Transfusium

(First published on Short Fiction Break magazine.) https://shortfictionbreak.com/transfusium/

Leafless November trees arched over the path, lifeless yet alive, as my siblings and I approached the Baron’s estate. Gretchen’s thirteen-year-old face looked cheerful as she tested the bow in her hair. Peter, eleven, played with a curtain’s tassel that swung from the carriage window.

Miss Ostrom slapped Peter’s hand. “Don’t force me to take you back to the orphanage.” She skewered us with her eyes. “Behave!”

Our fear of her shook us like the trot of the horses over the ruts of the road. I looked forward with hope to the secluded mansion that drew nearer.

We turned into a deep circular driveway. The wheels hissed through the gravel before the carriage came to a halt. The ponderous coachman’s exit rocked the carriage. His steps threshed the stones with the long stride of a tall man. We climbed out and he stood before us. His grey, tired skin hung from a strong frame. His cheekbones stabbed outward like the hips of an old horse, under deep-set irritated eyes. He turned his slumped, heavy shoulders and walked toward the mansion.

“Children? Prepare to greet your new master.” Miss Ostrom nodded. Her pointed chin had the menacing promise of a ruler striking my knuckles.

I tilted my head back and viewed the magnitude of the gothic fortress. Dark lichen-splotched sandstone blocks rose skyward. At its highest, the walls seemed to lean over me against the passing clouds. The windows mirrored the blackened stone like the many eyes of a spider.

Three Doberman Pinschers appeared from the right side of the mansion. They whined with excitement, stopping near the Coachman. The largest of the dogs took sight of me. Its elation faded with a low baritone growl.

“Good, Petra.” The driver patted the beast.

The man pounded an iron ring suspended from a lion’s mouth upon a reinforced door; the reverberation quieted the animals.

The entrance opened wide, revealing a stout, apron-clad woman. Near her, a frail elderly man rested in a wicker wheelchair that reclined like a chaise lounge. Behind him, a magnificent staircase spiraled upward. The Coachman walked inside and stepped behind the chair. He took it by its rear handles and pushed it forward. The large spoked tires squeaked with a pitch from which the dogs retreated.

Miss Ostrom ushered us to the doorway. The smell of sour cabbage soup drifted out.

She extended a hand. “This is the Baron Roskavarni. You are fortunate to have such a wealthy master to take you in.”

The Baron’s thin-skinned hand emerged from under a blanket stretched over his knees. His crooked finger motioned us in. “Come close, let me look at my gifts.”

We stepped forward as the woman stretched out a muscular arm toward Miss Ostrom. For once, since the death of our parents, I felt free from her grip.

“Have the Stable Groom take her back,” the old man commanded. He glanced up and back at the Coachman. “You’ve performed well, Burkhart.”

The burly woman pushed Miss Ostrom out. The light faded, and the bolts latched.

The Baron clasped his palms as if sitting before a feast. “Take the two young ones for supper, Magdalena.” He pursed his lips with discernment, reading me through cloudy cataracts. “What is your age, young man?”

“Fourteen, the April last,” I answered as the woman drew my siblings away. I watched them vanish through a great sitting room decorated with portraits and heraldic shields.

The Baron inhaled as if sniffing a blossom. “Ah, to be fourteen again.” His milky marbles rolled in their sockets, calculating as he wrung his hands. He lifted a pointed finger. “Der Transfusium!”

Jawhol, Herr,” Burkardt answered. He then bore into me with a hawkish gaze. “This way, Erik.”

***

We entered a room, mahogany-paneled and book-pillared, elegant but musty. A wide band of sunlight entered at a sharp angle. It lit the room and held captive infinite specks of dust. Our movements hurled invisible whirlwinds, sending this nebula into chaos.

Burkhart turned the Baron around and wheeled him back next to a system of glass cylindrical chambers on polished brass pedestals. Rubber tubes hung from a suspension above them, and over an elegant armchair on the other side.

Schnell! Schnell!” the Baron demanded like a spoiled child as Burkhart marched toward me with the fortitude of an angry schoolmaster. From under my arm, he lifted me like I was a coat to be hung up.

He seated me with a harsh thrust into the chair, then secured me with a belt across my chest. He bound my wrists to the arms of the chair. A putrid odor emanated from his body. 

A sinking dread filled me. “What did I do wrong?” I cried.

A mechanical winding sound intensified, as armatures with bizarre lights flashed from behind. It cast our twisted shadows against the wall in front of us, like spirits escaping our bodies. Burkhart’s ghostly image rose upward and back across the ceiling. His phantom arms flailed like tentacles as he operated the strange apparatus.

The Baron writhed with pain but then smiled after Burkhart slid long needles into the old man’s arms. He then turned to me with needles in hand. I wrenched against the straps, knowing his intentions.

In between us and under the glass cylinders, an accordion-like bladder rose and fell with respiration. A suction tugged at me with each gulp of air it commanded. The chamber next to me filled with bright red blood in spurts that matched the throb of the breathing machine. The Baron’s was a vile brown that oozed like gravy. A tube extending from it led to my right arm. My mind swirled, and all went black.

***

I awoke with the fear of a nightmare. The glow of a candle now replaced the swatch of natural light. The Baron stood. No longer a sickly man, he rubbed his arm above a clenched fist, “You are a rhapsody of vitality.”

“What did you do to me?” I demanded with the little strength I had left.

He rolled a shirt sleeve down and gave a knowing nod to Burkhart, who exited.

A horrid image flashed within me; a boy, boney and limp. His body tossed into a shallow pit, like a rag doll. His limbs twisted like the strands of a wet mop. Facedown, he flopped before shovels of dirt splashed over him.

“Agh!” I exhaled. My eyes searched the room for an explanation. A trickle of sweat bled from my scalp.

“Shush.” The Baron placed a finger to his lips. “I see you are already experiencing my memories. Oh, Erik, the things I have accomplished, and you will live them over again as Burkhart has.”

The sound of a chamber orchestra played in my head. A vision of an elegant woman wearing a gown flashed before me. She smiled with a promise of love. Then the music stopped, and she lay across a bed. A scream filled my ears. Bare bosom, and with bulging eyes, veiny hands clutched her neck.

“Stop choking her!” I cried as my eyes must have stared somewhere beyond.

“Ah, the Viscountess Von Schlägl, perhaps?” The Baron frowned with pity. “I am not proud of everything I have done.” Then he shrugged. “Some of which I have forgotten… It has been so many millennia.” His sadness faded. “But, I feel your youth and optimism coursing through me, now.” He raised a fist. “Fantastisch!”

The Baron paced. “I understand Petra has taken a dislike to you. I doubt you could reach the gate before she had you by the throat… But, if you made it… Boys are clever that way, you would end up in the hands of Miss Ostrom once again, which would lead you back to me.”

“Please, don’t hurt my sister and brother,” I sobbed, looking downward.

The Baron paused. “Yes, little, Peter,”—he side glanced—”who would have to take your place if you vanished.” He blinked with satisfaction. “And, sweet Gretchen, she’s almost a woman, you know.” He leaned toward me with crystal clear eyes. “Don’t give me a reason to use them!”

I bobbed my head in agreement, fighting down the sickness of his rotten blood.

“That’s better,” the Baron answered. “You need your strength, or should I say… I need it.”

My jaw gaped and my innocence flew from my throat with a prolonged howling shriek that echoed through the mansion.

The child in me died. I slumped in the chair. My limbs, like those of the trees, hung lifeless yet alive as the Baron removed my straps.

“This is only the beginning.” He took a deep breath. “Ah, cabbage soup, it purifies the blood.” The Baron placed a gentle hand upon my shoulder. “You will come to accept it as they all have. Now, you must eat, for we will be together for many years… And one day, you will take Burkhart’s place.”

The Joy

I returned from the war in Europe. It was over. Yet strangely, the numbness that accompanied me through the hardest times still lingered. The blankness of emotion that was in some ways a shield against the insanity still enveloped me. 

Only in my dreams did an unsettling feeling arise, a drowning sensation that woke me from my sleep. A dream that always ended the same, trapped in a tank like a fish, staring out into a room distorted by the glass that held me, prisoner.  

I traveled home without a feeling of purpose. Rather, an internal drive like a homing-pigeon tugged at me.

I looked out from the bus window. Numb from the horror of war, I thought. 

Shell-shocked, that’s what they called it. 

The view from the window of the bus resembled the landscape of the French countryside I traveled through from northern France. And though some soldiers laughed freely, there were others that stared out of their window in quiet contemplation. I was neither of those. 

I placed my hand upon the pane of glass. It filled me with a terror that I could not explain except to say that it resembled my dreams.

#

In my small town, I departed the bus. A friendly-faced man reading a newspaper looked up with a smile, “Ian.”

He folded the paper under his arm and stood straight from the car he leaned against. The side of the car read “TAXI,” in large letters.

“Well, isn’t it a pleasure, boy,” Said he, as he walked closer.

I smiled, more as a reflex than from friendship. I know him, I thought, if it was only the smile which told me so. He grabbed my bag and placed it in the rear seat and then opened the passenger door. I only knew to sit, but nothing else.

“Boy, they’ll be happy to see you.” He said after the doors shut. We drove away through what I knew to be familiar streets, but with the rememberance of a postcard.

“We got a new clock there in front of the bank,” He said as he took a toothpick from his mouth and pointed. The convex windshield distorted the objects as they passed by its furthest edge. A sickening feeling stirred in me. 

“Your mother will be overjoyed.”

Mother, yes, my mother, I remember now.

For the first time in two years, I smiled, then looked at the driver, “Yes, my mother.” Then, back through the windshield where my smile faded.

We stopped in front of a home, “This one’s on me Ian, I doubt you’re loaded with cash.”

“Yeah, right, thanks, uh…”

I stepped from the car as the driver, whom I could not place a name, pulled my duffle bag from the rear seat and dropped it on the curb.

He tipped his hat and there was a moment of silence, “Well, it’s good you’re back. Ya look a little tired,” He said with a smirk. “I suppose I’ll see ya around.” With that, he sat in the car and drove away.

#

I stood near the street and gazed up the pathway to the house. Again, this home and street of my childhood provided no memory. 

I grew up in this house. This is where I lived.

A sudden fear rose in me, suffocating, drowning. I closed my eyes to stop nausea that lumped below my throat. 

Something bad happened, tied, screams, splashing caustic water. 

I struggled to breathe as I felt pushed below the surface of a murky tank of evil-smelly liquid.

My eyes sprung open. My heart raced as I felt something of an animal’s instinct to flee, yet there was that drive to move forward. I knew this to be my truth, the purpose of my journey.

It’s my imagination, I told myself.

I approached the home. The quiet street, the trees, the gardens, all the colors were as I imagined, but only at the moment, I saw them. A breeze blew past with a faint sense of familiarity, of knowing what it was, but without memory. Zombie-like, I stepped forward with an emptiness, tired and numb. 

In front of the home, I stopped. The house was picturesque as if unspoiled by the world that had pulled itself apart.

Two years of fighting in a war, what did it do to me? 

For a moment, I pictured a boy that cheerfully waved goodbye to a family so many years before. When exactly that was, I was unsure. Something blurred the faces, their bodies were formless.

I took a deep breath and stepped up to the front entrance. As if outside of my body, I watched my hand rise and knock upon the door. A tingle of anticipation quivered through me with a notion of the old wooden door creaking. I closed my eyes and imagined the exact time it took for the door to open. I waited, and there was a call from inside the home, “Coming.” 

A woman opened the door, flowery dressed and bosomy, gray-haired and scarfed, with a kind smile and wearing glasses.

Had things changed?

Our eyes met. And though I could see the regret in her face, I knew it was because of the pain in mine. 

She stepped back and pulled the door wider. Her head tilted sideways with an encouraging grin. 

I dropped my bag inside the door as I entered, but felt nothing as the woman embraced me. I followed her direction, and she closed the door behind me, “Oh dear, you’ve lost it, tsk, tsk,” she sucked her teeth. “Your skin is lifeless, and your eyes have sunken. You look near death, my son.”

“Mother?” I questioned.

“Yes, my boy, you still remember a bit.” 

I looked at her, straining to make a connection. 

Mother.

“Oh, you’ve nearly lost it. We’ll just have to get you that joy back. Oh, I’m so happy you’re home. I’ll make you something to eat, my dear. Just come in and relax.”

She pulled me by the arm and lead me to a sitting room. 

“That war is over, it’s over.” She demanded.

My eyes became teary. The sound of her voice, the aroma of the home, all meant something, but what?

“Mother,” I repeated with certainty.

“Oh, my dear boy, yes?” she asked with a coo in her voice. 

I stood silently, satisfied that she answered. 

With her hands on her hips, she shook her head, “You must have finished that bottle I sent you long ago. Just relax, no worries now, I’ll have you back to your old self in no time.” 

She scampered to the kitchen. Her hefty hips rumbled under her flowery dress. She muttered unintelligible sentences that included names I had once heard, “The Taylor’s sold their house and that Conners girl was asking about you since her brother Tom returned home.” She continued about uncles and cousins that I could make no connection between.

I replied short and cordial, “Oh, ok.”

“I’ll be down in the cellar,” she called out.

“Ok, sure,” I answered as her steps faded into an underground space I faintly remembered. I followed the circumference of the room with my eyes and reacquainted myself with the furniture and photos. I stepped near the mantel. Above a fireplace that showed no sign of use. A picture of two men and a boy caught my attention. I put my finger to the boy’s face. 

It’s me. Yes, they must be my father and uncle. 

Next to this photo was another, and then another, sequentially older. The black and white photographs provided an impulse of memories but seemed superficial.

Bungling movements in the cellar space below grabbed my attention. I walked to a doorway in the kitchen and called down, “Mother. Do you need help?” 

“No, no, I’ll be right up. Stay up there. Just take your things to your room. I’ll just be a few minutes.”

I stepped back through the house that led me to a small hallway with many closed doors. I turned the handle on the first. It creaked open to reveal a boy’s room.

This is my bedroom.

In the doorway, I stopped to look, then walked in. I dropped my bag on the floor and looked around the room to see a baseball, a model boat, some books on a desk, and a bed that was neat and unused. 

The old days, the old ways, the joy, yes, joy. I remember that word.

I sat on the bed and stared at the neatly placed things about the room, the ball, the bat, the boat. Each item had a story I could not remember, but there was an impulse to remember. 

Why are these things important to me?

I held the boat and looked upon it. It was a child’s toy. That was all. I set it down and looked at each object with the same emptiness.

“Oh, Ian darling? Help me set the table.” My mother called.

I stood and walked back through the house, remembering the boat. I wiped my brow, blinking and dazed, then put two plates on the table from a stack she handed me.

“Better set two more. Your father will be home soon and your uncle George might stop by.”

“Father?” 

Yes, my Father, why didn’t I ask earlier? 

I remembered the picture on the mantel.

“I can’t wait. How is dad?”

“Oh, he’s just fine. He hasn’t changed a bit.”

“Oh, joy!” I said aloud.

Mother turned with a bright smile. “Yes, you remember now, son, the joy. Here, sit, have some soup, and feel the joy come back.”

I sat. In front of me, she placed a bowl of soup and a spoon.

“Now when you’re done, don’t forget to drink the broth, drink it all down like a good boy.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

I held the spoon I felt I had held countless times before. The curve of the neck and shaft fit into my hand with body memory. I submerged it into the murky broth and lifted a spoonful to my lips, with closed eyes. I could smell a briny sour aroma waft up into my face before I sipped. The taste was unique yet familiar. It was singular in dimension, yet salty, meaty, and ambiguously decayed. My first instinct was to choke it off. I opened my eyes only to see my mother patiently waiting for me to swallow.

“That’s it, take it all down.”

Her request drove me forward. In her guiding moments, I had another and another spoonful until I was tipping the bowl for its last drops. 

I sat the bowl down with a clack, “Oh, I’m full. That was wonderful… The joy.” I said as I held my hand over my belly.

“Yes, yes, that’s right. Now, why don’t you lay down and I’ll call you when everyone gets here.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I mumbled, then stood.

My numbness retreated as I walked back to the bedroom. There I sat on the bed before laying down and picked up the boat. I held it close to my face with curiosity. Deep inside the ship’s deck, I could visualize myself with others as if I was there, all of us together aboard a boat. Each one of us going about tasks. Casting lines, steering, and hoisting sails. 

Yes, I remember it now.

I set the model down as a queer smile grew upon my face. I lay back and fell into a grand slumber the moment my head sunk into the pillow. I dreamt a twilight night of dreams. For once in years, my thoughts were not those of drowning but of hopes and desires. 

I awoke and sat up cheerful, alert, and optimistic. The light from the window had shifted. I knew a considerable time had passed.

What dreams, I thought as I placed my hands over my abdomen with fingers locked. I looked around the room at the things of my childhood and smiled at the bountiful memories they brought. Then, stood and walked to the bedroom door. Beyond, I heard the gleeful laughs and conversations of many people. I pushed the door open and ahead of me were my father and uncle from the photo. Children danced and ran about.

“Come here, my boy! Come here and give your dad a hug!” A barrel-chested man sang with a baritone voice.

Eagerly I hurried to him and indulged my father’s whim and received not just one hug, but another from my uncle as well. All felt warm from the gaiety of the moment. My mother commented on the spirit of it, “Oh, it’s back in you again. It’s back.”

Everyone beamed with happiness and told stories of family splendor. I looked into my mother’s face. She was as happy and young as I had ever remembered her. I now recalled her radiance and everlasting beauty, the same as when I was a young boy. Everyone sang in harmony, “oh the joy, oh, the joy.”

My father exited the basement with champagne bottles. Glasses were poured for all, even the young ones had a taste. My mother ladled soup into bowls around the dining room table and everyone sat sipping the soup and then stood drinking champagne and still others danced about.

So filled with merriment, I spun off into the kitchen where I found my champagne glass empty. I turned to look for a bottle and then entered the cellar where I remembered father had brought them up. I could not recall the way, but carefully I made my descent down the dark steps. A cool wet breeze blew from the rear and I followed the earthy moist ventilation. I fumbled for a light switch and recalled a dangling string with a cap on its end, a light that hung from the center of the cellar’s one large room.

Upstairs, the festivities carried over into the space below. The lumbering steps of my family resounded and the words of “Oh the joy,” were ever-present like a chant.

I found the string and tugged it. The flash of light was blinding, and I covered my eyes. As I slowly opened my fingers, my eyes adjusted. Oddly, I could not adjust my sight to what stood before me. At the back of the room, gargantuan pickle jars lined the wall. 

Electrified with fear, I shrieked. A paroxysm similar to looking out of the taxi window, but ten times greater, overwhelmed me. As horrifying as it was, I could not look away. From inside the jars looking out were tortured faces floating within the murky brine; ghoulish expressions bent in the glass’s curvature.

What kind of monstrous thing is this? It can’t be real.

Slowly, the faces looked familiar. My legs weakened, and I turned away when I realized these were the faces of everyone I loved. My father, my mother, my uncle, and cousins, and worst of all myself, all stared back at me. Many had open mouths that held a drowning scream and the one like me floated with hands clawing at the glass. Strangely, the figures appeared younger and dressed in clothing from an earlier time.

I held my hands out in front of my face to question my existence. 

If my parents are here… then who is up there, and who am I? 

I spun from dizziness and struggled to stand.

My ears rang as my heart pounded in a panic. I turned completely away in disbelief. In doing so, I saw my mother and father standing before me at the bottom of the steps in solidarity, hand in hand.

“You weren’t supposed to see this yet,” my mother said in her sweet voice. “This is the joy. This is all of their happiness and life bottled up, preserved in jars that will keep us alive and happy for many years to come,” she glanced at my father, then looked down at their hands that embraced, “You don’t need to trouble yourself with this right now. We’ll tell you everything when the time is right.”

Slowly, they stepped toward me. I was torn between them nearing me or walking back against the jars. I froze and closed my eyes. Then, with nowhere to go, my legs folded, and I slowly crouched to the floor, quivering with fear. As I held my breath, they cradled me in a smothering hug and lifted me up.

“Everything is going to be fine, son,” my father said confidently as his strong hands urged me to stand, “Let’s go back upstairs.”

They steered me toward the steps, and my mother’s calm voice spoke words of encouragement. Again, I felt numb, not from emptiness, but with the truth, with the completeness of everything which finally made sense. We climbed up the stairs as my mother’s warm hand led the way. My father grabbed two bottles of champagne and something of a calm normalness happened between us. Above, we reentered the dining room. There, I was once again surrounded by what I believed to be my loving family. The young cousins continued to play, and I pretended to play along as best I could. We toasted to life and everyone around me reveled in the moment’s joy and slowly I resigned to the idea that I was one of them, whatever that was.

###

Follow My Frozen Heart

My face freezes as I peer out from my mountain cave overlooking the village. The cold seizes me with shivers as my breaths quiver from sadness and anger.

The village glows through the falling snow that ever thickens. I can’t tell if I am numb from cold or grief as I peek down below at the cozy cottages resembling the embers of my fire.

Where my home sits at the edge of the forest, there are no lights. I can picture my mother laying in her bed. 

If only I had said I loved her.

My small fire pops and crackles with white flames. I sit back and poke the wood that glows orange through charred patches.

My cave is only big enough for me, but there is only me. The sides are rough and the opening is narrow. I stare out through its mouth and into a starless black. Around it, the windswept shards of accumulating ice point horizontal like teeth. Bit by bit, they grow and threaten to close as hunger and loneliness gnaw at me.

They must be searching for me. 

They won’t look far. Only a fool would leave the safety of a home in this weather, but I did.

You can’t take it back.

He deserved it. I had to do it. Everyone owed him. They should thank me, but they’ll hang me.

The fire.

With my last stick, I push the glowing parts together and then throw it in. I pull my feet close, my knees to my chest, and hide my face beneath my collar. My fingers clench, hidden in my coat sleeves. I shiver and weep for my mother, who I will never see again.

Oh, mama, I miss you.

“It’s not fair!” I cry out, but nobody can hear me as I sit against the back of my hideaway and look into my small fire that shimmers. It wavers from the gusts of frigid air that carries ice crystals from the storm. 

Blackened lines and spots are etched into the burning sticks. They resemble archaic writing on ancient scrolls. Their stories unfold as the heat scorches and shrinks the branches, releasing their memories.

I stare into the fluttering flames that dance upon the shrinking pieces of wood and drift into my memory of what happened.

***

My father made a life for us, herding goats. My mother made cheese. Now, at fourteen, I tended the goats and milked them while my father only sat and watched us. 

As we prospered, he disappeared at night. My mother said nothing, but became distant and sulked. A coldness grew between them. I often awoke to angry shouts that ended with a slammed door, and my father’s steps disappearing outside. My heart ached with a pain I could not understand.

My mother loved me, I knew this above anything else and I was her little boy. Though I was becoming a man, I cherished her touch on my cheek and the love she cooked into every meal like I was still a child. 

I escaped on mountain strolls, tending the goats. With only a walking stick and a knife, I would visit my secret place and daydream. Here I could vanish from the pain.

Upon my last return home, a large man stood at the door. Gundersen, the fat financier, stood with a smile of sadistic pleasure in a large fur coat and boots. My mother crumbled to her knees as she wept. I stood speechless as he held out a note of promise in front of our faces. My father borrowed against the farm and lost it.

A stabbing pain struck my gut as my mother released a horrid unnatural cry. Distraught, her eyes stared wildly and she stumbled to her bedroom, holding her arms over her chest in pain. Gundersen left and promised to return the next day. 

I stood alone in our cottage, petrified. The fear of Gundersen’s return was a nightmare.

Where will we go? What will we do?

I fell asleep, waiting for my father, who never returned.

The next morning I awoke to the bitter cold. Snow set on the window sills as a frosty powder misted in under the front door. A fire had not been started and everything seemed frozen from the horrific news of the previous day.

I entered my mother’s room where she lay in bed.

“Mother,” I whispered and stepped near. She didn’t move but lay pristine and angelic. I hesitated to wake her, but we had to go on. 

I put my hand to her shoulder. It felt rigid and I pulled my hand back. I reached out again. Her body was stiff. A strange sensation quivered through me, a paralyzing fear, followed by nausea. I sank with weakness but wanted to run. The sole anchor to life, my mother, was dead.

My mind swirled and I stepped back out from the room. In a panic, I ran from the home and staggered into the nearby woods. The world spun around me. I grasped the trunk of a tree, the only thing that stood strong. My feet stung with a fringed bite as I hugged this unmovable thing. The world stopped spinning and it filled me with an impulse to return.

I crept into the icy cottage. It now appeared as a replica of the place I once lived. Everything was frozen in time. Above a dormant fire pit, a cold iron pot with the last meal my mother cooked hung from a blackened bar. An emptiness tugged at my stomach, but the thought of food sickened me. 

I could not eat and I could not enter my mother’s room but tinkered with the thought she would emerge. Again and again, my mind rehearsed the moment only to swirl downward in despair knowing that she died feeling unloved. This overwhelmed me until my agony gave way to pure and corporeal hatred. My heart froze, my life ceased. Then, as if reborn, I saw beyond this crippling sadness. Though my father was to blame, Gundersen was at the heart of my hatred. His repugnant smile begged for revenge.

The snow continued. The cottage became colder. My breath fogged with the wickedness of death. I paced the front room holding my knife as I filled with rage. Then, I wandered out into the blank slate of wintery white.

Snow crunched under my steps as I ventured through the village. The homes glowed with fireplaces while the windows flashed with signs of life, laughing, singing, and some silent shadows.

I was but a shadow now. A figment that lived through the one motivation that filled my body, revenge. All sense of fear left me. Revenge burned within me. It was a wicked warmth, burning with anger. There was nothing else.

I stopped at the home of Gundersen and stood upon the landing before his front door. With my knife in hand, I waited and stared forward. As I knocked, a baritone voice surprised me from behind.

“I am here, boy.”

I turned around to the sight of the rotund man who stirred from drunkenness. Like an involuntary reflex, my arm thrust forward. The knife slid into his belly. I had the sensation of watching it happen from outside my body. My hand retracted and he fell to his knees, facing me with a howling expression of surprise. Again, the knife lunged forward and slid upward through his throat. He gagged and swirled his arms as if catching his balance.

At that moment, the door squeaked opened behind me and I heard a voice gasp in shock. Gundersen’s body tipped backward as my hand remained where it held the knife. The hair stood on my neck as a women’s scream shrilled from behind me. Gundersen clomped onto his back. I ran from the landing and out into the cold twilight.

My snow-filled steps lead me back to my home. I stood and looked at it for the last time. Then, I turned and fled to my only place of safety, my secret cave.

***

Here, I sit inside this rocky crag. The wind howls as curious snowflakes enter and twinkle before dying in the faint orange glow that surrounds me.

My head droops as I cry between shivering breaths. The storm moans through the narrowing mouth of the cave. My hunger aches, as the fire dies, and my eyes struggle to stay open.

My mother’s image fades as the flames flicker. The last stick puffs and joins the other blackened figures. They crackle and finish burning their stories as the darkening cave closes its icy jaws, as I drift into a freezing slumber and follow my frozen heart.

#

CAUGHT IN PIE TOWN

CHAPTER 1

NATE

Had you shaken a snow globe, then flash-froze it, the action, though unmoving, would still be expressed. This was the appearance of Nate Jackson. His eyes welled with a horrid vision, his hands clenched something that wasn’t there, and his mouth stretched open cupping a moan that never emerged as his motionless body lay near the entrance of a vacant lot. Something had shaken him, rattled his soul and then froze it…

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THE FLAVORIST

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     “Mortem praeparare meum novum maximum cofectio!”Adolf Van De Groot bellows from the mezzanine above a gathering of chocolate makers in the grand hall of the Van De Groot Chocolaterie located in the heart of Brussels. 

     His commanding voice reverberates through the hallowed hall with the reverence of his great ancestors, “I have chosen you all to witness my greatest confection. Chocolate so creamy, so decadent, so perfect, it will be the joy of the world. A raging storm of flavor I have named Chocolate Thunder!”

 

 

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