Loading...
Menu
Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Urban

In a Small Compass - Vol. 1

 
h3=. In a [Small Compass
Vol. I]

a short story collection

 

Karen Oberlaender

 

Cover design by Rosa Viridis

 

 

Published by Karen Oberlaender at Shakespir

Copyright 2016 Karen Oberlaender

Shakespir Edition

 

 

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

 

Thank you for downloading this eBook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favourite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.

 

Contents

Nightmare

The Marble

The Shadow

I’m Into Something Good

Noises

Imprisoned

Heatwave

Projections

As Good as New

Laura non c’è

Directions

And The Winner Is…

The Dundrum Town Centre Witch

The Blue Window

The Blue Window (alternative ending)

Acknowledgements

About

 

Nightmare

Rachel ran down a dark alley. Her heels’ staccato echoed her heartbeat. The rain had stopped and the asphalt steamed. She was soaked through and tried desperately to remember where she had parked her car. The sound of her follower’s footsteps approached unbearably fast. She could already hear his breath – way too close for her taste, still getting closer. A hand grabbed her shoulder and…

“Wake up, Rachel! Coffee time!”

She moaned, rolled to the other side and tried to read the alarm clock. 8:27 a.m. She struggled out of the sheets and tried to get up. She felt drained. Five nights in a row – and having to face the same nightmare over and over again. She heaved herself off the bed and trudged to the bathroom. The shower made her feel human again, admittedly, a rather exhausted human being. Towelling herself and getting dressed was a matter of minutes. The delicious odours of freshly brewed coffee, bacon and eggs, and pancakes wafted through the flat. She longed for the coffee, eating did not appeal to her, though. When she entered the kitchen, Ben looked up and smiled. Taking in her still tousled hair and all too pale face he asked “What about some coffee and a pancake?”

“Just coffee, please.”

“Would you like to talk about your dream, honey?” Rachel shook her head.

“I know that you abhor psychologists, Rachel. Why not talk to Ron?”

Ron and Rachel grew up in the same neighbourhood, shared kindergarten experiences, school, first love, etc. Fair-haired Ron coloured his hair black and went to business school, whereas Rachel had her auburn hair cut and went to university to study mechanical engineering. Five years later, Ron got his degree as medical hypnotist and Rachel designed administrative buildings.

Somewhere along the way they met green-eyed, dark-haired, freckled Ben. The dedicated marine biologist was immediately drawn to the gifted architect.

“Ron already knows everything about me.”

“What about a previous life?”

Rachel wanted to laugh. She felt more like crying, though. “I really don’t believe in all this, Ben!”

“Ron does. Otherwise he wouldn’t have changed his vocation, honey.”

They finished breakfast and/or coffee in silence. Ben collected the dirty dishes and put them in the dishwasher, Rachel put the food back in the fridge.

Five minutes later they were ready to leave. Grabbing their respective laptops and keys, getting to the bus station was a matter of seconds. Rachel’s bus arrived first.

“Halfpenny at 12:30?” Rachel nodded. Meeting halfway on the Halfpenny Bridge had become a favourite ritual for Tuesday lunches. This often included Ron whenever his schedule allowed it.

This morning at her office near St. Stephens Green passed in a blur. When it was time to leave for the Halfpenny Bridge she could not really remember what she had done all morning. Ben and Ron were already waiting for her. They crossed the bridge, and went to their favourite place, ordering lattes and omelettes and settling at a table in a quiet corner of The Lemon Jelly Café. Ben had already briefed Ron about the recurring nightmare.

Sipping his latte Ron asked “What are you wearing in this dream?”

Rachel hesitated. “A linen trouser suit.”

“You do not wear linen trouser suits!”

“‘Which alley is it? And what car are you searching?”

“I don’t know!”

Ron heaved a sigh. “What about your hair?”

“Long, curly – and heavy, thanks to the rain.”

“You haven’t had long hair for ages, Rachel. And – I never saw a single curl on your head.”

Ron got up to place a new order. He returned and asked “By the way – have you watched the news, lately?”

“No! Why?”

“A serial killer is currently held in custody here – awaiting trial in the US. He killed seven young women in the US, managed to flee to Ireland. Three days ago, he was identified thanks to a traffic control. He is in jail now, scheduled to be handed over to the US authorities. There is one complication, though. Veronica O’Reilly disappeared six days ago. She was wearing a black linen trouser suit, black high-heeled shoes, and a purple purse when she was last seen. She was reported missing five days ago. She is this killer’s typical victim. If the Irish authorities can prove that he killed her…”

“Hot whiskey!” the waitress announced.

Rachel was thunderstruck. Even eloquent Ben was at a loss for words. The hot whiskey warmed away the chill that had engulfed them for a moment.

“Rachel, apparently Veronica somehow shares part of her last minutes with you. You want to get rid of that nightmare; Veronica just wants justice.”

Ron’s words hung in the air.

“What do you want Rachel to do?” Ben asked in a hoarse voice.

“Come with me to the practice; meet my police contact who is going to observe our session. As soon as Veronica’s remains are found – your nightmare will be over. And Veronica can finally get justice. He will be put on trial here…”

Rachel decided to be brave. “Let’s do it.”

“All right, I’ll get in touch.”

Ron paid the bill and they returned to their jobs.

That evening they met at Ron’s practice. Ron made the introductions. “You know my assistant, Lee. And this is detective James Hart, my police contact.”

They settled in the consulting room. The hypnosis was successful, revealing Veronica’s last hours. Detective Hart immediately sent a team to the indicated location. The medical examiner confirmed the modus operandi and detected skin fragments belonging to the killer. The killer was convicted appropriately. Rachel does no longer have nightmares. And Veronica finally rests in peace.

 

The Marble

When her parents told her that her favourite uncle was going to move to Australia, Madelyn was devastated. Uncle Jim had always been fun to be with. And he never let her feel that she was ‘only’ a girl and two years younger than her two brothers. Unlike her own parents, Uncle Jim never treated her like a baby. He often took Madelyn and her brothers to watch baseball games, they went to the zoo, the aquarium, the movies, etc.

The whole Trent family went to Logan Airport to bid Uncle Jim farewell. When it was Madelyn’s turn to say goodbye, he knelt down and secretly handed her a tiny leather pouch. “Keep it hidden and have it with you at all times.” he whispered.

Madelyn slid the pouch in her pocket and hugged Uncle Jim tightly. She didn’t trust her voice. There was so much she still would have liked to say and – she just couldn’t speak. Their eyes locked, and she knew he understood – as he had always done. The family stayed at the airport until the plane took off. Then they left the airport and went to the bus stop. The 171 bus arrived as if on cue. They rode in silence. Madelyn secretly opened the pouch in her pocket. Its content felt cool and comforting to the touch. A marble! Madelyn did not dare to take it out. Her uncle’s words still echoed in her mind. She looked at the people they passed. Most of them looked rather happy. It was a sunny afternoon. And the snowstorms were now history. A blond man at the traffic lights looked up as they passed by. He grinned and she felt her skin crawl. The marble in her hand twitched for a second and felt searing hot at the same time. The sensation passed as fast as it came. ‘What the …?” – Oops, she was not allowed to say or even think that. The family got out at the Melnea Cass Blvd stop. Pete and Joe ran to the next block to visit some friends. Madelyn and her parents walked up to their flat. Madelyn went to her room.

At last! Madelyn took out the pouch and opened it. The marble inside was tiny and so beautiful! It did not resemble the usual marbles kids play with. She held it in her hands, and again it felt cool and comforting in her palms. She closed her eyes, smiled and mouthed a thank you to Uncle Jim. The marble tickled her palms. She opened her eyes and her hands. The marble felt and looked as it did before: cool and comforting to the touch. She decided to carry the marble in her pocket throughout the day, and to deposit it in the pouch under her cushion at night.

She got used to the marble’s tiny reactions. Depending on the respective sensations, she learned to change directions or to do things differently than before. Her parents stopped treating her like a baby; her brothers accepted that she had her own opinions. Everything was really great except… Charlie Dugan. He had several courses a week together with her. He was rude, generally bad mannered. In brief, he was giving her the creeps.

Friday, at lunch time, she went to her locker to deposit her math stuff and get her sports gear. The neighbouring locker sprang open and hit her left temple. Everything went blank. Murmuring blurred voices, something cold and wet over her eyes… What a weird dream!

“She’s waking up!” someone shrieked.

She felt the cold and wet stuff on her eyes being removed. She blinked cautiously. The nurse bent over her. “Are you all right? What happened?”

Madelyn tried to sit up. Thankfully, the nurse helped her as the world kept on spinning around her. Finally this sensation faded. The nurse and the principal anxiously watched her.

“What happened?”

Madelyn looked at the principal. “The neighbouring locker sprang open and hit me.”

“You didn’t see…?”

“No.”

“Good luck, kid.” The principal turned around and strode back to his office. The nurse offered her to rest on the bench in her office until the school bus was due. Madelyn was relieved to lie down a little. She put her hand in her left jeans pocket to feel the comforting marble. It was gone. She wanted to jump up. She couldn’t. Her marble – gone! It was the only link to her uncle Jim. She wanted to cry. Her eyes were dry, though. She thought, and came to the conclusion that it must have vanished when the locker’s door hit her.

After the volleyball training, Jill came over to fetch her. They joined the other kids from their neighbourhood at the bus stop. When they got in and found their seats, Jill giggled. “Charlie was acting worse than ever. The coach ordered him to run six rounds. When he had done them, the coach told him to come over and join the team. He didn’t. He just kept on running. At the end of our training session, coach had Andy and Ben take him out to the locker rooms. Despite their strength, they had a pretty hard time trying to stop him. He was sweating all over, red as a beetroot, eyes wide open, looking more crazy than you can imagine. Hey! Look! That’s him, out there! Running home!”

Madelyn looked. It was an eerie sight. Charlie was rather fat. As he was running, he seemed to have lost at least 10 kilograms. As Jill had described, he had a wild look in his eyes. She could see that he was exhausted, he looked like he was going to faint – and yet he kept on running. When Madelyn and Jill got off the bus, they could see Charlie in the distance. They could already hear the staccato of his breath. It sounded asthmatic. The colour of his skin was no longer reddish; it was more of sickly yellow shade. He passed them without realizing they were there at all. They shrugged. “Time to relax, Maddy!” Jill followed the route Charlie had taken; she lived in the same house, two floors above the Dugan family. Madelyn went to her family’s flat. Her brothers were not yet back from school, her parents were still at work. An hour later, the phone rang. It was Jill. “Believe it or not, Maddy! Charlie is still running up and down the stairs. The stairs are wet, already!” Madelyn started doing her homework. She was still at it when her parents came home. Her father started cooking; her mother did the online banking prior to helping out in the kitchen. When Pete and Joe came back they were nonplussed. “Guess what!” they said.

Their mother lifted her right brow.

“Charlie Dugan must have lost his marbles! He is sprinting up and down the stairwells. Must have been doing this ever since he went home!” A vivid discussion started. Madelyn didn’t listen. ‘…lost his marbles!’ What if he had one marble too many?! And why did the marble do this?!

Madelyn took her keyring and left the flat. The discussion in the kitchen was still ongoing. They wouldn’t realize any time soon that she was missing. She went over to the house where Jill and also Charlie lived. The stairwell was dark. She could hear Charlie running, however. She switched on the light. He was running down again. “Stop!” she ordered. He circled her and ran upstairs again. She went to the lowest step and spread her arms. “Stop!” This time he stopped, breathing heavily. “Give – it – back!” Her voice sounded strong and confident. Charlie put his hand in his pocket and produced the marble. As soon as Madelyn held it, Charlie collapsed on the stairs. Madelyn pocketed the marble and knelt down beside Charlie. He needed an ambulance. She called out to his parents. “Mrs. Dugan, Mr. Dugan?! Charlie’s collapsed on the stairs – call 9 1 1!” After Charlie had been taken to the Boston Medical Center, Madelyn went home. Her family had calmed down and was just getting seated for supper. She washed her hands and set down at the table. She fingered the marble in her pocket and smiled.

“Hey, how’s it going?” Joe grinned and nudged her with his bony elbow.

“Everything is fine now.” Madelyn replied. “Charlie has been taken to the BMC.” They ate in silence.

On Saturday afternoon, Mrs. Trent went to Walgreen’s. There, she met Mr. Dugan. He told her, that they had visited Charlie at noon. “He is still very exhausted. They even need to feed him intravenously. And he remembers zilch; he does not even remember that your daughter found him. They are going to keep him for a week – just to make sure he really regenerates.”

As Mrs. Trent told her family the news, Madelyn wondered: ‘Charlie doesn’t remember. This means that the marble is still a secret. I definitely need to be more careful!’

Madelyn was true to her word and kept the marble in a silken pouch, attached to the inside of her respective jeans pockets. As before, the marble indicated to her good guys and bad guys; good opportunities, and risks not to be taken. When Charlie finally came back to school, they all found him utterly changed. He was no longer a rude, bad mannered, ill-tempered fat guy. The marble no longer twitched when he was around.

 

The Shadow

After another of these seemingly never ending Mondays spent first at the University of East London and then as cashier in a supermarket, Jenny walked down King Street. A slight drizzle had set in. The road was deserted. Despite nearly moving on autopilot she noticed… a shadow (?!) hurrying past. A hooded guy jumped into her path, a pocket knife in his hand. Before Jenny could react, the guy gasped, turned around and – ran away. Now, that was weird. Jenny resumed her way. Five minutes later she arrived at her front door. On the staircase she once again had the impression of a shadow rushing past. ‘I am too exhausted. My brain is already playing tricks on me.’

She unlocked the door to the flat she shared with her friend Matt. Apart from some flyers the table near the entrance was empty. No bills, for once. She took off her shoes, hung her bag and her jacket on the coat rack, and then went to the kitchen to retrieve a bottle of mineral water. In the bathroom she removed her make-up and brushed her teeth, gargled with mineral water. Back in her room she fell onto her bed and was lost to the world.

When the alarm went she got up without delay. Taking a shower and then having a nice breakfast with Matt was always something to be looking forward to. After the shower she quickly dressed and went to the kitchen. The coffee maker was already providing its delicious brew. Matt came in, carrying the newspaper and a bag of freshly baked cinnamon rolls. “Morning, Jen. Hope, you didn’t cut yourself, last night!”

Jenny drew a blank.

“The guys next door apologized for the broken window. The shards were spread in front of our flat – and there was blood. It must have happened at about 10:00 pm.”

Jenny shook her head. “I was home at about 10:40 pm. It was dark, and I didn’t step into shards, and logically didn’t cut myself.” Matt poured the coffee into their mugs. Both spread salted butter on their cinnamon rolls and shared the paper in the usual way: Matt started at the beginning, Jenny at the end. As they always read the most interesting stuff out loud, they saved lots of time, having to read only one half of the newspaper.

At 9:30 a.m. it was time to leave. Jenny needed to catch her bus; Matt needed to open the book store in 139B.

At lunch time, Jenny decided on having a quick sandwich in the cafeteria. She sat down at a small table at one of the windows facing the playground. Sipping some water and nibbling on her sandwich as she was not really that hungry, she tried to concentrate on her notes for the lesson to come. A small shadow fell on her notebook and – the window nearest to the neighbouring table shattered, having been hit by a baseball. Luckily, the neighbouring table had been vacant. It was now covered by lots of shards.

Jenny was feeling nauseous. One of her fellow students shook her. “Jen, are you all right?!”

She had a lump in her throat. Not being able to speak, she just nodded. The following lessons passed in a blur. Jenny didn’t get anything at all. She was glad when the lessons were over and hurried out to catch the bus. Jenny was tense, yet automatically got out at the right stop. She decided to walk along the Thames, perhaps settle down on a bench for a while. The walk alongside the river was not as soothing as she had hoped. She went home.

She was halfway up to the flat when Matt threw open the door and rushed to meet her. He hugged her tightly and she could see the concern in his eyes. “Come on up, hurry!”

In the kitchen he put her favourite mug in front of her, the coffee steaming hot and aromatic – and comforting. “Deborah called several times. She couldn’t reach you, your mobile seemed switched off…”

Deborah was a fellow student who wanted to know if she was all right after the window burst. Apparently she had informed Matt about the incident. She sighed.

“What is it? It is unusual for you to be so edgy.” Matt stated gently.

Jenny decided to tell him about the shadows she had seen as well as the following incidents.

After she had finished her story, Matt remained silent for several minutes. He looked at her and smiled. “It seems like you’ve got yourself a guardian angel.”

Jenny pouted. “Don’t mock me, Matt!”

Matt shook his head. “No, I don’t. Not in the least. Perhaps I need to tell you a story my great grandfather used to tell me when I was little: If someone is killed, his or her soul stays on earth until the crime and/or incident is solved. The respective soul does not linger without a purpose. It searches for someone worthy and in need of protection. Many people do not even know about their guardian angel. They have lost the ability to see beyond the visible. And just now, a soul deemed you worthy of its protection and – will stay with you until it is released. This soul has protected you from the nocturnal assault, the glass shards in front of our door, and the broken window in the cafeteria. Please do not fear.”

Jenny was dumbfounded: guardian angels, souls, London, Jenny?!

“This is a lot to take, I know.” Matt hugged her.

“Did you ever have a guardian angel, Matt?”

“Absolutely. Several times.”

Matt stood up. “I will leave you to your thoughts, now. I have to do some research for the book store.” Jenny didn’t mind. She felt relieved. She rang Deborah and thanked her. And most important of all: she would never again be afraid of a shadow.

 

I’m Into Something Good

On one of these cloudy Saturday afternoons, Louise sat at her desk, listening to one of her favourite web radio channels. KYA is truly one of the best, she thought. During the commercials she pondered which song she would really like to hear next. This time, it was definitely Herman’s HermitsI’m Into Something Good. The next song started as her husband Martin returned from the kitchen and – it was I’m Into Something Good. “That’s exactly what I hoped to listen to right now!” Louise exclaimed. Martin smiled. Similar – and harmless – stuff like this happened rather frequently. Louise undeniably had certain superstitious tendencies. At least, she did not believe in fortune tellers. To get from A to B she usually let her head decide which route to take. If she felt a headache on the right she would go left or keep straight on. If the slight headache was on the left, she would keep straight on or turn right – in order to reach her destination safely and/or less harmful. She used to explain it like this: “If I did not listen to my head – I ended up meeting less favourite colleagues and being forced to enduring silly small-talk. I did not listen to my head one evening after the office and was stuck in a traffic jam.” If something bad happened when following her head’s ‘directions’, the other route would have been even worse. Think whatever you want about superstitions, this catchy tune is truly cheering and always welcome.

That evening, their daughter Gina called. “Can any of you guys give me a lift to Tamara’s house? I will be going to take a cab back home.”

As Martin had some errands to run, Louise drove over to her daughter’s place. “Good golly!” Gina exclaimed. “You really are on time!” She got in and Louise put the car in gear.

Soon, Gina started complaining. “Keep straight on! I don’t want to be late!”

Louise stayed on her selected route. “I know the way to Tamara’s. No need to worry, Gina.” It wouldn’t have helped to explain Gina that Louise listened to her ‘headaches’. Of course they reached their destination on time. Gina hugged her mother, jumped out of the car and hastened to the entrance. She briefly turned around and waved. Louise drove off, this time taking a different route home.

Half an hour later the phone rang. Martin picked up on the third ring. “Is mama there, is she all right? I need to apologize for my complaining!”

Martin drew a blank and put Gina on speaker. “What’s the matter, darling?”

“We just listened to the local news. A major accident occurred on the route I wanted mama to take. At the construction site on that bridge, a lorry hit the barrier, skidded into a bus and rammed several cars. The bridge is closed; police cars, fire engines, and ambulances are on either side. At least one of the involved persons is dead! Mama, please forgive for being so impatient!”

“No need to apologize, Gina. I wasn’t mad at you. Off you go – enjoy the party!” They hung up.

On Sunday morning, on their way to the flea market, Martin asked Louise which route to take. “Turn left, please.” After driving for a while, they crossed the alternative route and saw a traffic jam. Sometimes these so-called headaches do come in handy, Martin reflected. As they arrived the parking lot was pretty full. The sun had come out again. Thanks to a light breeze it was pleasant to mingle with the crowd and wander up and down the rows of stands. Martin took his time inspecting all the stands had to offer, tools received a quick glance and were easily dismissed; books were checked more thoroughly. Louise preferred quicker glances. She could identify interesting stuff intuitively. Her favourite find was a Bob Ross’ style drawing which was given a special spot in the hallway. This Sunday they got some spices, two books, a pair of sunglasses, and a smart phone cover. They had been less successful, than that. On their way back they decided to celebrate their finds in a café. Each of them ordered a latte macchiato. Louise was thrilled about her raspberry lime cake and Martin revelled in his creamy puff.

As they continued their drive home they discussed what they had seen at the flea market. Both agreed that there were often too many professional sellers around. Often they saw the same stands at the different flea markets in the region. Some goods were actually reduced after a few weeks and could then be considered worth buying. One of the books Martin had bought was about coffee. It contained facts and figures, coffee and cake recipes. “Tell me your favourite recipe and I will bake you the cake.” Martin promised. Louise beamed.

In the evening they went out for a walk at the canal. It was luckily not as hot as the week before. Some boats passed them in either direction; the occasional cyclist went by. “Life’s good.” Martin said and gently squeezed Louise’s hand. They walked home holding hands.

For Monday evening they had agreed to meet at the Volksfest. As usual it was pretty crowded. As he knew that Louise had difficulty locating anyone in a large crowd, Martin decided to call Louise and help her find him in the masses. No two seconds later he heard I’m Into Something Good to his right. There she was, grinning mischievously. “I made it on my own, for once!”

They strolled around, buying cotton candy and jelly bears. Pausing at a try-your-luck stall, they realised that they were still not lucky. “Can’t you at least once grab the right lot?” Martin asked jokingly.

At another stall, it was the visitors’ task to guess the weight of different items. When it was Louise’s turn, she had to guess the weight of a pumpkin. She stared at it for several seconds and then stated: “15.2 kilograms.”

The carny was thunderstruck. “This lady is absolutely right!” He handed her a gigantic stuffed toy elk.

“How are we going to get this toy elk in our car?! And how did you get this pumpkin’s weight right?”

Louise winked, “I just saw this figure.”

“Why am I not surprised?” The toy elk got heavier by the minute. When they met a really sad-looking little girl with her parents – they decided to give her the enormous toy elk. She was overjoyed, her parents were touched. Martin and Louise continued their stroll light-heartedly and finally queued for the Ferris wheel. Nocturnal Nuremberg from above was nice. Their eyes met. “Damn, we’re really into something good!” Martin stated. And then he kissed Louise.

 

Noises

Ted Kendall felt in need of a Beamish. He could not yet believe it. He finally had mastered university. It had never felt so good to leave DCU’s premises. A degree in electronic engineering should open a broad variety of job offers. Grinning, he speed dialled his twin sister Tracy’s cell. She answered immediately. “Congrats!!!”

He was stunned, and then a hand tapped on his right shoulder. He swung around and saw – Tracy.

“I have been hiding over there, waiting for you to get out.” she confessed and hugged him. They went to the Skylon Hotel’s bar to celebrate.

“What are you going to do next?”

Ted smiled. “I’ll be tending bar for Fred until further notice. I must earn my living as before. And – I am going to send about 25 job applications to companies in Dublin, Cork, and Galway – via e-mail, of course. They will all be on the road tomorrow morning.”

Tracy was visibly impressed. “I hope that one of the companies here wants to have you. I wouldn’t really like you to be that far away.”

Ted raised his glass “Slainte!”

Early next morning, Ted mailed his job applications. Throughout the five following days, his enthusiasm slowly faded. Not all companies had responded yet. Those who had replied all stated something like ‘Thank you, sir – but we currently do not need another electronic engineer.’ The following day, Ted received an e-mail from a smaller company for electrical equipment in Galway. They were still rather small, working on expanding, though. He liked what he read. Ted felt that this was somehow the reply he had been waiting for. Suddenly, he had lots of stuff to consider: let his flat, tell Fred that he was leaving for Galway and that Fred obviously needed a new bar tender, and most of all tell Tracy that he was leaving Dublin. Ted hated to make her sad.

On Friday morning, Tracy picked him up. There wasn’t too much to carry, a trolley and his backpack, only. They took the bus from Upper Drumcondra Road and changed at O’Connell Street. At Heuston Station they had still enough time for coffee and muffins.

“I still cannot believe that they wanted you that fast. It will be weird not having you around.” Tracy reached for her backpack and took out a parcel. “Please do not open it before tonight.”

Ted promised that he wouldn’t. “And this is for you, Tracy.” He handed her a green envelope.

Tracy looked at him questioningly. “Don’t hesitate, open it, dear.”

She tore at the envelope. Inside was a photograph, showing both of them during their last trip to Dun Laoghaire. Tracy beamed. “I’ll scan it right away; this is my new background picture!” They hugged a last time. Tracy ran out to catch her bus and Ted went to board his train.

The weather was great: blue sky, tiny white clouds, about 25 °C. It was nice to just watch the landscape flow by. Each of the twelve stops between Dublin and Galway took him nearer to his future. The train ended its journey in Galway exactly 2.5 hours after leaving Dublin. Ted gathered his belongings and got off the train. The air smelled different; and the sky was a shade of grey with a touch of gold. He followed the directions provided by his future boss. Soon he reached Dubray Books in Shop Street. He entered and went directly to the cashier. “Hi, my name is Ted Kendall, I am looking for Tom Grey.”

The cashier looked up and extended his hand. “I am Tom, pleased to meet you. Gerry gave me the keys to your flat. Follow Shop Street, turn right at the fork. Mainguard Street turns into Bridge Street. A SPAR is in Mainguard Street, and Kelly’s Bar is directly in Bridge Street. You will definitely survive.” Tom grinned. “I would have liked to show you the way, my assistant is unfortunately ill, however.”

Ted gathered the keys, grabbed his trolley and smiled. “No need to worry. I’ll find my way. Have a good one!” – “You too, pal!” As soon as Ted had left the shop Tom picked up his phone.

Ted quite liked this new environment. In less than two minutes he arrived at ‘his’ new address. His new flat was on the first floor. The ground floor consisted of an old wooden door – obviously to the respective flat, and a creaky looking staircase to the upper floor. The stairs creaked in a way that he had to assume the worst about his completely furnished flat. He inserted the key in the new lock, took a deep breath to prepare himself for the worst and – was speechless. The furniture was new, so were the bathroom facilities as well as the kitchen appliances. On the table he found a bunch of tourist information brochures, another brochure of the company he was going to work for, and a welcome note by Gerry, his new boss.

As his smart-phone was completely drained, Ted had to connect it to the charger. Despite being hungry, he opted for unpacking his stuff before going out and buying some essentials at the SPAR. After getting the groceries, he plugged in his laptop to check his emails and let Tracy know he had arrived at his new home in one piece. Tracy answered right away via chat, writing that she had already sent him useful information via the ‘Telegram‘ app. They chatted for nearly an hour, and then Tracy had to go. Ted decided to grab his smart-phone and check out the route to his new job and collect impressions of his new neighbourhood. He found out that it took him merely 10 minutes to walk to the company’s premises. On the way back he registered interesting shops and restaurants. To celebrate his first evening he entered the Tigh Neachtain. Ted settled at the bar and ordered a Bonaparte’s Stout. This was good stuff and he ordered another one. An older guy sat down to his left. He immediately received his Dungarven Black Rock.

“Hello there, we haven’t met. Are you a tourist – or…? By the way, I am John.”

Ted took a swig from the yummy brew in front of him and turned to John. “My name is Ted. I just moved into the neighbourhood.”

John engaged Ted in a lengthy conversation, ordering another round in due course; and yet another one. It was late when Ted finally got up to walk home.

“Bye John, see you around.” He left the pub on slightly unsteady legs.

John placed a quick call.

There seemed to be more stairs at home than before… Ted somehow got upstairs, let himself in. Then he fell on the bed and was lost to the world. He slept fitfully, constantly having weird dreams of dwarf sized monks in grey robes, creaking stairs, and strange giggling and whispering sounds. He woke up as the alarm clock went off. Why had he set the alarm on a Saturday morning?! He felt slightly nauseous, having one hell of a headache. He tried to count the pints he’d had. At least four of them, he realized. He hadn’t eaten enough, that’s why he was feeling so bad now. ‘I should have known better.’ No painkillers, no coffee. Ted went to the bathroom. After taking a shower he felt a little better. He had breakfast at a café, bought some painkillers, and did the usual tourist stuff. In the evening he went to the Kettle of Fish and had one of their delicious dishes. Then he went home to watch TV. It was only 10 when he headed to bed. This time, he slept peacefully. Suddenly he woke with a start. This creaking and whispering – again! Ted switched on the light. It was 1:25. He didn’t hear a thing. He switched the light off. Soon he was fast asleep. The weird dreams returned. When he finally got up at 9, he was still feeling unfit. He left home at 10, grabbed a latte and a sandwich and walked to the harbour. Once again he had reasons to admire the greyish golden sky.

The nightmares continued. A week later he decided to optimise the security for his flat. The doors were certainly not safe enough; they were obviously the reason for his nightmares. He installed motion detectors at the foot and at the top of the staircase. Ted was satisfied. Finally he would be getting a good night’s sleep. He went out for a pint and met – John. “Where have you been, my lad?” John asked.

They went into Kelly’s and Ted told John about the motion detectors. Shortly after midnight the nightmare returned, all this creaking and whispering. Again, Ted woke with a start. He still heard the creaking and whispering. He crept to the door. It seemed to be dark on the staircase. Ted went into the kitchen to get some sparkling water. He listened. No more sounds. ‘I must have been dehydrated.’ He went back to bed.

Next morning he asked his boss about the flat on the ground floor. “The flat has been empty for years. The old lady who lived there died. And their family couldn’t bear letting it. They consider it a shrine, apparently.” Gerry shrugged.

Ted did not really like what he had heard. A shrine, nobody ever comes to air the flat – incredible. He decided to mount some traps. There must be an explanation for this recurring nightmare. That evening he deposited tiny strips of sellotape at the doors on the ground floor. Then he went upstairs, listened to some music while browsing the internet. Shortly before midnight he went to bed. He was so tired that he did not recall any nightmares when he got up. After getting ready for the job, Ted sneaked downstairs and checked the sellotape strips. He realised that both doors had been opened during the night. The motion detectors worked, there was a tiny scratch on one of them, though. He debated with himself about what to do and decided to rend Mill Street Garda Station a visit after work. He went to the station explained his situation. The officer listened and called a detective. “This sounds as it could be interesting for your case of contraband, sir.”

The detective asked Ted to follow him to his office. Ted readily repeated his story. He also told detective O’Sullivan that he had met John in front of Kelly’s and more or less bragged about the motion detectors.

“John who? Do you by any chance know his family name? Please describe him for me.”

Ted thought about when he had met John last time, outside of Kelly’s. “His height is about 1.65 metres, he seems a little plump. His hair is greyish. He seems to prefer Dungarven Black Rock.”

Detective O’Sullivan placed a call and turned back to face Ted. “I now ask you to do what you usually do in the evenings. A team will be placed near your flat.”

Ted thanked him and went home to a hopefully quiet night having sandwiches and watching a movie.

In the middle of the night, hell broke loose – at least according to the noises below. Ted got up and peeked out of the window. The gardai were there all right; as well as three hooded figures in hand-cuffs. Several minutes later, someone knocked on his door. It was detective O’Sullivan.

“We’ve got them at last. Thanks to you, Mr Kendall. And we also have John Moody in custody. He organised these youngsters and the smuggled goods. The flat on the ground floor was ideal for stashing hot goods. He used to be a close friend of the old lady’s son. He must have seized the opportunity to grab a key.” He extended his hand. Ted shook it and the detective left. Ted started his laptop to check on upcoming events. As it was now safe in this house, he wanted to invite Tracy and show her that he could manage on his own. Ted got back into bed and slept peacefully for once.

Next day everybody was talking about the smugglers. It was the main topic in the café, at the SPAR, and at work. “They caught them in the act – in Bridge Street, they said.” Gerry stated when starting their stand-up meeting.

“This must have been quite exciting for you, Ted; right in your neighbourhood!” Ted smiled and nodded. He didn’t in the least intend to explain how close to home this excitement had really been.

 

Imprisoned

Dee woke with a start. Heart pounding wildly she stretched out her hand to switch on the lamp on her bedside table. It wasn’t there. Not only the lamp was missing, there just was no bedside table, she was not in her own bed. Moreover, it was pitch-black. ‘This can’t be!’ she said to herself. ‘The street lights are always visible, unless there is a power outage?!’ No sounds. ‘Impossible! There’s always traffic!’ She strained her ears: nothing. Nothing at all.

 

Dee sat up. Her mouth felt dry, she could hardly breathe. Was this an anxiety attack?! She tried to remember what she had read about it in a magazine. She couldn’t remember anything. Finally, she hugged herself, swinging forward and backward, telling herself to calm down. After what seemed like ages she felt a little better. Time for a check: shirt, jeans, trainers, watch – the latter with a rather weak battery. No keys, though. She tried to remember. She had brushed her teeth, taken a shower and… ‘I went to bed. I certainly did not wear shirt, jeans, or trainers.’ Creepy. ‘Activity!’ she commanded herself and let her hands wander around. She was on a sofa that seemed to be in the middle of nothing. ‘In the middle of a ROOM!’ Feeling better after this self-reprimand, Dee carefully swung her legs from the sofa. The floor seemed to be carpeted. She got up, stretched. Taking one step at a time, Dee reached an empty wooden rack after 15 steps. She turned to the right. Using her left hand to keep in touch with the rack and/or wall and stretching out her right arm in walking direction she resumed counting her steps. It took her 23 steps to reach a wall. She turned right again, resumed walking and counting. 14 steps later she felt a metal door frame. Frame and door were cool to the touch. There was neither lock nor handle. Dee sobbed – from exhaustion or desperation. She tried to calm down and continued along the wall. 22 steps later, the door side wall came to an end. Again, she turned to the right and started to check the next wall. 47 steps of bare wall. The complete darkness and stillness were overbearing. ‘Breathe, Dee, breathe!’ Dee turned right, counted 39 steps until the fourth corner. Turning right, she took a deep breath. It took her 21 steps to reach the empty rack. Only that it wasn’t completely empty. She fingered her find. It was a piece of chalk. She pocketed it carefully, turned and walked in the direction of the sofa, slumped down as exhaustion got the better of her.

Dee dreamed being on a cruise ship in a storm. But – was she really dreaming? She was still lying on that sofa. It felt like being on a swing. A wave of nausea made her wretch. ‘I need to get out, fast!’ If she remembered her walk around the room correctly, she would have to get up, turn right to walk directly towards the metal door. The room seemed to be spinning around her. She swayed and fell to her knees, crawled. After what felt like hours she reached the wall. Wall, wall, wall. She inched further to the right and felt the welcoming cool metal of the door frame. She started banging on the door and tried to scream for help. She couldn’t produce more than hoarse whispers. Her throat was way to dry. “Help! Help me!” No response. No light. No sound. Emptiness surrounded her like a second skin. She turned her back to the door and hugged her knees. ‘Ouch!’ Dee felt a slight pain in her right hip. ‘The chalk!’ She got up, took the piece of chalk out of her jeans pocket and frantically started writing ‘HELP’ on the door and the wall around it. She only stopped when that piece of chalk crumbled between her fingers. She fell to the floor and curled up in a foetal position, sobbing.

>>> THE END <<<

 

Thank you for attending this presentation.

 

“Any questions?”

 

As the lights came on, the audience was still shocked. “I can assure you, that the young woman in this video, Dee, is all right. She is a former student of mine, volunteering for this test. Her ‘incarceration’ took less than 40 minutes.” Professor Friedrich sipped some water and continued. “What we needed to demonstrate is how deprivation of contacts, light, sound, and sleep is inhumane. Each of these deprivations alone is already considered torture. I agree that ‘the bad guys’ need to be behind bars. Torture, however, is never an option. And it doesn’t matter if the prisoner is a serial killer or a terrorist. I appeal to you all – here at the Heidelberg faculty and future psychologists to fight torture like this in prison facilities.”

 

Heatwave

2013 was at least weather wise a bunch of extremes. First, there were the snowstorms. Even major cities were at least briefly covered by tons of snow. Then – thanks to the rising temperatures and incessant rainfalls – came the inundations. Landscapes transformed into lakes, cities ‘lost’ their paved streets, and houses ‘lost’ their cellars and ground floors. People lost their belongings. It took months to repair, restore, remunerate – at least partially – all that had been affected. Weeks later, the heatwave began.

Temperatures were well above the average, the humidity was quite uncomfortable. Air conditioning equipment was soon sold out. Those without air conditioning in their flats could hardly sleep. Despite prior wishes to having a real warm summer, people started complaining – at least inwardly. Life in Willowsend was pretty slow. The office managers whose offices did not have air conditioning allowed siesta from 12:00 to 3:00 pm. All shops were running out of water – as soon as the delivery van opened its doors, the customers pried all bottles out of the driver’s hands and hurried home.

The weatherman was the most important guy in the news. Every hour, the Willowsend population prayed for good news like rain and/or even thunderstorms – to no avail. All Willowsenders were tired, grouchy, cranky, etc.

On the ninth evening, the phone at the police station rang. Detective Cody Lang could hardly understand the hysteric voice at the other end. “Please, sir, calm down. What’s your name? What has happened?”

The other party calmed down. It was the bank director, telling him, that the box with bills to be destroyed had been broken into – and emptied.

“We’ll be there in 5!” Cody signalled his partner Devon Underwood to follow him. On the way he rang Deb Collins, their crime scene specialists, asking her to join them at the bank.

As Cody and Devon reached the bank, Deb just parked her car, grabbed her crime scene gear and joined them. A preoccupied looking employee introduced himself as Herb Arnold and ushered them hastily inside. James Ruben, the director was marching up and down in front of the vault, desperately wringing his hands. His normally impeccably combed hair was dishevelled, he looked ill. “This is unbelievable!”

To prevent the director from continuing his monologue, Cody asked for the surveillance tapes. Herb led them to the security office where they were greeted by Cass Farr. She explained that the vault was electronically locked and opened automatically at predetermined times, meaning it was opened at 10:00 am, 2:00 pm, and 6:00 pm for 15 minutes, respectively. The tapes showed James and Herb entering and leaving, having not been near the box in question at all. Only at 6:05 pm, James wanted to pack some damaged bills into the box. They all watched as he unlocked the box, opened it, and – gasped for air. Then they saw Herb dragging James out before the vault closed.

“We need to collect evidence!”

“This will have to wait until 10:00 am. We cannot override the automatism. This is only possible in cases of emergency.”

“And you wouldn’t consider this a case of emergency?!”

“We would have had to press the emergency button.”

None of the bank employees dared to look.

“Well, I can at least check, if the lock has been tampered with.” Deb started to powder the vault’s door. “Be prepared to provide your prints, please.”

There were only the employees’ prints at the vault’s door. The next morning, when Deb tested the box in question, only James’ prints were found. The case was never solved. Damaged bills for destruction amounting to 125,000 Ti were lost forever.

A fortnight later, the heatwave came to an end. Willowsend and its inhabitants returned to normal.

28 years later, Joe Danby was sitting in his favourite spot in the garden, enjoying the early morning sun, and some of his wife’s awesome coffee. His 8 year old grandson Luke ran around the impressive garden. He liked hiding between the trees, climbing them, dipping his feet in the pond, playing with Conor, his grandfather’s Golden Retriever. After running around for an hour, Luke got thirsty and ran to his grandfather to help himself to some home-made lemonade. He was happy.

“Grandpa, please, tell me a story!”

Joe smiled.

“Oh Luke, I have a story for you. But we absolutely need to keep this story to ourselves.”

“I promise! Cross my heart…”

Joe positioned himself comfortably.

“The year 2013 brought us an incredible heatwave. All Willowsenders were desperate. Only few houses had air conditioning, water supplies were scarce, and prices for it rose to incredible heights. I was an apprentice in a chemical laboratory, at that time. I didn’t have much money, then. It was nearly impossible to buy at least the most necessary stuff. I had rented a tiny flat in the back of a farm house. It was very sticky in my room. Sleep just wouldn’t come. In the eighth night I heard something strange. As I couldn’t sleep, I decided to take a look. To feel better, I took a baseball bat with me. Behind the barn, in the middle of the wheat field, there was a strange little vehicle. It had a greyish shimmer. A long-legged guy with an also greyish shimmering skin was rumbling under the hood. “What are you doing there?” I innocently asked. The guy hit his head at the vehicle’s hood and cursed. I could see that he had big black eyes and was completely bald. Creepy. My neck hairs stood up. The guy looked me over and – transformed. He was now my spitting image, including the baseball bat. I watched him incredulously. “Can I help you somehow?” I whispered. “I need fuel”, he replied. “What does your vehicle need?” He told me. It was something I could create at the laboratory. I asked him, how much he would need. He told me, and asked me, if there was something that he could do for me. I had an idea. I asked him, if he could transform into something invisible as well. Instead of answering, he transformed into something that seemed like shimmering air. I explained what I wanted him to do – and he agreed. Next morning, I went to the laboratory and created the required amount of ‘fuel’. Four litres of this concoction would last him a year. We met after sunset. I handed him his ‘fuel’ and he handed me damaged bills, worth 125,000 Ti. Then he filled the ‘fuel’ in his vehicle’s tank and set off.”

Joe paused and drank more coffee. “What about the money, Grandpa?”

“I had told my extra-terrestrial contact, that there was a box containing damaged bills in the bank vault. As these bills were destined to be destroyed, I did not feel that it would be such a bad crime at all. As this guy could transform into shimmering air, he could not be detected by the human eye, not even by the motion detectors. He flowed in the vault with the bank director who was distracted while opening the box, flowed in the box, surrounded the bills, flowed out – and that was that. Thanks to this money, I could finally propose to your grandmother. We worked diligently, saved, and could finally buy this house.”

“This is awesome, grandpa!” Luke patted Conor and smiled up at his grandfather. “You are always supporting people in need, you put up an animal shelter, fight against racism, etc. I am very proud that I am your grandson.”

“Thank you, Luke. And not a word to anybody, all right?!” Grandfather and grandson smiled at each other and hugged.

 

Projections

Already at the age of three, Judy discovered that she could create a projection of herself at another location. It was on a rainy afternoon, her parents were as usually at work, the housekeeper was busy in the living room. She felt rather lonely. ‘If only I had a twin!’ She concentrated really hard – and suddenly faced an image of herself right in front of her. Her projection smiled at her and – disappeared. Judy soon realized that she had to keep concentrating unless she didn’t want her projection to vanish into thin air.

When she was nearly six years old, she tried to ban her projection on camera. She combined a motion detector with a camera. Nothing happened. Her hologram didn’t trigger the motion detector to act. Next time she selected the record option. Afterwards she rewound the film. There she was! Her projection was smiling and dancing on the carpet. She showed the movie to her parents when they came home. They didn’t realize they were watching a projection and – Judy didn’t intend to tell them. They never seemed to have more than five minutes for her.

Over the years, Judy refined her ability. Her projection could walk normally under the condition that Judy could see its surroundings. It would have been hard to explain how ‘she’ could walk through other people or even through walls – even though only one human being at a time could see it. It would have been helpful to send her projection to school when she knew she was going to be late. The projection’s inability to talk or really interact at all made this quite impossible. Moreover, it was extremely exhausting to keep up the projection for long. Judy frequently needed excuses for her constant yawning.

Soon after her 18th birthday, Judy moved to London and started an intern-ship at a chemical laboratory. Right from the start she had the feeling of being watched, be it at lunch break or after she ended her shift. This Tuesday morning, Judy, was sitting in the back of a Caffè Nero. She had already finished her latte macchiato and a banana/walnut muffin, when she got the creepy feeling that something weird was about to happen. She concentrated harder. Her projection needed to be around the corner in front of a shop window, facing the other direction, pretending to listen to some music. Suddenly the entrance door sprang open. An about 16-year-old fairy like girl in an old fashioned dress and a hat strode in purposefully. She halted two tables away and signalled Judy to follow her. She turned around and Judy couldn’t but follow her. The girl strode purposefully towards the exit, pushed the door open without looking back. She only stopped at the traffic lights. She did not once glance sideways at Judy or talk to her. When the lights changed, she immediately started crossing the road, went down the block and stopped in front of a brick house, opened the door. Judy hesitated a moment and followed her inside. She turned around and – the girl was gone.

“Judy, please do come in! I’m here in the kitchen.”

The voice came from another direction. She went to the open door and saw a young dark haired woman sitting at the kitchen table. A pair of crutches leaned at the counter beside her.

“Why don’t you come in and have a seat?”

Judy looked back in the hall, then slowly stepped into the kitchen and sat down.

The woman smiled. “Perhaps I should introduce myself first. My name is Kate Somers. I am 25 years old and currently need this pair of crutches to walk – too slowly for my taste. I suppose you forgive the unconventional way to get you here, considering…”

Judy tried to breathe normally. Kate shoved a bottle of sparkling water over to her side of the table. Judy opened it and took some swigs of the refreshing liquid. She put the bottle back on the table.

“How do you know my name? Where is the girl who led me here – she seems somehow familiar – has she been watching me? And – why am I here at all?”

“Three dot five very important questions. Answering these will take a while. And you have to be at the lab in 10 minutes. What about this: You go to the lab, do your duties and return afterwards. I’ll tell you over dinner.”

Judy was flabbergasted. She got up hesitantly.

“You are going to be safe, today.” Kate said gently.

“Dinner will be ready by half past five.” Judy nodded, left the kitchen and went to the front door. She closed it behind her and marched left towards the lab. Had she glanced in the opposite direction, she might have seen herself heading down another street, earning admiring glances from several young men.

The hours at the lab went by slowly – as usual when only routine work was due. At the end of her shift, Judy went to the washing room, rinsed her hands and arms, and brushed her hair. She felt a little queasy not sure what she was going to hear about at Kate’s house. She found her way back there easily. The front door opened before she could knock. She entered and didn’t see anyone. She closed the door and trailed to the kitchen. Kate was already sitting at the table. She looked up and smiled at Judy.

“Exactly on time!”

The table had only been set for two. As in the morning, Judy looked questioningly towards the kitchen door.

“Let’s eat first, I’ll explain right afterwards.”

The food was delicious. Judy was famished. She realized she hadn’t had eaten more than her banana/walnut muffin. After they had finished, Judy felt sufficiently prepared to hear Kate’s explanations.

“This may sound weird. I know your name because of your projections. You concentrate so hard that your name is audible for me, as your projections are visible to me. Three years ago, I had a car accident. A bigger car rammed me at a junction and shoved my car into the car in front of me. They had to cut me out of my car. The car was totalled and so was my left leg – more or less. I had to spend quite a while in different hospitals. I became more and more depressed. A psychologist started to treat me and ordered relaxation therapy. It helped a great deal. One evening, I watched a rerun of Picnic at Hanging Rock. I was always sad when Miranda and the others vanished at Hanging Rock. I imagined what I would tell Miranda if she came back. And there she was – right in front of me. I was so dumbstruck that she immediately vanished. I tried again and – she reappeared. Her projection helped me to survive my loneliness. Most of my so-called friends and former neighbours weren’t interested in spending time with a handicapped person. Last year, I decided to leave the village for good and moved into this house. My new colleagues are great. We meet regularly.

After I moved here, I could suddenly sense your despair. Creating your projection and keeping people from interacting with you seemed vital to you. This intensified as you started at the lab. You had the sensation of being stalked. Well, you were not, as far as I can tell. I cannot tell you how many more people could feel your distress. As today was my day off, I created a projection that looked like you walking in a different direction; a projection visible to several people. There were no stalker signs at all.”

Here, Judy interrupted: “Several people saw this projection and – how do you know that there were no strange reactions?!”

“If I concentrate a little more, I can see what the projection sees at the respective locations. You always try way too hard. Therefore, you are exhausted easily and thus do not have enough energy to feel and see what your projection would feel and see. Throughout the last weeks, I was getting more and more concerned about your well-being. This morning, I therefore just had to ‘send’ Miranda out to come and get you.”

Judy sat on her chair and digested what she had heard. How brave Kate had been. How horrible her old neighbours and friends had treated her. And how kind she was. Not such a loner as she herself had been all her life. She knew one thing for sure: “Let us be friends, Kate! I will never let you down. And I won’t fritter away my precious time any longer. I will no longer feel sorry for myself.”

They became friends, went to the cinema on a regular basis, and often spend time at Kate’s house, frequently accompanied by Miranda – especially when watching Picnic at Hanging Rock.

 

As Good As New

Joe sighed contentedly and laid his screwdriver back into the toolbox. The small sized swing chair he had just finished was really beautiful. It had cost Mrs. Goodwin a fortune when she bought it seven years before. Now he had finished her order for restoring and/or repairing it successfully. Becky had already prepared two cushions for the chair. As it was already too late to deliver it to Nantucket, he would take the ferry first thing in the morning. With one last admiring glance at the restored chair on the workbench he turned to skirt it on the left. The horrific sound of an electric drill set in. Joe halted. He abhorred the sound of electric drills – it hurt his ears. The sound had stopped. He took one step forward and – the sound was back. He shook his head. It sounded very loud. Nobody in his family used an electric drill. There shouldn’t and couldn’t be one. He turned around to take a peek out of the window. There was no one near. He turned to the door, taking the direct route to the right of the workbench. Nothing happened. Joe opened the door, switched off the light and used his key to close the shed.

“As good as new!” Joe froze, listened. After a minute he decided it had just been his imagination.

After he had scrubbed his hands clean, Joe went to the kitchen. His niece Becky was just setting the table. Her fiancé Brad was stirring in a pan. It smelled delicious. Becky and Brad were pescetarians. At first, Joe had feared the worst: no steaks, no meatballs, no ham, etc. When cooking, they used incredibly tasty herbs and spices. And at least they provided tasty dishes of fish as well.

Brad looked at him. “Are you all right?”

“It’s just a slight headache. Didn’t you hear the electric drill?” Becky and Brad shook their heads in unison.

“The range hood was on, we didn’t hear a thing.”

Before they sat down at the table, Joe took three bottles of beer out of the fridge. The retired school teacher enjoyed the dinners with Becky and her fiancé. They always came ‘home’ Friday afternoon and left in the early hours of Monday, then returning to their respective jobs in Boston, banker and dentist. Throughout dinner they exchanged news about past week’s events. Life in Boston was busy as usual. Hyannis already prepared for the autumn and/or winter season. Quite soon, the number of tourists would diminish. Some shops and house owners would board up and return in April.

Next morning, the Johnson household was up early. They had a rich breakfast, filled the dishwasher, and set off. Becky and Brad went to the mall; Joe went to the shed to retrieve the swing chair. He opened the door, leaving it open and headed in the direction of the workbench. Again, this horrible sound of the electric drill set in. Joe jumped back and covered his ears. The noise had stopped. One tentative step forward… ‘Now, this is crazy.’ Joe thought. He inched sideways. No sound. He inched further to the left, stepped forward, and could finally reach the swing chair. He carefully wrapped it in a clean sheet and carried it to the truck. He secured the swing chair and went back to the shed. Before closing the door, he looked around.

“As good as new!” Joe was thunderstruck. This was his father’s voice! Until his death 25 years ago, James had worked in this shed – and in the house as well, restoring valuable furniture. His parrot Jack always keeping him company – much to his wife’s dismay. Marybeth was typically the one to clean and – cleaning included removing of bird droppings, paint, wood shavings, and more. James used to admire his newly restored pieces of furniture and state the obvious: “As good as new.” The parrot soon imitated him to perfection. Joe shook his head and closed the door.

The trip to Nantucket and back was as planned. Mrs. Goodwin was delighted by the restoration and the new cushions. When she paid Joe, she also handed him a freshly baked rum cake ‘to share with his family’, as she insisted. Joe got home to find a new antique-looking hand crafted letterbox. Inside was a brief note reading ‘Hope you like it!’ It was signed by Becky and Brad. He went inside. Becky was in the living room, reading a new book. It didn’t surprise him. Going to the mall always meant spending some time at Barnes & Noble, browsing for books and bookmarks. Becky got up; Joe showed her the cake and hugged her.

“Thank you for the letterbox,” he said.

Becky smiled and led him to the kitchen. “Let’s get some coffee,” she said.

Joe looked out of the kitchen window. “What is Brad up to?” he asked.

“He is checking the picket fence. Some of the wood in that corner seems quite rotten.”

After coffee, Joe returned to the shed to tidy up. He took a broom from the closet and started sweeping. As he neared the spot next to the workbench, the sound of the electric drill set in again. He took one step backward and the sound subsided. Another step back and the sound was gone. Carefully, he held the broom in front of him with outstretched arms. Nothing. He slowly lowered the broom. Still no sound. He let the broom softly touch the ground. No sound. He carefully swept the floor. He applied a little more pressure and – heard the electric drill. He lifted the broom – silence. He decided to give this spot a wide berth and not to waste any more time on thinking about it. Having cleaned the floor, he decided to call it a day.

A little after midnight, Joe started tossing and turning in his sleep. He had a nightmare about his dad and the shed. He jolted awake to the shout “As good as new! As good as new!” Heart racing and sweating he looked at his watch. 12:17 am, his display read. Still slightly shaking he stood up, went to the door, opened it, and listened. An anguished shriek sounded from outside. His niece’s door opened. “What the heck? What was this horrible shriek about?!”

Outside they could hear a male voice uttering expletives. Joe and Becky started downstairs in their pyjamas, the latter firmly holding a baseball bat in her right hand. She briefly turned around. “Brad, follow us, have your cell phone ready, and watch out for my sign! If necessary, dial 9-1-1!”

Downstairs, they stood and listened. There! Cursing from somewhere near the back! They sidled to the kitchen door and looked outside. The door to the shed was open. Inside, they could see the glow of a torch. Joe cautiously opened the door. He and Becky cautiously approached the shed. To the right of the workbench, they could see a hole in the floor. Inside a dark-clad guy sporting a black ski mask over his head. Several floor boards were broken, if they broke due to the guy’s weight or the shovel laying nearby, they couldn’t tell. Becky signalled Brad to make the call. She and Joe entered the shed. Joe switched on the lights.

The guy between the floor boards had several cuts in his sleeves; blood was oozing out of two or three cuts. His eyes were closed. Becky moved forward. The electric drill sounded. She stopped, nonplussed. They guy’s eyes flew open. “Stop that noise, you fools!” he yelled.

Joe took Becky’s arm to draw her back. The sound stopped. In the distance, the first sirens could be heard. Joe contemplated the scene. Apparently, the guy had approached the spot right to the workbench, the floor boards broke, and he got hurt.

“Did you hear the electric drill before falling through the floor boards?” He earned a vicious look from the guy in the floor. He took this as a ‘no’. The investigators moved in and took control. Joe had one recommendation: “The floor boards over there are rather unstable. You might want to batten the floor a little.”

Then, Joe and Becky were ushered outside and asked to retreat to the house. Neither of them felt like sleeping. Becky decided to take a shower, Brad prepared coffee, and Joe poured himself his favourite Irish whiskey. A while later, Detective Art Manning knocked at the kitchen door. He gladly accepted the freshly brewed coffee as well as a piece of cake. Then he got to business.

“Your ‘visitor’ is Charlie Donner, 24 years old. He has raised our suspicions before; we didn’t have any proof – until now. He broke into your shed as he was told there was a treasure beneath the floor boards. He entered the shed, broke through the floor boards and broke his ankle on – a chest. You need to forgive us for having had to open the chest. Inside we found your parents’ love letters – can it be your father’s nickname was As Good As New – and a bankbook. The latter will certainly help you intensify the security of your shed.”

The detective stood up. “Thanks for the coffee and the cake.” Joe escorted him to the front door. Another investigator was about to knock. He handed Joe the chest. “This is yours.”

“I still don’t get it,” Brad looked questioningly at Joe and Becky.

“What about this ominous sound of an electric drill?!” Joe looked at Becky and nodded.

Becky explained: “When Joe was little, he was present when a co-worker of his dad had a severe accident with an electric drill. After this traumatic experience, Joe still cannot hear this sound without reliving this situation.”

“When I heard that sound in the shed, I halted. Therefore, there was never a danger of my falling through the floor boards. Perhaps my father or my mother tried to warn me off,” Joe explained.

“Since when do you believe in ghosts?” Brad asked.

“I wouldn’t say I actually believe in ghosts. I just feel that I might have been saved from harm by something I just cannot explain. I am grateful to whatever or whoever has saved me,” Joe stated matter-of-factly.

 

Laura non c’è

Roberta finally arrived at her hotel in Munich. She parked her rental car close to the entrance and went in. For the first time in her life, she had booked a flight, boarded a plane, rented a car, and booked a hotel for a one-week-vacation. She had done so because she needed to think about Luigi’s proposal. And she had felt deep inside that she urgently needed a certain distance to do so.

After unpacking her suitcase she left the hotel and walked through the adjacent streets, found a park nearby. She loved Bavaria’s capital right from the start. And even more its beautiful parks in the summer time, the intense colours and scents. Next morning, after breakfast, she strolled to the park. She wandered deeper inside, sat down on a bench and relaxed.

Roberta Paolini grew up in a small Italian town. Compared to the other girls, she had always seemed rather plain – something like an ugly duckling. Her friends went to the cinema with their boyfriends, went shopping together, etc. Roberta stayed at home. Her classmates went dancing, Roberta stayed at home. When she was 19, her parents died in a car accident. At least 200 visitors arrived for the funeral and paid their condolences. Roberta went home alone – as usual. She continued working as an accountant, without anything special ever happening.

One day, at the office, her colleague asked her to take care of a new customer. Luigi Bertone was stunning and – he showed a strong interest in her. Suddenly, Roberta went out a lot. Luigi was charming. He invited her to a café, when he wanted to pay he realised that he had left his wallet at the hotel – Roberta paid. He scheduled her at a beautician’s, a hairdresser’s, invited her to an exquisite restaurant, and proposed to her at cocktail time. He promised her heaven on earth, and that he would take care of all their finances as ‘such a loveable woman’ should not have to think about money. The first sensation was joy – only for a moment, though. Then she realised the part with Luigi’s taking care of all their finances. Trying to appear calm, she excused herself, went in the direction of the ladies’ room, and slipped out of the rear entrance.

After a rather sleepless night with strange dreams, Roberta decided she needed a break. A former colleague had once sent a postcard from Munich, Bavaria. It seemed nice then – and now she felt the urge to go there. She packed a trolley, closed the house and walked to the train station. In Rome, she went to the airport to take the next flight to Munich, she organised a rental car to wait for her at Munich, then sat down in the lounge until it was time to board the plane. Picking up the rental and a map had been a piece of cake.

Sitting there in the sun, a light breeze gently touching her skin and caressing her hair was fantastic.

“Hi, daydreamer! May I?”

Roberta quickly opened her eyes to see a beautiful girl with the most captivating smile she had ever seen. Roberta nodded.

“I am Laura Holmes,” the girl said smiling.

“Isn’t this just the most wonderful day?!” She spoke German fluently with just a hint of British accent.

Roberta introduced herself. Her German was perhaps not quite as fluent, she understood everything pretty well, though. They sat for a while in companionable silence. Then Laura began speaking. “When you were sitting here all alone, you seemed relaxed at first. Suddenly your aura turned rather gloomy. May I help you?”

Roberta didn’t know what to say. She sat there, looking at Laura who fiddled with her silver necklace and its silver pendant – a shamrock with tiny emeralds. Roberta suddenly realised that she had to tell Laura her story. “I’ll tell you. But I beg you: don’t laugh!”

“I won’t!” Laura promised solemnly.

“I grew up in a small village. My parents were a little strict, I was obedient, and so it didn’t matter much. I had my chores to do after school; therefore, I didn’t have many friends, if any. All the girls in our village were so pretty and I was just boring. I finished school, was trained to be an accountant. My parents died in a car accident when I was 19. I inherited the house, a small one, nothing fancy, and I continued living there. All my schoolmates got married and/or moved away. The only thing that happened to me was that I got promoted to senior accountant. Then a colleague introduced a new customer. Luigi was stunning and – he was interested in me! Plain boring old me, can you imagine that? He sent me to the hairdressers, stylists, etc. I went there, was cared for, and paid the respective bills. I didn’t mind that much because I suddenly looked quite all right. Some days later, he invited me to a gourmet restaurant. We laughed and chatted and – during dessert he proposed. Just verbally, no ring, no flowers. I was thunderstruck, should have been overjoyed but it just didn’t seem right. I excused myself and fled through the rear entrance. I had a horrible night. Next morning I took the plane to Munich. I landed less than 24 hours ago.”

Laura grinned. “Imagine his face when he realised you were gone. And he was sitting there and had to face the bill!”

Roberta laughed out loud. “True. It must have been a shock!”

Laura nodded. “You are definitely better off without him. He seems like a jerk. Perhaps he has a history of embezzling. At least it seems that way.”

Roberta looked anguished. “The first time a man shows an interest in boring old Roberta, and it is just an act.”

“You are lucky, Roberta. There are thousands of nice men out there willing to get to know you and/or even love you for what you are. Have you looked into a mirror, lately? You are neither ugly nor boring. Not in the least!” Roberta blushed.

“No need to feel embarrassed, Roberta. This is just the plain truth.”

Laura stood up. “As this is your first full day here in Munich, let me show you more of this beautiful park.”

They walked through the park that was slowly filling with visitors. As they approached the exit nearest to Roberta’s hotel, Laura glanced at her watch. “Gee, I didn’t realise it was that late already! I’ve got to run! Why don’t we meet here tomorrow morning at 9:30? I would like to show you the museum I used to work for.”

Roberta agreed and Laura sprinted down the road and around a corner. For the first time in years, Roberta felt truly happy. She had met someone she could finally talk to. Smiling, she returned to her hotel. The evening news presented the usual reports of countries in crisis, upcoming elections, and the incarceration of internationally searched for embezzler Luigi Bertone.

Next morning, she happily went to the park entrance. Despite her being five minutes early, Laura was already waiting for her. Smiling broadly, she pirouetted and made a bow “Let the tour begin!”

Roberta asked her if she had seen the news.

“Sorry, I didn’t have the opportunity to watch! What did I miss?” Roberta told her about Luigi.

“See – I knew you were far better off without him!”

“I’ll end up all alone,” Roberta stated.

“No, you won’t! I can assure you of this,” Laura replied confidently.

They set off. On the way to the museum, Laura hinted at everything worth knowing about the route they were taking. Roberta admired the architecture, the people around her, and the stimulating vibrancy of the Bavarian capital.

At the museum, Laura excused herself “Please go in, I need to check on something, first. Just give me a sec.” She walked off toward a group of students. Roberta went in and was handed a leaflet. She was still studying it when Laura joined her. She indicated a section. “I would like to show you this.”

They spent three hours in the respective department, Laura showing her around and explaining. Afterwards they walked to another park. “I need something to drink,” Roberta declared. She bought a bottle of sparkling water. She offered it to Laura who declined politely. They settled on a bench.

“How do you feel today, after I filled your head with lots of history and science?”

“I am happy and – very grateful. I feel so relieved. No more worries about Luigi and what he did or did not do.”

“It is quite normal to ‘fall in love’ with the first one who seems to care. You will get used to guys giving you the eye. They are already noticing you. Didn’t you see that cute boy at the museum?” Laura winked and continued “They are all yours, now.” Roberta could have sat on that bench for ages, enjoying the sunlight and the company of her friend. Suddenly, however, the park filled with children who claimed their territory.

“This playground over there is the favourite for all families in the vicinity,” Laura stated.

They got up, this time taking a different route to the hotel.

“This was an awesome day. I hope you enjoyed it at least half as much as I did.”

“Certainly, but…”

“Please forgive me – I have an appointment I dare not miss.” Laura turned around and hurried away, leaving Roberta speechless.

Despite Roberta’s not really understanding Laura’s sudden hurry, it had been a wonderful day. This night she slept soundly. In the early morning, she dreamt that the telephone rang. She could not reach it, it continued ringing. She jolted awake. The telephone on her night stand was indeed ringing. Her watch on the night-stand showed 2:38 am. She inhaled deeply, exhaled slowly, picked up the receiver.

“Hello?”

“Laura.” Laura was barely audible. “I cannot… I lost my necklace with the shamrock pendant at the museum… I beg you, please, retrieve it for me… Thank you…” The call ended. Laura had whispered hoarsely, her voice getting weaker by the syllable. Roberta was in a fret. She got up and took a shower. At 6:30 she could no longer wait. She went down to reception and asked about the phone call.

“There was no phone call for you, Miss Paolini,” the desk clerk said. “At least it didn’t come in via our switchboard.”

Roberta asked for the phone directory. Frantically, she scanned the pages. There was an entry for Laura Holmes. Hastily, she scribbled down the number and address, looked up the route from the museum to Laura’s flat. She was too preoccupied to eat; therefore she just gulped down some coffee.

Back in her room, Roberta tried Laura’s number. The line was busy. She tried again and again. The line was still busy. The museum’s opening hours were printed on the leaflet. She decided to get going – even if she would have to wait some minutes outside. It was another bright summer day. ‘I wouldn’t really mind living here,’ she thought to herself. She arrived at the museum with several minutes to spare. The time sufficed to try Laura’s number another time. There was no phone booth in sight and for the first time in her life, Roberta regretted not having a cell phone. Finally the doors opened. Roberta went inside and straight to reception.

“Good morning, I visited here yesterday with a friend of mine and – she lost her necklace with a shamrock pendant here.”

“I remember you, yet – you were alone.”

“Oh, Laura came in a little later and joined me inside.”

“A necklace with a pendant, you say. What does it look like?” Roberta described the necklace and the shamrock pendant as good as she could.

“Your friend is lucky,” the receptionist said. “A boy found it in a corner where he had dropped his brochure. Here it is.” Roberta took the necklace and thanked the receptionist.

Roberta finally left the museum and followed the route she had looked up on the map. It took her only four minutes to get to her destination. She found L. Holmes on the board just as the door was opened from the inside. She went in, found the right door, and rang the bell, waited. Nothing. She pressed the button – harder this time. She heard footsteps approaching. Roberta smiled in anticipation, holding the necklace and its shamrock pendant in her outstretched hands. The door opened slowly. A man in his mid-twenties, a dark mop of tousled hair, red-rimmed eyes stood in the door frame.

“Hello, my name is Roberta. Laura asked me to retrieve her necklace from the museum. Is she here, by any chance? I would love to see her face when she gets it back!”

The man just stood there, head hanging low, mumbling “Laura is gone.”

Roberta was thunderstruck, suddenly unable to think of any German words. “Laura non c’è? Perché? Impossibile! She didn’t tell me, she was going away?!”

“My name is Sam Holmes, I am her brother. Perhaps you had better come in.”

Sam stepped aside to let Roberta in, and then led her to the kitchen. He swept some crumpled paper tissues in the waste basket, offered her coffee. She nodded.

“I hope you drink your coffee black, there is neither sugar no milk.”

“Black is quite fine,” Roberta replied.

Sam eyed the necklace. “That was her lucky charm,” he said. “I gave it to her when she left home to study in Munich. She didn’t even take it off at night.” There was a lot of kindness and sorrow in his words.

“You told me that she was gone,” Roberta said. “However, she rang me this morning at the hotel, asking me to get the necklace for her. She didn’t tell me she was going away. It seemed so important to her to get it back.”

For the first time, Sam looked her in the eyes. His own eyes were full of grief.

“Perhaps I should have rephrased… Laura died this morning. Two days ago, she was run over by a car. She has been in a coma until this morning. At 2:38 am she opened her eyes and said ‘I helped her, and you, I made it.’ Then she passed away. About the pendant… She lost it about two weeks ago, didn’t have the opportunity to get it back.”

“I still don’t get it.” Roberta stated. “I met her two days ago at about 10:30 in the morning. She was wearing the necklace, fiddling with the shamrock pendant while listening to my story. Yesterday, we met again and went to the museum. Later she excused herself as she had an important appointment. And today, at 2:38 am she rang and urgently asked me to retrieve the necklace for her.”

“Her accident happened around 10:30 am – two days ago, yesterday afternoon, her stats became extremely critical, and she died at 2:38 this morning. I returned from the hospital about thirty minutes ago.”

Tears welled in Sam’s eyes, Roberta handed him a new handkerchief, and held him close. “Looks like you really made it, Laura,” she thought.

 

Directions

Marty was jogging along Church Street. He had no intention of being late for football training again. Last time, Mr Bennett had lectured him about punctuality and Marty didn’t want to get another earful. A car slowed down beside him, the passenger’s window slid down a crack. “Boy! How do I get to North Strand?” The voice sounded old, rather croaky, and not in the least friendly. Marty didn’t look over, mechanically answered “Keep straight on until The Square, cross it, turn right, turn left twice, when you get to the point where you can go either left or right – you have reached North Strand.” The car picked up speed and was already forgotten.

As usual, football training was fun. The kids were aged 9 to 12. There were always some parents who supported the good mood by providing snacks. It was a bright October day, just a slight chill in the air. The grown-ups gratefully sipped their coffee, the kids indulged in heavenly hot chocolate. After training, Sadie’s mother invited Marty to give him a ride home. Home meant their neighbouring houses in Holmpatrick, currently sporting a real autumnal feeling. Marty’s father, a painter, loved painting autumnal pictures. He also did spring coloured paintings. They must be good as he easily earned his living by selling them.

At home, Marty got rid of his sports gear, put on his favourite pair of jeans and a sufficiently clean shirt. Before going out again, a stop to the fridge was mandatory for a 12-year-old boy. The phone started ringing.

“Get that phone, please,” his father called. Marty picked up the phone. His tentative “Hello?” was answered by utter silence.

“Hello?!” Still nothing. He shrugged, tapped the ‘end call’ button and continued in the direction of the kitchen. His father questioningly looked up from the paint brushes he was cleaning.

“Nothing, dad. Only silence.” His father furrowed his brow. “This must have been the ninth or tenth time today.”

Brona was preparing supper. Apparently, the O’Rourke’s were in for some spicy Indian dishes. Marty was glad that his sister had taken over the kitchen. She was 17 and hoping to become a famous vegetarian chef one day. No need to check the fridge. Marty grabbed a banana, peeled it, and gulped it down. Brona was used to this sight. She just grinned and continued chopping the vegetables. Marty waved at her and ran outside to grab his bicycle and meet his best friend Brian at the Skerries Mills parking lot. A glance at his watch told Marty he would again be late. He started pedalling like a pro. Right before reaching his goal, a car heading in his direction slowed, the driver’s window slid down a little.

“Boy! How do I get to North Strand?” The voice sounded old, rather croaky, and not in the least friendly. Marty didn’t look over, mechanically answered “Keep straight on turn left, when you get to the point where you can go either left or right – turn left, follow the road until you can go either left or right and – you have reached North Strand.” The car picked up speed. As it dawned on Marty, that he had been asked the same questions earlier that day, the car was already gone. A shiver started up his spine. He got off his bicycle, knees wobbly.

“Hey, what’s the matter with you, Marty! I’ve been waiting for 10 minutes!” Brian had been circling the parking lot and then decided to look out for his friend. When he came closer, he saw Marty’s ashen face.

“What’s happened – you look like you have seen a ghost!” Marty asked Brian if he had seen the driver of the car that had just left the parking lot. Brian looked at him as if he were mad.

“There was no car in the parking lot apart from Roddy’s – and he is still inside.” Marty gawked at him, knees giving in he sank to the ground.

“Have some water.” Brian handed him the bottle. Count on Brian to always carry a bottle of sparkling water. “What about the car you just mentioned?” Marty took another gulp of water and told Brian about the – now mysterious – car and the less than friendly driver enquiring about the way to North Strand. Then, remembering the mysterious phone calls at home, he felt even more nauseous. “There have been phone calls! There was no sound!”

Brian padded Marty’s shoulder. “Let’s get going, lad.”

“Go where?”

“North Strand!” Brian was in his typical adventurous mood. Marty looked down. He knew he wasn’t exactly the courageous type. Brian grinned, as if he could read Marty’s thoughts. “Stuff that CenterShock in your mouth and mount your bicycle!” They set off. It took only minutes to reach North Strand. The boys halted and looked around. There was nothing unusual. The usual people, the usual vehicles – not one single black car. Marty had suddenly remembered the colour, not the make, though.

“Where is this guy? And – why is he constantly asking for North Strand?” With these questions Marty was about to tell Brian to follow North Stand and turn right into Strand Street to go back home when he heard an idling motor in the dune.

“Do you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“The idling motor behind these bushes!” Brian did not hear anything. He leaned his bicycle against a bush and surrounded a group of bushes. Marty quickly followed him. There were seals in the water, no boats were in sight. Two families were down at the beach, they were playing with a brightly spotted ball.

Marty listened. The sound had vanished. He turned to the right and saw a black toy car half hidden in the sand. It was one of these expensive cars handled via remote control. The window on the driver’s side was partially open. Marty carefully pulled the car out of the sand and the weeds. It seemed like a replica of the car that had bothered him already twice.

“Wow!” Brian exclaimed. “This is a brand new model of a classic car! This is awesome!” He took it from Marty’s hands and stared at it in awe. Marty shrugged and continued his way around the bushes. There was a shoe under the weeds. As he got closer he realised that there was a foot in the shoe. He shoved the weeds aside and saw a little girl of about seven. She didn’t move. There were teardrops on her face, her breathing was shallow, and her right ankle looked rather unhealthy. Marty looked over his shoulder, motioned Brian to come closer. As he approached, Marty showed him the little girl.

“I’ll get Doc Jones,” Brian whispered and ran towards the street. Marty took off his jacket and wrapped it around the girl. She opened her eyes, looked at him, and smiled a little.

The sound of many steps and agitated voices came closer. Brian came back and had not only Doc Jones in tow.

“For heaven’s sake! Fírinne! Her parents have been looking for her for hours!” Doc Jones handed his assistant Nóinín his cell phone. “Please ring them immediately!” He assessed the situation and praised Marty’s insight.

“Excellent idea to keep her warm, boy.” Her ankle was broken. “That’s a so called comminute fracture,” he explained. “This has to be treated with utmost care. Fortunately, the ambulance is already on the way.”

“Why didn’t Fírinne shout for help?” Doc Jones looked Marty in the eyes.

“She stopped speaking 10 months ago, when her grandfather died. He was a little strange. Always driving around in his classic car, bellowing orders, always edgy. When Fírinne was around he was completely different. He always smiled, gave her this expensive toy car for her birthday. This little girl adored her grandfather.”

“Did…” Marty hesitated. “Did her grandfather have a rather croaky voice?” Doc Jones nodded. The ambulance arrived and Fírinne was carefully moved on to a padded stretcher. As Doc Jones entered the ambulance he turned around.

“Go home boys. You will already be missed.” Marty and Brian retrieved their bicycles and drove home in silence.

There were no more creepy phone calls at Marty’s house. The black car never reappeared.

 

And The Winner Is…

It was an ordinary October evening when James and Angela Ferris Wheeler returned from their weekend trip to Brussels. On the way inside, Angela retrieved their mail from the letter box. Once inside their flat, she deposited the letters and flyers on the sideboard by the entrance door. Taking care of their trolleys and freshening up took some time. James went to the kitchen to heat up the lasagne he had prepared before they left. The delicious lasagne and their favourite wine would guarantee a relaxing ending of a wonderful weekend. Angela had returned to the letters. She sorted through them and gasped. There was a letter from the Most Fascinating Books Society. Angela hurried to the kitchen and held out the letter to James. She couldn’t speak; she just knew that it had to be something big. James took the letter, recognised the sender’s logo, turned pale, and started trembling.

“I’ll open it for you, James.” Angela took the letter back and carefully opened it with the elegantly chiselled letter opener. James couldn’t believe his eyes. ‘Dear Mr James Ferris Wheeler, we are overjoyed to inform you that your novel Dagger In The Rock has been nominated for the MFBS Award 2013. The ceremony will be held in the Royal Hall at Eden University. Evening attire is required…” And the date – in a week!

“I am nominated!” James pulled Angela in his arms and sobbed.

“You deserved this more than anybody else, James! Look at all the stuff you had to handle all on your own.” Angela kissed him tenderly.

The settled at the table, gobbling down the cooling lasagne, thirstily gulping the no longer chilled wine, debating what was to be done before the event. Finally, James unlocked his tablet and started a list:

… Buy suit at Reginald’s (Angela insisted that this occasion required a tailored suit)

… Buy tie (Angela asked him to strike it through as she had already bought an adorable silken bow tie – because “you never know…”)

… Wash the car

… Get haircut.

… Calm down (Angela insisted, she knew her husband well)

 

After they went to bed, James couldn’t sleep. His dream came true – at last. Much later, exhaustion got the better of him. He dreamed that he was sitting there in the crowd, wearing his finest suit and the silk bow tie Angela had given him for this event, feeling great. Georgia Cartwright, last year’s winner presented an adorable show, presenting all nominees with some stills. She concluded it by opening the envelope, saying: “And the winner is…”

“…seven o’clock in Western Europe, it is going to be a sunny day!” Angela switched off the radio alarm clock. James cursed. Angelia questioningly looked at him. “You have been tossing and turning all night long. Do you think I could sleep?”

During breakfast James told his wife about his dream. Angela stifled a giggle and immediately apologised. “It is exciting for both of us,” she explained. They drove to the tailor’s. Normally, Reginald’s did not accept customers without prior appointment. For such a special occasion, they were willing to make an exception to the rule. Angela explained the occasion as James was at a loss for words. The tailor measured James, entered the data in his computer and presented them with 3-D-models of different colours and fabrics. Angela realised that James wanted to ask for prices. One look from her quieted him. She showed the tailor the bow tie she had brought. The tailor was pleased as it was also made by Reginald’s. The bow tie’s data were also entered and the model updated on the screen. They favoured one design, two fabrics and three colours. The tailor produced samples. James favoured the slate grey fabric with a slight shimmer. “This is an excellent choice, James!” They were asked to come back on Thursday.

Angela was driving as James obviously was mixed up. She decided to brew him teas known for their soothing effect. In her mind she went through her pantry, checking for soul food. At home she prepared a light lunch, brewed enough tea for James to last until the evening and left for her office. After he had called her four times within ten minutes she decided that she had to take the week off. She summoned her co-workers Helen and Dave for a quick meeting. Fortunately, they could take over her appointments for this week without major issues. Angela thanked them and promised a bonus.

When she got home, James was running around in the flat. She had hardly been home for more than ten minutes when she realised that James’ nervousness was already driving her crazy. After dinner, she prepared some hot brandy. Normally, half a cup did the trick and made them sleepy. Afterwards she felt truly relaxed and took James with her to the bedroom. Angela slept as soon as hear head hit the cushion. James tossed and turned for a while, and then everything was quiet. He dreamed that he was sitting there in the crowd, wearing his finest suit and the silk bow tie Angela had given him for this event, feeling great. Georgia Cartwright, last year’s winner presented an adorable show, presenting all nominees with some stills. She concluded it by opening the envelope, saying: “And the winner is…”

“Knock, knock.” The doorbell! They deemed it funny when they saw and heard it the first time. Whenever someone rang the bell it sounded like he or she was knocking. Angela had been up for a while, answered the door and was handed the groceries she had ordered an hour ago.

During breakfast James told Angela about the repeated and once again interrupted dream. “Poor you!” she said as solemnly as she could muster and kissed him. James was restless. Finally, Angela told him to show her the shoes he intended to wear. He brought her two pairs. Angela sighed. Both pairs were less than appropriate. They set off to the shoe shop. They entered the shop and James immediately settled on a chair, looking as if he didn’t have a clue about what was going on. Angela and the shop assistant fetched some pairs, helped James put them on, and urged him to walk a few steps. The third pair seemed comfortable enough, they paid and drove back home. Angela felt exhausted. A quick dinner, hot brandy, and off to bed was all she could imagine. James finally managed to fall asleep. He dreamed that he was sitting there in the crowd, wearing his finest suit and the silk bow tie Angela had given him for this event, feeling great. Georgia Cartwright, last year’s winner presented an adorable show, presenting all nominees with some stills. She concluded it by opening the envelope, saying: “And the winner is…”

“Hallelujah, hallelujah…” the telephone rang. James moaned. He should have selected a different ring tone.

The following night he dreamed again that he was sitting there in the crowd, wearing his finest suit and the silk bow tie Angela had given him for this event, feeling great. Georgia Cartwright, last year’s winner presented an adorable show, presenting all nominees with some stills. She concluded it by opening the envelope, saying: “And the winner is…”

“Woof, woof, woof!” The neighbour’s dog could be such a nuisance. ‘I just want to know who the winner is!’ This morning he was not only pale – he was grouchy even as they drove to the tailor’s. The suit fit perfectly. While James changed back to his other clothes, Angela paid the bill. The tailor carefully checked the new suit, straightened it and even carried it to their car where he carefully placed it in the rear. They rode back in silence. When they settled for the night, both immediately fell asleep. At the end of another night of tossing and turning, James dreamed that he was sitting there in the crowd, wearing his finest suit and the silk bow tie Angela had given him for this event, feeling great. Georgia Cartwright, last year’s winner presented an adorable show, presenting all nominees with some stills. She concluded it by opening the envelope, saying: “And the winner is…”

Sirens wailed outside. James was furious.

During breakfast he told Angela about the dream. She was more understanding than the days before. “This is important for you, I know that. Tomorrow is the day. Hold on, my dear!” She held him close for quite a while. Later he agreed to go for a walk in the park. He normally liked the park as it was close to the sea. In suitable weather, you could see far. He visibly relaxed, holding her hand all the time. It was nearly as it had been before. He just didn’t utter a single word. That night, after a delicious dinner, the now usual hot brandy, they settled for the night, James holding Angela close. They soon were fast asleep. Around 6 o’clock Angela could no longer sleep. She silently got up, switched off the radio alarm clock to let him sleep for a while longer, and went to the kitchen to have some coffee. After all this tea, she finally needed a coffee. Thunder rolled in the distance. Meanwhile James dreamed that he was sitting there in the crowd, wearing his finest suit and the silk bow tie Angela had given him for this event, feeling great. Georgia Cartwright, last year’s winner presented an adorable show, presenting all nominees with some stills. She concluded it by opening the envelope, saying: “And the winner is…”

Thunderbolt and lightning stirred him from his sleep. The thunderstorm lasted for more than an hour. Then James took a shower and shaved. The day seemed to last forever.

Late in the afternoon, Angela drove them to Eden University campus. The event was well organised. They were directed to ‘their’ parking space, escorted to the Royal Hall where they were served ‘their’ champagne, escorted to ‘their’ seats. James saw the other nominees, waved at them, and smiled. Finally he, James, was sitting there in the crowd, wearing his finest and brand new suit and the silk bow tie Angela had given him for this event. He felt great. She was sitting to his right, gorgeous in her charcoal grey dress and the decent turquoise accessories! He had seen the admiring glances directed at Angela, his beautiful wife. Georgia Cartwright, last year’s winner presented an adorable show, presenting all nominees with some stills. James liked her style, however, this time his patience was wearing thin. He wanted to know if he had finally made it. Writing his novel had been a piece of cake, publishing had been an ordeal. He, usually hiding behind a baseball cap and tinted glasses rather than talking to passers-by, had to actually talk to agents, specialists, and worst of all – to his potential readers. Despite these horrible months his book sold. It had climbed to the top within days. He tried to forget his prior novels. They collected dust in the booksellers’ storerooms. James refocussed on Georgia’s speech. She concluded it by opening the envelope, saying: “And the winner is…”

Fanfares sounded.

“This year’s winner is George Forrester for Don’t Go That Road and…” The spotlight searched for and settled on George Forrester, who jumped up, kissed his wife and bounced toward the stage. Inside James’ head everything went blank. He slumped in his seat. Georgia continued “James Ferris Wheeler for Dagger in the Rock!” James never heard her say these beautiful words. The spotlight searched him and settled on Angela’s tear streaked face, as she was cradling her husband’s lifeless body in her arms.

 

The Dundrum Town Centre Witch

Aoife Darmody was always glad when school was over. She didn’t mind going to school – it was just boring, the stuff they learned was way too easy for her taste. As she knew that her father wouldn’t come home for another two hours, she walked over to Dundrum Town Centre. Aoife loved strolling through the mall – it was just fun! She stopped to treat herself to a hot chocolate and a cream cheese bagel. While she sprinkled some vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg on her hot chocolate, she heard the woman behind her wonder about the bills in her purse. “What’s going on, now? I had two 10 Euro bills in my purse – now there is one 20 Euro bill! Aoife left the coffee shop and turned right.

At INGLOT‘s, a young shop assistant was sorting new lipsticks in the display rack. She had sorted them from light to dark shades to make this task easier. She inserted two lipsticks, took the next two and – halted. The first lipsticks were of the two lightest shades, the other two were of medium and dark shade. “What the…?!” The shop assistant shook her head and sorted the lipsticks, took the lightest and inserted them in the display, took the next lipsticks and – cursed. Again, the shades were not the expected ones. Aoife chose emerald-coloured eyeliner and paid. A look at her watch told her it was time to go home.

On Thursday, she went over to Dundrum Town Centre for another hot chocolate. The customer behind her wanted to pay with a 50 Euro bill. The cashier complained loudly that they were out of change because everybody paid with 20 or 50 Euro bills. She pressed a key to open the till and it opened slowly. It was filled to the brim with 5 Euro bills and coins. Aoife helped herself to vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg, closed the lid and took a gulp. Yum! She left for the clothes department; she wanted to treat herself to a new sleep-shirt.

There were some nice sleep-shirts available. She chose a knee-length one; the colour was of a deep emerald shade, the price was acceptable. A slightly plump young woman who had searched for a nice scarf was waiting behind her in the queue. She had seemed torn between a baby-blue and a turquoise coloured scarf. Finally, she had taken the baby-blue one and now queued to pay. Aoife paid. While she pocketed her purchase, the young woman handed the scarf to the cashier while fishing for her purse. “What an awesome colour!” the cashier exclaimed. “It makes your eyes sparkle!” He smiled at the woman as she handed him the money. Her cheeks slightly reddened and her eyes grew big as she saw that he was holding the turquoise scarf. Aoife smiled and went home.

On Friday, Aoife went to Dundrum Town Centre ‘on official business’ – her father had asked her to pick up his camera from the shop. The billboard in the hall showed the usual Christmas greetings, alternating with shop advertisements. A couple was mutely strolling along the aisle. The woman looked up at the billboard, gasped, and beamed. The billboard read: “Happy anniversary, Margie! Love, Bill” – excitedly, she tugged at Bill’s sleeve. He turned his head; saw her radiating smile, his eyes following her outstretched arm. He read “Happy anniversary, Bill! Love, Margie”, smiled, hugged her. The old fire was back. They continued their way through the mall, holding hands, no longer bored with each other. The billboard announced “Have a delicious latte macchiato at Café Zest”

Aoife entered the shop to get her father’s camera. A neighbour was at the counter, waiting to get back his now repaired grandfather clock. The clock had for years randomly chimed its shrill ding-ding-ding until his wife had urged Mr Brown to have it repaired. Mr Brown and the clerk held their breath as the clock started to show 5 o’clock. For the first time in its existence, the clock emanated the melodious Big Ben jingle. The clerk was dumbstruck, Mr Brown was truly impressed. “This is amazing! I love it!” Mr Brown paid and trudge off with his clock. Still shaking his head, the clerk turned towards Aoife. She handed over the paper slip. He fetched the camera, explaining what he had done with it. Aoife paid the bill, thanked the clerk, and went back home.

On Monday, Aoife left school as usual and went to Dundrum Town Centre. On her way in, she saw the slightly plump woman with the cashier. They were sitting in the café, talking animatedly. Both were smiling and visibly enjoying themselves. Aoife queued for her hot chocolate and a blueberry muffin. The customer behind her complained about the lack of cherry muffins. Aoife peeked into the bag she was handed, grinned – and handed him the bag. “This must have been a mix-up. I ordered a blueberry muffin, and this is a cherry muffin.” She received her blueberry muffin and left the café.

Her next destination was Eason’s as she wanted to buy a special book for her father. A young mother was hurrying through the store with two little kids in tow. “I wanna have a teddy bear,” the girl squealed. “And I wanna have this sword!” the little boy screeched, grabbed the sword, swung it around and hit Aoife’s chocolate. The paper cups contents spattered the carpet. The boy wailed. His mother turned around and saw – nothing. The sword was in the knight’s hand, the paper cup was in Aoife’s calm hand as she relished the last gulps of her hot chocolate, the carpet was spotless. Aoife went to the history section, found the book she intended to give her father as a Christmas present, went to the cashier, paid, and had it gift-wrapped.

“Until next time, Aoife! :-)” the billboard read.

The Blue Window

The boy stood and stared. On the other side of the street, there were two illuminated windows on the upper floor. The right one glowed in a warm yellow colour, the left one emanated a bluish glow. Tim stood in the middle of the side-walk, totally lost in thoughts. The other pedestrians had to push by. A business man gruffly said “Stop daydreaming, you…” followed Tim’s gaze and stood in awe. An elder woman approached, shaking her head, she started to rumble about their meanness of standing in her way and fell silent as she looked in the same direction. More people gathered, wondering about the blue window.

Finally home, Tim told his family about the blue window. His parents and his younger sister were only mildly interested. Tim was disappointed. He called Matt, his classmate and best friend since kindergarten. Matt was thrilled. “Cool!” As Matt lived pretty close to the house in question, he sneaked out to take a peek at the blue window. He was inclined to cross the street and find out the names on the doorbell, he didn’t dare to do so. He hurried home before his mother could realise that he had been away. He could hardly sleep. The blue window still occupied his thoughts.

Next morning, Tim and Matt met at the usual corner. They entered the school premises still debating about the blue window. Before the bell rang, they found out that they were not the only ones who had seen the blue window. Their heated discussion continued in class. Miss Mortimer finally put an end to the constant mumbling. This class was difficult. All her pupils seemed to be the laziest in this school. They didn’t seem to care about their final exams, about their future. Today, they were even worse than ever. Nobody seemed to pay any attention. Miss Mortimer was relieved when the doorbell announced the end of class.

Lunch break was filled with explanations and suggestions. Those, who had not yet seen the blue window, wanted to get their at once. “Nonsense,” Tim said. “The window is not illuminated at this time of day. Back in class, all continued their thoughts while pretending to listen to their teacher. Marsha answered “Blue!” when asked about the colour of the Canadian flag. Jack’s answer to the question about the Empire State Building’s top was “Window!” After a full week, Miss Mortimer had enough of this. Friday morning, she told her class to follow her, and led them to the house. As it was still rather dark, the window was illuminated. All watched the window very intently – until the lights went out behind the window. Back at school, Miss Mortimer looked at her pupils who – for once – were really listening and said sternly: “All of you had the opportunity to watch this ominous blue window. I expect you to write an essay about it, about its purpose, at least 1,000 words. Be aware, this essay is going to be a vital part for your grades.”

All pupils in Miss Mortimer’s class were relieved when the last bell rang. They were all keen on writing about the blue window. They only stopped if they absolutely had to, feverishly filling page after page with their stories. Tim’s idea was that a psychiatrist had ordered a patient to live in a pacifying blue flat, to keep aggression at bay. Matt wrote about a private laboratory, testing the effect of the blue colour for improved growth. Marsha described the flat as part of a big aquarium, the blue colour being meant to make the fish, crustacean; turtles, etc. feel at home. Danny explained that the flat’s inhabitant didn’t like insects; insects are known to abhor blue coloured environments. Alex favoured the idea of a man who just wanted to have his favourite colour all around him. Sam liked the idea of a Swedish guy, showing off the blue and the yellow window together. Judy, always a romantic, wrote about a couple living in the flat. The guy having a blue room, and the girl having a pink one. Sean suggested a therapy centre in the flat. Joy wrote about The Blue Man Group, she was convinced that they preferred blue to any other colour.

On Monday morning, all were in class on time. Miss Mortimer smiled for the first time in months. Bill collected the essays and handed them to the teacher. She thanked him and addressed the class: “I start reading your essays in the afternoon. Hopefully, I can hand them back to you on Thursday, after lunch break. Until then, we will have to intensify some topics to prepare you for the final exams.” She had Bernie and Jade distribute some photocopied sheets. For the first time in this year, everybody concentrated on the studies. For the first time since Miss Mortimer took over this class, she got feedback, was asked questions, and answered them. This was fun. The lack of her pupils’ interest had been quite unnerving. It was a relief – she already had considered quitting.

On Tuesday morning, Miss Mortimer realised that they were all very attentive and utterly polite. The hours flew by, all pupils concentrated on their tasks. A day at school as it should be, Miss Mortimer thought. As promised, she had already started reviewing the essays. They were astonishingly good. Instead of the usual Ds, Es, and Fs – she had so far only seen As and Bs. The suggestions were amazing, beautiful, unexpected, and incredibly witty. She found herself looking forward to continuing this normally rather dreadful task.

Wednesday was a very successful day for Miss Mortimer and her class. A job consultant visited, presented perspectives, and all her pupils listened, asked intelligent questions, and surprised the experienced consultant with new questions. In the afternoon, Miss Mortimer finished reviewing the Blue Window essays. Only As and Bs were written on the cover sheets. Contentedly, she stacked the essays in her folder, finished her coffee, and put on her coat. She left her flat and went to the house with the blue window. She was still reading the nameplates when a dark-haired, green-eyed man approached. “May I help you?” Miss Mortimer told him that she was looking for the person living in the flat with the blue window. The young man smiled – it was his flat.

“My pupils are fascinated by your blue window. After they detected it, they were even less concentrated as usual. The blue window was their only topic for a whole week. I had them write essays over the weekend – about the meaning of this blue window. They had many great suggestions.”

“And now you want to know, why my window is blue.”

Miss Mortimer nodded. Her cheeks felt hot. ‘Such an attractive guy,’ she thought inwardly.

 

#original ending#

 

“I’ll tell you over a coffee. There is a café around the corner.”

Miss Mortimer nodded shyly. They walked the short distance to the café. When they arrived, she had learned that his name was Tom Sandler, an architect working for a local firm; he had learned that she was Jane Mortimer, a teacher at the local school. They ordered coffee and settled at a table by the window. Jane Mortimer gingerly sipped her macchiato, torn between being embarrassed or super embarrassed. Tom smiled at her reassuringly; noticing her slightly flushed face, and started to tell her the story of the blue window.

“Before I started working for this firm, I travelled to Germany to visit my brother. The town in question uses buses and trains for public transport. I once rode on a bus that was covered with a huge ad. I expected the bus to be rather dark inside – due to the huge ad! It wasn’t. For these ads, they use a coated film. You can print everything on this film. On the outside you see patterns, colours, text, etc. On the inside it is just slightly shaded; the colours are only on the outside. This special film is weatherproof, the glass keeps the cold outside, provides only a slight shade. I was fascinated by these coated films. I asked where I could buy some. They provided me with an address; I went there and – bought some coated films for my flat.”

“Wow! None of my pupils came to this conclusion. I do not think that they are going to believe me.”

“Would your pupils believe you if you showed them some photographs?”

“I guess so.”

“Why don’t you tell me your mail address and I’ll send them right away? I’ve got them right here on my device.”

Jane Mortimer blushed even more. Tom apologised.

“Wait, I’ll go home and print them for you. I’ll be back in a jiffy.”

Tom was back in less than 10 minutes, carrying an envelope with the promised photographs and a note with his phone number – and the information that he was a frequent guest at this café.

On Thursday, Jane Mortimer went to school full of anticipation. She was as impatient as were her pupils. The morning lessons seemingly were eternal. Candidly, she checked her watch every few minutes. Lunch break also seemed to take forever. As she briskly entered the classroom, her class was already assembled. Miss Mortimer took out her folder and started to distribute the essays. There was an eerie silence in the room. Every pupil seemed stunned. “What is the matter with you? You have all done a great job!” Jane asked perplexed.

Sam cleared his throat. “We have never achieved such grades, Miss Mortimer. Thanks to you, we realised that learning can be fun. Suddenly we also have a perspective.”

“You did great! And I didn’t really doubt that you would pass the exams. I am convinced that you can make it – all of you. I really enjoyed reading your essays. Now I owe you the real story. Please take a look at these photographs.” As her pupils contemplated the photographs, Jane Mortimer explained the coated films; her pupils discussed this and agreed that this was a brilliant solution.

Apparently, her class had discussed something else as well. Tim stood up: “Thank you so much, Miss Mortimer. As this is the last class for us today – we would like to invite you to a café. There is one just around the corner of the Blue Window.”

Jane Mortimer agreed. They all went to the café and – met Tom Sandler. Some pupils raised their eyebrows hearing “Hi Jane!” and “Hello Tom!”

The Blue Window (alternative ending)

The boy stood and stared. On the other side of the street, there were two illuminated windows on the upper floor. The right one glowed in a warm yellow colour, the left one emanated a bluish glow. Tim stood in the middle of the side-walk, totally lost in thoughts. The other pedestrians had to push by. A business man gruffly said “Stop daydreaming, you…” followed Tim’s gaze and stood in awe. An elder woman approached, shaking her head, she started to rumble about their meanness of standing in her way and fell silent as she looked in the same direction. More people gathered, wondering about the blue window.

Finally home, Tim told his family about the blue window. His parents and his younger sister were only mildly interested. Tim was disappointed. He called Matt, his classmate and best friend since kindergarten. Matt was thrilled. “Cool!” As Matt lived pretty close to the house in question, he sneaked out to take a peek at the blue window. He was inclined to cross the street and find out the names on the doorbell, he didn’t dare to do so. He hurried home before his mother could realise that he had been away. He could hardly sleep. The blue window still occupied his thoughts.

Next morning, Tim and Matt met at the usual corner. They entered the school premises still debating about the blue window. Before the bell rang, they found out that they were not the only ones who had seen the blue window. Their heated discussion continued in class. Miss Mortimer finally put an end to the constant mumbling. This class was difficult. All her pupils seemed to be the laziest in this school. They didn’t seem to care about their final exams, about their future. Today, they were even worse than ever. Nobody seemed to pay any attention. Miss Mortimer was relieved when the doorbell announced the end of class.

Lunch break was filled with explanations and suggestions. Those, who had not yet seen the blue window, wanted to get their at once. “Nonsense,” Tim said. “The window is not illuminated at this time of day. Back in class, all continued their thoughts while pretending to listen to their teacher. Marsha answered “Blue!” when asked about the colour of the Canadian flag. Jack’s answer to the question about the Empire State Building’s top was “Window!” After a full week, Miss Mortimer had enough of this. Friday morning, she told her class to follow her, and led them to the house. As it was still rather dark, the window was illuminated. All watched the window very intently – until the lights went out behind the window. Back at school, Miss Mortimer looked at her pupils who – for once – were really listening and said sternly: “All of you had the opportunity to watch this ominous blue window. I expect you to write an essay about it, about its purpose, at least 1,000 words. Be aware, this essay is going to be a vital part for your grades.”

All pupils in Miss Mortimer’s class were relieved when the last bell rang. They were all keen on writing about the blue window. They only stopped if they absolutely had to, feverishly filling page after page with their stories. Tim’s idea was that a psychiatrist had ordered a patient to live in a pacifying blue flat, to keep aggression at bay. Matt wrote about a private laboratory, testing the effect of the blue colour for improved growth. Marsha described the flat as part of a big aquarium, the blue colour being meant to make the fish, crustacean, turtles, etc. feel at home. Danny explained that the flat’s inhabitant didn’t like insects; insects are known to abhor blue coloured environments. Alex favoured the idea of a man who just wanted to have his favourite colour all around him. Sam liked the idea of a Swedish guy, showing off the blue and the yellow window together. Judy, always a romantic, wrote about a couple living in the flat. The guy having a blue room, and the girl having a pink one. Sean suggested a therapy centre in the flat. Joy wrote about The Blue Man Group, she was convinced that they preferred blue to any other colour.

On Monday morning, all were in class on time. Miss Mortimer smiled for the first time in months. Bill collected the essays and handed them to the teacher. She thanked him and addressed the class: “I start reading your essays in the afternoon. Hopefully, I can hand them back to you on Thursday, after lunch break. Until then, we will have to intensify some topics to prepare you for the final exams.” She had Bernie and Jade distribute some photocopied sheets. For the first time in this year, everybody concentrated on the studies. For the first time since Miss Mortimer took over this class, she got feedback, was asked questions, and answered them. This was fun. The lack of her pupils’ interest had been quite unnerving. It was a relief – she already had considered quitting.

On Tuesday morning, Miss Mortimer realised that they were all very attentive and utterly polite. The hours flew by, all pupils concentrated on their tasks. A day at school as it should be, Miss Mortimer thought. As promised, she had already started reviewing the essays. They were astonishingly good. Instead of the usual Ds, Es, and Fs – she had so far only seen As and Bs. The suggestions were amazing, beautiful, unexpected, and incredibly witty. She found herself looking forward to continuing this normally rather dreadful task.

Wednesday was a very successful day for Miss Mortimer and her class. A job consultant visited, presented perspectives, and all her pupils listened, asked intelligent questions, and surprised the experienced consultant with new questions. In the afternoon, Miss Mortimer finished reviewing the Blue Window essays. Only As and Bs were written on the cover sheets. Contentedly, she stacked the essays in her folder, finished her coffee, and put on her coat. She left her flat and went to the house with the blue window. She was still reading the nameplates when a dark-haired, green-eyed man approached. “May I help you?” Miss Mortimer told him that she was looking for the person living in the flat with the blue window. The young man smiled – it was his flat.

“My pupils are fascinated by your blue window. After they detected it, they were even less concentrated as usual. The blue window was their only topic for a whole week. I had them write essays over the weekend – about the meaning of this blue window. They had many great suggestions.”

“And now you want to know, why my window is blue.”

Miss Mortimer nodded. Her cheeks felt hot. ‘Such an attractive guy,’ she thought inwardly.

 

#alternative ending#

 

“Why don’t you come up and I’ll show you?”

Miss Mortimer blushed and – nodded. He opened the door and they went upstairs. On the third landing, he opened the door to the left. There was a peculiar odour in the air. Her host shut the door behind her and locked it thoroughly. Miss Mortimer started to really feel ill at ease.

“Please follow me.” He opened the first door on the left. The room was nicely lit, there were some warm yellow shades, the furniture seemed comfortable, everything was rounded or oval. A door on the right led to another yellowish room. The colouring seemed more aggressive, the furniture was angular; not a room Miss Mortimer would have chosen to spend longer times in. To the right of this room, another door led to a bluish room. Everything was in a different shade of blue, the furniture was round and oval; yet Miss Mortimer did not like it – it seemed depressing. Another door led to the next room. Again, there were different shades of blue, the furniture was angular, the colouring didn’t provide any warmth; Miss Mortimer felt chilled to the bone. The second door in that room led to a room in pastel colours like peach, plum, pink, turquoise, lime, and lemon. Everything in this room was light and flowing. After the chilly room before, this room seemed nauseatingly sweet. Miss Mortimer felt hot, had the urge to run, and lacked the power to do so. A nearly invisible door led back to the corridor. To see the corridor was a relief.

Her host passed several doors until he arrived at the last door on the left. He went through the door and Miss Mortimer was relieved to be in a normal kitchen. “Coffee?” Her host grabbed two clean mugs from the shelf and didn’t wait for her answer. They settled at a small table by the window.

The young man started to explain. “Professor Harold Harding, his assistant David Parkes and I went to a site in the woods to collect star-dust. You certainly remember the meteor showers last month? There were multiple impact locations. We collected samples for a research project. We conducted multiple tests at our laboratory at the university. Suddenly, there was an anomaly. We detected that some of the samples were colour sensitive. This was big news. An anonymous donor agreed to do the funding – if we agreed to continue our research outside the university – and with another minor project.”

“Why the different furniture? Why not just have simple rooms with different colouring?”

“This is due to our joint project. I cannot tell you about it, though. This is subject to secrecy.”

Miss Mortimer’s intuition was in full swing. “Psychotherapy! Does star-dust react in the same degree as a human being? Incredible?”

“Are you a scientist?”

“No, I am just a meaningless little teacher.”

Before she could say more, the front door opened and light steps approached. A woman in her fifties entered. “Terence!” she exclaimed. “What do you think you are doing? I expect you in consulting room A within a minute!”

The young man shot up, nearly spilling his coffee, and sprinted from the kitchen. Miss Mortimer insecurely rose from her chair. The woman smiled at her reassuringly and stretched out her hand.

“My name is Dr. Franka Stein. I apologize for Terence’s behaviour. He can be quite a nuisance. He is harmless, though.”

Miss Mortimer was thunderstruck. “Are you implying…”

“He is a patient, yes. The colour therapy has helped him considerably. You don’t need to worry.”

“And the research, the star-dust?”

“He has a vivid fantasy, really.” Dr. Franka Stein chuckled and accompanied Miss Mortimer to the front door.

After Miss Mortimer had left, Dr. Franka Stein went to consulting room A – glad to have arrived in time – and gave Terence an earful. When would he ever learn that it wasn’t so easy to get rid of a corpse? She would definitely have to increase his medication.

 

###

 

Thank you for reading my book. If you enjoyed it, why don’t you please take a moment to leave me a review at your favourite retailer?

Thanks.

Karen Oberlaender

 

Acknowledgements

Wolfgang, thank you for your patience and support during and between my writing fits. I admire you for listening to my ramblings, providing thousands of mugs filled to the brim with this delicious black brew named coffee, etc. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.

 

Yulika, thank you for encouraging me to get my stories published, and for your moral support. Your take on things is remarkable and inspiring.

 

And Elfe, thank you for believing in my writing abilities, and for patiently revisiting my story locations.

 

Ruth, I cannot thank you enough for inspiring me to write an alternative ending for The Blue Window story, beta-reading and this amazing cover.

 

Moni, you listen when others only hear, you get the whole picture when others just see what’s on the surface, and you support those who cannot voice their need for help. Your acts of kindness are inspiring and encouraging. Thank you for making this world a better place.

 

Dear family, friends, and readers inside and outside of our WordPress writing community – I am glad to have you around.

 

About the Author

Karen Oberlaender is a linguist, technical author, paranormal fiction writer, and book blogger. She spends her time mainly in Germany and Ireland, collecting inspirations on the go. Her stories often comprise some hobbies, favourite locations, animals, topics, beverages, etc. Locations do exist; pubs and/or shops might be gone; people are fictional unless stated otherwise.

 

Shakespir interview: https://www.Shakespir.com/interview/okiewashere

 

 

Personal motto:

 

Brief version: Don’t look back in anger! (Oasis inspired)

Long version: Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness. (James Thurber)

 

 

10 statements

 

1. A typical work day begins with… black coffee and my schedule.

2. I lose track of time… when I am reading.

3. I have always… wanted to live in Ireland.

4. I have never… been bored.

5. Home means to me… being with the ones I love.

6. I am inspired by… almost everything.

7. I would like to meet… (and discuss topics with) the Dalai Lama.

8. My worst character trait… impatience.

9. My best character trait… open-mindedness.

10. The best advice I was given… “Keep an open mind.”

 

 

Connect with me:

 

Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/okiewashere

Follow me on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/22109582-karen

Subscribe to my website: https://inasmallcompass.wordpress.com/

Subscribe to my blog: https://mytrainofthoughtson.wordpress.com/

Subscribe on Shakespir: https://www.Shakespir.com/profile/view/okiewashere

 

 

Upcoming book:

 

Neighbors!

 

Taking care of delinquents is a matter of routine for Sheriff Jim Burrell. Unpaid bills make for an easy case – unless the weird guy with the open bills has apparently vanished into thin air.

Strange things happen in the sleepy desert town and Sheriff Jim and his team have to go out of their usual ways to unravel the mysterious case.

 

###

 

This book is a flash fiction series (150-160 words per episode), consisting of 61 episodes.


In a Small Compass - Vol. 1

15 contemporary short fiction stories with paranormal streaks take you on a journey to Boston, Dublin, Dundrum, Galway, Heidelberg, London, Munich, Nuremberg, Skerries, and other places. Find out more about: - Rachel and her nightmare. - Madelyn and her marble. - Jenny and the shadow. - Louise and her hunches. - Ted and the noises. - Dee and her prison. - The heatwave in Willowsend. - Judy and her projections. - Joe and a voice. - Roberta and Laura. - Marty giving directions. - James Ferris Wheeler and the award. - Aoife at the Dundrum Town Centre. - The secret of the blue window - with two alternative endings.

  • ISBN: 9781370782765
  • Author: Karen Oberlaender
  • Published: 2016-11-30 22:05:20
  • Words: 23141
In a Small Compass - Vol. 1 In a Small Compass - Vol. 1