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The Woman in White Marble

{Click Marble or visit Books in the main menu}


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.”

Tuesday
Sep112018

This Is Ground Control

{There is also an audio version of this story (with amazing artwork by artist Mio Dal)
which can be found
here.}

The speakers called to him again, that crackling voice that reminded him about the world. Reminded him that he was still a part of it, even though he was about to leave it behind. Of course he felt fear, but nothing could make him go back now. It was too late for that, anyhow. He took his protein pills and put his helmet on. The countdown reached zero and then the voice was gone. The world ignited and everything began to shake.

For a moment he couldn’t breathe, and for an eternity he thought he would die. Memories flashed before his eyes as fire engulfed everything and the dark eternity grew closer. Faded photographs of a childhood spent dreaming of this. Black and white pictures of a full life’s struggle. Colourful images of thousands upon thousands of circumstances that had brought him here, to this moment in history.

When the voice told him to leave the capsule, he did so with pride and caution. There was nothing to hold him down anymore, and outside the stars glinted closer than ever before. And still so far away. The cold moon didn’t even afford him a smile as he beheld it from this new angle. Everything was new, and yet so unimaginably old as to make him shiver in his metal shell, far above the world. This was loneliness in its purest form.

The voice named him a hero, wanted to hear about everything he saw and sensed. But he did not answer, because right then he laid eyes upon the blue sphere that floated before him, just out of reach. Everything he had ever known and loved was hidden and buried in the colorful surface of that distant orb. Yet now, seeing it from afar, he felt strangely detached from it. Like it was all a model to demonstrate the life he’d led, not holding a meaning of its own. And even so, he knew that it meant everything. He said for them to tell her. That it was important they tell her what he felt for her. But she knew. Of course she knew.

He wasn’t afraid, however. He trusted his ship, he felt calm in his loneliness. He knew that he was traveling at a tremendous speed, and still he felt as if he was motionlessly floating in this vast blackness, spectating a performance of light that had been playing since the beginning of time.

Old light, he thought. This light has shone on places so far away and so long ago that there’s maybe nothing left of them.

Then the speakers began crackling again, worse than before. The voice wanted him to know something. It was important. But words fell away and the tone grew increasingly desperate. It was something about a circuit, something about a serious problem. Something about…

And the connection went static. He could see the blue sphere drifting farther and farther away, knowing of course that it was he who was drifting. The moon beheld in cold silence as the shuttle left its course and floated away into the dark eternity. He met its gaze and held it, suddenly knowing true fear and loss and loneliness for the first time in his life.

And there was nothing he could do.

Copyright © 2018 Chris Smedbakken

Tuesday
Jul032018

Nobody Quits

Saturday night. A slow paced ordeal in this sleepy backwater town. A lazy rain raps listlessly at my window and the cheap coffee in my cup is too weak to keep anyone awake. Apart from the rain the only sound is made by the Freddie Mercury clock sitting on the wall, overlooking it all.

The news pieces in today’s paper are old, having already taken several beats around the net before at long last reaching the printing press. That’s apparently how the world works nowadays, with yesterday’s stories and sins coming back to haunt you long after they’ve been already forgotten by those who once lived them. I read the news pieces anyway, savour them, even. I am able to read subtle truths in the short notices, that I can never find in modern crime novels. However, being in the know is probably the only perk that comes with having led my kind of life -- especially since I decided to leave it all behind.

I have almost reconciled with this isolated, secluded and protected existence. It’s the price I have had to pay for finally breaking free of all the things that once weighed me down. That, and the disgrace of soon standing in front of a jury, testifying against my old allies. But it became too much for me, the violence and the cold and merciless brutality, and if this is the price for breaking out it is a price I will gladly pay. I just wish living within the federal witness protection program was not so goddamn boring.

The rapping of the raindrops on my window is suddenly accompanied by a far more substantial rapping on the door. Freddie Mercury looks just as surprised as I when I turn to him for an explanation. It’s almost midnight, and I expect no visitors. I seldom do nowadays. Slowly I fold my paper and walk towards the door to look through the peephole. I’m not really afraid of strangers, since I don’t think the people who want to hurt me can find me here. But even so, the sight of the man outside the door makes me freeze in shock. I know him very well. In fact, he is my oldest and closest friend -- and he really should not be here. He knocks again. I open the door.

”I see you weren’t expecting me”, he says as he lets himself in.

I close the door. “No”, I say tonelessly, “but I also don’t see how it is logically possible for me not to have been.”

He is wearing a hooded sweater with its sleeves rolled up. His arms are covered in large, dark tattoos and his face in rebellious beads of gleaming metal. He also has a huge tribal across his entire back, and an ugly scar disfigures his left thigh. I cannot see this now, but know about it only because I had that very tribal tattoo painfully removed five months ago, and that old knife wound still pains me after long walks. The rain composes a monotonous backdrop to our silence as I stare at him. As he stares at me. Then he unceremoniously walks into my living room.

”So this sad hole-up is what I’ll eventually choose to sell everything and everyone out for? I don’t believe it…”

I stand in the doorway, watching him as he pulls out my books and scrutinizes my sparse furniture. ”It all became too much for me”, I say. “The violence, the cold and merciless brutality… You will see for yourself in time.”

At this, he quickly looks up at me. ”No, I won’t”, he says. “Because this will never happen.”

I sigh and shake my head. This young man has so much to learn about how reality works. ”How old are you? Seventeen? Eighteen?”

”Nineteen, actually”, he says and I suddenly remember getting that snakebite piercing on my birthday that very year.

I nod knowingly. ”Many things can happen in seven years, you know. Feelings change. People change.”

”I won’t change”, he says sternly. ”I refuse to change. I refuse to become… this.” He makes a wide gesture that encompasses the entire room, and it’s not until now that I realize that he is holding a gun. A small, simple thing, the clear surface of which reflects the room, the rain and the slowly moving hands of the clock on the wall.

In sudden fear I flinch and take a step back, but he reacts faster. Much faster. I suddenly stand staring down the muzzle of the cold piece of metal right in front of my eyes, just as intently as he is staring at me. I’ve been in many situations like this, but yet it’s different this time. This is impossible. There is no sane reality in which I could be expected to prepare for this. All I can feel now is fear, and my entire body is starting to shake.

”They told me that I am going to rat on them. That they can’t let me into the organization for real because seven years from now, I will sell them out. Don’t you see that you have ruined everything? I’ll never become anything or anyone, and it’s all because of you!” He presses the gun against the side of my head and forces me to my knees.

I almost cannot breathe, let alone speak, but still I force myself to say something between the panicky sobs. ”But… I am you. For fuck sake, can’t you see that? My choices are your goddam choices. Your future fucking choices, that you’ll make for a reason. You can’t be serious about this. Please…”

”They have given me one option, though”, he continues, as if not having heard I word I’d said. “If I find you and whack you before you go to that fucking trial and ruin everything, they’ll let me in. And that’s exactly what I’m doing. Nobody quits.”

I wonder who ”they” are. I wonder if this can really be happening. I wonder what will happen to me, to him, if he pulls the trigger. ”Fucking idiot”, I say as he readies the gun. ”Don’t you rea--”

#

The echo of the shot slowly dies out between the walls of the hidden, anonymous apartment where someone once went in hiding from his past sins -- and where a younger someone later impossibly managed to find himself. Only Freddie Mercury watches on in shocked silence as the impossible unfolds, but being a clock he will never be able to tell anyone what that is.

And the rainy, slow paced Saturday night wears on in that sleepy backwater town, where yesterday’s news stories come back to haunt you long after they’ve been already forgotten by those who once lived them.

Copyright © 2018 Chris Smedbakken

Tuesday
May152018

All Lost In The Mail

 

Sometimes when I passed by the old Foursquare on my daily delivery round I allowed myself to fantasize about how it would look with a fresh layer of white paint and some refurbishment. It must have been beautiful once, with its huge garden and inviting dormer windows. I used to wonder who once lived there, if children had at one point run laughing down the slight slope in the lawn and what boring office positions those children held now. Of course I also wondered what had once caused the old building to be so thoughtlessly abandoned. There was no one to ask, however, since the house had stood empty for as long as anyone could remember.

Imagine my surprise, then, when one day I found in my delivery bag a bundle of envelopes, cards and parcels clearly to be delivered to this very address. I thought about returning it to the post office for redirection at once, but then I thought better of it. I reckoned I should at least try to make the delivery before dismissing it, as was the policy. To be honest I was also secretly excited about finally having an excuse for taking a closer look at the mysterious building.

It was autumn, and the leaves rustled under my feet as I made my way up the garden path towards the structure. The grass, trees and bushes had not seen proper care for a very long time, and  the season’s added effects didn’t do them any favors. I considered making a beat around the house to sate my curiosity, but decided against it. For some reason I felt as if the dark windows were silently watching me, and I felt the excitement from only minutes earlier drain from my body with every step I took. I wanted to be done here, I realized, and looked forward to returning the letters to the office and continuing on my round. To houses more inhabited, friendly and alive.

The porch creaked as I stepped on it. The sound sent shivers down my spine and I stopped and listened. Nothing. One of the dusty lite panels in the front door was broken and the wind made the worn linen door curtain ripple on the inside. I knocked, first cautiously but then decidedly. I would be accused of neither cowardice nor negligence.

”Come in”, a faint voice said, and my heart almost stopped. I considered running, but duty and curiosity got the better of me and instead I opened the door.

Inside, the house was silent and calm. Dust drifted through the air like particles of memory, and the homely but dated furnishing spoke of love and dedication long past. A grey layer covered everything, as if this place had been frozen in time decades ago.

”Anybody home?”

”Here.” That faint voice again, cracked and hollow as that of a phantom – or a very old person not accustomed to using it.

I wound my way through the house and found myself in a small bedroom. The pattern on the wallpapers matched the dried flowers on the windowsill, and everywhere I looked there were old photographs in ornate frames. On the bed lay a woman, her hair white as snow and the shape of her slight body barely showing from under the heavy covers.

I looked down at the bundle in my hand and read the faded address on the topmost envelope. ”Mrs. Lapwing?”, I chanced.

She looked tiredly at me and nodded. ”Yes”, she rasped. ”Are you from the police?”

I shook my head. ”I’m from the post office. I have some letters for you. Where can I put them?”

She smiled faintly, but it was a sad smile. And that’s when I realized she was not looking at me at all. ”Mr. Postman, I’m sorry but I will not be able to read your letters. I’m blind, you see.”

”Oh”, I said, not knowing what to do. ”I’m sorry, I didn’t know that.”

”How could you?” She reached out towards me. ”Maybe you could read the letters to me? That would be wonderful, dear.”

”There are many letters”, I said while quickly thumbing through them. ”Maybe Mr. Lapwing can read them to you? There are letters for him here as well.”

Her hand dropped, and the smile disappeared. ”My husband has been gone for many years, Mr. Postman. He ran away with another woman thirty years ago.”

The silence lasted for several seconds, but for me it felt like far longer than that. ”I’ll read them to you”, I said and sat down in the chair next to her bed. What else could I do?

”Thank you, dear”, she whispered and seemed to relax.

I opened the first envelope and reacted to the old letter stamp. This letter should have been delivered several decades ago. A quick investigation of the rest of the bundle revealed that this was the case with all of them. I cleared my throat.

”These letters are old”, I told her. ”I don’t know why they haven’t been delivered already. This first one was sent back in 1951, and it is from your sister, Ruth.”

”My sister died in the war”, she said blankly.

I skimmed through the letter, the handwriting was not all that easy to read but I managed. ”Well, no. She writes here that she is – was – well and that she’s living together with a kindly man, a fisherman, in Sweden. This is the first letter she has dared to write, and she would like to know if you are alive and well. She wants to come visit you.”

She shook her head slowly. ”Are you sure? Are you sure it is from Ruth?”

”It says so here. And she asks if you remember the kittens, says that she has gotten herself a new one just like the ones you had as children.”

Mrs. Lapwing’s unseeing eyes filled with tears. ”I didn’t know”, she whispered. ”All these years, and I didn’t know.”

”There are more letters from her here”, I said, not knowing what to do. ”She writes that her children are starting school, and that they are moving into a bigger house. She thinks about you often and would love to hear from you.”

The old woman said nothing, so I opened more letters. ”In this one her daughter is getting married. She wants you to be there, but she is afraid that she’s writing these letters to a person long gone. The last letter is not that old, actually… Five years. Well, I guess that’s pretty old as well under these circumstances.”

”Read it”, she mouthed between the tears.

”Here she… Oh.” I paused. ”She is in the hospital. Cancer. The doctors have given her a month, and she’s writing mainly to force herself to accept it. She thinks that you are dead, and she’s glad that she will soon be able to meet you again. This is the last letter from her. I’m sorry.”

Mrs. Lapwing was silent for a long time, her milky eyes staring blindly in front of her. ”What’s in the rest of the letters?”, she said finally.

I didn’t want to do this anymore, but I couldn’t leave her like this. ”There’s one from someone called Becca…”

”My daughter. I haven’t heard from her in twenty years or more.” There was wounded disappointment in her voice.

”It’s from fifteen years ago. To the day, actually. She writes that she has tried calling so many times now that she thinks it’s on you to contact her, if you want to speak. She wants you to know that she and Felicia are happy together, and that no matter what you think about that, she hopes that you will be happy to know that you will soon become a grandmother.”

”A… grandmother? She is having a baby? Together with that woman?”

”I would seem so. There is a phone number here too, if you want to call her.”

”She hasn’t called”, Mr. Lapwing muttered. ”That’s all a lie. I haven’t received any calls for several years.”

I bit my lip. ”That might be due to the… reminders of unpaid phone bills I have here…” I browsed through them. They were old as well, and the final one should have been delivered almost twenty years ago. I felt sick when I realized what this meant. ”The phone company cancelled your number in 1981, you had not payed your bills.”

”But I didn’t get any bills!”, she protested weakly. And she was right. She hadn’t gotten them.

”I’m sorry”, I said. ”There must have been a terrible mix up in the delivery. With all these letters. Of course you will be compensated for –”

”Just read the rest of them, will you Mr. Postman.” She looked defeated, and I guess that’s exactly what she was.

”This one is a letter for Mr. Lapwing. Sent in the early seventies.”

”Around the time when he ran away and left me, then.”

”Well… maybe. Yes, that seems right. The letter is from someone named Susan Green, and it’s very short. She writes that she can’t meet him at the station after all. That she has decided to stay with her family and that it’s over between them.”

”So he didn’t run away with her?”

”No, it doesn’t seem so. But he still sent you divorce papers, they’re here in the next letter.”

”I won’t sign them.”

”No, you don’t have to. Here’s a parcel from the police here as well. They got no answer at the door and couldn’t reach you on the phone. It’s from 1985. Mrs. Lapwing, I’m sorry to say it, but your husband is dead.”

”This whole time? Dead?”

”I’m afraid so.” I lowered my head, but then remember that she couldn’t see me.

”There’s only one letter left. Do you want me to open it? It’s from last year.” She nodded, and I tore open the envelope. ”It’s from Becca.” This instantly caught her attention. ”She writes that everything is great and that she’s starting a new job. There’s a photograph in here, too. It’s of two women and two children. The kids seem to be in their early teens. They are all smiling. One of the women has long, brown hair and –”

”That’s my Becca. Oh my God, that’s my little Becky…”

”There’s the same phone number at the bottom of the page. You could call her.”

She reached for the photograph and I gave it to her. She caressed the glossy surface with her pale fingertips and tears again started falling from her eyes. I knew she couldn’t see the picture at all. ”My little Becky…”

I had no letters left. I rose hesitantly. ”Mrs. Lapwing, I’m sorry but I have to go. I hate to leave you like this, but I have many other houses to visit. And I’m terribly sorry these letters haven’t reached you until now, I understand how horrible this must feel…”

She just continued stroking the picture, and I slowly backed away. ”I will make some calls”, I said. ”I will tell the phone company to come here and fix your phone. And maybe someone from the social services too. To, you know, come check that everything is okay with you. Help you out with things around here.”

I paused at the door, but got no response. ”Of course I will report this terrible misconduct to the post office, too. Things like this shouldn’t happen. Ever.”

I hated myself when I turned my back on her and left the house the same way as I had come, my delivery bag much lighter but my heart significantly heavier.

I borrowed a phone in the next house over and made the calls I had promised to make, and some more I came to think of as I did so. Mrs. Lapwing had suffered terribly at the hands of the system. It was almost as if the entire establishment had gone out of its way to conspire against her. But now, finally, everything would be put right. I had seen to that.

I completed my round in less than an hour, and decided to double back on my route back to the office. I wanted to make sure that someone had heeded my reports and gone to check on the poor Mrs. Lapwing. And quite correctly, when I approached the old house I could see several police cars on the driveway and by the street in front of it. There was also an ambulance, and I was instantly worried.

I ran up to one of the officers. He had just finished a phone call and put the phone back in his pocket. ”Excuse me”, I said. ”But I was the one who called earlier. About Mrs. Lapwing. How is she?”

The officer looked me up and down and frowned. ”So you’re the one who called? Good, I know some people who would like a serious word with you. We got the impression that the woman was alive.”

My worry and guilt peaked. ”Oh my god, isn’t she? I was only gone for a hour, and –”

”What are you talking about?”, the officer said. ”It’s good that she was found finally, but we don’t appreciate being lied to. This woman has been dead for several years. If you would please come with me here…”

I followed. And as I did so, I again let my eyes wander towards the old house. The dark windows watched unblinkingly and in silence as the covered stretcher was carried out into the autumn air, leaving the house again to its quiet calm, memories of laughter and sorrow and long forgotten secrets.

Copyright © 2015 Chris Smedbakken

The same text can also be found here.

 

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