When he first left England he was a young man with no particular destination. He found himself months later in the hills of Cambodia, squatting by a cook fire and sharing millet from a single bowl with three strangers, the act of eating their only common language.
His name was acquired perhaps in Tibet or Nepal. By this time, the identity of the British boy had long since disappeared, along with any trace of accent. He hardly spoke anyway, mistrusting words, preferring the transient solidity of gesture.
She had found him at last, this long-ago sister who begged him to return.
Father Estrella was drunk, but not too drunk to hear confession. Marco used to joke it was better to have a drunk priest hear your litany of recent sins, since any righteousness on his part would be offset by the hypocrisy of his own weak soul– not that Father Estrella was ever especially righteous, even when sober.
“Say three Hail Marys and two Our Fathers,” said Father Estrella through the shutter, the wine on his breath giving the confessional a pothouse odor. “Go with God.”
She crossed herself and genuflected outside the booth, then hurried past the line of old women, wondering as always what sin a woman that old could commit.
Marco had said once that they likely borrowed sins from the radio plays, or else invented them altogether.
“But isn’t that blasphemy?” she asked, appalled.
“To a drunk priest?” he laughed.
The square was bustling with villagers and merchants setting out painted skulls, cascarones, piñatas, and food for the fiesta. Bunting had been draped between trees and luminaria were set along the clean dirt paths. She heard somebody playing a trumpet in the distance. This would be the first Day of the Dead since Marco was killed. It had always been his favorite holiday.
“The only real holiday we have,” he said.
She hoped he would come.
She hoped with all her heart.
Sunday Photo Fiction
I hadn’t yet gotten around to telling her when Janie melted down and had to be taken home. I figured the Saturday Market would be a safe place to break the news, being a public place and all. Bringing Janie along made it a real family affair. Right.
We walked around the stalls drinking coffee from paper cups. I had just bought her one of those sticky Bulgarian pastries she adores, since I figured it would be best if both her hands were occupied. But then that damned musician did his disappearing schtick with the piano and Janie started shrieking.
When Chet regained consciousness he had no idea of the time. They had taken his watch. They had taken everything, even the emergency fifty he kept beneath his insole. His mouth was swollen and it felt like they’d broken some ribs. He raised his head and looked around at the alley. A short cut had sounded like a good idea at the time, but he knew better now.
He realized with a shock that it had happened again, another seemingly random event in which he had been badly hurt. What was this now, three times? Four? In each case, it had been the same– he set out to some destination, but midway through he would be possessed with an idea so compelling he had to act on it immediately. Step in front of the bus, Chet. It will stop. Go ahead, jump. You’ll make it. And this time. Think of all the time you’ll save by getting off the train here, Chet.
“I’d had every right to call the cops on that woman,” Chet grumbled. After all, she’d been begging in the doorway of his shop, talking to his customers. The cops had agreed, so he’d laughed while she’d cursed him and not even minded when her spit had landed on his shoes.
He had to find her immediately. He had to get her to lift the curse.
It was clear the fastest way would be to climb up that fire escape.
Sunday Photo Fiction
A hundred fathoms down, the sun looks like a ten-watt porch light.
The suit, which felt so heavy on the surface, is now a second skin–except the boots, which seem even heavier. You move slowly on the bottom, breath loud in your ears as you clomp through the ooze like the giant in The Brave Little Tailor. Strange creatures dwell at that depth, pale and blind with bodies misshapen by the pressure.
You never forget possible death all around. The suit gets torn, the hose snags. A thousand things.
At a hundred fathoms, your blood would fizz like soda pop.
Horst checks everything for the third time in an hour. The machine gun is loaded and pointing down the valley. Ammunition cases are stacked where the loader can get them, the satchel of grenades open at his feet with the handles facing upward, as specified in the regulations. He checks his belt to make sure his knife and pistol are in their proper places. He reties his boots.
The Obersoldat loafs against the sandbags, his face creased in amusement as he smokes. “You are too nervous, Horst. You must relax. Have a cigarette.” He proffers his pack.
Horst uneasily leans to take one. “I just wish to be ready,” he says, lighting it. “I learned that in the Hitler Youth. Be Prepared was our motto.”
The Obersoldat gestures at the overcast sky. “Did you not hear the planes last night as they flew over? Even in best days of the Reich we never had so many. And those are just their paratroopers. I am certain that Rommel’s beaches are crawling with Americans and British by now. Hundreds of thousands of them, all armed to the teeth, all lusting to festoon their bayonets with good German intestines.” He gives the young soldier a weary grin. “No amount of preparation will change the facts. I saw this enough times in Russia.”
“Still, Herr Ober, it is wise to have a plan. To be ready.”
“Certainly. Ready yourself all you like. Have at it. But I am going to sit and smoke and gaze on this lovely country as though this was my last day on earth, because chances are good that it will be.” He draws on his cigarette, blows out a volume of blue smoke. “Everybody has a plan until the shooting starts.”
Sunday Photo Fiction
This story is to honor June 6th, 1944. While we hear much about the Americans and British, very little is told from the German side. Field Marshal Rommel, who commanded the Normandy defense, had fallen out of favor with German high command. They were convinced the main Allied invasion would come far to the north, across the Pas de Calais; Rommel’s insistence in fortifying the Normandy coast was foolish and unnecessary. As a consequence, the bulk of his troops were either young soldiers with no experience or veterans wounded in other campaigns and called back to service. Obersoldat is a German rank that carries no authority other than experience.
NORFOLK– MARCH 17
Authorities arrested a man today they believe is the “Forest Skinner,” suspected of committing a series of unsolved murders around Norfolk County during the 1970s and 80s.
The suspect, who was wearing what appeared to be a handmade suit of unidentified animal hide, was severely malnourished and offered no resistance.
The arrest was the result of a CrimeLine tip given by two juvenile hikers who stumbled across a stone cottage.
The murders were committed in the Forest Park area of Norfolk between 1971 and 1989 and were infamous for the gruesome way the victims, all children, had been skinned alive.
She stood as they always stand when I make my presentation, stiff and even haughty, as though an armour of professionalism will somehow shield them from what I am about to show, will somehow protect them from feeling anything.
Of course it does not, it cannot, but I play along. I get paid either way, so I always make my little speech.
“Mrs. Templeton, I know that you engaged my services because of suspicions you have about your husband. I assume you engaged me in particular because of my reputation for discretion, and for getting results. Is that so?”
“Quite correct,” she said, stiffly. She was staring at the large envelope in my hand.
“In my profession, I have seen many women like yourself come in to my office and stand where you are standing. I always tell this: as of now, at this moment, all you have is suspicion. As of now, you have the option of forgetting this whole thing, going back to your husband and finding another approach to your difficulty. You stand at a crossroads, and there is no going back. So I ask you frankly, are you certain you want to see these photographs?”
“Quite certain,” she said, her eyes gleaming.
They always say that, too.
Sunday Photo Fiction
The words rolled over her then, crushed her flat as piecrust beneath a rolling pin. She watched him shaping the words with his mouth, this doctor whom she had grudgingly agreed to see after her husband had had what he thought was the last word in their long argument. Go.
Now there was another word. Cancer. And others, too. Treatment. Pain.
This man, this doctor in his chair. He pulled out words as though they were stones from his pocket, polished shiny and smooth with much use, set them carefully before her on the barren wood of his medical desk.
My Dear Claude–
The experiments continue despite my so-called “setback.” It was an accident, despite what you may have heard. You’re absolutely correct in your assessment of my current state of mind. I am indeed frustrated that my colleagues see me as a fraud and even a madman, all the more since my dismissal from the faculty. They will see the truth in time. Of that I am supremely confident.
As to your question about my arrest, I will only say that it was a matter of ill timing rather than any actual criminal intent on my part. Always remember, Claude, appearances can be deceiving. I also wish to point out that the young lady sustained no significant injury other than a good scare. Considering her rather flighty temperament, I doubt that it will cause any lasting mental trauma. I remind you, also, that she had given her full consent to the procedure.
As for the experiments themselves, I am overjoyed to report promising results. It is unfortunate that the negative publicity has ensured I will be unable to find any willing test subjects in the near future, but I will no doubt soon find a satisfactory solution.
I very much look forward to your upcoming visit. I will have many exciting things to share with you.
I remain, as ever, your true friend and advisor
Dr. M _____
Sunday Photo Fiction