Reblogging so that more can see this beautiful idea.
The nightmare was about over when she laid the test face down at the front of the room, shuffling out the door shouldering a book bag that was lighter than it should have been. She knew she was failing geometry. Math was not her specialty. She cared less about school every year, as she felt her soul slipping away slowly, painfully, drifting away from its purpose.
Nothing seemed real, or important. She would watch the news at night talking about possible nuclear war, and people starving in some country across the world with the deep cynicism of one far removed from it all. She imagined the bomb going off and not having to explain to her parents her failure in geometry. It almost would be a relief, if only it was painless, and quick.
A post nuclear world seemed strangely interesting and a world that she would want to explore in a video game, or a comic book, or even a movie. In reality, perhaps not. I’m sure a resident of Nagasaki during World War II would probably love to switch with her and have a failing grade instead of all the radiation and cancer and sudden death.
What was it a friend of hers always said? First World Problems. Yeah, it makes everyone who complains about slow internet, or waiting in line to buy new shoes feel like a jerk. Some big eyed waif in some third world country someplace was doing hard labor without shoes, and here she was in ‘Ross Dress For Less’ cursing at a long wait while she buys a pair of zebra striped patent leather heels.
First world problems, indeed. Meanwhile, she would go to school, go to bed, and wake up to go to school while both her parents worked during the day and were tired in the evening. She had a younger brother that had some special issues that seemed to take their time, and she felt like an afterthought. Someone that was background noise. Until she screwed up, but that wasn’t the kind of attention she wanted. She would rather be background noise.
She had saved up for those zebra striped heels from babysitting a cousin who was in that age bracket where they are too old to be a baby but too young for real school.
It was hard work because the little guy had a ton of energy and could completely destroy a room in a matter of minutes. Plus, he put everything in his mouth, so she had to watch him carefully. Balancing that with school work and studying was hard.
School used to be easy for her, but this year she felt suddenly stupid. She couldn’t concentrate and found herself slipping from the room while the teacher’s voice became a constant drone like a hive of bees. She felt so incredibly tired.
Finally, her teacher cornered her the next day as she was attempting to sneak out. “Natalie, wait a moment will you? I want to speak to you.” She gulped and sat at the nearest desk watching the others file out the door, some looking at her blankly, most not even looking at her. She had become invisible to most.
“Okay, come here my dear, just sit down.” Mrs. Grimble got up and shut the door after the last student had left, leaving the room to just Natalie and herself. “Okay, you need to tell me what is going on with you. I see you struggling. Coming in late, not turning in homework. I can see it in your face. Is everything all right at home?”
“This is about the test, isn’t it?” She said tiredly.
Mrs. Grimble looked her in the eye, and pulled out her test from a drawer, handing it out to her.
“I think it is more than that. I looked at your records from last year, and I can see a drastic difference in your work. I hope you know I want what is best for you, and I hope you feel you can trust me. I just want to help you.”
Natalie looked down at the desk, and then eyed the wall clock ticking away. “I think I will be late for my next class, Mrs. Grimble.”
“I talked to your other teachers. We do compare notes on occasion. And, it is the same story. There is something going on. We can see it. You just aren’t really present in class. Would you like to speak with the counselor? Would that be helpful?”
“I do not know what’s wrong. I guess I feel like I have to be perfect all the time. And, no one likes me. I feel stupid this year. I just can’t think. I am just so tired. I just want to sleep and not wake up.”
Mrs. Grimble looked horrified, and concerned all at once. Natalie wanted to shove her desk over and scatter all the pens and pencils onto the floor. She suddenly felt anger toward her for all the fake sympathy, the pity.
She didn’t want sympathy, or pity. She was all alone, and everyone seemed false and fake. She didn’t trust Mrs. Grimble. She didn’t trust anyone. She did have a secret, but she wouldn’t share it here, not with anyone at the school.
“I think dear, that we should schedule you with an appointment, to see Mrs. Fenton. It can’t hurt, right?”
“You want me to reassure you, Mrs. Grimble? Or is this your way of asking my permission?” Mrs. Grimble was jotting something down on a pink slip and she slid it across the desk toward Natalie.
“Are you going to tell my parents? I don’t want them to be bothered with this.”
“Don’t you think they should know that something is bothering you?”
Natalie looked at the slip in front of her, not reaching out to take it.
“It would just make them worry about me. I don’t want to be a burden. I don’t want them to fret or worry about me. They have their hands full dealing with Brian.”
“How is your brother doing, Natalie?”
“As good as can be expected for someone who is slowly dying. He takes all their time when they aren’t working, and they worry over him, and sometimes they get hopeful. Then other times things are bleak. I am tired of the roller coaster at this point. I just wish a miracle would happen, or it would be over. Sometimes I hate him. Isn’t that terrible? I am a horrible person aren’t I?”
“No, dear. You have a lot on your shoulders right now. Maybe you should just take a leave from school. It would be hard to catch up, but I can talk to the principle and the counselor, and we can explain the situation…”
“No, I don’t want to take a leave. I just want things to be easy again. I don’t want to be stuck in the house watching my brother all the time. Watching him slowly get worse. Just watching. I’d rather be bored out of my mind here.”
“Natalie, you want to graduate with your class, right?”
She said nothing. Mrs. Grimble pushed the paper a little closer to Natalie. “Take it. Go to Mrs. Fenton. It can’t hurt.”
Natalie reluctantly took it, and lifted her bag and didn’t say another word. Mrs. Grimble watched her leave and began composing an email on her computer.
“What is life? Why are we here? I mean, what’s it all for anyhow?” The curious red head asked her Uncle in all seriousness, her eyes squinting to avoid the glare of the campfire as the flames toyed with each other in a never ending battle for supremacy. He laughed a deep, carefree laugh. She asked so many questions that he shook his head after awhile. She was a born inquisitor, and was tireless in her examinations. She wouldn’t quit, even after the rest of the children grew tired and went to sleep in their tents.
“Life,” began her Uncle choosing his words slowly, “is complicated. It can’t really be summed up in one word, nor can I explain it in a one night. It is one of those things that we do year after year. We search for the why’s and the what for’s. It wouldn’t be any fun if we started with all the answers, would it?”
She looked solemn a moment, her face puzzled, the words settling into the niches of her young brain. “Well, what if I want all the answers?” Her Uncle shook his head again, and chuckled. “Well, one of the first things you’ve got to learn, and this is a big secret. In fact, come closer.” He motioned with his hand gently for her to crane her head as near to him as she could conspiratorially.
“The secret?” She whispered hopefully when she deemed she was close enough. The fire warmed them both, and the crackling of the wood was soothing in its own way.
“Awh, yes, the secret. First, you must promise me something, then I will share the secret with you.” The red head gave a frown, unsure of the new conditions of this secret.
“All right, I promise.”
“Well, then. You promise? You promise this will be the last question tonight? Your Uncle is getting tired, and must get some sleep, too.”
She frowned, she didn’t like this promise, but since she had all ready agreed, she could do nothing but nod. “The secret is…,” he began again, watching her face light up in anticipation, “No one has all the answers, and the world doesn’t give you what you want, but dishes out what it has.”
“That can’t be the secret!” she shouted. Her Uncle laughed again.
“See? Not everything is as you would want it. Better to discover this now, then later. And, since you promised, you must go to bed. And, I can get some sleep.”
“But I didn’t promise to go to bed!” She cried, horrified at the thought.
“Well, I am tired, and I can’t stay up to watch you, so you must sleep like the others. Your mother is all ready asleep. It is only fair that I get to sleep too.”
She grudgingly agreed, and walked slowly to her tent with her little face turned toward the ground in disappointment. Her Uncle watched her in silence, as the fire started to die down. He absently added one more log, thinking. Who would be there to answer his questions when the time came? He got up stiffly, and made his way to his tent, contemplating life and its meaning.
He watched her die slowly in his mind’s eye. Imagining the temperature of the water, of the look on her face. Was it windy? Was she tired?
Everyone else stared blankly, avoiding the pain and confusion within his eyes. Instead, they studied the wood grain of the floor boards, or the unfinished knitting of the caretaker. How did she come to die so young, he heard someone say. Who was she, and why should it matter you might ask?
She had hair of the softest yellow melting into a warm golden cinnamon at the tips. Her eyes were the blue of the tide rushing onto the beach. Not a true blue, but a blue with a hint of a cloudy grey. Her hair lay in damp curls, framing an oval face while a few strands got in the way of her apparent serenity.
In death she appeared to be an angel, in life she had been more of a demon, he knew. Her laugh cut through the miles of his memory like a hot knife cuts through a pat of butter, efficiently, and ruthlessly accurate.
For all her sharpness and uncontrollable anger, he found himself missing her. She was the sea that kept life from becoming an endless horizon with nothing to look forward to.
She was life, in all its irony and bitterness. In death, she was like a forgery. She was somehow fake; unreal like a child’s life size doll. This wasn’t her. This was a mannequin dressed in her clothes, wearing her make up, wearing her knowing, sly smile.
Everyone else in the room had known her, or thought they did at any rate. They knew of her, surely, knew she loved orange sherbet ice cream, and that she hoped to get a Bachelor’s degree in computer science and that her favorite color was purple. You know, just like a million other girls’ her age.
No one knew her quite like he did. They saw an innocent friendly smile, not the sly mischievous smile of one who knew they knew, and loved the fact that you didn’t. But they didn’t really see what was behind that. The forced nature of it, the fact that it actually meant, “I know nothing. I wish I knew what you know, but know that I can’t.”
Her coldness wasn’t cool. It was hot, tempestuous; interesting. It wasn’t coldness. Not really. It was passion. She was very lonely, this girl. She thrived on her imagination. Everyone else came and went around her, but she had her own reality which stayed the same, until the end, of course.
At the end, it must have all come crashing down, the blue skies, the white Christmases, the rose colored glasses and the yellow walls of sunshine. It all came crashing down, and it took her with it.
Life without her isn’t life, but the xerox copy of a copy of a copy of what it once was and never would be again. He sighed. Everyone else shifted uncomfortably at the ongoing silence. A cough was heard, and a quiet murmur. Perhaps a prayer for one who never prayed?
The water of the sea near the lighthouse was cold. It must have made her cold as ice when she dived off the rocks into the brutish water below. It invaded her nose, her mouth, her body, until it turned her a sickly pale blue green color. They called him then, after pulling her ashore when the lighthouse attendant who happened to take a late night stroll on the beach saw her.
The local ambulance was called immediately of course, but it would be a while before they arrived. Family was called and she was carried into the lighthouse, seeming heavy and blue. Her mother would ask why, but no one answered. Why? Why not?
She had so much to look forward to, someone said. The line was a tired one, and didn’t much alter the mood in the small circular room. The rocks had scraped some skin off her shins someone noted. A kid’s injury, not the injury of the dead, he thought.
Despite the hand wringing and solemnity, she was just another lost soul, another person who gave up before they even started.
Luscia of the spring morn, skin as fair as milk, with braids of gold down to her waist, wearing a silly dress of sky blue, was walking to town in her clumsy wooden shoes. She hummed off key, and kicked a pebble or two.
She had a basket of bread and cheese for lunch, as well as a few coins for some pretty bauble she might find. She stopped to pick some flowers, and proceeded to dismember them, and laugh uproariously at their fate.
Luscia began to collect a few to keep intact in a small blue vase in her window. She hoped they would keep their freshness and smell until she got home. Her armload got larger and larger until it was filled with various flowers and weeds.
She heard a rustle in the tall grass of the meadow, and had to stop, arms full of flowers for her vase, and her pleasure. She looked toward the noise, her tune now forgotten upon her lips. A red fox poked its head out of the grass briefly, and fled from the silly blue-eyed girl in the sky blue dress.
The girl followed the vibrant red till it was gone. Luscia let her flowers go for this new treasure, and ran after the fox giggling mischievously.
Luscia followed the path easily at first, and began to hear the tumble of a brook or a stream. She went on a ways and soon the water became evident. The girl looked down at her wooden shoes in disgust; the bank of the stream was muddy and now so were her shoes. She looked to her pretty favorite dress and realized with dismay that she had gotten mud speckles on it as well.
Luscia’s mother was normally a very sweet lady, and would give her girl a piece of taffy if she were especially good. From the girl’s past experiences however, muddied clothes changed her mother into a demon of a woman, who was as likely to take the large wooden spoon in the kitchen to her behind.
Luscia was then at a crossroads. She truly wanted to follow the fox, but then she had muddied her dress all ready. There might still be time to go back home with her bread and cheese and the coins, and somehow win her mother’s forgiveness.
How to do that? Luscia came up with no clear plan of action, which made her decide to follow the fox further. Her mother would be mad anyway, so she might as well continue on this path.
Luscia took a deep breath and started to walk forward considering herself brave. Soon, the girl began to be silly again, and started jumping and singing songs. Before she knew it, a root had caught her wooden shoe and she fell face forward into the briars on her right side. Oh, what a howling she started after that. If the fox had still been near that would have been his cue to run further away.
She cried as she pulled herself out of the brambles and brushed the debris from her dress. Now she was dismayed. Her dress was now covered with berry stains and dirt, and was torn in several places. It would need mending as well as cleaned.
The girl knew for certain that her mother would be angry at her now. She decided to continue to follow the stream, which she fancied would lead her to the elusive fox.
Luscia walked on, but caught no sight of the fox. It occurred to her then, that he might not be following the stream like her, and that he might have heard her cry in the briars. She looked around her and saw that she was deep in a wood, and that it had gotten darker, much darker than when she had last looked toward the sky.
The girl heard her stomach rumble loudly, and glanced at the basket still on her arm, almost forgotten like the flowers she had long since dropped.
Lusica sat down on a nearby log, and contented herself momentarily with a piece of bread and cheese. She supplemented this with some choice blackberries and soon felt satisfied. The only thing she could wish for would be a cold jug of milk, and the red fox of course.
Luscia had been cheerfully thinking by the moment, and it now looked quite dark. She looked around her, and knew she had no idea where she was, nor how she would get home. The happy girl began to get afraid for the first time, and this feeling steadily increased, as she remained sitting on the log, terrified of the prospect of how to get home.
The fox was now finally forgotten, but it was too late for Luscia.
She cried out of fear and loneliness and wished she hadn’t strayed from the road to town with her basket. She tried to smooth out her ruined little dress, crying over the tears in it, and the dirt smudges on it. She stopped a moment, hearing another rustling noise in the nearby bracken.
The girl held still, and became quiet. In the daylight the rustle had been an adventure starting sound, at night in the dark woods the rustling took on a much darker meaning in her young mind.
She began to tremble, and debated internally whether she should run or stay where she was. The rustling became louder. The girl couldn’t sit on the log any longer. Luscia got up quickly, and began to run. Her wooden shoes stopped her again, and she tripped and fell to the ground a few feet from the log where she had sat.
The rustling had stopped and something now padded up to her. She saw no red, she could hardly see a thing it was so dark. She stumbled up, and discovered that her ankle hurt intensely. She had no time to think about it much, she threw off the remaining wooden shoe and began to run barefoot. The thing lashed out, and she felt animal teeth bite into her foot. She yelled. She ran with a new purpose, and much faster than she had ever before.
The thing could be heard following her whenever it broke a twig on the ground, or if it went briefly into the bracken. Otherwise, the girl couldn’t hear it over her own harsh breathing and barely stifled sobs of pain.
She couldn’t see where she was going even, only going on, forward into more darkness, away from the thing.
It followed closely, but hung back a ways, as if it were waiting for something. The girl dropped her basket thinking maybe the cheese would distract it from pursuing her. This thing, whatever it was, didn’t seem to hesitate much over cheese, because she could now hear it panting off to her left somewhere.
This creature of the night was obviously much faster than Luscia, and she knew it, but it wasn’t over eager to catch her and she didn’t know why. Perhaps, it was simply waiting for her to tire; perhaps it was waiting for more things to arrive. She shivered at the thought. This was no fox. Foxes didn’t go after children. Not even naughty ones. She had the name of it on her tongue, but dare not say what it was, although in her child’s heart she knew it very well.
She could dimly feel the many cuts on her feet, and the scratches on her arms, and even her face where a tree punished her lack of vision with the scrape of a low hanging branch.
Her sky blue dress was now in tatters, but she had no time to mourn it. Her long gold braids slowed her down too, getting tangled here and there, and she felt the pain when a chunk of it was yanked free from her head while she was running.
Luscia began to feel her energy waning, and although she tried not to slow down, it became difficult to keep her legs moving. She began to trip over her own bloody feet without the aid of her cursed wooden shoes.
The thing was hovering about her now. It moved in briefly, taking a jab at her with its white animal teeth. She fell. She could feel it now, as it tore at her bloody feet. Her terror made her scream, and then she went limp with fear. Her child’s heart gave way to its death, and she lost consciousness and never awakened to her dismemberment by the creature.
Luscia’s mother went in search of her child when night fell, but she went to the town, not the woods, and asked the baker if he had seen her, knowing that Luscia had some coins and had a liking for sweets.
He hadn’t seen her, and neither had the hat seller. Luscia always took a look at the hats, although she never had enough to buy one. Her mother returned home reluctantly, filled with sadness and anxiety.
Soon, the town had almost forgotten the little girl known as Luscia as the days went by. Tatters of sky blue cloth and a muddy wooden shoe were all that were ever found.
Her mother never did forget of course, and some of the other children were slow to forget, for their mothers’ didn’t let them out at night much after that. Soon the children made a song out of the fate of poor Luscia.
‘Luscia of the spring morn, skin as fair as milk, with braids of gold down to the waist, a silly dress of sky blue,
Whence did ya go in the night? To the town with milk and cheese, or to the woods as much as you please!
Luscia of the spring morn, skin as fair as milk, with braids of gold down to the waist, a silly dress of sky blue, wooden shoes and silly tunes, flowers are for fools!
‘Whence did you go in the night? To the town with milk and cheese, or to the woods as much as you please?
When the morn came to find ya gone, your mother went mad with grief to know that ya went to the woods, not the town, as much as you please, with milk and cheese!
‘Luscia of the spring morn, skin as fair as milk, with braids of gold down to the waist, a silly dress of sky blue,
Lost in the woods to the night, poor girl of the spring morn, lost to the night, and for the wolves to eat like good, milk, bread and cheese!’
The room consisted of a wooden chair, and a faded green rug near the rock fireplace. The fire blazed merrily, little sparks here and there dancing among the embers. The glowing light brightened the small room considerably.
An old woman was in an old wooden rocking chair with a comfy but worn afghan covering her lap near the fire. Her old wrinkled hands were outstretched toward the fire seeking additional warmth.
The stranger shut the door behind him loudly, and put his wide brimmed black hat on a peg near the door. He strode in wide strides to where the old woman sat.
She didn’t seem to notice his presence. She had some knitting materials at her side, kind of a haphazard jumble of green and brown yarn. The man stood a little to the right of her chair as she rocked it gently and evenly; the wood making a sharp creaking sound.
“Old mother. I have come home at last. Do you know why?” The man said leaning toward her ear. His black eyes flashed with a cruel intensity, the fire making him appear devilish.
The old woman didn’t turn her head, but calmly said, “Of course. You have come to finish what you started years ago. You have come to kill me.” She didn’t stop knitting, only hesitating over a cumbersome knot as a hint of annoyance briefly crossed her face.
The man’s expression changed little. Some of the glee had been stolen from his eyes by her calm and emotionless affirmation of his intentions. The old woman had done this sort of thing for most of his life, and the man felt somehow cheated of his victory over her.
“Old woman, that is so. Why don’t you put that knitting down?” The man’s tone had a bit of hurt pride and a mixture of impatience about it now. Somehow slaying the old woman while she was working her needle seemed fundamentally wrong to him, while the act of killing her did not.
“You are a grown man now, and left this house when merely a boy. I wasn’t even aware that you had gone that day, till you didn’t clamor and holler for food first thing,” the old woman said, her voice tired and hoarse. The man only grunted in response. He had a tool especially prepared for this day, and he had taken meticulous and proper care of it just for this moment.
He pulled out a slender blade, a small sword or a large knife, when a gun would have done as well. He wanted to use a blade for a reason however. He wanted to see the look of pain on her face. He wanted to feel the blood when the metal cut through the corpse-like body of the old woman.
“It is your time, old mother.” The man said quietly in anticipation. The old woman continued working, looking toward the fire. If she heard him she gave no sign.
The man took out his custom sword knife out of its sheath of oiled leather, admiring the gleam of freshly sharpened metal as it gleamed from the firelight.
He placed it against her throat, adding just a little bit of pressure. He smiled at the little line of blood he had caused. The old woman didn’t give him the satisfaction of a reaction, merely looked ahead toward the fire as before.
There was a loud knocking at the door in the next moment. It was very loud, and happened again. The man looked toward the door, and cursed under his breath.
“Old mother, tell them it is all right, and that you wish to visit another time,” The man hissed in her ear, moving the blade only a little ways from her throat so that she could speak proper.
“But, dear boy, that would be a lie. You would have me lie, when you know how much I despise liars.” Now it was the old woman who had a glint in her eye. The man was now at her mercy because she knew he wanted her dead, and that this call of hers wouldn’t give him much time to flee the scene.
However, she must know she was dead either way. Whatever love had once existed between these two creatures had died a long time ago, and neither could remember when it had existed.
“Little Joe, Maryann, by all means come on in. The tea is ready in the kitchen, and i have a fresh baked apple pie for you!” The old woman yelled with sudden strength. The man glared at her, and lifted the blade just as the couple opened the door and entered.
Maryann shut the door, while her husband exclaimed, “Sir, what do you think you are doing here? Leave my grandma alone.”
The man was taken by surprise by the face displaced before him. It was so much like the face of his brother. The one that the old mother had favored to a fault. He had hated him so much, almost as much as he had hated the old woman. He now found himself more sad than hateful. This visage was much younger than his brother would have been on this day. It was his brother Joe’s son, and he was wedded as well.
This made the man realize how much he had missed of life after he ran away from home. This made him hesitate. The old woman grabbed at his hand with renewed energy and took the slender and rather small sword from his shocked fingers.
The old woman didn’t hesitate but neatly drove the blade through his back while he faced the newcomers. He felt it and put his hand where the blood began to well, in yet more surprise and pain. The old woman calmly reached out for a nearby wooden cane and motioned for the couple to follow her into the kitchen where the tea and pie were waiting.
“Well, that Johnny was always a failure. Too bad though. He is ruining my green rug. He always did, so I guess that’s nothing new. Come on, why are you standing there like that? We can’t let him stop us from our visit. He has tried to kill me before. Well, sit down!” The old woman ordered with a happy smile, oblivious to the act she had just done.
Little Joe and Maryann reluctantly sat down at the table, both glancing nervously into the other room. “Grandma, don’t you think, we had best call the Doctor? Or something? There is a man bleeding to death in the other room.”
“So there is,” answered the old woman. “But then, you both saw him towering over me with that fool’s sword, don’t you? Well, it is nothing then. Here have some pie. I made it for you, especially.” The old woman dished out a slice for each one, and gave them each a cup of tea. The old woman looked at her apron in disgust. Well, laundry would be on her to do list for the next day, anyhow. She removed it carefully, and threw it into the sink.
“So, my dears, do you think your child is going to be a girl or a boy?”
Maryann remained pale, and knew not what to say. Little Joe answered, recovering a bit quicker from the shock. “Actually, we are still not sure; it is still a ways off after all. But, we were thinking if it is a boy, of naming him perhaps after my Uncle who disappeared. I wonder what happened to the poor fella.”
“Hmm. Hard to say. Runaways are a sad lot.” The old woman said sternly. “I think Joseph would be much better suited for a boy though, myself.”
Maryann finally managed to speak and trying to sound normal said,” Of course, it could be a girl, and then I am sure we can name it after you, Grandma Mathilda.”
Little Joe nodded, patting Maryann gently on the hand. It was then that another knock came at the door. It was also very loud. They all looked at each other, no one saying a word.
The office was hot and stuffy. It was an unusual business. They did reviews of short stories instead of novels, and published them into one volume entitled Short Stories of Suspense and Wonder.
There would be the usual stack of magazines and literary journals on the long table, and the short story reviewers would grab the choice bits to cover until only the newsprint of local human interest stories and obituaries were left. Suzie waited on the outskirts, smiling at her fiance, Geoffrey. He wasn’t feeling ambitious today, and waited for the men in front of him to stop arguing over a short suspense piece.
Geoffrey wanted something local, something nearby, something that would not require too much real work on his part. They had all ready published a few volumes of this, and the next very well might be their last, because people just didn’t buy review magazines of short stories on a regular basis.
Geoffrey was only here because of a friend himself. That and Suzie had talked him into it. Easy cash, only work a little on the weekends, besides his day job, he might be able to save up for her ring, which he kept putting off, and so on. Suzie fancied herself a writer, but she hadn’t written a story in years.
Finally the others went to their cubbyholes, talking excitedly about this author, or that one, Geoffrey wasn’t really listening. He walked up to the table and glanced over the remains. Pieces of magazines lay everywhere, certain stories had been yanked from them, and now they lay there disemboweled. His eye caught one story, on the inside of one magazine that hadn’t been destroyed yet, but instead lay propped open to some ghastly art done in a seventies pulp mag style around the title. Just my luck to get a horror story, he thought, unimpressed.
He picked it up, and looked in the back where they have the “about the author” stuff, he wasn’t going to go out of state, or even over fifteen miles if he could help it. Alexandra Tarpin, Fir street, building 1001. Hmm.
That wasn’t far. That was just downtown. This was her first published story, and she was eighty years old. There might be something here, Geoffrey smiled to himself, and took the scissors lying carelessly on the table, and cut out the article, writing down the author contact info in a small notepad.
He did find it odd she had her address listed in the magazine. They normally just left it at the city, and he usually had to do a little grunt work to get the actual address. But her address was right there; less work for him. He left the table and approached Suzie who was still waiting.
“Well? Where are we going? What town?”
“Suzie my dear, we are going to Fir Street.” She looked at him a moment, and then grabbed his little notebook to see for herself.
“Well, that is a surprise. Since you waited for everyone to pick first I thought for sure we would be left with Siberia. And, she’s a granny too? Writing horror? This will be interesting.” Maybe to Suzie, as Geoffrey tried to stifle a yawn. “Well, let’s get this over with.”
Geoffrey’s old Chevy truck pulled up and parked at Fir Street, and they both gazed at number 1001. It was a rundown brick building with moss growing between the gaps and a cracked sidewalk that poured directly into the street. Geoffrey shut the car door with Suzie following and approached the an old door. He looked into the window in the center of the door, and saw a small hallway with two additional doors leading further in.
“Come on, we aren’t here to spy on her,” Suzie said testily. Geoffrey didn’t know why she insisted on coming along anyway. This wasn’t the most exciting work.
Geoffrey tested the outer door, and found it unlocked. “A real trusting granny, ” he quietly said under his breath. They both walked into the small hallway, and were faced with the two doors he had noticed from outside. Which one was the correct one, and what kind of crazy house was this?
“We should have knocked. You don’t just waltz into her house like you own the place.” Geoffrey shrugged. Suzie glared at him and knocked quite loudly on the door to the left. They waited a few minutes, Geoffrey glancing at his watch. “Maybe I should have tried to get her phone number.”
“You think?” Suzie rolled her eyes, annoyed. An elderly lady opened the door, and looked at them in surprise.
“Just in time. I am holding a writing seminar upstairs.” She said calmly her voice sounding like a typical granny.
“Mrs. Tarpin? Actually, I was hoping to review your short story,” he paused to glance at the article to remind him of the title, “Zombies and Ghouls.” Suzie gave him a sharp elbow to the side, when he almost laughed saying the title out loud.
“Well, let’s talk upstairs anyway. I often invite guests into my house. it’s so large and lonely here all alone.”
They followed Mrs. Tarpin upstairs and through a door into a long room filled with old school desks. At the front of the room was a large chalk board. Normally, a reviewer would have read the material first, but Geoffrey felt like the title explained all he needed to know of her story.
“So, what inspired you to write this?” he asked first, although Mrs. Tarpin looked distracted. There were about five other people in this room all chatting among themselves.
“I should really get back to my discussion. Perhaps you can study the story more, with your friend here, and see what you can come up with.” Mrs. Tarpin gave him a smile, and went back toward the chalk board. Suzie took a seat at one of the desks, and implored with hand gestures that Geoffrey do likewise.
“Okay, okay. I guess we should actually read this thing. Hopefully, it is better than it sounds.” Geoffrey sounded less than confident about this and had to visibly suppress a grimace. Suzie sighed. He knew she hated his dramatics. As Geoffrey began to read the story, he noticed that it didn’t start out like he thought it would.
A man, a Mr. Fenton who was married with a few kids was unhappy. He had been pining in secret for the girl who lived next door. Their houses shared a wall and he would see her going by with a smile. He was convinced she was teasing him. He became so despondent; he started destroying things in his own house.
One day, his wife and kids were gone, and the man could think of nothing else but this girl. He went into his cellar, which he had discovered while trashing the place; a hidden cellar, of course.
He brought a candle with him. ‘Why not a flashlight?’, thought Geoffrey, annoyed. The man kept going, and it started sloping down, sharply. He kept on until his candle was burning his fingers. He didn’t know where he was going, or why, he was just angry at that girl for teasing him.
Finally, he felt everything was wet around him, and this repulsed him, he groped to find his way back, his candle having gone out, and he found what appeared to be a large round luminous ball of mysterious substance. ‘Oh, come on!, though Geoffrey, incredulous.
This ball was hard for the most part, but when he applied enough pressure, it burst, and showered him with green muck. He had no idea what it could be. He again started to grope the wall, to try and find his way back.
It remained wet and slimy most of the way. He soon felt very tired, and got the strange impression he was dying down here. His skin appeared to be slipping off, and he was all wet from the walls.
He felt so very tired. He had to rest, yet he couldn’t sit down in the muck. He soon realized that he could no longer feel anything; it was as if he was numb all over.
“Why am I reading this? I know what is going to happen.” Suzie glared at him again.
“Just read it, you might find yourself surprised.” He shrugged.
The man continued upward. Soon he heard giggling and laughing, and it made him think of the girl. Instead of looking forward to seeing her, he felt an intense anger. He felt like destroying the world. She was laughing at him, he knew it. He went towards the light. Soon, it was everywhere, and he realized he was in the other house. The girl was louder, and very close.
He could smell her tender young skin. He looked down at himself, wondering about the muck covering him, when he saw that his skin was slipping off. His legs were like one of those wrinkled dogs, and his clothes were slimy and torn.
He looked at his hands, and they had a bluish tinge and looked for from healthy. He had to find the girl. She went hopping and skipping, and stopped when she came within his sight.
She looked at him aghast, but said nothing. She had a look of pity on her face, not the look of horror he had been expecting. He grew intensely angry at this. He came up to her reeking of the muck, and yelled at her, “Why have you changed? Why are you not teasing me?”
She said nothing. He passed her and went further into the house where her family lived, leaving her to wonder.
“That was very stupid. See? I did know where it was going,” Geoffrey added with certainty.
“Don’t you find it odd, that he asked her, why she had changed?” Suzie asked. Now that he stopped to think about it, it was an odd thing for him to say.
Mrs. Tarpin came over, finished with her lecture. The other five people talked excitedly. “Out of curiosity, Mrs. Tarpin, what was your lecture on?” Suzie asked, being nosey as usual.
“Why, dear, it was about relating your life events into your story, you know, to make it seem more real.”
“You may call me, Alexandra, Mr. ?”
“And what is your Christian name?”
“Geoff, Geoffrey Barris.”
“Now, what was it you wished to ask me?”
“Why did you decide to do a story like this, I mean, Zombies and Ghouls?”
“Why do you think, young man, it intrigued me.”
Suzie cut in, “Why does the man after he is changed, ask the girl, why she has changed? It almost seems like something someone might say. But, I am not sure what it means in the story.”
“Well, I did think of it, dear.” She chuckled at this. “He says this, because she no longer mocks him, and he didn’t know why. He had observed that he had changed, but he didn’t know in what way exactly. In fact, to the girl, he looked much the same, except the condition of his clothes, of course.”
“You don’t say that in your story, why not?” Geoffrey suddenly found himself interested in the bizarre old woman.
“Perhaps it was an oversight. Would you like some tea? Or cookies? My other guests are leaving just now, and we can talk more about the story if you wish.” Mrs. Tarpin did seem like a normal granny, other than the fact that most don’t write short stories about zombies.
“Uh…Mrs…Alexandra, where do the Ghouls come in?”
“Well, when he discovers that he doesn’t appear to be rotting, to ordinary people, and has rediscovered his mind, he becomes a ghoul.”
“That’s not in the story either. Do we have a shorter version?”
“No, that is the version that got published. In all truth, I didn’t want that for the name. But the editor thought it sounded catchy for his magazine.” Mrs. Tarpin left the room to get the tea, leaving the kitchen door ajar. They both waited, not saying a word.
The door creaked open all the way, and Suzie turned to address Mrs. Tarpin, when she saw a man in a bathrobe turn toward her and give her an odd grimace. Something made her fearful, and she started to back away. Geoffrey looked at her like she was insane.
“Is that? Are you?” Suzie stammered.
He came at her, with a look of anger and no longer appeared to be human, but a strange bluish creature whose skin had been rotting. She screamed, and Mrs. Tarpin was there , and with in-explainable super human strength, lifted Suzie up and placed her on top of a tall refrigerator. Geoffrey remained below, with speechless mouth agape.
Mrs. Tarpin quickly made some fried eggs, and bacon, and gave them to the man who seemed to be an old man once again.
“Suzie? Are you crazy? Why did you do that? And, Mrs…Alexandra, how did you lift her like that? You made it look easy.”
“Mr. Barris, are you that stupid?” Mrs. Tarpin said with an odd tone of menace. He watched as the old man shoveled the food into his mouth straight off the frying pan, still sizzling.
“I think we would be going, don’t you dear?” He addressed Suzie who was still cringing on top of the fridge.
“I know why he said, why have you changed.” Suzie exclaimed in a daze. “Oh no, we have to leave now.”
Mrs. Tarpin sighed with regret. “If you must leave, let me show him back to his part of the house. He just thought he smelled food cooking. Come, dear.” She led the man creature to another door at the back of the kitchen, and locked it with a click.
“Come, child. Let me get you down from the fridge. It is safe now.” Suzie backed away from her, shaking her head. Mrs. Tarpin’s arms seemed to elongate, and she grabbed the frightened girl anyway, and hauled her down from the fridge.
“Now, dear, listen to me. You can go out this way, and Geoffrey can go out this door.” They could hear the man creature pounding loudly on the other side of the door, and the sound of wood splintering under the impact.
Suzie nodded, and ran out the door not looking behind her, and into the large school like room and then beyond downstairs into the small hallway.
She reached the front door, and opened it, and wasn’t sure whether to close it and lock it, or wait for Geoffrey. She heard the door on the right open, and Geoffrey entered the small hallway, his eyes appeared tired, and had dark circles under them as if he hadn’t slept in days.
Suzie quickly got out of the house, and locked the knob from the inside and ran. It took only an additional second for the door to be unlocked and for the knob to turn, and for it to open. She saw Geoffrey staring after her with his eyes blankly watching.
Mrs. Tarpin entered her bathroom, and noticed that Mr. Fenton was all ready in the tub, the water a dark grey from his rotting flesh. She got rid of her illusion and went to take care of his wounds. If he didn’t get new flesh soon he would die.
Mr. Barris followed her, his eyes beginning to bulge out of his head, his skin starting to decay. She could use some of his skin in the meantime. Before it was all dead.
Alexandra Tarpin still remembered that day a long time ago, when Mr. Fenton had shouted at her, “Why have you changed?” He had only reached out and held her hand but a moment, and didn’t know why she had started to wither.
He entered the rocket ship determined to make his mark on the world. He tried not to think of the future, or the past. What is gone, is gone, and can never be again.
A melancholy settled over her as she recalled his youthful figure stepping into the entryway. The large metal door sealing shut; shutting him away from her life forever.
Some told her that he didn’t really love her. If he did, he wouldn’t go. She knew this was important to him. This trip into space was always his goal. She was the unforeseen unplanned accident. And while she liked to think he may give up his dream for her, she also knew she didn’t have the strength to ask it of him. He might resent her, loath her even. She might feel guilty every time she saw his gaze wander aimlessly, searching for the stars.
Instead, she chose to suffer. He might come back early. It was possible. Of course, life on earth would move as it always had. But for him? Everything would be preserved, and prolonged. Would he still want her?, she wondered.
He strapped himself in the cryogenic chamber carefully. To study the nearest solar system even from a distance would require a long sleep. Miranda was dead to him. He had to think of her that way. There was a chance he could come back in her lifetime, but he felt that he should prepare for the worst case scenario. He locked the hood which would fill his sarcophagus-style bed with cold. He would sleep a while, unless an accident happened to the craft, whereas he would be awakened. Assuming, that was in working order.
He knew the dangers. Being an explorer has always been fraught with disaster and near-death. It was this that made up part of the appeal for him. Even if he wasn’t frozen, time would be slowed for him compared to the frenzy upon the earth. Freezing him just gave him more years to get into the proper position.
The craft was designed to send signals to earth once a year to relay its progress, and to remind the earth that it was there and would return.
At first the days were long, and filled with loneliness. She missed him, and life became a matter of routine. One ate because that was expected. One worked to help fill the hours. And the nights were for dreaming, her favorite time of day.
He was awakened by the sensation of warmth spreading through him. He felt like he just laid down and now was cheated of a decent night’s rest. He was beyond sleep, more like the eternal sleep of the dead, and now he was resurrected to serve his purpose.
He glanced out the port window and gasped at the apparent closeness of the binary star system. Two suns sharing power equally over what looked like an expanse of nothing. He panned the lenses further away and verified the few planets. They were rocky and small in appearance. He guessed there may be a gas giant further out, much like his own system. He didn’t see the paradise of water and clouds, but then he hadn’t been expecting to. One sun was too hot, and the other too cool.
This mission didn’t have to be manned. He knew that, but he wanted to be the one t o see it with his own eyes. He had to know that space travel, albeit limited, was still possible. Strange, a thought of Miranda’s smile crept into his mind. He dismissed it easily. He felt he had only said “Good Bye” yesterday. He knew this wasn’t correct, but his body’s system of time couldn’t mourn her yet.
He took many pictures, and sent probes to gather samples of soil from the planetoids. He requested that one be named Miranda, then destroyed the request. This was larger than any unqualified sentimental feeling. He never meant for her to get that close. He never meant to hurt her. He shifted the guilty feeling away. She knew of his plans. She knew how important this was to him. He calmly waited.
The day came when she couldn’t quite remember what his voice sounded like. She couldn’t cry anymore. It all seemed so vague, like it had happened to someone else. She looked at photos in an attempt to refresh her memory, but she could no longer conjure up a scene, or see the glint in his eye which she had suffered so much for. Sometimes he haunted her dreams, but in the dream nothing had changed. She knew it was all ready too late.
He returned earlier than expected. His rocket was carefully received. He had sent the information back and the earth got it shortly before his own arrival. The last ten years or so for him felt like little more than a week. He knew that more than ten years of time had passed here. The people dressed differently, looked at him with boredom and disinterest despite his long journey. The crowd was small, mostly comprised of scientific minded academics. He stepped off the launch pad in a state of fear. It was as if he had landed on an alien planet.
No one knew him, no one cared about his achievement. They had mathematically deduced the location of the planets around the binary system he had viewed. The pictures were nice, but the people had seen artists’ renderings which were more stunning.
He had no real home, and no friends. He thought of Miranda. One of the more zealous academics had arranged a hotel room for him, and he gladly accepted. He slept as if he hadn’t slept in years. The rest of the dead doesn’t have the satisfactory drowsiness, only an emptiness and lack of dreams.
He awoke and was handed some artificial tasting coffee by a sudden robotic arm. He had clothes in the new free flowing style laid out for him on the bed. Perhaps by another robotic arm or an apologetic maid who carefully avoided waking him from his deep slumber?
The academic waited for him in the lobby with an old woman, who looked ill. The academic stared at him like a child in a museum filled with dinosaur bones. He stood, and cleared his throat noisily. “I would like to introduce you to someone. She has given most generously to the scientific community, through endowments and organizing some awareness of your particular program.”
The woman looked about to faint, and not at all pleased to be making his acquaintance. Her eyes stared in horror, as if his visage was that of a monster, or a ghost. There was something vaguely familiar about her, but he couldn’t place it.
“Miranda,” the academic was the only one smiling now, “Derrick.” It all made sense in a horrible sort of way. He had known this might happen, but he had hoped she would be dead. He wanted to remember her beautiful. He didn’t know this lady. She had her hand on her heart, and slipped to the floor. The academic ran to get help, while Derrick stood dumbfounded. Her hand reached out toward him. He backed away from it like it was some sort of sentient lizard groping toward him.
“I don’t know you. You aren’t her.” His mind swirled in confusion. Hadn’t it been only days since he saw her radiant young face? He knew this would happen, yet there was no preparing for this moment.
She felt her tears slide down her tired face. The pain in her chest returned. This young man before her, looking at her in disgust and fear appeared the same as when she last saw him. His face brought back the dim memories. The lack of recognition caused her long dry well of tears to miraculously renew. She had been dead inside all the years he was away, and now that he was back she had forgotten how painful life was. He looked ready to bolt from the room, yet he didn’t move. She reached out with the strength left in her, and he yelled at her some words that her mind could no longer translate.
This act of dying was long overdue, and the kind professor did all he could to save her. What the doctor and the professor, and all the nurses and robots didn’t know was that she didn’t want to be saved. She didn’t want to picture that awful look on his youthful face.
She wished the professor had let her remain anonymous, yet seeing Derrick one last time was something she had to do. He had ceased to be a real person to her, but more of a dream. A loving, kind dream. The reality of the strange boy was all it took to bring back the pain, and the loss.
They named the first verified planetoid of the binary system Miranda in her honor year’s before. Her name would always come up in discussions about the expedition, and he would be reminded of the frightened old woman instead of the Miranda he wanted to remember.
He tried to live life as normally as he could, but he felt he hadn’t ever quite made it home. Too much had changed while he did not. He was isolated in this foreign alien world.
The professor thought he would give Derrick a long overdue visit. No one answered, so he knocked louder. Finally, getting concerned, he called the police to open the door. They found him seated at an old fashioned wooden desk, with an antique gun in one hand, and his bloodied head on the desk, laying sideways as if he was taking a much needed nap from some taxing academic endeavor. He had been dead for some time, but not having any close friends or loved ones no one thought to stop by until the professor.
She knew she had to return to the village soon, before anyone worried too much. She sighed, wiping the wetness from her face looking away from the sky, refocusing on the earth at her feet. Dreaming was the slow death. Time drifts slower in a dream, but there are so many happy moments there making reality seem so careless.
“You dream too much”, her mother chided her, “Some day you won’t wake up, and then what will we do? We will miss our beautiful daughter, lost to the winds and clouds forever. One must stay rooted in the ground. This is where people belong, not in silly dreams.”
She felt at home in the dreams. In the dreams there were many people, and they all tipped their hats, and curtsied to her. She had the best food and there was a boy who would dance with her, and make the light dance between them. Out of the dream, this person didn’t exist, or perhaps she just hadn’t met him yet. But she could dream.
In the dream she lived in a castle with spires, and tapestries, and full of other magical things. In the dream everyone was courteous. Sometimes her dreaming would get in the way of her chores, and she would be scolded by a sharp word or even a slap. But this didn’t bother her too much. Every chance she got she would sleep, even for only a little while, and once her eyes were closed, she could dance, and smile, and laugh.
Her life was simple, and she was happy with her dreaming. Her mother shook her head, but other than that, said nothing. Her teachers in school shook their heads, and would tell her to concentrate on this world, and she would blush as laughter from the other students erupted around her.
“One day this would change”, her father said, “You will grow out of dreaming, and make a decent wife to a good man, and have children. And maybe tend a garden like most women. Or perhaps you will become a learned scholar traveling the world, oh wait, that sounded way too dreamish, never mind that.”
Everyone knew she got the crazy dreaming from his family. Sometimes her father dreamt too, but his dreams were different from hers, mostly filled with monuments, and machines and a crazy urban landscape far removed from the country life style around the mountain.
Her mother dreamt of her children’s future. The grandchildren would be perfect in every way, her daughter would not only marry a good man, but a rich one who would treat the family as his own, showering them with gifts at every turn. It was a good dream, but her mother was secretly ashamed to dream such silly nonsense.
“Adults shouldn’t dream at all”, she said,”Merely do their duty, and make sure everything goes in its same steady stream. Dreams interrupt life, take away from it, dreams could be dangerous.” Her mother was against anything that was dangerous.
It was on an ordinary day where everyone did everything they had been doing, same as the day before, when some strangers came into town. These strangers declared that there was gold down the river, a lot of gold to any who had the hands to grab it, and life was good in the valley. Much better than on the mountain.
The girl listened to the wind, and it sounded like it was crying. Her mother just shook her head, but there was something sad about her eyes. Her father saw his machines, but not the monuments and stayed with the mountain. The girl went to the men with the gold, while her family watched transfixed as if in a dream, and she climbed into their carriage with a helping hand, headed for the valley, leaving her family and school behind.
Her thoughts were simple enough. Perhaps the boy lived in the valley, and that was why she hadn’t met him and danced with the light in the castle. There would never be a castle on the mountain, she knew that with a certainty that made any reservations subside.
The men gave her bright cheery apples to eat, and she kicked her legs freely from the back of the wagon, watching her parents recede ever smaller. They made their way to the valley quickly, night falling about the same time they entered the gates. The valley had a river bleeding through it, as if from a deep wound to the earth, or like the earth was crying over the loss of the sky, forever parted, yet so terribly near.
She thanked the men, and jumped off the carriage without a care in the world. She knew there would be no turning back, she could not go home and expect to find her mother shaking her head. It was much too late for that.
She went looking for love, along the river, while the men looked for gold. The men got some of what they wanted, but never seemed to be content with the amount of gold from the river, and it gave less and less with each passing day. Soon the men started talking of developing the mountain, that the real gems would be found there. By the time the girl heard of this she was all ready too far removed from the men and their dreams of gold.
She was looking for something else, and hadn’t found it yet. She went to the valley town, and introduced herself politely enough, they handed her a broom, and told her to earn her living, and that nothing came for free.
She soon became disappointed, there were no castles here. She cried at night missing her family, her friends, and even the men with the carriage. But she could not go back. She knew that road was barred to her. She didn’t dream that night, and the boy did not come to dance with her.
The next night. there was no dream. Years past, and she was merely a woman instead of a girl, and she couldn’t dream. Dream of what? Gold? Men? Neither were what they seemed. Once had, she needed more, this wasn’t what she was looking for. She no longer knew the face of the boy, or the many people who would curtsy or tip their hats.
She began to feel sadness, and walked along the barren street, with her broom. When she looked up, she found a young man looking at her funny. “Why are you looking at me, like that?”
“Hmm?” he mumbled. “I thought I was dreaming. Is there anything to do here?” Dreaming. Of course, she remembered now, and she felt she was way too old, but then, maybe she wasn’t. She looked at her hands, and was startled to remember that she was still a young woman, not a girl, but far from old. When she stopped dreaming, she had aged years, but the young man reminded her of what it was to live in the realm of ideas, and she was grateful.
It was only after he left that she realized he was the boy, the one from her dream. She knew nothing about him, and she could see her mother shaking her head, dangerous. Still, she followed, wondering why he was here, and where he was going.
He was civil to her, and talked to her freely once she caught up to him. He seemed truly content with what he had, and she was amazed. She had never met anyone content before, just those striving for more. When asked about where he was from he turned to her in astonishment, “Have you not heard of the land to the West? It is where the dreamers live looking for knowledge of those who came before.”
She asked softly, “Can you take me there?”
He looked at her anew, and said, “What is it you do here? Sweep?”
“Yes,” she answered, blushing toward the ground. It was then, that he introduced her to his friends, and his wife, and she stopped in mid dream, horror struck.
How could someone else claim her dream? Yet, he was content with what he had, and wasn’t a dream at all, but a person. He told her he couldn’t take her to the land in the west, but that maybe someone could show her the way. He left her there, not knowing of her dreams, which seemed so silly to her now, all the dancing was gone, and she suddenly felt very old.
She looked to the west, and began to walk down the river, away from the valley town, in the direction he had pointed. She couldn’t help dreaming again.
Seeing the young man in the flesh had forced her to remember what the dreams were like as she walked away letting the broom fall to the ground. Perhaps there was another young man, and that one could be her dream. She knew that wasn’t right, that it was a matter of timing, and place, and she would also have to learn how to be content with what she had in order to find him. Meanwhile, she would look for the land of dreams to the west.
Albrecht was a decent man, lonely on his castle overlooking the sea. He would watch the surf wash along the beaches from a balcony on a tall tower. He liked to see what rubbish the tide brought in and watched how it changed the landscape of the beaches. He had servants, and visitors that one couldn’t quite call friends, but might be affectionately called routine acquaintances. Yes, he was lonely, and why not?
With a castle of dreams that in the end lay empty, they which have the most to grieve are those without an imagination, for with one, they can people the castles on the seashore thus filling the emptiness with life.
Albrecht had no imagination, and could not fill the emptiness of his castle. He sighed and watched the tide trying to decide how he would pay his taxes. Being melancholy wasn’t a useful occupation, and he earned very little income.
He was born into a high class, but knew absolutely nothing about money. He had servants yes, but those servants were paid in objects. They took masterpieces home, and whatever else took their fancy. They ate meals with him like family.
He sold items to pay the chef, and had received loans and grants based on his lofty moral character. The end was in sight now, however. His friends or servants had stripped almost anything left of value save the stones themselves. A few of these were pried away, but most considered the work involved not worth the prize.
The creditors wanted their money, and his servants, or friends, began not showing up for the increasingly meager meals that he personally concocted. Cooking was new for him, and his ingredients paltry.
Perhaps he viewed his friends’ absence as a kindness. He no longer had tea ready in the morning, nor the paper delivered to his bedroom door. He found he had to do these tasks, as well as his own laundry. These ordeals cut into his melancholy gazing toward the sea, making his job of sadness and despair even harder.
This was the day, he thought resignedly. Would they take his castle by the sea? The walls were stripped bare, there was virtually no furniture. He kept the bed he slept in. This was due to the fact that he rarely left his bedchamber, which had French doors that opened onto the aforementioned balcony.
Albrecht’s lawyer tried to inquire after Albrecht’s friends, or servants to retrieve the stolen property when Albrecht fired him, explaining that his servants, or friends, would never steal from him. He saw the tax collector walking up the path, the appraiser had all ready come and gone. This must be it.
“You’ve come to take my castle by the sea?” He said to the short little man in the simple black suit.
“Unless you have any assets which I can use as a payment?”
“No, I have nothing, except my sadness. I have a noble heritage. You could take those things, I suppose, but I am uncertain what would be left if you did.”
“You would give up your nobility? Your famed melancholy, for this?” The tax man was surprised. What good would a castle be without a moody lord residing within?
“Of course.” The tax man took these qualities, putting them in a sturdy briefcase, and bid Albrecht good day.
Being no longer sad, and no longer noble made Albrecht look around the castle in a new way. He was amazed that he could live in such a drafty large place. The heat bill alone must cost a small fortune, not that he knew what a fortune was anymore.
He promptly took his few possessions and left. The castle was empty of even melancholy, and no longer held the value of noble heritage, and seemed beyond impractical to him.
As he walked along the path away from the castle, with the sea washing in gracefully, he determined his lot. He was destined to be a seafarer, nothing else would do, he thought cheerily.