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The Woman in White Marble

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Short Stories

by Chris Smedbakken

 

Chris Smedbakken is a writer and journalist from Sweden and will be publishing the occasional short story here at The Back Road Café. Chris has said that her writing “consists of equal parts late night thoughts, lived life and improbable fantasy - all infused with a healthy amount of humor.”

Wednesday
Apr112018

Securing the Family Business

Another short text in response to a writing prompt. The prompt kind of gives it all away, so I recommend reading the text before clicking the link. Feel free to leave comments!

”But you must surely understand that this is not the medieval anymore?” Mr. Caralhaw adjusted his glasses and shot his client a sceptic look.

”I know, I know”, his client sighed. He had expected this shit, nobody understood him anymore. ”But nobody understands me anymore”, he said. ”They don’t know what they’re getting when they buy into my brand. It’s almost like they think I’m into mindfulness or something these days.”

”Well, aren’t you?” Mr. Caralhaw sounded genuinely surprised.

His client fixed him with his coldest stare. He was quite proud of it, actually. Had taken him several hours in front of the mirror over the years. ”No, I’m not.” He decided to change the subject. ”Anyway, I’m fine with getting the crazies, I’ve always liked them. But recently, I only seem to attract the most narcissistic crazies, those who don’t do any worshiping and hardly even burn churches anymore. Can you imagine?” He was visibly upset now.

”Yes, unfortunately we seem to have had a steady decline in the worshiping and burning of churches since the eighties. Those inclined to adoration of the supernal seem to have moved their activities in more… celestial directions. Things are not what they used to be.”

”You’re not kidding”, his client exclaimed. ”I thought that I could take some time off to prepare for the new baby, but obviously that was asking for too much. After all this time and work…”

Mr. Caralhaw dared a faint smile. ”Well, yes, parenting often affects the career negatively, I’m afraid. But let’s focus on solutions now…” He looked through his papers again. ”I have created a suggestion for a PR-model that I think will appeal to the target group’s sense of self-worth, while still leaving space for the acknowledgement of higher powers. Would you please have a look at –”

”No”, his client said sharply. ”I will not cater to those megalomanic good-for-nothings anymore. The customers of the rivalling firm at least remained loyal to the brand while the CEO was on infant care leave. Never mind that they slaughtered the brat later. My own clients wouldn’t even cut me that much slack. So much for that allegiance…”

”So… what will you do?” Mr. Caralhaw was frustrated to see two weeks’ worth of work being thus brushed aside without the slightest consideration, but of course he concealed his feelings carefully.

”I will leave them to their deluded practices for the time being. I’m needed elsewhere, I have to take care of my family. But when the baby has come and I’m back at the office, I will conduct an exhaustive revision of the organization. Ineffective people and programs will be weeded out and replaced. I will rain fire upon my so-called followers and slaughter them in their beds. I will tear down their puny altars to themselves. And then I will start from scratch.” He rose from his chair and collected his jacket and his briefcase.

”Are you sure you want to engage in such a thorough re-organization? It will require both time and funds, and –”

”Yes, I’m sure. This will soon turn into a family business, and I want to be able to pass on something solid to my son. Good day, Mr. Caralhaw. Thank you for your time.” And with that, Satan opened the door and left the office.

Mr. Caralhaw remained behind his desk, wearily looking down at all his futile work and wondering, not for the first time, why he even bothered.

Copyright © 2018 Chris Smedbakken

 (Securing the Family Business can also be found at Chris’s website …these grains of sand by clicking here.)

Monday
Mar262018

The Giant

He could not tell from where the light really came; was it from the starry sky, barely visible through the semi-transparent veil of clouds? Was it from the wet rocks, ever glittering by the force of the recently fallen rain? Or was it, by some ancient magic, the silvery autumn branches high above, with their last stubbornly clinging silver leafs, that cast off the fairy illumination?

He could not tell, and he guessed that it was just as good he didn’t, as the question, unimportant as it might be, helped him greatly by keeping his thoughts off more important and frightening matters.

He struggled to stay in line; it was hard as the others, his captors, were so much smaller than he ever was, and saw a grave trespassing in every small inch he happened to move outside the given route. The dark forest was full of eyes watching, but it was the wrong kind of eyes; nowhere did he ever glimpse the lilac radiant glimmer in the night that he so wished to see, and thus he understood that he should harbour no hopes of rescue from these fierce monsters that kept him stumbling down the narrow trail in the middle of this godforsaken night.

He understood, as he had done from the beginning, that the puny magic of his people, wonderful though it was, could put up no threat to these villains. He had beheld his family getting brought down on the cold forest floor with blows of ugly dark weapons and spells of a kind he never saw before, when they refused to give him up without a fight.

He had no idea of their fate now – if they were still alive and if the village had survived the fire that he had seen licking at it when he was carried away, half conscious, into the unknown darkness.

He had been very much beautiful to them, his people, in the same way that they were beautiful to him. He could vaguely remember a time in his life, distant from now in the past, when he had not been so much bigger than them as he was now. His memory did not, however, cover any time at all when he had been just as small as them.

But he was well aware that memory could be a tricky thing (he even had, laughably enough, some silly imaginary memories from long ago when the world around him had not been only trees and trees), so he understood clearly that he must have forgotten about the time when he, also, had been small and feline. Just like he had forgotten totally about the incident which his people had been so reluctant to tell him about until this very night; the incident (or accident, for that matter) that had in some magical way caused him to start growing in size to such a degree that he was now some kind of giant of the woods.

He wondered now whether he would grow even more, maybe to the tallness of the trees, so that he in time would be able to look down from the drifting clouds and see all the forest of the wide world. He hoped not, because then he might accidentally happen to step on some animal or friend of his, and that wouldn’t be very nice, would it now? Anyway, he thought, his people had accepted, loved and adored him (even though they had had to fly up to the first branches of the leaf carrying trees to look him in the eye) and they had thought him beautiful.

These misshaped creatures, on the other hand, did not love him and to them he was most certainly not beautiful. This they let him know through kicks and blows whenever they got the chance, and through yelling at him in a language that was not of the forest and which he did not understand. Every now and then, though, they assured him of their standpoint towards him by throwing into their hysterical shouting some occasional word in his own language, the language of his people, with the general meaning of “ugly” or “giant”. So if he in the past had been a creature of wonder and beauty, that was no longer the case. In this twilight world which he had now been robbed into, he was no more than a freak show, and to his captors he was no more than an ugly giant.

They kept their pace for all of the night, never stopping to let him catch his breath or offering him to drink from their bottles. When they stopped to rest every morning, just before the hour when the horizon would turn red had they been able to see it through the trees, he was tied to the ground by the use of some evil magic, and forced into an uneasy sleep by some strong liquid they made him drink against his will. He never woke before the twilight hour, and thus his world became one of night. He did not see the sun for many days.

In his restless sleep, forced upon him by the witchcraft of these fiends, he again and again relived the night when he had been snatched from his peaceful life among his people. The colors of the dream were always distorted, as is the case when you sleep with a heavy fever upon you, and the voices of everyone, friend and monster, were warped and twisted and he was always afraid during those dreams. He again and again experienced the hour just before twilight, the night of the autumn feast in the village.

He again and again looked out through the little window in the small cottage they had built for him (which was just big enough for him but already starting to feel a bit narrow as he continued to grow with the changing of each season), to see his pretty little family and his friends hurrying this way and that, trying to get the banquet ready before sundown when the festivity would begin. They called to him and smiled, and asked him to put the decorations on the taller branches which they themselves could not reach easily. He smiled back at them and climbed out of his little house, ready to assist. His little sister was on his shoulder now, and whispering told him a secret he had now forgotten; something about the way the birds fly when the winter is nearing, and why they do that. He walked up to one of the trees surrounding their glade village, about to braid into its lowest branches a garland of tiny, glittering sparks made by his cousin.

Now time slowed down and the fever dream made him relive these last moments of sense in some kind of slow moving pace, at the same time as reality shifted colors and every sound was stretched, as if to mimic some infernal singing of the fish in the brook.

From every direction now, surrounding the glade, crawled dark shapes out of the descending twilight. The creatures had teeth just like the predatory, four legged animals of the woods that his people so shunned and feared, and dark red, cunning eyes.

They carried iron rods, sharpened and darkened by night, and chanted in low voices an evil rhyme the words of which he had never heard before. His people started in horror at this sudden attack, and gathered around him in the middle of the glade, fearfully gazing in each direction and singing protective spell songs to ward off the approaching demons (if this was to protect him or seek shelter in his presence, he could not know).

But the fiends had stronger magic, even though they were no larger in size than the forest people, and continued to approach until they had closed in and surrounded the circle.

One of them started to speak to the forest people in his strange language, and the chanting grew louder. This part was always cloudy in the dream, and he had a hard time remembering what happened afterwards. Through a dreamy haze he could see his people trying to fight back the intruders, using sticks and magic. He felt himself starting to fall, as if some evil spell of sleep had been cast upon him, and as he lay there on the ground he could do nothing but hope that he had not fallen on some of his friends. He could not move anymore, and his vision grew blurrier every split second.

The last thing he saw though the descending fog was fire; fire everywhere. And his brothers and sisters, all his people, fighting the demons and failing. He could not help them, he could not protect them. And so utter darkness engulfed him, and he knew nothing.

He could not remember awaking from that darkness. The only thing he could recall was that suddenly he was striding along this row of foes, the dark forest the only thing around and no familiar stone or landmark anywhere. Thus he had no idea how long had passed since this terrible incident that was maybe the end of his village, and fierce beating was the only answer he got, did he dare to ask his captors. Every night when he awoke from his spellbound sleep he cried bitterly. At first he had refused to stand up and obey when they beckoned him to rise each night. This had resulted in a lot of pain, both from their weapons and from their spells. They had shouted at him and beat him until he was covered in blood and he could take it no more. Then he must struggle on through the night with aching limbs and bleeding scars all over, until next morning when he was finally allowed to lie down again.

When again he woke, some magic had always caused his wounds to heal – uselessly, since his refusal to cooperate at once made them bear down on him again as soon as he started to strain.

After a while, though, he grew numb.He no longer fought them and no longer cared. His soul he hid deep within his weary body, and he no longer thought of anything but where he put his feet. They still beat him all the time (even more and even harder when they, to their frustration, noticed his lack of concern), but he didn’t notice it much. He felt the pain in his body, but his soul was out of reach.

Many, many nights after this they wandered. The landscape grew sparse of vegetation and finally no moss or twigs longer covered the ground. They passed over a fence made out of silver thread, and after walking some distance everything was changed. The rocks that he knew to always be round and uneven now spread out before him in a strange flat kind of way; the ground was covered with them, and they were no longer round or raw but square and very much flat under his sore feet. Wherever he looked were strange, heaven high buildings with sharp corners made out of both wood and stone, and they had glittering squares of light fastened to their every side.

He was totally unprepared of this powerful vision of strange wonders, and his wall of protection crumbled to nothing; he let out a gasp of awe, and stood as bewitched gazing up towards the towers of light that stretched endlessly before him. The demons that held him captive glared at him and dragged him down on the ground so that he was at their level. Evil eyes were fixed at him from all directions, and then they spoke. He was amazed beyond words as they did so, for suddenly and without any further explanation, he understood them!

“Don’t try to find your way back over the silvery fence”, they growled hatefully. “You will never find it again from this side of the world. And even if you did you would not be able to find the trail we walked. You are changed now. Changed back, from what you should never have been in the first place.”

And with those last words they turned their backs on him and started back the way that they had come. He rose to his feet to hurry after them before his road was closed forever, but lots of new noises surrounded him and he was no longer sure of what it was that he had to return to so much. He stood a second in confusion, and when he again came to his senses, they were gone without a trace. It was as if they were never there in the first place, and surely they did not fit into this gleaming world of fast passing, bright colored vehicles and burning sunset towers of the whitest marble. After a while he was not even sure that they had really been there.

Then he saw the creatures of this magical city of light, and he almost fainted from the realization; they were like him! He was not taller than most of them, and they were of all kinds. Some where smooth and vigorous, while others had skin like crumbled fruit in the autumn and walked leaning on sticks or other strange apparatuses. No one looked twice upon him.

He was totally at loss with this situation. His memory of where he had come from was slipping from his grasp even now, and he was surprised that he understood everything these creatures, so alike him it was almost frightening, said to each other. He looked around for somewhere to go, somewhere to hide – and his gaze fell upon a lightning square, a window, where he suddenly laid eyes upon the most wondrous and beautiful sight he had ever beheld in his whole life. More beautiful was it than the golden leafs of autumn, or the gentle crystals in the air at winter. More wonderful a sight than the wild and musical swirling of the brook at spring, or the flight of the most daring of blue birds in the time of summer was it. Much more than all of that. It was a girl. She was slowly and carefully combing out her golden hair, sitting at the window but not looking out. Her curls gleamed beautifully in the last light of the dying sun, and she was dressed for the night in the whitest silk, decorated only at the edges with purple lace ribbons. Her skin was white and smooth, and he in some strange way knew that she was very much like him. Her window was far above him, and even then he could behold all this.

After that he knew nothing before he stood in front of her door, in an echoing stairwell, reading the small letters printed at a pretty, decorated sign in the level of his eyes (and yes, he really could read them). She had such a wonderful name! He carefully pushed the white little button next to the door, and a melodious ringing sprang forth inside the closed door. Footsteps fell on some soft surface inside, and soon she stood there, right in front of him, and looked into his eyes. She truly was beautiful, more beautiful than he had thought when he stood in the darkening street gazing up at her.

He thought for a second of how her eyes had something slightly familiar about them; something in their color reminded him of birds and magic. They twinkled like radiantly lilac little stars, and for a moment he was utterly confused and taken aback. She smiled in a way that somehow indicated recognition, and then a name came to him. His name. And it was not a fairy name or a giant name, but a human name. The name of one of these creatures that were his size. His kind. He spoke his newfound and newly re-remembered name out loud, and she smiled again and thought that it was the most wonderful name.

He still stands in front of that door now and then, but now he has the key and does not have to press the doorbell, and the decorative sight in level with his eyes contains now not only her beautiful name, but his as well. He is happy together with the girl with the radiant eyes, who knows not more than him about the forest and small villages with tiny people, or dark demons from the night.

But sometimes, at the end of summer when twilight comes earlier with each passing day and the shadows grow longer, he finds himself waking screaming and crying from a restless, sweat drenched dream where small, pretty figures stand around him in a darkening glade, speaking words of strangeness to menacing creatures with dark red eyes, who answer them in a language that he can now understand clearly.

He always stays in the dream just long enough to hear one of the demons speak to the pretty people: “We are here on behalf of the Agency of Switch-cases. Hand us the changeling! He is not of yours; he is to be taken back to where he came from! Give in freely or we shall take him by force, with no concern of the consequences!”

And as the devilish voice of the imp-creature dies away, leaving not complete silence but the din of battle and death in its wake, the dream vision fades away and he feels himself falling down, down into a deep foggy darkness.

It is after such autumn dreams of another world that he wakes crying and twisting in his bed, without knowing where he is or why, half expecting the agony of sharpened iron rods brought down on him any second. But then her hand is on him, reassuring him and loving him, and he is again who he is; a human creature just like her, completely safe in her embrace from all the horrors of the dark.

They are very happy together, and soon she is to tell him that they are expecting a little one of their own into the world, and he will be so filled with joy. And as time goes by, as it inevitable does, memory of past lives grow bleacher and bleacher, until nothing remains but now and then a dream about a clear autumn evening ending in tragedy. Just a dream.

But once a year, on the day that he eventually guessed to be the day of his birth or the day of some other important event in his life, he finds on the hallway carpet, infallibly, a card decorated with golden leafs and strangely twinkling sparks, covered with words written in a language he can no longer understand. But he nevertheless keeps them close at heart and stores them carefully in a beautifully decorated wooden box that he has made himself, and takes them out every now and then to look at them and try to remember.

And even though he forever fails to do that, he is very, very happy.

Copyright © 2018 Chris Smedbakken

Wednesday
Feb212018

The Missing Limb

When John put his mother’s ring on my finger we both knew it was not a promise of a future together. I harboured no illusions of that kind – I knew he only dared do it because we were both aware, deep down, that we were never going home. We were going to die out there in the cold trenches, together or separated, and did not have to worry about conventions, laws and consequences.  

I wish I still had that ring.

The war had been going on for ages, or so it felt. When I was first sent to the front I was young and stupid with my head full of star-spangled dreams and lies. When I met John what felt like a lifetime later, we had both seen, felt and heard enough to have learned that this was not our war – that it was no-one’s. And still we fought in it; I because I was afraid of the alternative, John because he had nothing to go back to.

I wish I could say that we gave each other hope, that us being together made the terror we lived more bearable, but that would be a lie. We suffered and we wept and despaired, and when there was pain that pain was not to be dulled by anything except sleep or death or the poisons we drank to attain one or both of them.

But John sang to me when I was drowning in panic, and I told him stories from my childhood when he hurt too badly. And we grew to love each other in a way reserved for the mad, the desperate and the dying.

I have never loved anyone since like I loved him.

It had been raining heavily that night, and when dawn came the world was drenched in mud and blood. This was the morning of long dreaded advance, of finally pushing desperately forward. The secret solace from the night before seemed like a long ago dream, and not even the ring hidden by my left glove could fully convince me that I had not in fact imagined it all.

It did not matter, however, because everything was to end very soon. I just did not know it at the time.

We left the relative but treacherous safety of the dug trenches and moved forth. I tried to keep close to John in the stealthy turmoil, but repeatedly kept losing sight of him. The sun rose behind the clouds and suddenly there was fire and explosions everywhere. We had been sighted. Our numbers scattered without any real semblance of order, and despite my best attempts to keep calm and sharp I found myself lost and terrified. I panicked.

That is how John found me. He screamed through the clamour that our unit was falling back and regrouping, that we had been ordered to take shelter in the ruins of a nearby church. He grabbed my left hand and started running, leading me towards safety.

It was then that the ground around us detonated, and everything turned into panic, pain and blackness.

I awoke to blindness in a world of horror and agony. There was not a part of me that did not hurt, and I could not see at all. Half convinced that I was in fact dead I lay there on my back, listening to the moaning, hurting voices of my compatriots all around me. Part of my mind realized that it must have been a bombshell or a hidden mine – the rest of me did not think at all.

Until I felt John’s firm grip on my hand again, that is. The pain in my entire body was excruciating when he helped me to my feet, but his warmth was so relieving that I almost did not acknowledge it.

“I can’t see”, I said. “Please don’t let go.”

“I will never let go”, he replied.

And then he led me slowly, carefully through the nightmare that I could not see, but the sounds of which will haunt me to the end of days. People were dying everywhere around us, screaming for help or relief or for people long gone. If someone had told me at that time that we were in fact walking through the fires of Purgatory, I would have readily believed it. Sound becomes a merciless paintbrush when employed on the canvas of the unseeing.

At long last we must have left the battlefield behind us, as the voices of the dying slowly faded into the distance. I was growing weaker with every step, and the steady flow of warmth down the side of my torso told me that I was bleeding badly from the explosion. Without John’s hand I mine I would have been terrified of fainting, falling or getting lost, but he never let go. Instead he firmly and calmly guided me across the uneven landscape on the other side of my personal darkness, stopping when I needed to but never for too long.

Then, suddenly, I began hearing voices again – but not those of the dying. I recognized those voices, and the relief I felt at hearing them is not to be described in words. I realized that we must have found the church that John had talked about in those final moments before the world ended. Someone called my name, another called for assistance and now, finally, my legs would not carry me any longer. I collapsed there in the mud and felt consciousness drifting away, even as running steps approached along with voices shouting medical commands.

I did not die that day, but was later told that it had been very close. I remained unconscious for a very long time, floating in an endless blackness only occasionally interrupted by brief spells of blurry, partial wakefulness. The only thing that kept me sane and calm during those short, confused moments was John’s reassuring and safe grip on my hand as he kept faithful vigil beside my sickbed.

Then, finally, I awoke one day and the darkness was gone. I blinked in confusion, and everything was made of sharp, searing light. At least almost everything; however intensely I tried to open my left eye, it simply would not obey me. A silhouette was standing in front of me, and at first I thought that it was John. But then the man spoke, and I realized that he was a doctor.

He told me that I had been lucky, that the shrapnel had only punctuated one of my eyes and that they had thankfully been able to save the right one. He then told me about several surgical operations and a long, long time of insecurity as to whether I would have the strength to wake up again. He told me that us even having this very conversation was a miracle in its own right. It was a riddle to all how I had managed, bleeding, blind and dying, to find and trudge my way back to safety.

“It was John”, I said in a voice rough from disuse. “He led me by the hand the entire way.”

I tried to squeeze John’s hand in mine, but I could not move my fingers. I wanted so badly to look at him, to see that he was alright, but my left eye was blind and my neck hurt too much to move.

“John Curtis?”, the doctor said, and even though I could only see him diffusely the tone of his voice betrayed his concern.

“Yes”, I said and even managed a defiant smile. Then and there I did not care what he knew or thought about us. In that moment I could have bravely and foolishly made John all those promises we had been too afraid to make before, and more. I hoped that he could hear this in my voice – that they both could.

The doctor was silent for a long time, and when again he spoke his voice was grave and worried.

“You must be mistaken”, he said. “You came alone. I saw it myself.”

At this I laughed and shook my head, actions both of which sent pain shooting through my body once more. But I did not care, this was all too absurd. Still smiling broadly, I turned finally to my left to meet John’s gaze. But he was gone. I stared in confusion, knowing that he had been there, holding my hand, just a moment ago.

The doctor, mistaking my sudden silence for something else, hurried to my side and put his hand on my right shoulder. “I am sorry, son, I should have told you sooner. You must have lost it in the explosion, and when we found it the day after it was too late to do anything. But everything has healed beautifully, and with some training you should be able to–”

But I was not listening to him anymore. I had let my gaze wander downwards to where my left arm should have been, and was now staring in shocked disbelief at the bandaged stump that had now taken its place.

“But… But John, he was… Right now, I…” I realized that I was rambling, but my thoughts simply would not come together. He had been sitting there, right beside me, holding my left hand. And now they were both gone.

“I am terribly sorry, but John Curtis is dead”, the doctor interrupted me. “He was killed in the explosion that took your arm. In fact, that was how we found it. Even in death he was holding on to your left hand.”

***

They sent me home after that. I do not think that they would have reinstated me into service even if my body had been intact, since it must have been so painfully apparent that my mind was not. I do not know what happened to the ring, and have only presumed that someone must have stolen it. It was never returned to me, at the very least.

I went to John’s funeral and met his estranged parents and siblings. I told them that I was a friend, and saying those words hurt more than I had thought it would. I exchanged a few polite stories with the grieving family, but left soon after when it became painfully clear to me that we were not even talking about the same person.

This was all a long time ago now. I eventually learned to live with one arm and one eye, and nowadays I barely reflect upon the loss at all. The only reason, however, that I am able to live with a heart irrevocably split by sorrow, is that I know that the other half of it is never far away – just as despite all I still know that John Curtis saved my life on that cursed day.  

Because every day and every night since then, however far I walk and wherever I may go, as soon as I close my eye I feel it; John’s strong fingers lacing together with those of my missing, left hand, as he walks beside me to the end of days.

Copyright © 2018 Chris Smedbakken

Tuesday
Jan302018

Always Keep it Locked

Now I am going to tell you about something that happened to me a couple of years back. I won't tell you what to make of it, because I'm not entirely sure what I make of it myself. But here goes.

Back when I was a journalism student in Stockholm, finding a place to live was a real pain in the ass. I think I only ever knew one person who actually owned their own apartment. Most of my other friends and classmates rented their homes as sublets (or illegal sublets of sublets), or lived in the spare rooms of strangers as bizarrely overpaying lodgers.

Need I tell you that the rents were always ridiculously high? Well, they were. Absurdly so. Everyone were looking for a place to live, and all apartment adds on Facebook or in the papers were flooded with replies as soon as they came out. Getting first in line for any of them was, to say the least, entirely fucking impossible.

Therefore, when I found the add about a relatively cheap attic room for rent only ten minutes away from my school I didn't think much of it. Someone else must have taken it already, was what I thought. But I still called, and was both surprised and incredibly happy when the old lady who answered said that I could move in the very next day.

Said and done. I packed my stuff in my car and drove the two hundred kilometers or so to Saltsjö-Boo, which is located in Nacka – a suburb of Stockholm. Everything felt new and a little bit crazy. I was to leave my old life behind (for a time at least), and do something entirely new, all on my own.

It was August, and although I arrived late it was still light out. The old lady lived in a big, yellow two storey house down by the water of an inlet called Skurusundet. The neighboring houses were just as big, and I could only imagine what buying a home here must cost.

The old lady – I'll leave out her surname, but her first name was Harriet – greeted me on the porch when I stepped out of the car. She was a frail figure in her late eighties, and I remember catching myself wondering how she was able to manage that big house on her own. She had told me on the phone that her husband had passed away five years back, and that it was only this summer that she had cleaned out his old stuff from the attic room that I was now to rent.

She showed me where to park and then walked ahead of me to the back of the house, where a seemingly rather new built wooden staircase led up to a separate entrance on the attic level of the building. I kind of wanted to tell her that she didn't need to climb up there to show me the room, that I could manage on my own. But she seemed so stubborn about making it up there that I kept my mouth shut and walked a couple of steps behind her as she slowly struggled upwards.

She unlocked the door and let me into a quite large room that took up at least half of the attic area. It was neatly fitted with a bed, a table, a portable kitchenette and some empty bookshelves. There were no windows, but I didn't mind. Finding a place like this for a price like that in this part of town more than enough compensated for that.

Apart from the entrance, three doors led away from the room. One of them led to a small, simple bathroom with toilet and shower. She told me that this had been put in only four weeks ago, in order for tenants to live up here. The second door led to a big, cluttered storage space, that she unlocked briefly just to show me what it was. I'm guessing that this was where she had tucked away all her late husband's belongings. She told me that I could put stuff in there if I needed to, but that she didn't recommend it since the storage room lacked proper insulation.

After she had showed me all this – a process that didn't take very long – we stopped in front of the third door.

“This door leads down to the rest of the house”, she said. “Always keep it locked. If you need to talk to me, you go out around the house and use the front door. And remember to knock first.”

I told her that of course I would respect this, and promised her that I wouldn't come barging down the attic stairs and disturb her privacy. To be honest, if she had asked me to always leave my shoes outside and never to bring friends over I would have been fine with that as well. As long as I had somewhere to live in this city I'd be prepared to cope with just about anything. At least that's how I felt at the time.

We signed a contract and she gave me the keys. She was really sweet actually, and told me about stores, bus connections and things to see nearby. Before she left me to mind my own business, however, she stopped one last time in the doorway and turned back to face me. “Keep it locked”, she said flatly. Then she closed the door behind her and started struggling her way back down the stairs outside.

I remember staring at the closed door in confusion, wondering what the hell that was – and why Harriet herself hadn't used the interior stairs to get back down to the house. Then I just shrugged it off and went down to the car to start carrying all my stuff inside.

I settled in quite nicely. My courses started and the initial couple of months went by in a flurry of seminars, new acquaintances and study visits to the editorial staffs of different newspapers. I was rarely at home except for when I was sleeping or studying for tests.

I saw very little of Harriet, except for the occasional chance encounter in the garden. She kept mostly to herself, and since I had no windows I had no idea how often she even left the house. The only reason that I even knew she was living there in the house below me was two weird habits of hers that I discovered rather early on.

Every time she got home, namely, she knocked on her own front door before unlocking it. The first few times she did it, I always thought that she was having visitors over. It was only when I came home early one day and caught her after grocery shopping that I realized that she was doing it herself. I didn't ask her about it. It was too odd, and I was afraid that it would embarrass her if she knew that I'd seen her. But after that day I started thinking that maybe she wasn't as clear in the head as I had initially thought.

That was Harriet's first strange habit. I told my friends about it and they thought it was hilarious. Every time we were studying at my place we always silenced and laughed when we heard her come knocking downstairs.

Her second habit, however, was one that quickly started irritating me more and more. The old lady turned out to be a real night owl, who didn't go to bed until well after midnight. This in itself wouldn't have bothered me the slightest, were it not for the way I was involuntarily made aware of her sleep routines. Because before Harriet went to bed, she always checked the attic door to see that it was really locked. Every single night.

I could lie in bed sleeping, and then suddenly jump in terror at the sudden squeak as old door handle was slowly pressed down a couple of times. Or, on nights when I was awake late studying for an exam, I could hear the soft creaking of the interior attic steps as she slowly made her way upstairs. Then the door handle would invariably be pressed down two or three times, before the creaking steps retreated downstairs again. And I repeat: this happened every fucking night.

Not only did the old woman apparently not trust me to keep to her rules, which was frustrating in itself, but she also had to scare me half out of my senses every night, at that? But as I said before, I was happy just to have a place to live, and didn't want to antagonize the old, paranoid woman. So I settled for telling my friends and just having a laugh about it instead. On days when I seemed more tired than usual in school, they always teased me about it being because my weird landlady had kept me awake that night.

For some reason it actually never crossed my mind to be afraid of her, no matter her crazy demeanor. I just thought of her as an old person who was extremely particular about her privacy, and never fell for my classmates' attempts to frighten me with stupid stories of her one night standing above my bed with a knife in her hand.

Until one particular night in late December, that is. I had been living in the attic room for almost four months, and had made myself quite well at home there. School was about to end for the holidays the following week, and my entire class were studying like crazy for the end-of-year exams. It had been snowing like crazy for the last couple of days, and I stayed inside with my reading to the extent that I could.

Anyways, there I was, sitting at my small table in the middle of the night, preparing for tomorrow's test, when I could suddenly hear the first creak at the bottom of the staircase. I tried to ignore it like I always did, and continued reading. The steps drew closer, like always, and then stopped outside the door. The door handle was slowly being pressed down with its, by now, familiar creak, and then everything went silent again.

I stopped reading and glanced behind me when the sound of the handle being let up again never came. When I turned around I realized that the door handle still pointed downwards; it was still being pressed down. I just stared at it for several seconds. Was it broken? Or was the old woman still standing outside the door, holding it down?

After a while I began feeling creeped out at not knowing, and at thinking that maybe she was standing on the stairs, staring at the other side of the door.

“It is locked, Harriet”, I said loud enough for her to hear me.

Another couple of seconds passed, and I had almost convinced myself that the handle actually was broken, when it suddenly slowly started rising again. Then I heard the slow, creaking steps descending the stairs, before everything became quiet once more. I realized that I had been holding my breath, and that my heart was racing. I remember thinking “what the fuck is wrong with her?” I mean, I already knew that she was odd, but what was this about now suddenly?

I didn't manage to get back to studying that night, and when I flunked the test the following day I laughingly blamed Harriet's strange nightly visit. It became that day's most-told story, and I didn't think about how creepy the experience had actually been until I got home again that evening.

I went to bed, but the thought of the night before wouldn't leave my head. In the end I had to get out of bed again and place a chair below the door handle before I could relax enough to actually go to sleep.

I awoke some time around midnight. It was pitch black in the room – of course, since I didn't have any windows – and I wasn't sure what it was that had woken me up. Then I heard the sound again, and was wide awake in an instant. It was the door-handle, the one I had propped up with a leaning chair earlier that night. It was creaking at even intervals, as if someone was struggling to press it down despite the resistance. I stared into the darkness, not daring to make a sound. The intervals quickly became shorter and shorter, until the door handle was drumming intensely against the back of the chair.

I almost panicked there in the dark. Then the chair suddenly fell over with a loud crash, and I screamed. The door handle was pressed down with a decisive creak, and by the sound of it was not let back up for several seconds. Then, slowly, it creaked back into place, and the steps outside retreated down the stairs again. By that time I was almost mad with fear, and just sat there in the dark, huddling with the blankets against the corner of my bed and listening for the slightest hint of a sound. I didn't sleep at all for the rest of the night, but I guess I don't need to tell you that.

I called in sick the next day. I just had to sleep. Or, what I actually wanted was to call my mum and tell her to come and take me home. But there were just a couple of days left in school for the semester, and I felt I had to finish. I had to pull thorough somehow.

After sleeping for a couple of hours, I decided to go down and talk to Harriet about the whole thing. Tell her that she had to stop doing this. I thought that if she got mad at me, I would just move out. I'd live on someone's couch for a while until I found something else. I could put up with much, but this had even crossed my line.

I thought about using the interior stairs, but decided against it. I would be the bigger person here, and just because she disrespected my integrity didn't mean I would stoop to doing the same to her. So I used my own front door, walked around the house and up to hers. The tracks in the snow outside were almost invisible, and I understood that she had not been out for a while. Maybe something had happened? Maybe she was ill, and this was why she had needed so desperately to get a hold of me last night?

I don't know if I even considered this as a real possibility, or if I was just grasping for manageable explanations, but these were the thoughts that went through my head as I plodded through the snow and up to her door.

I knocked, waited and knocked again, but got no reply. I picked up my phone and tried calling. I could hear the signals from inside the house, but she didn't pick up. I knew she had to be in there, but either she didn't want to talk to me, or she was too sick to do so. And I realized that I had to find out.

If the old woman was so ill that she hadn't been out for days, I had to find out and help her. I tried the door-handle, but the door was locked. I understood what I must do. Sure, if all was well with her she might get angry with me for taking liberties with her rules, but so be it. It was still better than risking it being the other way around, and doing nothing.

I walked back through the snow and back up to my attic room. As I approached the door leading to downstairs I could not help but feeling like I was about to do something very wrong. But the thought of the old woman lying helpless down in the house drove me on. The key was still in the lock where it had been when I first got here, and I reached out to turn it. Before I could, however, my phone rang and the sudden noise made me jump.

I picked the phone up and looked at it, expecting Harriet's number to be on the display. But it wasn't – it was a number I'd never seen before. Hesitantly I turned away from the door and answered.

It was a woman on the other end. It was not Harriet however, but a younger one. And what she told me... Well, let's say it made me start packing my bags as soon as the call was ended.

She told me that she was Harriet's daughter, and that she was sorry that she hadn't called earlier, but the last couple of days had been a real mess. There had been so many relatives to call and things to fix, but now she just wanted to tell me that I could of course continue renting the attic room until the contract ended, even though things had sadly taken this turn.

At first I didn't understand anything of what she was saying, and after a while I had to interrupt her and ask her to clarify. And it was then that she apologized again, and said that she had just assumed that her sister had called me already to tell me that Harriet had died in the hospital three days ago.

I went cold all over, and to be honest I don't remember much of the call after that. Only that I monotonously thanked her for the kindness of letting me stay, said my condolences and then hung up. While doing so, I had slowly, slowly backed away from the door that I had been seconds away from unlocking. It was like in a movie. I just shook my head, said “fuck this”, and then started packing.

The rough half hour it took me to get everything into the car and scrape the snow and ice off its windows was thirty minutes of panicked terror. I even remember leaving some of my final things behind, for the simple reason that I could not bring myself to walk into that house one more time to get them. And then I drove away.

I didn't drive all the way home to Gävle, of course. By the time I got onto the road I had calmed down enough to think somewhat rationally again, and instead drove to one of my friends who lived at the school's boarding house. I don't know how coherent I was when I got there, but she kindly let me stay at her place until end of term the week after.

I went home over the holidays, and when they were over I managed to get a room at the boarding house myself, as someone else had recently moved out. The room was small as hell and expensive as shit, but I didn't mind. As long as I didn't have to go back to that place I was happy.

I finished my studies and moved back to my home town, where I now work as a reporter for the local newspaper. But even now, several years later, I don't know what to think. Perhaps I dreamed those things, or maybe I was just completely stressed out about the upcoming exams. I honestly don't know. I just felt that I had to write it all down to maybe get it off my chest.

But I do know one thing: I've never really been able to shake the feeling that there was something living in that house together with Harriet, and that when she told me to “always keep it locket”, it was not in a paranoid attempt to protect her own integrity – it was to protect me.

Copyright © 2018 Chris Smedbakken

Tuesday
Jan162018

Two Takes

I know that there are hundreds of stories about the life of Ferdinand Baresi, and while most of them consist of idolizing exaggerations I also know some of them to be true. I also know, however, that there are in circulation just as many stories about his death, and this is the reason behind me at long last sitting myself down to write. Because whichever one of all these stories you yourself have chosen to give credit – be it the one about drugs or one of the more fanciful ones about clever, premeditated murder – I want you to know that you are wrong. Ferdinand was my closest friend, and I think that his memory deserves truth. This account is written in honor of that conviction.

Here follows thus the one true story of Ferdinand’s life and death, as far as I know it. I shall endeavor only to relate the hard facts, and refrain from speculations. There are enough of those already, even though the circumstances of my friend’s demise have confounded me as well. Let us begin.

There was no actor, dead or alive, who could compare to Ferdinand Baresi. He was simply a legend, an uncrowned king of the silver screen. His agreeable appearance, of course, did him some favors, but that was not nearly half of it. For where this trait obviously gave him an edge towards his audience, he also sported another characteristic that made directors and cameramen love him to pieces. Ferdinand, namely, had one fantastical ability: no matter how difficult the setting, he was always able to masterfully complete every scene in no more than two takes.

Ferdinand was not always this mythical movie star hero, however. When I first started knowing him, he was struggling with his beginning career. We were both in our early twenties and found ourselves enrolled to the same college literature class. By that time I was just yet developing the manners and characteristics of the dry scholar I was later to become, while Ferdinand was already the full blown, hopeless romantic that the world would soon come to know and love. Irrespective of our severe differences, however, we found one another in our common love for Oscar Wilde, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman and the three typical Williams: Wordsworth, Blake and Shakespeare.

Our daily talks about literature and poetry soon morphed into drunken late-night discussions about the mysteries of life, love and the future. I told him about my dream to become a teacher, and he told me about his passion for acting. As I nagged him about sociolinguistics and advanced grammar he shared with me the rules of the acting-trade, like how you should never look directly into the camera. 

I was never one to entertain many loose acquaintances. Instead I have always preferred to keep a smaller selection of close, trusted friends – and before long I began counting Ferdinand among those. There was simply something about him and his open, honest ways that made me like and trust him.

For the sake of credibility, I feel obliged to here mention that while I am positive that Ferdinand himself never saw me as more than a dear friend, I grew to think and dream of him as something more. I strainedly endured the awkward situations when he helpfully tried to introduce me to girls he knew, and suffered secretly as he dreamily told me about the different women in his own life. This has no impact on the story, however, and I mention it only as a show of scholarly transparency. This account is not about me, after all, and there is still much to be related.

I told you that Ferdinand was struggling, but that choice of words was a staggering understatement. When he first told me about his aspirations as a Hollywood actor, of course, he sounded so sure of himself. His reports of recurring successes in the local field made me think that his breakthrough surely must not be far off into the future. But months turned into years and his participation in some smaller independent productions, that initially had brought him such pride and hope, began to appear sarcastically in his daily speech as proof of tragic failure.

I know that many of these cynic thoughts were pure internalization of his stoical father’s harsh words to him. The old man did not approve of his son’s career choice, and I even came to understand from Ferdinand’s frustrated descriptions of their meetings that his father strongly wished for him to be more like me. It is my deepest hope that this never caused any hatred towards me in my friend’s heart, but I was never able to find out. If this was the case, however, he never let it show.

Ferdinand idolized his father, and although he never expressed any will to follow in his footsteps he often vented a desperate wish to make him proud. He was convinced that were he only able to really succeed as an actor, his disappointed father would change his mind about him. And so he struggled on, worked part time jobs and never gave up hope about that elusive next, defining casting.

During all this time Ferdinand and I had continued studying literature and poetry in different setups. Some semesters we took spontaneous campus classes together, whilst during others we settled for reading and analyzing texts together in cafés, libraries, in my spacious flat or in his rustic attic apartment. I had managed to get an advantageous position as a history teacher at a local school and was getting along rather well in life.

On the particular night of which I am now going to tell you, I was sitting alone in my home, reading. My work was taking up much of my time, and I had to plan my days well in order to keep up with the reading for the class me and Ferdinand were taking together that year. We were reading and analyzing Faust, and I remember this so clearly only because of what happened next.

Suddenly there was a hard knock on the door, and when I opened it I found my friend standing outside in the stairway. He was soaking wet from the rain, but I could clearly see that he had also been crying. Perhaps he still was. I had never seen him in such a rueful state. I quickly ushered him inside and made sure to get him into new, warm clothes. I gave him tea and wine to drink, but he only touched the wine. It did not take me long to realize that this was not the first glass of spirits he had taken that night. After some solacing suasion on my part he finally managed to calm himself enough to tell me about the terrible thing that had happened.

Ferdinand’s father had died earlier that evening. It had not come completely unexpectedly, and Ferdinand had managed to get to the hospital in time to be there with him during his final minutes. But instead of sorrowful comfort, this final visit had only brought Ferdinand excruciating pain. Because what his father had said to him with his dying breaths was almost more than what Ferdinand could bear to recount.

In short, the dying man had accursed the cruel fate that ever endowed him with such a failure for a son. He had told Ferdinand of all the high hopes he had ever had for him, and how it pained him eternally that he had not even tried to live up to them. He had called him names and finally disowned him; Ferdinand had been written out of his father’s will, lest all the old man’s hard-earned fortune be misappropriated by a son too shiftless to use it wisely.

I tried helplessly to comfort my friend as best as I could, but it was futile. His father’s words had broken him completely. He drank more wine and fell asleep on my couch that night, and when the morning came he was gone without a word. Over the next few weeks I tried to get a hold of him in any way that I could, but it was as if the earth had swallowed him entirely – he was gone.

Of course I feared the worst. Given my friend’s emotional and impetuous nature, I was frightened that in his desperation he might have done something to hurt himself. For several weeks I lived in a constant state of rising panic that distracted me from everything else. In the end I was almost completely convinced that my friend was dead; that he had ended his own life in a desperate response to his father’s harsh, final words. My surprise and relief all the greater, then, when Ferdinand one day showed up on my doorstep again. But my surprise did not end there.

The Ferdinand that now stood outside my door was nothing like the sad creature that had last come knocking. He greeted me with a wide smile and a bottle of champagne. He told me that it had finally happened – he had been cast for a big role in an upcoming Hollywood production. As he strode past me into my living room to pour us both a glass of sparkling drink I just stood there, unable to take the whole situation in. During the course of the evening I was given all the more reason to be perplexed.

Ferdinand did not want to tell me what had happened since he left my apartment last, and masterfully avoided all my questions pertaining to the subject. Instead he told me a story about a chance bar encounter with the friend of a famous director, a successful meeting and a splendid audition leading to a fantastic contract.

“There are but two roads that lead to an important goal and to the doing of great things: strength and perseverance”, he said as he raised and downed his third or maybe fourth glass. The words rang an ominous bell within me, but it was not until much later that I was able to place their origin and realize what horrors they might actually have signified.

I was of course incredibly happy for my friend, especially since I knew that this was everything he had always been dreaming of. A part of me could not help but remain suspicious of his incredible story, however. Did he make all this up, or was it maybe symptoms of a stress induced neurosis? The healing, patterned scars across the palms of his hands would certainly support this theory, but when I hesitantly brought them up he hastily changed the subject and hid his hands under the table. I tried my best to likewise hide my own worries and disbelief, and we spent the remainder of the night celebrating. After four bottles of wine he even happened to kiss me, but I am doubtful he meant anything by it or even remembered it the next day.

So Ferdinand went to Hollywood, and even though we promised to keep in touch and visit one another often, things naturally did not happen that way. That first movie became an instant success, and suddenly Ferdinand’s face was on the cover of ever magazine and his name on everyone’s lips. He was given another contract, and then another one. From my place back at home I followed his blossoming career with a smile and a deep longing. Months became years and out letters and calls grew increasingly far apart. I never forgot him, however, and never gave up hope that he might one day return to me. But with the years that hope turned into dreams, and finally I began viewing it as little more than the silly wishes of the young man I once was.

Apart from all his skillful appearances on the silver screen, it was not until the night of my second wedding that I finally saw him again. Many years had passed by that time, and I was not a young man anymore. I had become a literature professor at the same collage as where Ferdinand and I once studied together, and already had one failed marriage behind me. My bride this time was a colleague and dear friend, and although we were both aware that this might not be love in that traditional sense, we were both happily taking this measure to preempt the loneliness that might otherwise come with old age.

He showed up at the wedding reception. It was late by then and many of the guests had already withdrawn for the night. I was standing on the porch of the house smoking that evening’s eleventh cigar when someone suddenly joined me by the banister.

“Congratulations”, he said – and I recognized his voice immediately. In shock I turned towards him, and it was as if all those twenty years spilled off me. He was just as I remembered him, and when I looked into his eyes my heart almost stopped as I realized how much I actually still loved him. I could not help but embrace him, and the relief as he returned the embrace was not of this world. I do not know which one of us suggested it, but we walked off into the night as Ferdinand told me about his life and I told him about mine. Of my new bride I entertained by the time not a singled thought.

I told Ferdinand about my work, my books and my travels, and he told me about his movies and his extravagant life. I do not know if I am to deduce something from it, but for some reason he did not tell me anything about any relationships during our entire walk. When everything else had been discoursed, we went on to talk about our shared youth and all our mutual, happy memories. We went on for hours, and I, for my own part, was in heaven. I never wanted this night to end, and had he asked me at that time to come away with him I would gladly have done so without a thought. 

Ferdinand seemed happy as well, but as the hours passed I grew to increasingly scent a hidden, deep sorrow in him – something he hid masterly with his acting skills, but which as an old friend I could not help but to notice. Finally, I could not refrain from asking him about it. At this, he became silent for a long time, as if lost in mournful thought or memory.

“We have led good lives”, he said finally – and now something in his voice – in the entire atmosphere – had changed. I did not know what to say to that, so I remained silent and waited for him to continue.

He sighed, and said: “We have done fabulous things, things we only talked and dreamed of when we were young together. Now that I’m finally nearing fifty, I sometimes find myself wishing that I would have let it all stay at that; as harmless talk and dreams.” He looked absentmindedly down at his palms, and I could briefly glimpse the faded scars that still adorned them.

I asked him what he meant, but I could feel as soon as I opened my mouth that my voice broke some kind of spell. He looked up at me, smiled and dismissively shook his head.

“Never mind the ramblings of an old, drunken fool”, he said. “Let us find a place to go that is still open, and forget about all sorrow. This is a night for celebration, after all, and not for the self-induced melancholy of an old, foolish friend.”

He refused all my attempts to approach the subject again after that, and we ended up drinking our wits away in some bar that I for the life of me cannot remember the name of today. I did not go home that night – a fact that I do not regret but which I will neither ever be able to forgive myself for.

When I woke up late the next day it was in a wide, disorderly hotel bed with no clear recollection of what had happened during those drunken, diffuse hours between night and morning. Ferdinand was gone, and on the pillow next to me was an envelope with my name on it in beautiful, careful letters. With shaking hands I opened it. Neither the envelope nor the piece of paper inside were from the hotel, and I realized that he must have prepared them in advance.

The message inside was short, but I remember it by heart to this very day – especially because it was the last I ever heard from him, and because of what I later realized that it might mean.

“While Man's desires and aspirations stir, he cannot choose but err.
I hope you will be able to forgive me for my choices,
and that you will never forget me.
Eternally yours,
Ferdinand.”

I never saw Ferdinand Baresi again. I tried to call him on his fiftieth birthday one week later, but his agent told me that he was working. He never called me back. Reading the newspaper the next day, I understood why: Ferdinand had died the night before, in the middle of shooting a scene for his next movie.

I was devastated at learning this, of course. My wife must have realized that my feelings for Ferdinand were more than just those of long-ago friendship, but she was supportive throughout and never said anything to question my grief.

I went alone to see the movie on its eventual release, more to honor my late friend than due to any personal love for the genre. The director, as you might be aware, is well known for his intricate and unconventional takes on the psychologically bizarre, and Ferdinand’s last movie was no exception. In countless interviews reporters had inquired the director about his unusual choice to include in the movie the take that shows Ferdinand dying. The man always defended himself with the claim that the decision was made in honor of Ferdinand’s memory, and that even in dying he had managed to deliver his act perfectly – in the second of two, final takes.

Before seeing the movie I was afraid of what feelings might engulf me at seeing my friend dying on the screen in front of me, but this fear was nothing compared to what reality had in store.

I cannot say that the horror movie itself instilled in me any notable dread, but that might be due to me at the time being preoccupied with thinking about Ferdinand and my grief for him. My friend, as always, had made a masterful job with his character throughout the entire movie, and I found myself smiling amidst the tears at some of his more characteristic intonations and facial expressions. But then came the ending, where both Ferdinand and his character die, and the smile drained from my face.

In the plot of the movie, Ferdinand’s character is chased by a murderer from his past. In that final scene the past finally catches up to him, and the audience can see the character staring in terror and falling to his knees as the killer approaches somewhere outside the camera angle. Then everything dramatically fades to black, and the end credits start to roll.

I have seen the movie many times since then, have tortured myself with watching those terrible, final moments of my friend’s life time and again in an effort to realize what it is that I am actually seeing. But that first time I saw it I froze and could only stare in terror, even as the audience around me burst out applauding and cheering in honor of their fallen hero’s last achievement. And here, for the first time, I will deviate from my promise to refrain from speculations.

Because in those final moments before the cut, Ferdinand looks straight into the camera, and the bottomless horror in his eyes is real. I can feel it in my body every time I see it, and I know it in my heart. My friend saw something in his dying moments that no one else on the set could see, and which frightened him beyond compare.

Make of it what you will, but I for one think often of my friend’s dear wish that suddenly came true, the scars on his hands, his ominous mention of his fiftieth birthday and the two strange things he once said and wrote to me:

“There are but two roads that lead to an important goal and to the doing of great things: strength and perseverance”, and “While Man's desires and aspirations stir, he cannot choose but err”.

It took me a long time, and my friend’s tragic death, to recognize those lines as the quotes of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that they actually are. But when I finally did, I felt horror engulf me once more.

I am old now, and despite all my efforts to combat loneliness, lonely is exactly what I have become. Lonely with the memory of Ferdinand Baresi, and with the insight that there are things out there that defy sane logic and explanation. Things that might listen to the desperate wishes of a young man distraught with grief after an abusive father, and grant those same wishes – at a terrible price.

And I do not know what about these insane thoughts that frightens me more; that I might be going mad, or that I failed to save my friend from exchanging his soul for the ability to, no matter how difficult the setting, always being able to masterfully complete every scene in no more than two takes.

Copyright © 2018 Chris Smedbakken