most viruses, you can't see them without a microscope, and so some of the little buggers excaped the villagers' attempt to purify themselves. This is why a long time after the church incident, a troup of survivors from far away in hazmat suits found the village deserted, some houses burnt ti the ground, some in a state as if the inhabitants had only just left, bread still on the table, now hard as stone. Obviously the people had fled, trying ti save their lives. All around in the forest one would probably find the remains of those who hadn't made it that far, cleaned by the animals of the wild. In a stable the bones of some donkeys had been gnawed and liked clean, and the scenerey looked almost peaceful.

The hazmats searched the village thoroughly and found nothing of interest. Then they followed the burnt spots on the ground uphill. Charred fragments of bones could not hold their fascination for long, but the huge building drew them closer as if by magic.

The chains keeping the doors closed were rusty and did not offer resistance for long. The doors themselves were heavy, but finally they moved, screaming protest.

Soft sunlight entered the building through the stained glass windows and the now open doors. Colourful rays danced on bones and old cloth to silent music. The hazmats stood in awe. The walls were covered in spiderlike writing, different colours - night black, dark brown, grey, rust. The writing changed again and again, but even without knowing the language, the hazmats understood the message.

We were here.

Donnerstag, 22. Oktober 2009

Letter to Sam

Dear Sam,

Once again, thank you very much for the lovely weekend. I will never forget the way you looked at me, in the car, with the windows let down and the wind playing with your lovely hair. Up to that day I would have said no one could wear a pink dress and not look like a little girl playing grown-up, but with you it suited the moment so perfectly. You looked edible, I swear. Devourable. The sun glistened on your lovely gold hair, and you laughed, at nothing, at something stupid I may have said... you finally laughed. I have seen you sad so many times, even more during the last few weeks, as this dream comes closer to its ending and reality lurks in the shadows to feast upon us.

Oh my, this must sound so pathetic. The wine probably does not help one little bit. The colour reminds me of your lips, although you would never wear this dramatic shade of red - maybe it reminds me of your taste when we kissed, and the intoxicating sensation of it, and all the things that happened afterwards... but most of all I will always treasure the little things, like how you cut that apple for breakfast the next morning, or the way your morning gown lay on the floor like the shed skin of a butterfly, and you were already getting dressed and all busy with returning to your family. Your parents had this grand thing planned, and of course I was not invited... too declassée for the likes of them. Somehow I never imagine you as part of your family.

The hard part is - we cannot meet again. And you know that perfectly well. You know how the people would frown upon us, and how difficult it would be. I mean, I am used to this, but I could not bear to have them stare at you and tell lies behind your back, like trampling on fragile daisies. Everything would change, and although I cannot imagine one day without you - one moment without you - by the time you read this I will have been gone for good, and no one knows where to send my mail or how to contact me in case of emergency, so don't even try. You family will probably fix you up with some really nice, gentle, good-looking, rich guy, and I am sure you will be happy after all. That is the life you were designed for. Please, leave me this dream - of you, sitting on a white porch, ice tea in one hand, your letter case in the other, reading something with your head bowed and your hair trailing about your selnder shoulders. You will have lovely kids playing on the lawn, occasionally coming up to you for a kiss or a hug, and when your husband comes home from work you will stand up and greet him lovingly and put your arms around him and think of the time we had as if it had only been a dream... if you think of me at all. And above all this, you will hear his voice, "I love you, Samantha." For what else could he say to someone as adorable as you?

The bags are waiting at the door. I will leave now, and I will not return.

Love,
Helen.

That's what friends are for

Nataly looked at the computer screen and smiled. Finally she had got a reaction from him. What had taken him so long?

Oh, probably he had just been playing his crazy computer games she had never understood. Rob could spend days at his desk, using his notebook, without ever going online. This had always been a problem between them while they had still been an item. He would be late for appointments or still shoot at pixels when they were meant to be somewhere entirely else.

The relationship had lasted for about four months, and then Rob had decided he would not "put up with her nagging and the envy and all the questions any more". That was what he had said, anyway. Nataly strongly believed that he simply hadn't been ready to make a commitment. But maybe now he would be, who knew?

She had been desolated at first, but fortunately she had lots of really good friends - comforting, telling her what a complete asshole Rob had been (never giving her flowers and all), redirect her attention to other guys who couldn't wait to go on a date with her. Like Tommy, that muscled guy who worked in marketing, just down the office hallway. Sure, he never talked to her or greeted her or even reacted when she told him a joke, passing him during lunch break, but the other office girls had been absolutely sure. He had the hots for her.

But Nataly had not wanted Tommy. Oh well, he looked tasty and all, but she wanted Rob back. He had been stupid for leaving her, but she was all prepared to forgive him.

Svetlana had come up with the perfect idea to get his attention back. She had never been active in online communities till now, but they took a great photo of her, sitting on her pink bed, surrounded by her stuffed toys, in her silk pajamas, and created accounts wherever Rob was (and Nataly, too, of course, but Rob had blocked her from seeing any of his details or communicating with him). Svetlana had looked hot, and within days she had had lots of friendship offers from all kinds of guys, but she had declined. She hadn't been interested.

(Nataly had suspected Svetlana was a lesbian and did it all just to get into her pants, but she was used to this kind of attention.)

They had started an online conversation, with Svetlana obviously worried for her friend who was publicly indulging her lover's grief and threatening now and again to do something stupid. Other friends had started participating, asking her what was wrong and showing all kinds of sympathy for poor Nataly.

At first Rob hadn't reacted, and then he had gotten very angry when Nataly started hinting to the (not absolutely true) fact that he had betrayed her and behaved like a male asshole in every expectable way. That had been when Rob wrote to Svetlana (whom he didn't know because he was still a university student, while Svetlana and Nataly were both working at the same enterprise and had not been close friends while Nataly had still been seeing him). He had written her a long explanation, going on about how Nataly had controlled his every move (which wasn't true) and how she had started acting like a spoiled child (why, only because she had insisted he pay a little attention to her?) and that he had finally been fed up with obeying every whim of a "simple-minded, overweight, escapist little chick". But, he had written, he would swear every oath that he had not betrayed her in any way.

The girls had rejoiced. Finally a life sign of him. Obviously this worked. So while Nataly had gone on about how tired of life without Rob she was and how she could not stand to go to work anymore, she had also remarked on one occasion or two on how Rob had been rude to her. She had even conveyed that not only had Rob been rude to her on many occasions, but that he also might have hit her one time or two.

Friends had written to her, telling her how they had written hate mail to him - and one girl who went to the same faculty as him had posted pictures of his demolished bike out on the street - and Nataly had instantly felt better. She had exaggerated a bit, maybe. But that surely was not a problem, and they would sort it all out once they would be reconciled.

Rob had kept writing to Svetlana, begging her to help him stop all this, going on madly about how Nataly was obviously lying (which she wasn't, or not really), and they had come up with new details about how miserable Nataly was without him again and again. Svetlana had developed great stories about Nataly, depressed in her flat, not eating a thing, simply staring out of her window at work. She had been a great story teller, with an overflowing imagination - her stories were much better than the daily soaps and telenovelas the girls would watch together while coming up with new ideas and plans.

Then they had come up with the suicide plan. This had been one of Svetlana's best ideas. They would make up Nataly's death, stage everythng neatly, take pictures and send them to Rob. Then he would surely realize how much he had loved her, and when they told him it had all been a a stupid error, he would surely forgive them and come back to her.

Nataly had instisted that Svetlana play the dead body. She was taller, curvier in the right places and slimmer everywhere else and would look gorgeous in Nataly's favourite blue little dress she always wore on special occasions. Their hair was about the same style and colour (they went to the same hairdresser, after all), and if they hid her face no one would notice. Besides, Nataly had remarked, she knew much better how to handle the camera. Which was true.

They had taken several bottles of ketchup to the old railway bridge and cleaned an area right beneath the bridge thoroughly, because Svetlana was afraid of slugs and spiders and all kinds of creepy little creatures. Then she had layn down in the grass, and Nataly had begun smearing ketchup all over her. There had been rocks lying around, which would explain perfectly why there was so much blood.

"Isn't that enough?" Svetlana had asked, shivering.

"Hold still", Nataly had replied. "I have the zoom lens with me, and I'll take the photo from the bridge. We want every detail to be absolutely right, now don't we?"

And Svetlana had nodded and layn still again. Or she had tried. But since it was photography, no one would see her little movements anyway. Hopefully. If the camera would only choose the right shutter speed.

Nataly had climbed up the steep bank, prepared the camera and leaned over the balustrade to get a good shot. The camera had zoomed in, the picture gotten sharper - and it just hadn't looked right. Svetlana had still looked too - alive, for lack of a better word.

Nataly had thought about this for a moment. She had looked around. Ah, there! The solution to her problems - the only thing that would bring Rob back into her life. She had lifted the heavy rock, aimed and thrown it over the balustrade.

Svetlana, lying on her stomach, hadn't seen it coming. There had been a crack and a wet sound. Nataly had looked through the mirror-reflex-finder again, and this time it had looked just right. You could clearly see the dent in the head. She had scooted down the bank and carried the fallen rock away, because there had been blood (and other sticky things) all over it in the wrong places, and this would look strange in this scene. Instead, she had taken another rock and placed it right beside her friend's head. A little ketchup, and now it would look exactly as if the girl had jumped off the bridge and unfortunately hit her head against the hard material.

From the bridge, Nataly had taken maybe a dozen pictures and gone straight home. She had uploaded the pictures to her computer, opened Svetlana's personal network account and prepared a message for Rob. She had included two of the pictures - the best ones, where you could see the blood glisten and even steam a tiny little bit in the cold night air. Then she had waited.

A few minutes later she had received an urgent message from Rob, at which she was staring now happily. If this was just a crude joke? Of course not, she wrote back. She switched on the TV. Telenovela time. But watching them was much less fun alone. She only waited for that little PING sound that let her know there was another new message in Svetlana's account. Which was her account anyway, because Svetlana would never have created one on her own and hadn't used it except to help her.

PING! If they could meet somewhere? He felt terrible for all that had happened and how he might have misbehaved after all.

Nataly gave him the directions to a romantic little restaurant she had always wanted to try out. She would be there in an hour, she wrote. She didn't say that she wanted to look her best for him, no stains on her hands or anything like that. He agreed. He would be there.

Nataly was happy. If only Svetlana could bee with her now to celebrate! What a stupid accident it had been.

Mittwoch, 21. Oktober 2009

October sun

The nights get darker, and colder. Weeks ago the trees have started turning bronze and are shedding their leaves now, holding on to the skies with nothing but bare black branches. With the first nights of frost, the garden spiders have miraculously disappeared, and only the empty webs prove that they have been there at all. On the uneven sidewalks little puddles have gathered, black rain water, white ice crystals surrounding them like tiny white shores.

It's quieter outside than it was durinig the long, shining summer months. No parties all night long, no celebrations, no naked dancing under the stars. People have gathered around their electric camp fires, keep to themselves in small flats where there are protected and isolated from the wind and the rain. No one would stay up all night to see the grey autumn day dawning from the hood of their cars.

And the ghosts. Stories fly through the nights, memories and nightmares. Where there is light, there is the desire for dark secrets and hidden dangers. The chill on your spine while you know you are absolutely safe... and it all feels different when you have to walk home through the dark streets and listen for the sounds of footsteps and the howling of Bheansidhes and witches. We walk faster and work hard not to look back. They will get you when you look back. Everyone knows that, right?

But even the longest nights will not last forever. And as the skies turns lighter blue, greyish, then purple and pink around the edges, mist wells up from the riverside, twists its fingers around lanterns and parked cars and devours reality. The mountains start to shimmer, glow like from within. Deep sailing clouds hide the tops of houses from view. And suddenly - fire, the mountain tops balze and shine, strands of clouds like smoke curling up from the end of the world, and the river glistens in the first light, like the first river way back, and you hold your breath, and the sky is all blue suddenly and the cold seems so much more intense under the first rays of sunlight, and the world awakes.

Montag, 19. Oktober 2009

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

how are you doing? I hope you are fine.

Paul said that you do not exist and that it is all fairy tales and stupid stories for grown-ups, so I got mad at him. And I want to tell you I believe in you.

And I want to tell you, I am a very good little girl. Although this thing happened and Uncle Steve was taken away by the police. Really, it was not my fault. I can keep a secret. You know that. You know I did not tell anyone about the hidden sweets in Miss Taylor's desk. And I did not taky any. So you know I am honest, too.

Uncle Steve had told me it was a secret. And I should not tell anyone. But when Mommy found the photos, what should I do? She came to my room, and she sat down on the bed, and she had this really serious, Mommy-business face, and she was really pale. And I was very upset because, you know, it ws a secret and I had made the promise, and Mommy always says we must keep secrets, but she says we shouldd not lie, so what was I supposed to do? I did not tell her, she knew anyway. She showed me the photos and asked, did I want to tell her about the thing? And I said no, because I had promised. And then she showed me the other things Uncle Steve keeps in his dresser and sometimes takes out when we play. Some of them are very gaudy, and they feel funny, and it is not that bad after all.

So, you see, she knew everything upfront. I really did not tell her. Well, and then she asked how long had we been playing. And had there been any yother people. She had her very quiet Mommy-voice, like when she tries to find out if she has to be angry because we broke something. I was a bit afraid, but then I told her. You see, the date was on the back of the photos, so it was no secret anyway.

And all the time I had a bad conscience because of Uncle Steve and the promise. He is very nice, he talks to me and goes to the playground with me, and he always brings chocolate. And Mommy was so happy. I think she cried last night, but the bedroom door was closed, and I was afraid to go inside. She must be very upset with me.

Because the day after she came into my room with the photos and the other things, the police came and took Uncle Steve away. I was watching TV and he came through the front door, and then there was shouting and the police were all over him, and he looked at me and I knew he was very disappointed. Mommy said we would not see him again ever, and I wonder if this is my fault, too?

Now you know that I was a good girl and there was nothing I could do about the whole story, and I am very sorry for Uncle Steve and for Mommy, and I wanted to send Uncle Steve a letter, too, but Mommy got upset and threw the letter away and said Uncle Steve was a very bad man, and then she cried again.

Oh, can I have a pony for christmas? I want to name it Bruno.

Elaine, 8 years.

Samstag, 17. Oktober 2009

Wind children

Sara swore under her breath as she headed downstairs. House duty. This meant sweeping the paths, among other things. It had been raining and storming all week, and of course it would be one giant mess. As if she didn't have enough stupid chores already!
She almost fell down the basement stairs, retrieved the broom from its closet - full of spiders, and she hated spiders - and returned upstairs.

The catch felt sticky. Probably the Myer's little one had been playing in the corridor with his peanut butter sandwich again. He was a cute kid, but he left his marks everywhere. Of course his parents did not feel the need to clean up after him. "He is only a little boy, and we can't believe he made this mess anyway. You sure?" was all they usually said when confronted with peanut butter, jam or chocolate spread on stairs, walls and doors. Great, one more thing Sara would have to do before she could return to her desk.

She took the time to button up her old, unfashionable coat - it had been green once, but you needed lots of imagination nowadays to see that in the worn-out fabric - and knot her dull brown hair into a tight bun at the back of her head. Then she opened the door, wiped her now sticky hand on her coat and went outside.

The wind hadn't given up. Of course not. Swirls of yellow, brown and red leaves were dancing on the streets, and a steady rain of more leaves was coming down from the trees. It didn't make any sense to sweep the sidewalk anyway, Sara mused. But if she didn't do it on Friday afternoon, as the lease demanded, the old lady living at the top pf the house would immediately report her to the landlord. Obviously she didn't have anything else to do. Unlike Sara, who had a job and a little nephew she had promised to watch after this weekend, which would take so much of her energy that she didn't even dream of finishing her project in the night hours while Toby was asleep.

The leaves fought a nasty battle. They clearly didn't want to be sweeped and thrown into the trash can. Sara couldn't blame them, being honest, but she hated them for making her day even more difficult. As soon as she had cleared a section of the sidewalk, there would either be another rain of leaves - like shiny butterflies, tumbling down from the trees and catching the sparse rays of sunlight on their dance down.

Or another gust of wind would promptly undo her work. Sara cursed under her breath. It was like a bunch of children racing around excited and urging her to come along and play for a while.

"But I don't have time to play", Sara mumbled, then shaked her head. "Great, now I'm even talking to myself. I'll end up as crazy cat lady." She smiled at the thought. "If only I were a witch, the work might be done at the blink of my eye. Stupid reality..."

The wind died down for a moment, and she hurried to sweep up a big heap of leaves. Just as she was about to drop them in the trash can, a heavy burst of wind snatched them from her head. One moment she bent over the trash can, busy and far away with her thoughts, and the next moment she was at the centre of a red and yellow leaf storm.

"What the hell?!"

Sara started laughing. Since being angry didn't help, she decided, she could as well have some fun. She grabbed her broom, hopped on it as if it was a hobby-horse, and galopped down the sidewalk. "Wooo-hoooo!!!"

As she turned around, she saw the old woman practically hanging out of her window to find out what was going on downstairs. "What was that terrible noise?" she shouted in her high-pitched old-woman voice.

Sara smiled at her brightly and shouted back in a high sing-sang voice, "Oh, that was just a bunch of witches passing by. They wanted to know if I would join them." She imagined hearing kids giggle under the wind.

The old woman shook her head and closed the window with a loud pang. What would she think of Sara?

Oh, screw it! Sara laughed delightedly. Crazy old girl. Do what you want. For me it is - off to the Blocksberg!

Freitag, 16. Oktober 2009

Just another working day

Bleh. Too damn early. Need some coffee. It's been the same ever since I joined the Special Research Unit. The paychecks are nice, but since we are the first to deal with new subjects, we get to start really early. Like 4 A.M. – or earlier, in case of emergency.

Apart from getting up in the freaking middle of night, it’s a good job. Low stress level, regular working hours, nice colleagues. We even have our own office each. At first it was scary, all quiet, after six years at a cubicle farm. It took me a while to realize I could finally listen to my favourite web radio station – Beethoven FM. No headphones, no cord. Perfect.

I make a detour via the cafeteria. Can hardly open my eyes. The smell of coffee would lead me there blindfolded. Lucky me.

“Hi Betsy”, I say and hand her the coins. “You look more beautiful than ever.”

She giggles. “What would your girlfriend say?” Betsy is at least seventy, very round, very black skin with purple highlights. Her hair is still gleaming black - bottle black, I assume. I like women who care for their looks.

“She is very envious of you. I had to promise her, no more coffee at work. You can keep a secret?” I wink at her, take my cardboard coffee mug and head for the stairs.

A small pile of papers is waiting on my desk. New project, it seems. I start by ignoring them and sip my coffee. Black, hot, strong.

In the beginning it was a bit strange working for a government body. The other people in research are very nice, they helped me a lot. I love the fact that I am the first to know things, even more than I love doing good – protecting the country. I learn important things, secrets. It gives me a feeling of – power, I guess. Although all I do with the information is file reports, fill in forms. Once I know things, they don’t stay secret much longer.

As the caffeine kicks in, I stretch once more and read the file. No debts, no pets. No nasty secrets we could use. Lovely wife, two kids aged eight and fourteen. Two girls. I look at the pictures. Makes my work much easier.

A knock on the door, and Susan’s head appears. “Everything’s prepared, you can start.” She hands me a CD. I guess I know what’s on it. One last glance at the papers. In the hallway I turn around once more, back to my desk and take some notes for my grocery list. Mustn’t forget the eggs. Linda would kill me.

The room is ready as I enter. Green walls – hospital green. Looks like someone very sick puked on them. Can’t stand this room. My project is sitting at a table, thoroughly fixed. One eye is black and swollen. Obviously acquisition didn’t go smoothly this time. I take the glass of water and hold it to my project’s lips, let him drink. Then I put the CD in the player on the other table.

Screams echo off the walls. A young girl’s voice. “No! Don’t do it!” A terrible howl, high-pitched, dies off suddenly.

This gives me the project’s full attention. I take a seat, lean back, obviously relaxed and unbothered. “Your daughters could be next. Now, what do you have to tell me?”

Donnerstag, 15. Oktober 2009

Bath tub Saturday

Henry Boyner was sitting in his bath tub. The water must have gone cold meanwhile, he supposed. It probably felt a bit sticky, too, and the colour was strange, as far as bath water was concerned.

Henry Boyner was dead.

He had been enjoyiing his usual hot Ssaturday evening bath, which was usually followed by watching sports on TV and some romantic interlude with his wife Francis, when said Francis had appeared behind him - he had heard her plush slippers on the white tiles - and had grabbed his hair and sliced his throat before he had the time to turn around and say something nice to her. The cut had been smooth, clean and fast - years of practise slicing dead meat for dinner. He had always admired Francis' skills in the kitchen.

Looking at the off-blue wall had become a bit boring, Henry admitted. Following the practical ways of a thorough housewife, Francis had not let his head lol back and spill blood everywhere, but had kept it in his natural position, and all his bodily fluids had mixed with the fast-cooling water. The foam had dissolved, and out of the corner of his eyes - or at least he preferred to think he was still using his eyes - he could see it had taken on a brownish-red colour.

Strange, he had always thought the mixture of blood and water would be pink. It possibly depended on how much blood there was - and what else went into the mix. He was a bit ashamed when he thought of that last bit. His penis looked small and insignificant, floating in the water, and of that he was ashamed, too.

After slicing his throat, Francis had left the bath and phoned someone. He had heard her calm, quiet voice and couldn't understand the words. But he guessed it had something to do with him. Soon thereafter, the doorbell had rung, and now his wife and his two kids were standing in the batahroom, which seemed too small for all of them. Somehow they fitted in anyway. 27-year-old Michael, with his already balding head and the watery eyes behind very round glasses. Susan, 32 years old, with that tight bun of hair at the back of her head which always made her look so much older, and her lips pressed together tightly.

"We have to get rid of it", she said.

"Him", Michael corrected her, automatically.

"What shall we do?" Francis took a step closer and looked at him intently. Strange, she never had looked at him like this while he was still alive. She looked at him as if he were the most interesting thing in the world.

"Why don't we use the hand mixer?"

"Susan, don't be this stupid. I know you don't like cooking, but raw as he is, it would take hours to get him puréed. And probably ruin the knives anyway."

Henry remembered that it had always been a sore point for Francis that Susan had never shown the slightest interest in things concerning household tasks. He would have smiled at the thought, if he could have used his lips. His memories of the daily family life were fond.

"I'll go and google it", Michael offered. "There is an answer to everything on the internet."

"If only I hadn't thrown away the meat chopper last year", Francis mused.

From the living room, where Michael was probably sitting in front of the computer - Henry could almost see him: perched on the old chair, glasses on his forehead, a pen between his teeth (and God knew where he got that habit from!) - they heard, "It says some sort of ants wouold gnaw the bones clean within a few days!"

"And where do we get these ants, stupid?"

"Susan, be nice to your brother! He is only trying to help."

Dear Francis, always trying to keep the family together. Henry uttered an inaudible sigh. This would probably take some more time.

Mittwoch, 14. Oktober 2009

Comfort

Some people are very comforting to talk to.

As I brush my hair, I keep complaining. There is always something to complain about. Trust me, the world is heading for the worst.

"Oh, but it's probably not that bad", she says and puts the brush away. Her long black hair gleams in the bathroom light.

Oh yes, it is. Only yesterday I found my cat, dead, in the trashcan. Looks like someone overran him, maybe in front of the house, and instead of telling me, they threw him away. Can you believe it?

"I think they were just trying not to hurt your feelings, what with the hard times you're going through and everything."

"You think?" I don't believe anyone is trying to protect me. No one cares anyway. I take the time to brush my teeth and look at her in the mirror. The toothpaste tastes minty and a bit like lemon. Spit, gargle, spit again. Just yesterday the boss gave me another dressing down because the project didn't work.The thing is, it wasn't even my fault! But Alan, who messed up - yet again - had already gone home, so I got it. And on the way back home, at the supermarket, that slut at the cashier who shortchanged me...

"Now, come off it! They're not doing it just to annoy you. Other people do have problems, too." Shee looks straight at me. "You're not the only one in the world who's in trouble."

Hell, I could end their trouble. Sometimes I wish I could just take a gun, head into town and end some jerks' miserable lives. I'm sure I could get a gun somewhere. At George's place or something. In my mind dark pictures pass in a slideshow. I look at the mirror, look her the eyes - brown eyes, just like mine, MY eyes, with a mischievous smile twinkling in them. We put the towel down on the drying rack.

"Well, why don't you give it a try?"