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.