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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
Sep262017

How to Write a Definite Bestseller

After quite a miserable life Mr. Collins was sent to Hell to atone for his sins.

It so happens that no matter how long is the period of time you actually spend in that steaming place, it is perceived by all on the inside as at least thirty years. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know why.

Anyways, it so turned out that for Mr. Collins, the Purgatory was really not that bad. Not worse than the stinking life he’d led on the surface, at least. So while the torture and burning and lashing and flaying wore on, Mr. Collins used the massive amount of relatively passive time to think. And after years of thinking he got the idea for a book. A book so innovative and fresh thinking that it would without question be the best book in the world – if it was ever written, that is.

Decades after his arrival in Hell, a plump man in a gray suit approached him on the rack. He wore an apologetic look and insisted on shaking hands, even though Mr. Collins’ hands were rather… sticky. He explained that regretfully, there had been a minor misunderstanding concerning Mr. Collin’s lodgings, and that of course they would see to it that he was properly compensated for his unnecessary suffering. Obviously this situation was very embarrassing for the family company, and they would appreciate it if he didn’t speak of the incident to his friends.

It was arranged so that he was sent back to earth with a full refunding and a promise of a long and pleasant Second Life as a small but oh, so well meaning apology for the conceivable complications caused by this error on the company’s behalf.

Mr. Collins shrugged and went home, only to discover that his house had been sold in an executive auction during his absence. So he checked into a hotel and started writing his book by hand on copier paper. Three weeks later he finished and could conclude that it really did turn out the best book in the world. The hotel porter, after a quick review, could confirm that this was unquestionably the case.

The manuscript was sent to several major publishing houses, all of which returned within short, completely afire with enthusiasm for what they labeled “the potential bestseller of the century”. All made Mr. Collins juicy offers, but he settled with the one that, among other things, offered him a lifetime subscription of the New York Times and a well bred puppy of his own choice. He didn’t have very high demands on his Second Life.

He moved into a nice villa overlooking Toluca Lake and lived very happily there for the rest of his life. He attracted many fans who had read the Book, and met more women in one year than he had talked to during the whole of his First Life – but he only married one of them. He never wrote another book, and he didn’t go back to Hell.

***

Ms. Morris found a copy of the best book in the world lying on top of her kitchen table one day. She read it in lack of better occupation, and then read it again. And again. She felt that it really fulfilled its promise about strengthening the reader in taking hold of her own life and granting her the tools to follow her own dreams. That’s why she sneaked out of the house the next day and headed for the city.

She had a clear picture in mind of just what parts of herself she wanted to change and how, and it didn’t take her long to find the people who could help her with that. The kindly doctor at the plastic surgery clinic was careful to let her understand that they usually did not do cats, but that for such a charming lady as herself they would be sure to make an exception.

A few hours later she walked out of the clinic, happily testing out her new, very own, dashing woman’s legs. Dressed in some borrowed clothes she set out to explore the city from a somewhat higher point of view than usual. She attracted many impressed looks and would soon find that her new life was to be a pleasant one. The only thing she would have to work a little on was her skittish and feline nature, that seemed not always to fit in with the way that humans expected a young woman to behave. Except for that, she was very happy with her decision to change. And all thanks to the best book in the world

***

Chris Larkman was a sorry figure until he passed by the bookstore one rainy day by chance, and happened to pick up a copy of the best book in the world. He was a slow reader, but a week later he quit his job as a public toilet cleaner and started working on his very own solo album as a singer-songwriter. It just so happened that the owner of one of the major record companies had finished reading the very same book only the night before Chris’ ill recorded demo was sent to him. The book had touched him in a weak spot, and had made him decide to start taking more risks with new talents instead of just betting on the safe old horses. As it turned out, this was a very profitable bet. You have probably heard of Chris – under another name, of course – since he is now one of the leading pop musicians of our time. To think that we would have missed out on him if it weren’t for the best book in the world!

***

Mrs. Louis drove her car to work every day. Until the day she read the best book in the world, that is. After that, she sold her Ford and instead bought herself a nice, blue bike. Now she goes by bicycle to work everyday, and is starting to consider participating in her area’s big bicycle race next summer. She doesn’t even know she was running a high risk for diabetes before she started exercising, and now she will never have to find that out, either. Thanks to the book.

***

Ted was being bullied at school by a boy a year older than him. As a last resort to cheer him up, his mother borrowed him a copy of the best book in the world from the local library. He was a lonely kid, so he finished it in one day. The next day he went to school hell-bent on striking back. Funny thing is, though, that the bully – Jim, he was called – had been reading the book too. He answered Ted’s wallop with not another blow, but with an apology. Today they are best friends. What a great book, huh?

***

Ms. Jamieson finally got herself an apartment of her own. Jack Finnings broke up with his abusive wife and started dating a top model. Simon Curtis chose the police academy instead of the safer but more boring economy program that his parents recommended. Lisa Watson started her own fight club, went to jail for it and met the love of her life behind the bars. Jill practiced for weeks and at last managed to beat the district record in Counter Strike. Mrs. Henrikson finally finished the oil painting she began when she was in junior high, forty years earlier. The book changed the lives of all who read it, and always to the better in some strange way. It made everyone happy that it came in contact with.

***

Except, of course, for God. God started worrying when his angels began complaining about job scarcity, and when even the easy-going Raphael mentioned that he’d been suffering from boredom lately, God decided to look into the affair. It turned out that the phrase “God helps those who help themselves” doesn’t really work out in practice – at least not for the heavenly party. Well, it certainly makes Heaven’s work a whole lot easier if some people just stop complaining and do something about their problems themselves, but it is another thing completely if all people suddenly decide to help themselves. That makes God feel obsolete and supernumerary. And that isn’t a good thing. Unfortunately, that is just what the best book in the world managed to accomplish.

That’s why God banished the book from Earth and let his vengeful angels throw it into Hell, lest they go on strike and force the Lord to go into the troublesome business of sorting out a celestial rising.

The best book in the world was returned to where its idea was first conceived, ’cause even though its contents was very much in line with the supernal, it was also doing its work for it. Nobody ever read the book again, except for the sorry souls in Hades, of course. And I’m sure they found it very useful. But the lives that had already been changed by it remained so, and the Nether Family Company greatly enjoyed this little haphazard consequence of their precedent malpractice – that was by the way completely forgotten thanks to this chain of events. So advantageous was the minor chaos caused by the book, in fact, that they did not back away from the possibility of some day staging another, similar, practical joke on Heaven.

Who knows where next year’s top ranking novel was written?

Copyright © 2017 Chris Smedbakken

Wednesday
Jul192017

Every Cat But Mine 

I was amazed, of course. Maya poured me some more tea and underlined what she had just said with a gesture towards the desk in the corner. I could see a pair of fuzzy ears protruding from behind the monitor, but otherwise I would never have guessed who was sitting there, hammering away at the keyboard like a pro.

”Oh, and the only reason I even bothered to make this tea myself is that Morris is monitoring the stock market right now”, she said apologetically. ”I’m not even interested in that shit, but hell I’m not complaining. I expect him to pull that off just as well as he did that phone call to talk me out of those parking tickets from last week. Those people really can’t handle arguing with a cat.”

I nodded and drank my tea. The brew Morris made was much better, but I didn’t mind. I hadn’t gotten entirely used to this thing with a cat making my tea yet anyhow, and Maya’s attempt wasn’t that bad. ”Yeah, I heard Anderson’s Tanis has taken to repairing the neighbourhood’s cars. I didn’t even know there’s cat sized tools for that yet.”

”Nah, there isn’t. I’ve checked. But Tanis makes them himself from stuff he orders from Ebay. He’s quite the Cat Gyver, that one. I wish Morris was more practical like that.” She cast a fond look towards the corner, where a furry paw just reached into a water bowl and retrieved a few drops before vanishing behind the monitor again. ”Don’t listen to me. Morris is the cat of my life and I wouldn’t trade him for anything.”

I finished my tea and excused myself. In contrast to everyone else nowadays, ever since the Thing happened and the cats suddenly started pulling their weight, I still had to do my own chores and make my own phonecalls. I even had to repark my own car, I noted sourly as I observed Maya’s neighbour cat, Holiday, getting out of the family’s red Kia after moving it a couple of yards down the lane. I got into my own bucket, which started on the third try. I wished, not for the first time, that Mr. Bruce as well would rise to the occasion and learn some mechanic skills, just like Tanis.

On my way home I took note of just how different everything was now, compared to before. There were cats everywhere, doing stuff not even people were expected to be doing on such a regular basis. I could see felines taking out garbage, watching small children, shopping for groceries, painting houses, walking dogs… I even thought I saw a tabby driving past in a police car, but that must have been my nerves playing tricks on me. Right? The headlines were full of amazing stories where furry kittens rescued families from poverty by building shelters and malkins directed blockbuster movies. Of course it was mind blowing, but it also made me irritated. Why could not I, too, be allowed to reap the fruits of this fantastic turn of events?

I arrived home, where I parked my sorry vehicle in the over grown driveway and made my way across the unkempt lawn to the door. The house was in dire need of a new layer of paint, and there were several bags of garbage sitting on the porch. I sighed. It was all good and well that Maya and everyone else got so much help with everything, but I still had to do it all by myself. I opened the door and immediately grew even more irritated. Couldn’t Mr. Bruce at least come tripping to the door and greet me like a normal cat, if he wouldn’t make himself useful in any other way? ”Hello?”, I called, but still no reaction. I sighed again, heavier this time, put the heavy bag of groceries on the kitchen table and began to unpack it.

”Good”, a low pitched voice called from the living room. ”Put the Whiskas in a bowl – the large one – and bring it here. Oh, and I want some coke too.”

I almost lost it, but clenched my teeth and tried to stay calm as I walked into the living room. I stopped in the doorway. ”Can’t you at least pretend to be useful around here when I’m away?”

Mr. Bruce looked away from the screen for only a couple of seconds, gave me one of those disgusted faces that was his specialty and then returned his full attention to the match of Team Fortress 2 he was currently playing. ”Bitch please”, he said. ”What d’you think I am, a dog?”

And I just shook my head and went back into the kitchen to continue doing what had to be done around here, all by myself. Just as usual.

Copyright © 2017 Chris Smedbakken

This story was written in reply to a writing prompt that said “Cats around the world start doing strange things, like doing their owners taxes or getting part time jobs to earn them money. Your cat, however, is incredibly special in that it does absolutely nothing interesting. Ever”.

The same text can also be found at Chris's blog These Grands of Sand by clicking here.