Archive for the ‘Short story’ Category


The Letter


          Two days after John Norton’s father’s death, he received a call from the law firm of Benson, Langley, and Kessler.  The secretary advised him that Mr. Benson was the executor of his father’s will and asked if he would care to make an appointment.  John agreed to a meeting at 2:30 the following afternoon, which was a Friday. He would close his business early, to make the appointment.

          John had never met Mr. Benson, but he appeared to be pleasant, kind of distinguished looking old gentleman, dressed in a conservative, pin-striped suit with an impeccably matched tie.  After some small talk and condolences on the loss of his father, Benson asked for some proper identification, stating this was necessary, given the fact that he didn’t know him.  John produced a couple of pieces of identification, which satisfied Benson and the procedure of reading the will commenced.

          The will was dated 5 years earlier and in simple terms declared John, his only son and child, to be the sole heir to his father’s entire estate, with exception of a sum of ten thousand dollars, bequeathed to his housekeeper of 15 years and eight thousand dollars to the groundskeeper in gratitude for their dependable and diligent service.  There was also written recommendations for both of them.

          “Your father entrusted a special envelope into my care,” said Mr. Benson.  “It is addressed to you and sealed with wax seals and ribbons.  Please inspect them to ensure * they are unbroken.”

          He did and found the seals intact. They discussed the legal aspects of having his father’s money, and property deeds transferred to him and agreed to meet the following week again. Clutching the envelope and bidding farewell, he left the office and drove home.

          Pouring himself a stiff scotch, he sat down in an armchair and, with considerable trepidation, cut the seals and opened the envelope.  Inside he found what appeared to be a report, in a red cover with his name on the front and a letter addressed to him. He opened the letter and began reading:

Dear Son,

          When you are reading this letter, it means I’ve passed on to another dimension. I have always been proud of you, and it is with great pleasure that I leave you everything I own.  There are some aspects of my life. I have never told you about.  In reality, they amount to is a strange story, filled with both mystery and adventure, so much so that some years ago I decided to put it in writing.  By the time you have read it, you will know how I could have made a fortune.

          With all my love

          Your father

           John opened the folder and began reading the neatly typewritten account of those mysterious events in his father’s life he hadn’t told him about.

June 1991

          The events that changed my life forever began in 1986, the year after your mother passed away.  I had poured my heart and soul into the bookstore, attempting to bury my sorrow over the loss of Vera.  It is hard to lose one’s soul mate after so many years of marriage, but life must go on, and I tried to continue living as I had done before.

          As you know, I have always collected antique books and rare first editions, many of which you will find in my library. It’s a very valuable collection, and I discovered and bought quite a number of them at public estate auctions.  Few people bother bidding on what in most instances is ordinary books, but I often did, provided I could spot some interesting and promising titles.  The auctioneers in charge of estate sales habitually put books in boxes of various sizes, sometimes with other things included, and you would have to bid on the whole content of the box. I put many of the boxes in the basement, intending to scrutinize their contents further after I had removed the books that I was interested in.

          One Saturday during the summer of 86, I went to an estate auction over in Campbellsville; you know the town well enough, having been there sometimes. There wasn’t much that interested me, except for a box containing a few books and cheap knick-knacks. One of the books was about Spanish renaissance art, and it looked quite old.  When the box came up for bidding, some lady bid five dollars.  Rather than upping the bid by one dollar, I decided to offer ten, to cut her off.  The auctioneer’s hammer decided in my favor.  I paid the ten dollars, took the box, put it in the trunk of the car and went home.

          I quickly went through the box and discovered some inexpensive porcelain bird figurines, probably what the old lady had wanted plus some old magazines, pamphlets, and various booklets. There were five more books in addition to the book on Spanish Renaissance art.  None of them were of any interest, but the art book was a limited edition from 1953.  I began looking through the numerous pages of black and white illustrations of Spanish paintings and art from the15th and 16th centuries.  The book was in excellent condition and worth about two hundred dollars, I figured.  Not a bad profit for a short trip to an auction.

          I quickly flipped through the last pages, but suddenly near the end, I found an envelope.  Thinking it was probably someone who had used it for a bookmark; I put it on the table.

          The next day, while having my morning caffeine fix, I picked up the letter.  It was addressed to Mr. George Silliman, 47 Bartley Dr., Cornville, Ontario.  I didn’t know the person, but Cornville is only about 50 km away.  The return address was someone named Frank Burley, 12 Sudden Lane, Barker Town, Ontario which I was slightly familiar with.  It was quite a bit larger than Cornville and only about 20 km from there. I took the letter out, and read it:

 Dear George,                                                                                  September 11, 1982

            I know you must wonder why I’m writing to you, rather than just dropping in for a visit, but I have some things to tell you that that is best done in writing. 

             We have been friends a whole lifetime, ever since we were schoolboys and it’s been a friendship like no other I have ever had with anyone else.  We have shared much, but it is coming to an end soon.  My doctor sent me to a colon cancer specialist a couple of weeks ago, and last week, he gave me the sad news that I had only a few months left to live.  It was quite a shock for me at first, but heck George, you and I have had beautiful, happy lives and we both know that the time to depart will come eventually for both of us. I hope we will be seeing each other a few times before I go.

             What I want to tell you about is rather a bit of a mystery, so let me get on with it.

             In 1929, an Italian family settled here in Barker Town.  They were political refugees from Mussolini’s dictatorship, but apparently wealthy, for they bought a costly house in town. At that time, there were three generations of the family living in the house.  As you know, my wife’s mother was Italian, and she grew up with a lot of Italians coming and going through her childhood home, so it wasn’t long before she became acquainted with this newly arrived family, whose last name was Moretti. Both the grandparents died before the end of the Second World War.  Their son, Enrico Moretti and his wife Contessa became quite good friends of ours, and we frequently had dinner together.  They had a son, Leopoldo, who was born in Italy before they came to this country.

             Enrico and his wife were both killed in a tragic car accident in 1958.  Leopoldo, their son, was 39 years old by then and not married. I suspected he was homosexual, but we continued to be friends with him.  In 1968, he had full-blown aids and passed away within a year, but before that, he told me an unusual story about a valuable thing he had inherited from his father, who had said it had been in the family for many generations.

             He told me that since he had no heirs, and he had promised never to let the item (he didn’t say what it was) pass out of the family, he was left with no other alternative than to take it with him to his grave. His casket, he said, was specially constructed and the item would be inserted in a hollowed-out area of the plank in the lid so that even in his afterlife, he could keep an eye on it.  I thought it was a bit creepy, but reckoned everybody has some weirdness or quirks in their lives. 

             When he died, Mary and I went to his funeral, and including us, there were only a handful of his friends that attended. His coffin was placed in the family mausoleum, and it was kind of sad to think that with Leopoldo gone, the family had died out completely. At least you and I both have grandchildren and thus some continuity beyond our graves. His house, by the way, was willed to the Catholic Church here and they have made a retirement home for people who can`t look after themselves in it.

             Well, George, I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t think about what Leopoldo had told me until after I received the news about my impending doom.  It gnawed at me, and I thought perhaps I should pass the story on to someone, and since you are my best friend, I chose to tell it to you. I was never brave enough to go and find out just what it was that Leopold took with him in his grave, but it struck me that he perhaps told me what he intended to do, so that I, as his close friend, could go and recover whatever it is. He may have tried to tell me it was a gift from him to me, but I can`t be sure.

 9            At any rate, George, I will never find out, but perhaps you may be interested in pursuing this.  I`m quite sure Leopold never told anyone else but me about it, but now you also know, and I think it perhaps best that no-one else finds out.  If you don`t want to investigate this, maybe you should destroy this letter and leave the mystery a secret for posterity    Well, I guess that`s all for now.  I hope to see you a few times again before I die.

Best regards from your old friend


           It was an exciting mystery the letter revealed, and while I wasn`t about to just run over and open Leonardo`s casket, I kept thinking about digging a bit deeper into the story, and I began by searching for the two families, Silliman and Burley.

          Since I figured George Silliman might still be alive, I drove to Cornville first, and after some searching, I found the address and I parked the car.     Some kids were playing on the front lawn, but soon as I approached the fenced-in front yard, a woman came out the front door and asked if she could help me. I asked if the Silliman family lived there.  She shook her head and said that Mrs. Silliman died some years ago and her husband, George, passed away six weeks ago.  I asked if she was related to the Silliman family, to which she replied no, but they have a son, who lives out west somewhere.

          I didn’t want to seem too inquisitive, so I ended the conversation by asking where they were buried. She told me, and I thanked her, saying that I used to know George a long time ago and would like to put some flowers on his grave.

          At the United Church cemetery, it didn’t take me long to find the grave site where both George and his wife were interred. I noted the date on George’s headstone.  He had died on May third, this year. I put the flowers I had bought at a local flower shop on their grave and left for home.

          Having concluded the Silliman connection to the letter, it was time to go to go to Barker Town and see if I could find Frank Burley and  I drove there the following Sunday.  The town has a population of over 130,000, so I bought a city map to find my way around. Sudden Lane was a quiet side street, lined with mature trees, shading well-manicured lawns in front of classy homes, suggesting this was one of the better neighborhoods in town.  Number 12, Franks Burley’s house, was a large, Victorian style, two-story home, kept in immaculate shape, suggesting he was well off.

          I walked up to the door and rang the bell.  Inside the house, I could hear the sound of a resonant gong and shortly a middle-aged man opened the door. I introduced myself with a fictitious name and said I was an old friend of Frank Burley and this was the address I had for him. He then told me Dr. Burley’s wife was dead and he was in a care home with advanced Alzheimer, and then saying that his name was Charles Lane and he had bought the house a little over a year ago.”  I apologized for disturbing him, thanked him for the information and left.

          So, Frank Burley was a doctor.  That explained the large, posh house he had owned. With his wife dead and him having advanced Alzheimer decease, I needn’t worry about anyone knowing about the letter, unless Frank had told someone about it.  It also explained how the book with the letter ended up on an auction.  It had apparently been a part of his estate and no doubt, there may have been many other things at the auction that had belonged to him, but I would never know.

          I decided to do some background checking on the old Doctor later on, but before I went home again; I went to two cemeteries, trying to locate the mausoleum of the Moretti family.  I found it in a Catholic cemetery, on the outskirts of town and it was quite large and ornate.  Some people walked about in the graveyard, so I just casually walked past the mausoleum, noting it had a large brass padlock on the door.  There was a small graveled area in front of it; quite weedy, suggesting that no-one was caring for the site. I made up my mind to come back some weekday night and scrutinize the cemetery closely, to make sure I wouldn’t run into something unexpected.

          For a week or so, I thought about the whole, crazy idea of breaking into a mausoleum and stealing that something, whatever it was, from a coffin.  It just simply went against my better judgment, and for a while, I honestly thought I would just forget about it, but curiosity is an intense sensation, and eventually, it got the better of me.  One night, I drove over to the cemetery, parking my car in an inconspicuous place away from it.  I walked around the spooky place for about an hour, but no-one showed up. Then I went over to the Moretti mausoleum and checked the padlock, noting the make and size. It had to be cut with a bolt cutter and, when the deed was done, replaced it with one that looked the same, although, I didn`t think anyone would notice since the Moretti`s didn`t have any living relatives.

          The following week, on a Thursday night, I decided to carry out this ‘grave-robbing’ adventure.  I had purchased a padlock that looked more or less like the one on the door of the mausoleum and gathered some tools I figured I might need, but no more than I could carry concealed under my coat.  If I run into anyone on the cemetery, it would be a bit hard to explain what I was doing there, carrying a toolbox in my hands. I arrived in town just after eleven at night, this time parking my car in a different place.

9          There wasn’t a soul around, and I proceeded directly to the cemetery where I began by walking around the area, to make sure no-one was there.  I don’t mind telling you I was nervous and jumpy like all hell and by the time I reached the mausoleum, I was about ready to take off and go home again.  I mustered up enough courage and got the bolt cutter under my belt, where I had hung it.  The weight of it was dragging my pants down.  Once again, I surveyed the area, to make sure I was alone and then carefully and as quiet as possible, I cut the shank on the padlock. It was harder than I thought it would be and made more noise than I had figured.  God almighty, I was jumpy and scared out of my mind.

          Opening the door made even more noise.  The hinges were rusty and squeaked, so I proceeded slowly, opening the door just enough to get inside and then pulled it to again.  With shaking hands, I turned my flashlight on and looked around.  There were two caskets positioned along each of the two side walls and one at the end wall.  I had no idea which coffin contained the remains of Leonardo but went to the one at the end wall, figuring that this most logically must be his.  I needn’t have worried, for there was a metal plaque on the casket with Leonardo’s name, date, and place of birth and his death date.  I wrote it on my hand, not having a notebook with me.

          The casket was made of oak and looked almost new.  I tried to lift the lid, but it was fastened with nails or screws or something.   I bent down and looked under the lid and saw it was secured with screws through a molding along the top of the casket, into the bottom of the cover.  There were two screws, which I removed. Wearing gloves made it difficult, but eventually, I got them out and put them in my pocket, thinking there would be no need to screw them back in again. Leonardo wouldn’t mind.

          Now came the moment I feared the most. I slowly swung the lid open and pointed my flashlight into to the casket. The image of Leonardo was horrid. A surge of Adrenalin went through my veins sending my heart racing. Leonardo’s face looked straight at me, with empty, hollow eye sockets, his skull partly covered with moldy patches of skin, the jaw bone barred and his bony, skinless hands crossed on his chest. His funeral clothes were partially decomposed, and the sight of him horrified me.

          There was a plank screwed onto the inside of the lid.  On it, there was a brass plaque with the name “Leonardo Moretti” engraved on it and his date and place of birth.  I unscrewed the plank, and behind it, within a hollowed out space, there was a thin book or something like it, wrapped in several layers of plastic.  I removed it, screwed the plank back into the lid again, closed it and hurriedly went outside, where I closed the door and put on the padlock I had bought. I looked around to make sure I had not left any evidence of my breaking into the mausoleum, and then returned to my car with the package.  I was shaking like a leaf and just couldn’t get out of town fast enough.   I drove without exceeding the speed limit, fearing the police might stop me.

          The first thing I did when I got home was downing a stiff scotch to calm my jittery nerves.  I was still shaking when I began opening the package. It was wrapped in three layers of plastic which protected a thin volume of something, with a cover of stained leather. Very gingerly, I opened it, and on the first page, I saw some sketches of human anatomy, the same on the second and third, with handwritten notes in different positions on the pages.  I thought it was Italian, but couldn’t be sure at first. Slowly I checked other pages and came across drawings of structural parts of buildings, then some more human anatomy drawings.  Then it struck me.  My God, this was one of Leonardo da Vinci’s sketchbooks. If it’s genuine, it’s worth millions of dollars.  Now I began to understand why Frank had told George about Leonardo possibly intending to leave it to him as a gift. I had to wonder if Leonardo was named after the famous 13th-century artist, because of his family’s ownership of the da Vinci sketchbook and while thinking about that, I remembered the note I had made on my hand; the birthplace of Leonardo Moretti, and wrote it down in my address book.

          Too excited to sleep that night, I began speculating just what on earth I was going to do with this unexpected acquisition.  My first thought was safekeeping it somewhere, and a large bank safe deposit box seemed the ideal solution.  It was just too valuable to keep in the house and how was I going to explain how I came to be the owner of this treasure if I wanted to sell it?  How could I get its authenticity verified, without raising questions?

          The next day, I set about to photograph all the pages of the sketchbook and have large prints made of them.

A week passed by during which I rented a safe deposit box in my bank and tried to find out as much as I could about Leonardo da Vinci’s sketchbooks.  I had read a bit about them and seen pictures of some of his sketches, but had no in-depth knowledge. The local library didn’t provide much information, other than da Vinci frequently wrote in mirror style, which explained why I couldn’t read the writing on the sketches.

          It became apparent that I needed information not available in this country. Italy was indubitably the place to go, and I needed to find out how to approach the search.

           The plaque on Leonardo’s casket indicated he was born in Fiumicino, a town just west of Rome, nestled on the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea.  It seemed highly desirable to go and snoop around there and perhaps discover something about the Moretti family’s history in Italy. I called my travel agent and booked a trip to Rome, departing in 4 days.  The bookstore was not a problem; my able assistant of 11 years could easily handle it alone. What he didn’t know about selling books wasn’t worth knowing.

          The trip to Rome was uneventful. The agent had booked me in Hotel Bettoja Atlántico, which proved to be a beautiful old pearl; lovely rooms and great food. I had brought the photos of the sketchbook pages along with the idea of trying to find out if it was authentic but had no idea of just how to do that, without raising suspicion.

          The national central library in Rome was my first stop.  Quite a few books were dealing with Leonardo da Vinci’s art, but I checked mainly those dealing with his sketchbooks. I compared the photographic illustrations of sketchbook pages in the library books against the photos I had taken of those that I “acquired” under circumstances that still didn’t sit right with me.  None matched them. Thus I began to suspect it was either an unknown sketchbook, retained in a private collection away from public scrutiny or a forgery.  There was nothing more I could do in Rome. I headed for Fiumicino, to see what, if anything, if I could find out about the Moretti family.

After I had checked into my hotel and enjoyed a lovely supper, I went to the lobby and asked for a local telephone book.  I sat down in one of the comfortable lobby chairs and began perusing the telephone book and quickly found the name “Moretti.” There were 11 entries in all, which suggested that Leopoldo and his parents/grandparents must have had several relatives in Fiumicino. Then it struck me that it would be unwise to contact any one of them, for how would I explain that I knew the Moretti’s in Barkertown. I suddenly realized that my impulse to come to this town was a mistake. I had wasted my time, all but for finding out that members of the Moretti family were living there.

The next day, I took an early flight to Rome and booked a room in the Hotel Bettoja Atlántico, the one I stayed in when I first arrived in Rome. I decided my trip was not going to be completely wasted, so I stayed in Rome for three days.  On the last day, I visited some antique book stores to see I I could find something of interest to sell in my book store at home. One or two caught my attention, both of them dealing with Roman antiquities.  I bought one, published in 1900 at a reasonable price.

On the flight home to Canada, I pondered on what to do with the Da Vinci sketchbook, and then it struck me.  Why not just say that my father had bought a box full of books at an auction in Barker Town, and after removing the book he was interested in, had put it in the basement, where it joined several others. He had not recognized the Da Vincy sketchbook as something of value and left it in the box. I had decided to go through all the boxes to see if there was anything worth keeping before I discarded them, and that’s when I found the sketchbook.

The more I thought about this, the more liked the idea.

It was great to be home and get the feel of the bookstore again.  I kept thinking about how to reveal the fact that I had this sketchbook that “might be” a Da Vincy.  I decided to send some of the photocopied pages I had made to a reputable expert in Da Vincy’s artworks and found one in New York City.  I mailed the photocopies to him, without explaining how I got them.

Ten days later, I received a phone call, asking if I was John Norton and the person who had sent the photocopies, to which I replied in the affirmative. He inquired if he could examine the original and I arranged to meet him in New York City in three days. His name is George Lucas, and he gave me his address in Manhattan.

The meeting with George in his plush Manhattan office went well.  He asked me how I had acquired the sketchbook, but like I said to him, I need to have it authenticated before I can reveal how I got.

He asked if I could leave it with him for a couple of days, as he needed to do some tests on it.  I agreed to this, provided he would give me a receipt, signed in the presence of a lawyer. After this was done, I returned to Ontario.

Two days later, early in the morning, I received a phone call from George in Manhattan.  His voice sounded excited, and he said he had excellent news for me.  The sketchbook was by Da Vincy and very valuable.  He offered me two million dollars for it, which just about floored me. I hesitated for a while, then politely declined.  I figured it may be worth more than that and I told him I would pick it up tomorrow.

I arrived in New York in the early afternoon, and after paying George his fee for the authentication documents of the sketchbook, I signed a receipt for it, thanked him for his efforts and returned home to Ontario. Before I left, he told me that there was no record of the sketchbook having been owned by someone or stolen, so it must have come from an estate or owner(s) who have held it for many generations and kept knowledge of its existence private. The same happens to valuable paintings and other artworks that have vanished for a couple of hundred years or more, and then suddenly shows up. I didn’t comment on that.

I had to figure out how to sell the sketchbook, without anyone knowing who I was, for I still had an uneasy feeling about the 11 Moretti entries I had seen in the phone book in Fiumicino.  I know that Sotheby Auctioneers will keep both seller and buyer names confidential, so maybe that’s the way to go.

I put the sketchbook back in the safety deposit box in the bank and then settled down for a few days to compose my thoughts and calm my anxiety.

Six days later, I placed a phone call to Sotheby in New York and asked to speak to someone in the antique arts department. A man, introducing himself as Frederick Barnes asked if he could help me.  I quickly explained that I had a Da Vincy sketchbook, the authenticity of which has been confirmed by George Lucas of Manhattan, who I was sure he was familiar with.  He concurred but said he would have to examine the sketchbook before he agreed to put it on auction for me. I informed him that anonymity was of paramount importance to me, but he would be free to check anything he wanted respecting the authenticity of the sketchbook and anything else he deemed necessary.

We agreed to meet in New York City in four days.

Once again, my anxiety increased and I had trouble sleeping. I just wanted to get this whole affair over with. I had not even anticipated the possible windfall I would get from auctioning the sketchbook.  What on Gods earth would I do with a few million dollars which it appears I would get.

The meeting with Frederick Barnes at Sotheby’s in New York City went without any problems.  He took delivery of the sketchbook and examined it briefly, appearing quite impressed by what he saw. I gave him a copy of the certificate of authenticity from George Lucas, and he gave me a receipt for both. He indicated that the Sotheby’s auctioneer fee was ten percent, which I agreed to. In writing.  After some discussions as to how the auction would proceed if he accepted the item, we bid a cordial farewell, and I headed back to Ontario again.  He said he would call me as soon as he had a decision.

It was ten days before Frederick Barnes called me; the longest ten days in my life. Most nights I had lain awake pondering on a possible new future and where to go if I left my hometown. Frederick said that they had accepted the item for auction and one would take place in New York in two weeks.  I asked him what he estimated the sketchbook would sell for and I was utterly floored when he said not less than ten million dollars.

To remain as anonymous as possible, I wanted to bank the money outside Canada. I began looking around, and the Cayman Islands seemed a logical choice, but it had too many requirements for documents and personal Id’s.  A Swiss bank account would be easier to open, and I chose that.  There was lots of help on the internet as to how to do it. I made a reservation to Geneva two days ahead, to give me time to get funding from my own bank to open the account with.

I asked for a certified bank draft from my bank for $30,000.00, which took the balance on my account down a few notches, but considering what I potentially had coming, it was a mere bagatelle.

The trip to Geneva was smooth and opening an account went equally well.  My passport served as documentation for my identity, and I received the details of my account, and it’s balance after I deposited the $30,000.00. I left for home the next day and settled down to wait for the auction in New York.

Nine days later, Fredrick Barnes called me from New York,  The sketchbook had been sold to an anonymous buyer for 16 million dollars.  He asked if I wanted to come to New York to settle the account, but I declined, asking him instead to deposit the net amount to my new Swiss bank account.

I was astounded, to say the least, and I seriously had to plan my future, adjusted to my new wealth.

My first action was to transfer 150,000,00 dollars to my bank account here from my Swiss account and then to buy a large motor-home. I arranged to have my assistant live rent free in my house and to run the business, taking fifty percent of the profits for his efforts and crediting the rest to my local bank account. I loaded the motor-home with the most precious belongings I had in the house and then informed my assistant that I would be leaving on an extended journey to places as of yet unknown to me.  He did not understand why I wanted to leave, but I said that I wanted a new life in my senior years.  I think he understood.

Two days later, I bid farewell to my assistant and left the town that I had lived in all my life. I felt excited and invigorated by the prospects of being able to go wherever I wanted.

I passed through Barker Town on my way and stopped for a cup of coffee. I picked up yesterdays newspaper (Barker Town Daily News), and on page three, I found an article that stunned me.  The paper reported that a catacomb on the Catholic cemetery had been broken into and the five caskets inside it had been opened as if someone was looking for something that may have been put into one or several of them. It was not possible to determine if anything had been stolen since there were no records of anything being present in any of the caskets.  The catacomb belonged to the Moretti family, all of whom were dead, and no-one had been designated to care for the upkeep of it. No suspects had been apprehended, and the whole case is just a mystery.

I was completely non-plussed by the article and could only think that the Moretti’s in Italy had found out about the Da Vincy sketchbook auction, but that would be pure speculation, and at any rate, there was no way they could figure I was involved.  I was safe to drive into the sunset of my life.



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This work by K. Larsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.







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The Village


 It wasn’t really a village as such, just a small group of houses scattered around the local dairy, the blacksmith and the country store, where one could buy anything from a bolt of cotton to groceries, boots, tools and what not.  Some houses were farms, with pastures behind them, extending all the way to the sea-shore.  Not that this was any great distance, for none of the  farms on the island were large, but the soil was fertile and the farmers made a decent living on their land, and so they had for generations, for the farms had gone from father to son (or daughter) through centuries.  Take the blacksmith place-had it not been in the same family for more than two hundred years? And the Peregrine farm, one of the largest on the island, had been leased and later owned by the same family since the Middle Ages.

There was no Inns, restaurants or places of entertainment on the island.  There never had been and that was a good thing, for there would be no temptations for the young people; at least that’s what the older generation thought. Some families were running B&B’s to cater to summer tourists who came to enjoy the peace and quiet that prevailed.

 Few of the houses were of modern design;  most of them of timber frame style, such as had been the building practice for generations and many, being as old as they are, clearly had stood the test of time.  The exposed timbers are tarred every few years and the adobe fill between them whitewashed at the same time.  Life on the island was predictable and with no more than a few dozen families residing there, everyone knew each other.

 The women on the island loved gossiping, especially over the party line telephone system, which was not scheduled for upgrading to a dial-up system for another two years. More often than not, there would be three or four women on the line, chatting about the latest happenings, or so it seemed. New and leapfrogging technology was making changes to the islander’s way of life, although no-one seemed mindful of it.

Old Peter did, though.  He was 75 years old and had seen many changes to the way of life on the island.  His wife of 50 years had died of leukemia in 45, nearly six years ago and every week he would go to her grave and put fresh flowers on it.  It seemed only yesterday that she had passed away and he often felt quite lonely, even though he was well cared for by his son and daughter-in-law, who took over the farm when he was 69.  He was immensely proud of his grandchildren, a boy and a girl.  They were so full of life and seemed to thrive in their limited environment.

Every morning during the summer, he would go for a walk.  It was nice to see all the green fields, the old trees along the road and smell the fresh, salty breeze that sometimes blew from the ocean. He felt that there was permanence, a sort of eternal feeling to all that he saw, yet he knew this could not endure. Most of his generation had long ago departed for the realm of everlasting rest and peace, and he knew it wouldn’t be long before he joined them, but in the meantime, there were still joyful hours and days to contemplate. John and Alfred, contemporaries to Peter, were still alive, both of them 72, and often they would all meet somewhere to talk of the old days, which they all thought were infinitely better than today’s crazy world. Erik and Paul had both passed away a couple of years ago.

Peter reached the stone bench, which really wasn’t a bench as such, but rather a large, elongate boulder, dumped there by glaciers some 10,000 years ago.  It could readily accommodate four people, sitting side by side and it was used for generations.  When he was young, he used to come there with his mom and dad, who often went for a walk in the early evenings or on Sundays.  His grandfather, Cedrik, whom he had known for quite a few years, before he passed away, had also come to the stone bench and often times together with him. It was Cedrik’s father, Kenton, Peter’s great grandfather who had acquired their farm from the lease Lord, Baron Stallman, who had owned the entire island. Prior to the land reform laws, all the farms were leased to individual farmers, who often held the lease for generations, passing it on from father to son, with the Lord’s permission, but no-one ever became prosperous under this feudal system.

 The old stone bench was also the meeting place for Peter, John and Alfred, although they didn’t see each other every day. Today, Alfred showed up and Peter greeted him with a sprightly “Good morning Alfred, what a fine day it is today.  I brought a thermos bottle with coffee.  Did you bring your mug?”

“Yes, I did,” said Alfred, “we can have a cupful now, for I feel like something? I wasn’t hungry for breakfast, but a cup of coffee would suit me fine now.” Peter unscrewed the cap of the thermos, which served as a cup for him, removed the stopper and poured the coffee.

For a while, they sat quietly, sipping the coffee.  It was a tranquil morning, the wind a mere whisper that barely stirred the leaves in the trees.  A male starling was singing nearby and chickadees were fluttering about in the bushes, looking for something to eat, sounding off with their kee,–kee-kee chirps.  Peter put his hand in his pocket and brought out some sunflower seed, held it out and in a flash, a chickadee landed on it, took a seed and flew off again to a bush and began pecking away on the seed, until it got at the kernel inside it.   It kept coming back, until there were no more seeds in Peter’s hand.

“Alfred, said Peter, you are quiet this morning.  Are you feeling OK?”

 “Yes, I’m feeling fine, although I didn’t sleep too well last night.  I got to thinking about the war and the German soldiers that occupied our island.  They sure were a mean lot of bastards, weren’t they?”

 “Oh my God, yes.  I’ll never forget them; they murdered three of our people here.  The captain in charge, what was his name now- Oh yea; it was Gunter Hoffmann, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, said Alfred, I hated those cold, blue eyes of his.  I remember when he had Niels arrested and how they beat him completely senseless, just because he had broken a curfew.  He was never the same after that, was he?”

“No, said Peter, and on top of that, they kept him in that stinking cell for three days without any concern for his horrific condition.  He had several broken ribs and a broken arm.  I remember he was bed-ridden for more than two month after they let him go.”

“Yes, those sons of bitches! Had it been up to me, I would have hung them all after the war was over, but they got away scot free, acting with contempt, when they departed on the ferry, -just as bloody Nazi as ever, said Alfred

 “They never did find out what happened to Captain Hoffmann, did they?”

 “No, no-one saw him leave on the ferry, but he may have stolen a boat and rowed over to the mainland.”

 “No, said Alfred, I don’t think so, for no-one reported a boat stolen.  I think someone came and picked him up  the night just before they were due to leave the island. A Nazi sympathizer or perhaps some German bastard from the mainland he had contacted on the wireless.

 “Well, said Peter, you said that the 16 soldiers left our island just as high and mighty as the day they came, but I can tell you that not all of them did”.

 “How so”, said Alfred.

“Do you remember that big, ugly brute, that sergeant  that raped John’s daughter?”

 “Yes, I sure do, said Alfred, I always wanted to beat the shit out of him, but anyone who tried would probably be killed, we all knew that, so no-one dared.”

 “Well, let me enlighten your mind a bit on that score.  You weren’t the only one that had it in for him.  I think most of us wanted to have a go at the bastard and we eventually did.  You know they were all disarmed on the day of capitulation and we knew they would be sent to the mainland on the ferry the next day.  The night before, we caught the big brute walking outside the barrack they were supposed to be confined in.  There were four of us together, all with one thing on our mind—revenge. We beat him-and beat him, in uncontrolled rage, to within an inch of his life. It felt as if we were taken revenge on him for all the suffering the bloody Nazis had inflicted on us during the last five years.  To make sure he would remember his uninvited stay on our island forever, one of us took a pocket knife and cut a swastika on his forehead and rubbed some dirt into it, to make sure it would make a very visible scar.”

 “My God!” Said Alfred, “No-one ever told me that. How come I never heard that story?”

 “Given we had beat him so bad and didn’t know if he would survive, we thought it was best to keep it to ourselves.  I heard they carried someone aboard the ferry on a stretcher when all the krauts left the morning after, and we simply assumed it was the bastard we had beaten up. By and by, we just slowly forgot about the event, although personally, I still have moments of anger when I think about him. Another piece of news for you, Alfred; John was one of the four of us who beat the son of bitch up, but don’t go getting on his goat for not telling you, even after all these years. It was best to keep it quiet.”

“Well, I’ll be; nothing surprises me anymore”

 “Oh, said Peter, ”I think I have a story or two to tell you that may raise a few hairs on your neck, but that’ll have to wait to another day.  I want to go and collect some gull eggs down on the shore.  There are a lot of nesting birds there this year and Rita, my daughter-in-law, likes to use them in some of her baking.”

They got up, Alfred, leaning a bit hard on his cane, and began walking toward the village, small-talking about this and that along the way. They decided to meet again at the bench the following Sunday.

 Peter headed back to the farm, picked up a basket in the kitchen and told Rita he was going down to the shore to collect gull eggs and asked if she wanted a lot.

 “No, not a lot”, said Rita, “I won’t be doing much baking in the next few days and we have quite a few chicken eggs.  I use half chicken and half gull eggs for a lot of things I bake, so just bring me a couple of dozen, Peter.”

“OK Rita, I’m off. See you in a while. Did you hear from Erik today? “No, said Lisa, “he won’t complete his course for another three days, so I expect he will call tomorrow.”

Peter walked down along the edge of the field leading to the shore.  The barley was knee-high already and it looked like they would have a good harvest. I nice, fresh breeze greeted him when he reached the stony beach and the gulls screeched and buzzed him when he reached their nesting area.  The few cormorants that were about flew out to sea, being more timid than the gulls. He sat down on a rock for a while to rest and looked out over the sea, toward the mainland, visible in the distance.  How often had he not done this through all the years he had lived,  his entire life spent working the land and doing all the things that people on the island traditionally did. Except for the war years, it had been a good life.

 His thoughts drifted back to other times and memories flooded into his mind.  It felt good to remember happy moments, especially when he was young and just married.

 Well, he thought, better get going.  He collected a couple of dozen gull eggs, much to the consternation of the birds, whose screeches increased to a crescendo. He never took more than one eggs from each nest, to ensure that there would be new generations of gulls for the future.

 After finishing collecting the eggs, he headed back to the farm. On the way, he passed by a large boulder and stopped for a minute and looked at it.  The little swastika carved in the corner was still there. A casual observer would probably never notice it, but Peter knew it was there. He felt a cold chill deep inside him. It seemed a lot of bad memories from the war years had surfaced lately, even though five years had passed since those horrible times had come to an end.

Rita greeted him in the kitchen when he returned with the gull eggs. “Do you want some coffee?” she asked.

 “Yeah, why not?” he said. “There was a chilly on-shore wind down by the beach today. Some nice hot coffee would warm up some of those old bones of mine.”

 “John stopped by” she said. “He was wondering where you were and said to tell you he wanted to talk to you.”

“Did he say what about” said Peter.

“No, but he looked kind of upset and it’s not like him to be that way. You know John, he always seem happy and content.”

 “Well, I better go see him.  I’ll be back for lunch.”

 John lived a short walking distance from the farm, but strangely enough, he thought, it had been quite a while since he paid him a visit.  Like himself, John was widowed and lived with his son and daughter-in-law on the farm that had been in his family for many generations. His two daughters had married other young farmer sons on the island.  Peter thought about that, as he was walking down the lane towards John’s place.  Regardless of all the new technology and new ideas that seem to proliferate amongst the younger generations, there was never-the-less some things that stayed the same. Traditions, customs and the local culture were still strong and gave a sense of continuity to the whole island, and that pleased him.

Peter knocked on the door and Vera, John’s daughter-in-law, opened it.  “Well, hello Peter! It’s been a while since you’ve paid us a visit.  How are you? How are things at home?”

 “Oh, just fine” said Peter. “John was down to our place and wanted to see me, but I was down on the beach collecting gull eggs, so I missed him.”

 “I’ll go get him, Peter.  I think he is out in the barn.”

 “No. that’s OK, I’ll go see him there.”

 Peter walked over to the barn where John was sitting on a bale of hay just inside the door.

“Hello John!” he said. “Rita told me you wanted to talk to me.”

 “Yes, said John, I run into Alfred down at the store and we walked home together after he finished shopping. He told me that you had related the story about us beating the shit out of that Nazi brute on the night of the German capitulation.  I thought we had all agreed to keep that event secret.  Why did you tell Alfred?”

 “Well, John, it’s been five years now since the war and those dreadful days came to an end and since Alfred and I are good friends, I thought it would be OK to tell him.”

 “That’s fine for you to say, but can you trust Alfred not to go spreading this all over the Island?”

“Oh, I think so, but even if he did, I don’t see what harm could come of it now.  I’m damned sure that Nazi bastard will never come here again.  If he ever did, I’d make bloody sure he got some more of the same medicine we gave him back in May, 1945.”

 “Well, said John, Eric and Paul are both dead, so they took the secret of their participation in the beating with them to their graves. Now there are only three of us that knows and I hope to Hell Alfred will keep his mouth shut.  What is it they say:  “Let sleeping dogs lie.”

 “I’m sorry, I let the cat out of the bag John, but what’s done is done and we can’t change it now.  It’s all old hat now anyway.”

 “That’s fine, said john, but if any of the women hears about it, the story will be all over the island in a matter of hours.  You know bloody well how they gossip.  If that happens, none of us three will have any peace for a long time.”

 “I’ll have another word with Alfred about it. Why don’t you come out to the stone bench on Sunday?  Alfred and I planned to meet there for coffee and a chat.  It might be OK if he heard the story from you also.”

 “OK, said John, I’ll see you both there then.”

Peter went home again. It was the middle of August and the island was clad in summer’s delightful panorama of colours under a bright blue, sunny sky with capricious cottony clouds sailing in slow, lazy formations across the heavens.  Life was good , thought Peter and inwardly hoped it would always be so.

He heard the phone ringing and Rita answering it.

“Peter”, she shouted.  “It’s Lisa calling from her B&B: she wants to talk to you.”

“Well, whatever ever in carnation does she want” said Peter.  “I haven’t talked to her for ages.”

He grabbed the phone. “Hello Lisa, what’s up”?

 “Hi Peter; It’s been a while since we talked, but look, something odd happened.  A German couple made a reservation a few weeks ago and I thought there was something familiar about the name he gave, Oskar Gunter Hoffman, but then kind of just passed it off. They arrived today and after settling into their room, he came down and asked me if I had known his father, Captain Günter Hoffman, who had been stationed here during the war.

 “My God,” said Peter, “what did you say to him?”

“Jeepers, I was flabbergasted, to say the least, but said that someone with a name sounding like that had been here during the war years. He then asked me if I knew what happened to him, for he had never returned after the war was over.  I just said I had no idea.”

 “Lisa, I’m coming over.  I want to meet that guy.  I’ll be there in 15 minutes.”

“OK”, said Lisa; “I’ll see you then.”

 Peter jumped on his bike and peddled in the direction of Lisa’s B&B, all the while he was thinking about what the Hell he was going to say to this guy.  Not in his wildest dreams had he ever thought that some son of Captain Günter Hoffman would ever come here to try and find out about his father.  Either he doesn’t know what kind of a Nazi bastard his father was or he thinks we know what happened to the slime ball.  Well, he thought, I better tell him a thing or two about his ‘dear father’.

 He reached Lisa’s B&B, jumped off his bike and went to the main door, which was partially open.  “Lisa” It’s me, Peter.”

 Lisa came out.  “Hello Peter, it’s been a while since you last came ‘round here.  How are Lisa and Erik?”

 “They are fine.  Erik is away taking a course at the agricultural college.  He’ll be back in a few days. Can we talk in your office?”

“Sure said Lisa, but don’t worry about privacy.  The German and his wife have gone sightseeing along the beach and I don’t expect them back for a while.”

“Tell me what they asked you about Captain Hoffman.”

 “Well, after explaining who he was, he said he had come to investigate why his father was missing.  He had been contacted in his hometown in Germany by someone who had served on this island under his father’s command. He indicated  his father had not left on the ferry with the rest of the troops on May 9, 1945  He asked me if anyone here knew anything about what happened to him, and that’s why I called you.”

 “What did you say to him?”

 “Nothing I could tell.  I haven’t the foggiest notion what happened to that beast.  I’d liked to have seen him getting a real beating before he left”. He was a vicious piece of  German  trash that, for all I care, should have been strung up in the nearest tree.”

 “Well, Lisa, I share your sentiments.  He was a first class bastard but the fact that his son is here looking for information on him suggest that perhaps he is dead or maybe he decided to make a new life for himself in Germany, like taking on a new identity. It won’t do his son, this Oskar Gunter character, any good making inquiries here, since no-one on the island knows what happened to him.”

 “Look!, said Lisa, the Germans are coming up the path now.”

 “OK, I’m going to have a little talk with that fellow. I know you speak English and you said that he speaks English very well, but I really don’t anymore.  I speak a little German, which I picked up during the war years, so perhaps between the two of us, we can talk with him.”

Oskar Hoffman and his wife came in and seeing Peter, he said “Hello, my name is Oskar Gunter Hoffman.  I’m the son of Captain Gunter Hoffmann who was stationed here during the war.”

“And what precisely is it you want here?  No-one on this island thinks of your  bastard father as anything but  a murdering Nazi.”

“That is not true, said Oskar.  He was very highly thought of in my home town.  I was a member of the Hitler Jugend and looked up to him with great respect.”

“Oh, said Peter in halting German, so you were a Nazi in training.  If you think for a minute it makes me feel any better about you, think again. You were just being brain washed into believing all this shit about the superior German Aryan race”.

 Peter paused for a second, trying to think of what else to say in German.  Lisa asked if he wanted her to translate to English anything he said..

 “Yes, said Peter, that would be fine.  Ask him who it was that came looking for his father in his home town.”

 Lisa asked the question in English.

 “It was Sergeant Mueller, who was stationed here during the war, said Oskar.  I’ll never forget his face. He had a scar on his forehead in the shape of a swastika and his nose was badly twisted.  He said someone on the island here had beaten him severely the night before they left the island.  He also told me that my father was not on the ferry when he and the rest of the soldiers left.”

 “Lisa, tell him we all know who he was, and if he ever shows up here again, we can arrange to give him an even worse beating and that no-one here have the foggiest notion as to when and how his father left, and frankly, none of us give a bloody hoot. There is not a person on this island that wouldn’t gladly have seen him dangling in the end of a rope on the day you bastards capitulated.”

 “I see that I have wasted my time coming here, said Oscar.  You are nothing but a stupid farmer who doesn’t know shit from a pile of dung.  It’s too bad my father didn’t sent you to one of our concentration camps when he had the chance.”

 “Lisa! Tell that son of a bitch he is lucky I’m not a younger man.  I would have beaten the shit out of him, for what he just said, but you may inform him if he is still on this island by tomorrow morning, I will arrange for him to leave in a considerable less healthy state than he is in now.”

 “You are threatening me, said Oskar.  How dare you? I’m here as a tourist and haven’t harmed anyone or committed a wrong. You have no right to speak to me like that.”

“Listen here, you piece of shit, you better pack your bags right now and piss off.  The next ferry leaves in less than an hour.  Be on it, if you know what’s good for you.  I’m going to get some of the young fellows together to make sure you leave.  When you get back to Germany, you can inform your asshole friends that they are not welcome here.”

“I’m leaving now Lisa.  Make sure he packs his bags and get him to the ferry.”

“Ok, said Lisa.  I’ll talk to you later. Can I reach you at home?”

“Yes, just call me on the phone and let me know as soon as he has left.”

“Will do, said Lisa.”

Peter jumped on his bike and headed for home. He was furious over what Oskar had said. He had wanted to beat the shit out of him, but that might have created some problems and an unwanted look into what was going on.

 About 15 min after he got home, the phone rang.

“Hi Peter! It’s Lisa.  The Germans left for the ferry a few minutes ago.  It seemed they were in an awful hurry to get going, so I guess they believed what you said about getting together a few younger men  to make sure he and his wife left.”

“Well, I couldn’t be sure if he fell for it, but good thing he did.  I sure don’t want any trouble.”

“But Peter, tell me honestly, do you know what happened to captain Hoffman?”

“No, Lisa, I haven’t the faintest idea.  All I can assume is that he somehow left the island the day before the German soldiers were put on the ferry on May 9, 1945.”

“Oh well, said Lisa, I guess we will never know.  See you soon again and have a nice evening.”

“Thanks Lisa and the same to you.”

Peter hung up the phone and walked into the kitchen to see what was cooking for supper.  Rita was a great cook and a wonderful daughter-in-law.

May 8, 1945

“Hello, is Paul there, this is Peter.”

“Yes, just a minute Peter, I’ll go and get him.”

“Hello Peter! What’s up?”

“I was wondering if you would help me move the two eel traps I have.  There hasn’t been any eels caught in them for some days now and I thought it might be worthwhile moving them.”

“Sure, said Paul, I’ll be right over.”

They met by the barn and began walking down toward the shore.

 “So, I guess we will be rid of those German bastards tomorrow.  I’m not sorry to see that lot of krauts disappear. There’s a couple of them I would like to beat the shit out of.”

“I don’t know if we will get a chance to have a go at any of them.  They are confined to their barracks until tomorrow.  Erik is keeping an eye on them, just in case they try something stupid.”

 “Hey, Look! said Paul, someone is trying to put your boat in the water.”

My God, said Peter, I think it’s captain Hoffman.  He is wearing a uniform,– Jesus, we must stop him.”

 Paul grabbed a piece of driftwood and run toward the captain, shouting for him to stop what he was doing.

“Where the hell do you think you are going with my boat you Nazi bastard?”

The captain drew a pistol from his belt and aimed it at Peter, but at that moment, a large stone was flying through the air, hitting the captain hard on his chest.  The captain fell to the ground and Peter run over, put his foot on his chest and kicked the pistol away.

“Thanks for that, Paul.  I thought for a minute I would be a  goner.”

Peter looked down into the hateful eyes of the captain, then grabbed a large rock and smashed it into his head.  The captains skull split open, his brains and a gushing stream of blood spilled onto the sand at the water’s edge.

 “Well, said Paul, that’s the end of that bastard.  He got what was coming to him and if you hadn’t killed him, I would have.”

“We have to go get a shovel and bury the body.  We just can’t leave it here.”

“If it was up to me, said Paul, I’d just feed him to the crabs, but I guess you are right, we better bury the bastard.  How about over there, behind that large boulder?”

 “That seems Ok to me, said Peter.  I’ll go get a shovel from the barn.  Keep an eye out, just in case someone should come, although I don’t think anyone will,  Very few people ever come down here.”

Peter returned with a shovel and without further to do, they  dug a large hole in the gravelly sand behind the boulder and, after stripping all identifying insignia and removing his personal papers, they unceremoniously dumped the captain’s body in it, put some large stones on top of it and back filled the hole.

 “You know, said Peter, we must keep this incident to ourselves for the rest of our lives.  No-one must ever know what happened here.”

 “For sure, said Paul.”

It was nearly dark when they got back to the farm. They saw Erik and John come running toward them.

“Hey, said Erik, I just saw that bastard sergeant walking outside the barracks.  Let’s go and give him a taste of the kind of island hospitality he deserves.  There are four of us, and even though he is a big brute, we can give him some of the same medicine he has doled out around here the last five years.   Let’s beat the shit out of him- remember, he raped John’s daughter.”

 A couple of weeks later, Peter walked down to the beach and chiseled a small swastika in a corner of the rock behind which captain Hoffman was buried.

This work by K. Beechmount is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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A little story based on recollections from my childhood.

Is it not true that children’s stories often begin with: “Once upon a time” and that those stories mostly have a happy ending?

The following little story does just that.

Once upon a time, many, many years ago, there was a little boy who learned to talk to a crow, or perhaps it is more correct to say that a crow learned to understand what the boy said.

The boy, whose name was Lawrence, had just  turned nine a few month ago and he had many friends. Sometimes, when he went for a walk on the ramparts of the old fortress that surrounded the town where he was born, he liked to go alone,.  It was such a grand place to go and play. Many trees and bushes were growing there, and he could sit and watch the little birds fluttering about and listening to them singing.

One fine summer day, Lawrence asked his mother if he could have a sandwich to take with him, for he wanted to go and play on the ramparts. His mother looked at him funny kind of, and asked if he planned on staying there a long time.  Lawrence said that he didn’t, but sometimes he would get hungry when he was running around all over the place, and that’s why he wanted to bring a sandwich along. His mother complied with his wish, and off he went.

The ramparts were close to home, so it only took him a few minutes to get there.  He walked up the gravel path leading to the top of one of them. It was springtime and the great, big horse chestnut  trees, towering along the outer edge of the path, were flowering,  their candle-like white sprigs reaching for the sunlight. They looked very pretty, but Lawrence liked them better in the fall, when the trees were filled with chestnuts.  They were fun to collect and play with, or use to throw at crows and other big birds that always seemed to hang around the ramparts.

There were walking trails on top of all of them, and here and there a bench was placed, where people could sit and rest and enjoy the scenery.  Lawrence had a favourite bench to sit on. It was surrounded by many trees and lots of birds were flying around or jumping about in the branches, some were chirping and others singing. It was a splendid place to sit and watch them and he loved doing so.

After walking for a while, he came to his bench and sat down. He could hear a woodpecker tapping away on a tree somewhere nearby and it made him think about one of his favourite cartoons, ‘Woody Woodpecker’ which he saw in the movie theaters on Sundays, when his mother would let him go and watch.  He run toward the sound, but didn’t catch a glimpse of it.

Back at the bench, he sat down again.  He wasn’t really hungry, but opened the wrapped sandwich and took a bite of it.  Just then, he saw a crow flying toward him and for a moment he thought it was going to attack him. They were known to do so if they had a nest nearby; at least, that’s what his dad had told him. Instead, however and much to his surprise, the crow landed on the backrest of the bench, only a few feet away from him.

“Well, hello Mr. Crow” said Lawrence.  The crow sounded off with a muted “crah, crah” and began walking closer to him, one careful step at a time. It came so close that Lawrence could touch it, but he didn’t, being afraid of scaring it away.

Lawrence didn’t know what to do.  He took another bite of his sandwich and the crow let out a ‘crahhh-crahhh and jumped up on Lawrence’s shoulder.  It frightened him a bit, for this was a new experience for him.  Suddenly, he realized the crow wanted his sandwich.  Slowly he took a small bite, and again the crow said “Crahhh, Crahhh” and moved a bit on his shoulder.

“Mr. Crow, are you hungry?”

The crow didn’t say anything, so he took a piece of his sandwich and offered it to the crow. “Crah, Crah, Crah” said the crow and took the morsel from his hand.

“Would you like another piece” asked Lawrence.

The crow said “crahhh, crahhh” and he thought this meant yes and gave him another bite. The crow said ”Crah,crah, crah” and took the bread. Lawrence was now certain the three short “Crah’s” meant either ‘thank you’ or just ‘yes’.  He tried one more time, and the result was the same.

Soon the sandwich was gone.  “Look, Mr. Crow, it’s all gone now” he said, showing his empty hands to it.

The crow looked at him with his dark eyes and took off with a long ‘Craaahh.’.  Which Lawrence was sure meant goodbye.

When he returned home, he didn’t tell his mother about the encounter with the crow, thinking that she wouldn’t believe him if he said he had talked to a crow.

All summer long and well into the fall, Lawrence kept going back to that bench on the rampart and faithfully, the crow would come back to get some small pieces of his sandwich and they became very good friends.

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This is a story about Argentina, England, and love.  It will be published in several parts as it is being written, so follow the story as it develops. You can find me on facebook as Kenny Beechmount.

The Journal

By Kenny Beechmount

Roger had been busy for days going through the contents of his father’s estate. Earl had left him a sizable amount of money and his house with all its contents, which proved to be very substantial. It wasn’t just the furniture and a large number of books in the library, but also all the boxes that were filled with old files, documents, and correspondence. Roger and Vivian had decided to sell their own house, which they had bought more than 15 years ago, and move into his father’s house, named “Brighton House”, after his great-grandfather, who had built it. Vivian had always loved that house because of its ample size and classic architecture. She thought It was much more suited to their lifestyle than their own house.

He had to decide what to do with the many boxes of documents, but he didn’t want to arbitrarily discard them without going through their content first. Vivian was super busy with her architect business and Roger was working long hours as a bridge design engineer for the consulting civil engineering firm he worked for. He decided to take his time and go through them when his schedule permitted, which was mainly on weekends.

Earl Brighton’s career as a specialist in tropical agronomy had brought him to many different parts of the world and he would frequently be away for more than a year at a time. The long absences created a feeling of lonesomeness for both Vivian and Roger, but it was the way life turned out for them.

Some weeks after Earl’s funeral, Roger and Vivian moved into Brighton House. They had given away some of the furnishings plus odds and ends they didn’t need and some of the boxes with his files and work records had been looked through and burned, not having any relevance to anyone. Earl’s laboratory had also been cleared out and the rest of the boxes had been stored there.

Weeks went by and nothing unusual happened, that is, until Roger was going through some of his father’s boxes on a Saturday afternoon. Inside one of them, he found a shoe box with a couple of letters and what appeared to be a journal of some kind. He thought it was letters Earl had written to his mother when he was overseas, but both letters were dated 1929, 14 years after he had married Carissa, and nine years after he was born. He opened the first one it and began to read.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Sep 18, 1929

Dear Earl,

First, I want to thank you for the lovely dinners and the lovely time we had together. You are such a gentleman, so marvelously funny to be with and I look forward to your return later this year- in fact, I can hardly wait.

The office of the Department of Agriculture is arranging your next contract, which will include some soil surveys and an assessment of the fruit growing areas north of here. You must prepare yourself for some extensive traveling by car and, as you have already experienced, the roads are not the best.

You asked me to keep you abreast of the political situation here in Argentina. I can tell you that President Hipólito Yrigoyen was only elected last year. This is his second time, as he was first elected for a term in 1916. Both houses of Congress are controlled by his party, the Radicals, most of whom are middle-class political professionals, who favor social reform. There is a lingering unrest amongst the conservatives, who feel the experiment in democracy threatens the socioeconomic net in the country, but the government’s agricultural policies have been quite successful and for the moment, things appear stable. The military has undergone changes in the last decade and it seems the officer core, many of whom are sons of the landed aristocracy, is unhappy with the entire political system, as are scores inside the church hierarchy, who also represent the old elite. Many of them own huge estates (estancias, as they are called here) with impressive mansions. You will see some of them when you come again.

As you know, Carlos Gardel, our national tango idol, is back in Buenos Aires again. He returned after touring Paris and Madrid in June together with the two guitarists Barbieri and Aguilar and they are now playing in all the best restaurants and bistros here in the city. I love the songs “Adiós Muchachos, Cuando tú no estás, Lo han visto con otra” and so many more. Too bad there wasn’t time to go and dance when you when you were here. Gardel is immensely popular.

As soon as I receive the contract proposals from the Minister of Agriculture’s secretary, I’ll look them over and send the documents to you. Don’t forget to address any correspondence related to the contract to me at the following address

Srta. Andrea Zucaro, Abogado

Derecho Departamento Legal

Ministerio de Economía

Avenida Del Libertador 2800

Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Please send personal letters to my home address. My secretary opens all my mail (my instructions) before she gives it to me and she is quite inquisitive.

I can’t wait to see you and hold you in my arms again.

Con mucho amor


“Vivian! Come in here” Roger shouted. You’ve got to see this”. Vivian came running into the old lab. “What is it, Roger, what’s so important?” she asked.

“Look, I found a shoebox with some letters that appear to be some kind of personal correspondence of dad’s. There is also a journal of a kind. I just read the first letter from 1929, and it looks like father had a love affair in Argentina”, he said

He handed the letter to Vivian who began to read it. “Oh my God she said, it’s clear as crystal he had an affair with this woman, Andrea.” She looked into the box with the letters and grabbed the second one. “Well, let’s see, the next letter, she said. It is also postmarked 1929. She unfolded the pages in great anticipation and began to read it aloud.

Brighton House,

Farnborough, England,

October 8, 1929

Dearest Andrea,

Thanks for your letter, which arrived yesterday. The marvel of the new transatlantic ocean liners surely do speed up the mail service between Europe and the American continent. In the old days, your letter would not have arrived for another two weeks or more at the best. SS Bremen, a German ocean liner, made the trip from Bremerhaven to New York in four days, 17 hours, and 42 minutes in July of this year. I guess the mail to Argentina is then forwarded from New York to Montevideo and then to Buenos Aires via mail steamer. There is talk of perhaps getting trans-Atlantic flights in the near future. Some flights have already crossed the Atlantic between continental Europe and America, but no announcements of commercial flights have been made yet. Time wise that would be a huge advantage over travel by ocean liners and think about the affect it would have on international mail service

Let me hasten to say that meeting you was one of the most exciting things that ever happened in my life. You are an incredibly beautiful and gracious woman, someone I have dreamt of meeting all my life. I was completely honest with you when I explained I was married and had a nine-year old son, but there is much more to tell, especially after I made love to you the night before I left. You have no idea how wonderful it was. I never have I felt as happy in my life.

After my son Roger was born in 1920, my wife changed in ways that are hard to explain. Our love life fell apart or perhaps I should say “crashed into a wall” and never recovered. No matter how hard I tried to revive it, nothing worked. For the last nine years, I have outwardly projected being happily married, but the truth is quite the opposite. I thought about divorcing Carissa, but I think Roger is too young yet. He needs a father as well as a mother. I’m essentially quite unhappy about the whole depressing situation.

I have worried a great deal about the stock market the last few of month and decided to cash in all my investments. I bought gold instead and stored it in a security box in a bank in Zurich, Switzerland. Since I made a very handsome profit on my investments, the amount of gold bullion I bought was very substantial, although I had to pay a premium over the world price of $21.00 per ounce. Don’t ask me how I managed to acquire the gold, since there are some questions yet as to the legality of a private citizen owning gold bullion here in England. If you or your family have any investments in stocks or bonds, you should consider cashing them in. The stock markets around the world, especially in New York, are running wild with uncontrolled speculation. Surely, this cannot continue and sooner or later some kind of adjustment to the inflated values must happen, which will mean losses for a lot of people.

You said your family was in the cattle business. Do they have a ranch? Since Britain imports a lot of beef from Argentina, one never knows if perhaps our next roast beef came from your family’s cattle business (I’m joking). We also import a lot of grain from your country. Britain never could grow enough of their own to satisfy the market.

Before I return to Argentina, is there anything I can bring you from Europe or New York? I may book on that ocean liner “Bremen” if the departure time fits with my plans.

I’m anxiously awaiting the contract documents so I can plan my next trip and be with you again. I’ll sign off in the same way as you did.

Con mucho amor


“I’m astounded”, said Roger. “I had no idea there was anything like that going on, I mean Earl having a lover overseas, and this is before mother died- it’s unimaginable to me. I don’t think mother had any inkling about anything untoward”. “If she did, she never let on to me”.

“Look, Roger, there’s something odd going on here”, said Vivian. “We just read a letter that Earl had sent to Argentina”. “Look at the stamp; it has been cancelled, so it must have been sent”. “How can the letter be here then?” “There is no indication it has been returned from Argentina”.

“I have no idea” said Roger and picked up the next letter from the bundle marked “A-2” 1929 and began reading.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Noviembre 3, 1929

Querido Earl,

I received your letter two days ago and how right you were with the stock market. The New York stock exchange crash that culminated on October 29th must have been a horrible situation for thousands of investors all over the world. I’m uncertain just how bad the crash has affected investors in Argentina. Many of the wealthy people here own land, rather than stocks and bonds and few if any amongst the working class have any investments and if they did, it would be in Argentinean businesses. My father is a land owner, having inherited the family estate from his father and he in turn from my great grandfather, who came from a small village called Dicomano, north of Firenze in Italy. He married the daughter and only child of a wealthy landowner and thus came into possession of the estate. I’m also the only child of my parents. The estate is near the town of Tres Arrollos, in the province of Buenos Aires.

The department of agriculture have approved the contract for the soil surveys and economic assessment of specified fruit growing regions. I should have the documents on my desk within a week and will forward them to you pronto. If you have any questions, please cable me. Assuming all goes well, you should be able to depart for Argentina in January next year and frankly, I can hardly wait for your return. Will you be staying at Hotel Castellar again?

On the political scene, things are much the same. There is uncertainty with respect to exports of grain and beef, given that the crash no doubt will affect the international markets and some reduction in exports has already been noted. There is upward pressure on interest rates, but no run on the banks as of yet.

You may want to investigate the possibility of flying from Panama to Buenos Aires. A company called Panagra now provides air transportation for passengers, mail and cargo over a 4,251-mile network of routes from Panama, Through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. The service only began this year, but seems to be growing in popularity. It would probably cut your travel time by one week, since you will only have to sail from New York to Panama and then fly from there.

All girls like to be spoiled, but you don’t have to bring me anything, Earl- just yourself.

Con mucho amor



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The Kidnapping

By Kenny Beechmount


It was 5:30 in the afternoon. Carol, Robert and their two-year old son had just arrived in town from a bus tour around the Vermont countryside to see the woods in their wonderful fall colours.  They checked in at the Woodside Motel and freshened up a bit, before heading across the road to the Swan family restaurant. It was filled to near capacity with a mixture of patrons, ranging from some laughing teenagers at a table over in one corner to elderly couples and parents with children.  The waitresses were busy, moving around with serving trays filled with either empty dishes or loaded with food, the kind that was typically served in an average family restaurant.

Carol and Robert were seated at a table by the window, close to the main entry.  Their two-year old son was in a high chair, drinking juice from a bottle. They had never been to Vermont before, but had decided to take this trip to celebrate Robert’s promotion to senior technical adviser at the auto parts manufacturing plant he had worked at for several years in Detroit, and also, because Carol had spent her childhood in an orphanage in New Hampshire next door to Vermont, and she wanted to get another look at the nature that she remembered so well from her childhood.

Robert’s promotion was somewhat of a crowning achievement for him, especially considering his impoverished and insecure orphan background.  He had never known his parents and had gone through one orphanage after another and several temporary homes up until he was 16, when he got his first job.  That was the beginning of his unwavering determination to get a slice of the good life, which began after he received his degree in mechanical engineering in 1971 at the age of 27.  Carol had met and fallen in love with him at the college they were both attending and they were married shortly after his graduation.

The waitress came to their table with the menu and asked if they wanted something to drink. “Two gin and tonic would be fine” said Robert. “We will order a bit later.”

There was a lot of chatting going on at the many tables, a rather noisy atmosphere that pretty much drowned out the background music.  Occasionally someone’s boisterous laughter could be heard above the hubbub, but that was not out of the ordinary in this restaurant. Many of the patrons were locals that often dined there and laughing loudly-having a good time- it just went with the territory.

Robert and Carol ordered from the menu and fell into some chit-chatting about what to do with the extra $14,000.00 a year that Robert would be making in his new position.

The front door opened up and two policemen, accompanied by a woman entered.

“There’s my child” shouted the woman, “those people kidnapped my son.”

The two policemen approached the table and asked for their names.

“My name is Robert Nero and this is my wife Carol.  There must be some mistake, this is our son.  We haven’t kidnapped anyone.”

The woman started yelling at them. “You kidnapped my boy,-this is my son.”  She moved over to the high chair took the child and began hugging it.  Carol screamed at her and tried to wrestle her boy away from the woman.  Robert stood up and shouted at her to let go his son.  The two policemen grabbed his arms and told him to calm down.

The commotion at the table caught the attention of several patrons, who watched the situation with disbelief. One of the police officers asked Robert and Carol to accompany them to the police station, to solve the matter there. Carol insisted on holding her child, but instead, the other policeman said he would hold it until they got to the station.  “There is no need to panic,” he said.  “If this is a case of mistaken identity, the situation will resolve itself in no time.

They were led outside, and put into a black van with both side and rear doors.  One of the policemen sat on the front seat holding the child in his arms, the other began driving.  The woman followed in another vehicle, but some distance down the interstate highway, she overtook the black van and sped ahead of it.

She pulled off the interstate at an exit to a small town, parked her car in a parking lot and waited.  Not long after, the black van showed up and the two police officers exited, one with the child in his arms. No sign of Robert and Carol.  The woman came over and handed each of them an envelope, took the child and without saying anything, went over to a car in the parking lot, but not the one she had arrived in.  She opened the door, put the child in a child car seat on the back seat, strapped it in, slid in behind the wheel and drove off into the night.

The two policemen looked at each other and grinned. “That was an easy $10.000 for a few hours work.”  One of the policemen entered the black van and the other the car the woman had left behind and both vehicles drove off.

Three weeks later, on November 26, 1976, a story appeared in the Vermont Daily News:

Two people found burned to death in an abandoned quarry near Westville.

 Police was called to an old abandoned granite quarry near Westville, late yesterday afternoon. A hunter had found a burned out van with two bodies still sitting on the front seats, but burnt completely beyond recognition.  The coroner was unable to establish the time and cause of death and no identification was found, but it is presumed to be a homicide.  The vehicle was reported stolen three weeks ago from a dealership in Riverside. The dead persons may be from out of state, as no-one has been reported missing in Vermont during the last month. The forensic unit will be doing a thorough investigation in the hope of identifying the remains. The abandoned quarry is quite isolated and rarely visited by anyone and so far, no-one has reported seeing the van.  There is some speculation that it may be a drug-related homicide.

Four month later, on page two of the same newspaper, a follow-up story on the granite quarry double homicide appeared.  “Intensive investigation into the crime had not revealed how the two people died.  One was a woman, the other a man.  Neither showed any signs of having died violently and the condition of the burned bodies did not permit further forensic investigations.  No-one was reported missing from Vermont, nor the neighboring states. The case remains unsolved and no longer under active investigation.”


    July 16, 2007.

 Kidnapping mystery:

 A well known woman in the cosmetics business, Annette Nero, who owned four stores in San Francisco, passed away on July 12 after a long battle with cancer.  Her only child, Robert Nero, inherited the substantial business and fortune from his mother, but a letter attached to the will revealed a mystery that will require criminal investigations into Ms. Nero’s past.

The letter, in her own handwriting, revealed that she was not the mother of Robert; rather he had been kidnapped when he was two years old in the state of Vermont. His father’s name was Robert Nero, who was her brother.  They had been separated as children and brought up in different orphanages and her brother did not know he had a sister.  Their parents had both died in an automobile accident.  She had been brutally raped when she was ten years old by the head of the orphanage she was being raised in and as a result was unable to have children of her own.

She stated that she had been told she had a brother and had much later successfully traced his whereabouts and kept an eye on him. She desperately wanted a child of her own, and when she found out her brother had a son, the idea of kidnapping his child came to her one day when she found out he was flying to Vermont for a vacation. She booked on the same flight and took the same bus tour as his and brother and his wife and child.  It was easy, since her brother did not know her.

She said she had not been able to trace her brother’s whereabouts after the kidnapping.  It appeared he had moved and for obvious reasons, she did not want to pursue the matter.  She asked her “son” for forgiveness and said that perhaps he could find his real father and mother and ask them to forgive her.

Kenny Beechmount

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This work by K. Beechmount is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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The old oak

The old tree looked tired with its gnarled limbs, heavy with fading leaves, stretched out toward the setting sun. The only visitors during the day was a pair of squabbling, noisy sparrows that kept up an infernal, unrelenting chirp, chirp, chirp until they eventually grew tired or settled whatever it was they were arguing about.

A sudden gust of wind rustled its leaves, a harbinger of the approaching fall and winter, which were not its favourite seasons. Sometimes, the fall could be enchanting, especially when the squirrels came in seemingly endless numbers to collect acorns fallen from its branches and birds stopped by to overnight on their journey to warmer climates, away from the impending winter.

An old man holding a young by his hand boy came walking down the path and sat down on the bench below the ancient oak.  The man took a pipe out of his pocket, filled it with tobacco and lit it.  The bluish smoke drifted on the air, wafting a pleasant aroma around the tree. “I love sitting here” he said. “When I was your age, my grandfather would take me here, just as I took you here today and the Oak tree was just as big then as it is now”. “It is many hundreds of years old and if only it could speak of all the things it has seen and experienced, what stories it could tell.”

The boy looked inquiringly at his grandfather’s face.  “But trees can’t talk”, he said, “They are just things that grow and make leaves and little nuts.

“Those little nuts are called acorns. The squirrels love to eat them and when I was young, the farmers would let their pigs run in the woods and feed on them, but don’t think that trees can’t talk.  All living things can speak; you just have to listen carefully, for they have their own special way of talking.  If you put your hand on the tree, it will feel it and perhaps, if you touch your ear to its trunk, you will hear its voice.

The boy looked at the massive trunk of the tree, covered with carved initials, hearts and even some crosses.

“Why do people carve letters and things on trees grandfather?” he asked.

“Well”, he replied, “some do it just to show that they have been here at the tree and others to leave a message, such as the initials of two people in love, carved inside a heart.”

“Did you ever carve your name or initials on the tree?”

“No”, he said, “but your father did.”

“Show them to me” said the boy eagerly.  “Where are they? I want to see them.”

“I don’t remember, but why don’t you look around on the bark of the tree.  Look for the initials KCFL.  They should still be there, even though your father carved them when he was a little older than you.  That would be more than thirty years ago.”

The boy slowly moved around the tree, looking up and down its trunk, but after some time, he had not found it.

“I can’t see it”, said the boy. “I’ve looked all over the bark.”

“Well, perhaps you need to look a little higher up”, said the old man.  “Perhaps he stood on the bench when he carved it.”

The boy jumped up on the bench and began to look higher up the tree trunk.

“Oh, there it is! I see it! He shouted eagerly. “Look up there” he said, “Can you see the letters?”

“Yes, I see them now.  They look a bit faded, but that’s your dad’s initials all right.  I didn’t see him carve them, for he had come up here by himself, but he told me he had done so.”

“I can tell dad that I found them when I get back, but I don’t want to go home yet,  said the boy.”

“How do I listen to what the old tree is saying, he asked his grandfather?”

“Well”, he said, “you will have to put your ear to the trunk of the tree and hold a hand over your other ear and then listen very carefully, for old trees speak very softly”

The boy did as he was told and appeared to be listening intensely for several minutes, without moving his head or his body.

“Grandfather, all I can hear is some small cracking sounds and something like a hum, – you know, kind of like the sound a bee makes when it flies around the flowers in your garden, but I didn’t hear it speak to me.”

“Well,” said the grandfather, “I didn’t say that you would understand what it says.  It speaks in its own language, but the humming sound is all the leaves talking to each other about the wind that plays with them and the sun that smiles on them. The cracking sound is the oak tree telling you that it is very old and its limbs are frail and tired.”

A man walked by the bench with his dog on a leash.  He nodded to the grandfather and bid good afternoon. The grandfather returned the greeting, and the boy went over to pet the dog.

A sense of serenity surrounded the little forest. The afternoon was waning and looking at his grandson, he tried to remember something from when he had been the same age, but  memories from that time had dimmed over the years.  He stood up, looked at the old oak tree and felt sad when he thought that the tree was as old in oak tree years as he was in human years. He knew he had few years left in which to enjoy  the pleasure of moments like this, but couldn’t help but wonder if the old oak tree would outlive him.

October 2012

Kenny Beechmount,–written in memory of my grandfather who often took me for a walk to the little forest with the old oak tree. The oak tree is gone and my grandfather passed away at the age of 93, in 1968. The memory of both him and the old oak tree lives on in my soul.


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The Ticket



         Paul had to stop at the convenience store on his way home from the office. He hated to do that, but Lila had forgotten to buy milk and cream when she shopped for groceries.  Dam it, why can’t she make a list of the things she need, instead of shopping just from memory, he thought. She knows all too well I loathe stopping at the local convenience store.  It smells of greasy food and the guy who runs it looks like he came from the slums of some place in Asia.

It was raining cats and dogs when he reached the store and he got wet running to the entry.  Dam it, now my suit will get wrinkled and I won’t be able to wear it for tomorrow’s meeting with the people from Barlow Ltd. he thought.    Paul went over to the cooler, got the milk and cream and walked to the counter and paid for it.  He noticed how dirty the man’s hands and nails was, when he gave him the money and shuttered at the thought that this guy handled everything sold in the store. Next time Lila asked him to stop at this damned place, he would find an excuse not to.

There was a sign above the tobacco cabinet proclaiming the weekly lotto prize was 45 million dollars.  Hell, he thought, why not get a ticket, even though he practically never gambled.  He asked for a ticket, paid for it and stuck it in his pocket.

“Lila, I’m home!  I put the milk and cream on the counter in the kitchen.  I got wet in the rain so I’ll go and change.  What’s for supper?”

“Pasta Carbonara and a green salad,” shouted Lila from the living room. I’ll call you when it’s ready”

Paul went upstairs.  He was pissed off and had a slight headache.  Jeepers, what a lousy day it had been.  His secretary was late typing the proposal and presentation for tomorrow’s meeting with the Barlow Company and he had to wait for it.  He spotted several errors in it when she gave it to him for approval, which caused additional delays. Sometimes, he thought, she was careless with her work and he planned to have a word or two with her about that.

After supper he went into his little office and began reviewing the presentation, thinking of how he best could impress the Barlow people.  It would be a very lucrative contract if he landed it and no doubt would result in a promotion for him.

Breakfast was the usual affair with small talk about this and that.  “Don’t forget, I’m going for lunch with aunt Cory, said Lila.  I’ll pick her up at around eleven and drive to Fall River where we will lunch at The Red Rooster restaurant”.

“OK, love, have a nice day and, – Oh by the way, can you take my grey suit along and drop it off at the dry cleaner on your way.  Tell the cleaner I won’t need it until next Monday.”

“Will do, sweet and good luck with the presentation, I’ll see you tonight.”

“Thanks”, said Paul and headed out the door, blowing a kiss toward Lila.  It was a nice sunny morning and he felt great.

Lila went upstairs, showered, put on her sexiest lingerie and a tight fitting blue dress.  After finishing her makeup, she dialled a number on the bedroom phone, said hello, hello and hung up.  Shortly after, the phone rang; she grabbed it: “Hello Richard, how are you darling? Paul left for the office an hour ago.  I’m fine Richard; I made the room reservation at Edgewater Inn as we agreed.  OK darling, I’ll meet you there.  I can’t wait to see you again.  Bye-bye for now”

She left shortly after in her little red Honda.  The morning rush was long over so the traffic was light.  Suddenly she realised she had forgotten Paul’s suit.  “Dam it,” she said to herself, and headed back to the house again.  She parked in the driveway with the engine running and quickly went into the house, took his suit, returned to the car and drove away again.

She stopped at the dry cleaning store, dropped the suit off and told the man that her husband wouldn’t need it until next Monday.  “Very well, he said, it will be ready before then, if you want to pick it up sooner.”

“Thanks,” said Lila and left the store.  She got into her car and drove away with a big smile on her face. The thought of being with Richard exited her.

Sergei’s parents had emigrated from Ukraine when he was a young boy. Life had not been easy for his parents for many years, but eventually they had prospered.  His parents had worked hard and saved their money until one day they could buy a dry cleaning business.  As soon as Sergei had finished his schooling, he began working for his father, learning the business.  It was not hard work, but long hours sometimes. After his parents retired and he took over the business, he had modernized and expanded it.  His wife was helping him and he had one employee, which enabled him to maintain normal business hours.  Life had become very good.

Sergei took the grey suit the lady had just handed him and checked the pockets.  He always did that himself, for several times he had found some valuable items and wanted to make sure they be returned to the owner.  In one pants pocket, he found 35 cent.  Oh, well, he thought, I’ll put them in the charity jar on the counter. The jar was marked “Books for children” and was for the charity of his choice, -a bank savings account for his little boy, Michael. The take was on the average was $21.00 a month and there was 935 dollars on the account now. Someday, Michael would have a tidy sum of money for his education.  Funny how it is, for no one ever once asked expressly what the charity was for, they just arbitrarily put change into the jar, so he didn’t feel it was steeling, since he didn’t ask them to.

In the inner jacket pocket, he found a lotto ticket. Uncertain what to do with it; he put it by the side of the cash register.  He noted the ticket was for the coming Saturday’s draw and decided he would check it after the draw, just to see if it was a winning ticket.

Another customer came in with some clothes that needed special dry cleaning.  He discussed it with the women, who looked exquisite in her expensive clothes and made out a receipt for her. This kind of cleaning was very profitable and he thanked her as she left.

As he passed by the cash register, he looked at the lotto ticket again.  What if it was a winning ticket? Should he go and claim the prize or be honest and give it back to the owner?  In the end, he decided to wait and see.  It would be easy to be honest and return the ticket if it wasn’t a winner and no doubt enhance his reputation as an honest person in the eyes of the ticket owner. It gave him a strange feeling of delectation thinking about the ticket’s potential for winning and he compared it to the one he had bought a couple of days ago.  His wife didn’t like him gambling, but because of the big prize, he had stopped at a convenience store on his way home yesterday and purchased one.

He took his ticket out of his wallet and began to compare the numbers with the ticket he had found in the suit pocket. Well, he thought, this is quite a coincidence.  The lotto dealer identification number is the same on both the tickets.  Clearly, the owner of the suit had bought it in the same convenience store where he had bought his.

Most of his customers were business people who wore clothes of the type that had to be dry-cleaned, and he knew many of the repeat customers very well. Some of them were chatty, like the lady who managed a travel agency.  She always talked about her annual travel trips, which each year was to a different place, just so she could advise potential travel clients what a particular place was like.  She could talk a blue streak for ten minutes or more at a time, which Sergei listened to politely, nodding in agreement, adding a “yes” and “you don’t say”  here and there for emphasis and to act as if interested in her tall tales. The fact that he thought she was a real bubble head he kept to himself.

Then there was the old gentleman, a retired, apparently well-healed chap, widowed and always bringing his dog into the store.  The pooch was a mixture of an unknown number of misalliances with other street dogs of dubious background and could at best be labelled as an ugly mongrel, but he worshipped it profoundly, forever extolling its virtues and extreme intelligence.  He claimed he could talk to it as he would to his friends and it would understand every word he said. Out of respect for the old man, Sergei never contradicted him; even though he was convinced he was somewhere  in the middle stages of Alzheimer disease.

The day passed with an average number of customers coming and going, although after four in the afternoon, there was a sudden increase in patrons dropping off clothes to be dry-cleaned. His wife helped him serving the customers and by six o’clock, he closed the store.

The next morning, he opened at the usual time and put the needed change in the cash register.  He looked for the lotto ticket he had left by the side of it, but it wasn’t there.  It wasn’t on the floor either or anywhere he looked. He could only conclude that someone had pilfered it late yesterday afternoon, when the store was busy. Well, at least he didn’t have to worry about whether it was a winning ticket or not, nor having to return it to the owner. His conscience was clear.

Gary had rented a bachelor apartment and simply just relished being away from his parents, under whose roof he had lived for 20 years.  It wasn’t that he was ungrateful to them for making sure he got an education, and keeping him at home, rather, he wanted his freedom and live on his own.  He had completed community college and gotten a job as an electrician with a local building contractor, which paid quite well. He had wanted a bigger apartment, but not enough money put a damper on that. It would have to wait until he had saved some more loot or perhaps win in the lottery.  That ticket he snitched in the dry-cleaning store yesterday, when he brought his jacket in to get cleaned; well, one never knows, that might just be a winner. He couldn’t resist the temptation.  The ticket was lying on the counter next to the cash register, so he just grabbed it, when the old man turned around, put it in his pocket and walked out.

He took out the other two tickets he had bought in the convenience store last Monday and compared the numbers with those on the ticket he had snitched. They were quite different, kind of oddball, but what the hell; the odds of winning are astronomical, so those numbers would be as good as any he thought.

Gary had invited two of his friends over for a couple of beers and to watch a hockey game on the TV.  He opened up a bag of potato chips, dumped them in a bowl and put it on the coffee table together with some small bags of peanuts; arranged the chairs around the TV and sat down to wait for Tim and Peter, who arrived just before the game began.

During the first intermission, Gary got an idea.  “Hey guys, he said, did any of you buy lotto tickets for tomorrow’s draw?” “Yea, said Tim, I bought one” What about you, Peter?” asked Gary.  “Sure did, he said, I’ve got two.” OK, guys, between us we have six tickets, for I have three. If you are willing, we could have a bit of a fun game here. What do you say if we put all six tickets in a bowl, mix them up and each of us then draw two tickets? If any of us wins anything, we share it evenly amongst us.” “Sure, said Tim and Peter, that sound fine.  We each improve our chances of winning at least something, if one or more of the ticket numbers are drawn. “Well, said Gary, to make it more interesting, let’s agree to give the holder of a winning ticket and extra ten percent of the winnings.” “Yea, why not, that sounds OK, said Tim and Peter.

They put the tickets in the empty chip bowl, face down, and mixed them up.  Each drew one ticket, then reversed turns and drew one more.  “OK, said Gary, we will meet here tomorrow and check the tickets.  The second period is coming on guys; let’s watch the game now.”

After the game, Tim and Peter left. Tim didn’t have a car, so Peter drove him home.  Tim had been unemployed most of the winter and was a bit hard up for money.  He had just landed a job at a local parts manufacturing plant that had opened again after being closed a couple of years, due to an economic down turn in the auto industry. He hoped he could keep this job for a long time, so he could get back on his feet again. The room he had rented in a private home was like a jail cell to him, and although the owners were nice, he couldn’t stand living there.  He wanted an apartment of his own again.

Tim made some coffee and sat down to watch the news.  There was a brief mention of the lottery prize being 45 million dollars for tomorrow.  He took the two tickets out of his wallet and looked at them.  One had some real oddball numbers: surely, that would not be a winning ticket he thought, but then again, anything is possible.  He drank some of the coffee and began thinking about his girlfriend, but those odd tickets numbers kept nagging him.  “Jeepers, he said to himself, supposedly that was the winning ticket, what kind of life-altering event that would be.” He began dreaming of all the things he could buy and places he could go. His girlfriend would go nuts; for she wasn’t particularly well heeled either, and she would want some of all that loot to go shopping.

Tim got all excited about the prospects for winning with that ticket. He had to share the winnings with Gary and Peter, which would give each of them 15 million dollars, although he would get ten percent off the top for having the winning ticket, giving him 19.5 million.  “That’s serious pocket change, he said to himself.  I wouldn’t make that much money if I worked the rest of my life at the plant. It almost blew his mind fantasising about this whole, crazy scenario.

He slept till late Saturday morning, late being nine o’clock, for he was so used to getting up at six. The coffee machine was on and he made some toast while waiting for it to brew his morning caffeine fix. He turned the TV on and watched the news for a while, which typically consisted of reports on murder and mayhem.  Why is there never any good news?  He thought. It’s depressing to listen to all the violence, corruption, conflict and what not going on around the world. The weather report called for rain later in the day, so he decided to go and get the few things he needed now.  On his way back, he stopped by the drug store, bought the local newspaper and something to snack on.  He saw the ad above the lotto booth, proclaiming tonight’s 45 million dollars prize and a crazy idea hit him.  He walked over to the booth, grabbed a player slip and took the ticket with the odd numbers out of his wallet, copied them down on the slip, handed it to the attendant, who put it through the reader and printed the ticket. He checked the numbers against his ticket and they matched.

Saturday evening Tim bought a dozen beers and took a taxi to Gary’s place.  Peter arrived a bit later, also bringing some beers.  “Well, said Gary, tonight is the night. Are we going to win or not?”         “You’ve got to be kidding, said Peter, the odds of winning are simply astronomical.”

“You never know, you have to be optimistic and I think positive,” said Tim. They will be drawing the numbers at 9:00 o’clock, so turn on the TV and we can watch it.”

“Well, said Peter, there’s the numbers.  Let’s get our tickets out and check them.” Gary checked his tickets first and had only a couple of numbers correct. Those numbers are weird, he said. No-one will win that prize.”

“I told you, said Peter, we are not going to win.”

Peter checked his tickets next and shouted “Oh my God, I have four numbers correct.  We just won 10 dollars. That’s just enough to buy a few beers. Tim, it’s your turn now.”

Tim took his two tickets out. “Hey, look at that, I have three numbers right on the first ticket.  That’s good for a free ticket, so we can play again next week.” He checked the second ticket and grew silent.  He just sat there, not saying a word, with an uncanny expression on his face.

Peter interrupted the silence. “I told you guys, the odds of winning are astronomical.  We didn’t win the big prize.

At that moment, Tim let out a yell that could be heard a three blocks away. “Guys, he said, we are all millionaires, for I have all the numbers correct.  Check it out, guys, double check it again.”

Peter and Gary checked the ticket and began hooting and hollering. “We are rich- dam rich, rich, rich, we can buy whatever we want.  God, this can’t be true, said Gary.   Tim, sign the ticket so you can go and claim the prize on Monday.”

“Boys, I have some very good news for you, said Tim.  I can’t sign that ticket, because I have two of them.  I bought a second ticket yesterday, with the same numbers.  I thought they were odd, but I had a totally uncanny intuition that it would be a winner. One of you two have to sign the ticket and claim the prize, for it would look suspicious if I claimed them both. You two can keep the winning ticket we played together and share the prize between you. I’ll claim the prize for the second winning ticket which I bought yesterday.  You will each get 11 million dollars and I will get 22 million. That’s more money than I could ever earn in my life.  I have for years dreamt of living on some pacific island, off the tourist beaten track. Don’t ask me what I’ll be doing there.  I’ll cross that bridge when I find the right island”.

“How do you know there are only two winners?” asked Gary.

“Well, said Tim, the numbers are so odd that it seems extremely unlikely there are more, but even if there is, I’ll stand by this deal.

—-Paul came home from the office early.  He was elated, for the Barlow people had accepted the deal. His presentation had been successful.  He turned on the TV and to watch the news. There was a mention of the big lottery prize and suddenly he remembered the ticket he had bought. He had put it in his jacket pocket, but his suit was at the dry cleaners.  He would ask Lila about it, but she wasn’t home.

The phone rang and he grabbed it. “Hello”, he said.”  “Would you be Mr. Carlson?” a man’s voice asked.  “Yes, he said, what can I do for you?” “I’m the manager at Edgewater Inn. I’m calling about the earring your wife said she had lost in the room during your stay here last Monday.  We have found it and wonder if we should send it to you or she will pick it up herself? “I would appreciate it if you would send it.  Do you have our address?” Yes, we have it from your wife’s credit card, which she charged the room to and by the way, we all admired the yellow Ferrari you are driving.  What a marvellous car to look at.”  “Thanks you,” said Paul, and hung up.

Paul was astounded. His wife unfaithful; the thought had never occurred to him. He knew exactly who owned the only yellow Ferrari in town and couldn’t wait for Lila to come home and explain just what she was doing sharing a room in Edgewater Inn with Richard Dalton, his former boss, on a day when she was supposed to have lunch with her aunt at The Red Rooster Restaurant in Fall River.

He felt a migraine coming on.  This wasn’t going to be the celebratory evening he had anticipated and he had every intention of calling Richard Dalton’s wife to inform her of her husband’s indiscretions. With a feeling a dread inside him, he put the bottle of champagne he had bought to celebrate his success, out in the garage.

       Kenny Beechmount, Copyright 2011.

        Comments are welcome


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 The Water

             Samuel Bayfield was eager to go on his cycling trip to the little village his friend and roommate, Thomas, had told him about. Thomas had wanted to come along on the trip, but his boss had asked him to work the whole weekend, and since he worked the nightshift, it was out of the question. Samuel began to pack the two bicycle panniers with just enough clothes and things he would need to overnight in the village inn where he had made a room reservation a week ago.  According to Thomas, the village was located some 15 km off the highway along a scenic, unpaved country road with a lot of ruts in it, but that was OK he thought, his bike would handle that easy.

            Samuel headed for the kitchen, made a couple of sandwiches for the trip, filled his two water bottles, and put them in the fridge. It was past eleven, Thomas had left for his night shift, and it was time to get some sleep, for he wanted to leave early.

            The morning was slightly foggy with low-hanging clouds, but the coolness made cycling down the paved road easy. The traffic was light and he relaxed and enjoyed the freshness of the air and smell of the countryside, with fields of wheat, alfalfa and some just a sea of yellow flowers. Small farms lay tucked away amongst the fields, shaded by old leafy trees and conifers. He began looking for the stone symbol that marked the entry to the side road. Thomas had told him to look for a tall stone on the left side of the road, so it should be easy to find. The wheels of his bicycle and the steady pedalling made a monotone sound, interrupted only when a vehicle passed him, which was rare.

            He found the gravel road a couple of hours later; spotting the stones that marked the entry, and stopped to examine them closer. It wasn’t just one stone, but four, placed in a circle by someone, but for what purpose he couldn’t figure out. There was no road sign indicating that a village lay at the end of it, nor a road name.  The stones were higher than he was, but did not have any markings, not even some cheap, painted graffiti. He wondered if this was the correct road.

            It was 12:00 o’clock, when Samuel mounted his bike and began cycling down the narrow gravel road. There were farmer’s fields on both sides, but no sign of any cows or animals or any cultivation, and no houses to be seen anywhere. That’s weird, he thought.  Doesn’t anyone live out here? He kept cycling for a half hour or so and then stopped for a break, to eat a sandwich.  The sun had broken through the clouds and he could see some wooded areas out ahead. The village must be on the other side of the woods, he thought.  He looked back toward the highway and spotted something gleaming in the road.  It seemed to be closing in on him, but he ignored whatever it was and began peddling down the road again.

            The road made a turn to the right and he cast a fleeting look behind him.  What he saw startled him to a point where he nearly lost his balance on the bike. The road behind him had filled with water. It was a river as wide as the road itself and it was coming toward him.  He watched it with anxiety, having no idea of what was going on, then jumped on his bike again and pedalled in a sprint down the road for a couple of hundred metres, stopped and looked back again. The river was about 25 metres behind him and seemingly stopped there. He kept going, stopping now and then to check, but it still followed some distance behind him. On the left side, he saw a trail leading away from the road, and turned in on it, to see if the river would follow him. It did, but it was now just a small stream, only filling the trail and still some distance behind him.

            Samuel headed for the wooded hills just ahead of him.  Together, they formed a horseshoe-like shape with a large depression in front of them. The stream that had followed him along the trail was now catching up with him and began filling a large depression below the hills, slowly making a lake.  He dragged his bike up one of the hills, leaned it up against at a large maple tree, and watched the stream creating a lake.

            Confused, he wandered around the woods for a spell, not really knowing what he wanted to do, when he came across a path, perhaps made by some animals. He followed the path, but it didn’t seem to lead anywhere, running helter-skelter here and there, but suddenly a small, cemetery with just a few burial sites appeared before him. Curious, he entered the place and tried to read the writing on the headstones, but they were badly weathered and illegible. He saw one at the far end that looked newer and walked over to check it out. Astonishingly, he saw the inscription “Samuel Bayfield.” on it, but no dates. How curious to find someone with his name, buried here he thought. He turned and began walking back to the path.

             “Hello Samuel, and welcome to Bayfield farm.” a voice said.

            Perplexed, he looked around but couldn’t see anyone. “Where are you?” he asked?

             “You have come, and you brought the water that will commence the change,” the voice said.

             “Who are you?” asked Samuel, “show yourself, and what is this change you are talking about?”

            There was silence, a creepy kind of stillness and he thought the whole thing was someone funning him, some kind of a hoax or perhaps it was all in his mind, his imagination gone wild.

            “Samuel Bayfield, the voice called out, you have come in the 80th year, which is the time of the change to the next generation on the farm. I thank you and now I bid you farewell. You must now go to the farm. A new Samuel Bayfield will come here in your place, in another 80 years, for this is the way of the Bayfield farm and it shall be so until the time of the great upheaval. You must never return here.  If you do, you will be propelled into a void until the great upheaval, the time of which is written in the sun.”

            “What is the great upheaval,” Samuel asked. “When will it come? Tell me who you are.”

            Again, there was only silence, a deep quiet that disturbed his mind.

            Suddenly a strong breeze blew through the trees, rustling the leaves and blowing debris all around him.  He held his hand against his face to protect his eyes and turned his back into the wind.  Slowly, it died down and Samuel looked around him.  There were only trees and bushes to be seen.  The cemetery was gone and the path he had followed had vanished. He began walking but didn’t know which direction he should take. Where was the farm the voice had told him to go to? The sun was not visible through the dense forest so he couldn’t get any bearings, but he kept on walking without knowing where he would end up.

            A clearing appeared in the woods and as he came closer, he saw some buildings that looked like a farmstead and noticed a very old man and woman and a middle-aged couple in the farmyard, all of them standing close to each other and holding hands.  Samuel hesitated to approach them, fearing they were performing some kind of a ritual, but one of them saw him and gestured with a waving hand to come over.  He walked toward them slowly and on reaching, them, apologized for his intrusion. “I am very confused and uncertain of where I am and I have seen and experienced some strange things today, which I do not understand,” said Samuel.” Can you help me find my way back to the road, for I fear I’m lost?”

            The old man took him aside and said, “There are things that I must tell you and then you will know what it is you have seen, but you will not understand it. You are not a prognosticator or a predictor; you are an event instigator who will cause an occurrence that happens once every 80 years on this farm.  It’s called the change-over.”

            “We are the Bayfield family and this farm has only ever been owned by four generations of our family, who are reborn again and again. We are like a wheel with four spokes, each representing a generation.  I was 26 years old when I came and my wife was 23 and our children were one and three years old. Now I’m 80 years old and the time have come to return to the rest period, together with my family.  My father will take over after me and he will also be 26 years old when he comes, his wife and children the same ages as mine were, when I came.  After him, my grandfather and after him my great grandfather will take over, their wives and children the same age as mine.  After my great grandfather returns to the rest, I return here again. For each of us, the cycle is 320 years and it has been so for 6400 years.”

            “At the moment of changeover, said the old man, “the farm will disappear and the land return to what it looked like before the farm was created and then reappear again as it was, when first it was built, with the same buildings and animals.  My father will come across the lake that the stream, which you caused to appear, is now creating, and this is the only way he can come. When the farm reappears, he and his family will occupy it until he is 80 years old, and a new changeover will again take place. That event will be precipitated by another person named Samuel Bayfield, who will have the same experience as you are having today.”

            “You are quite right, I don’t understand”, said Samuel. “Do you have any neighbours? What about your children, do they go to school?  Do they have other children to play with?”

            “No”, said the old man, “we have no neighbours and the children need only to learn how to be helpers on the farm.  Our lives are simple and always the same.”

            “But how did this all come about”, asked Samuel, “What happened 6400 years ago that resulted in this perpetual reincarnation?”

            “A story has been passed down through the millennia,” said the old man. “My family was cursed for disobeying a God and as punishment, we were forced to live in an unending cycle of rebirth into the same continuum, and it will be so until the great upheaval.”

            “What is the great upheaval?” asked Samuel.

            “We do not know what it is, or when it will happen, but we know that it is written in the sun,” said the old man.

            “I do not understand how all this can be.  I have never read about anything like this, nor heard tell of such, said Samuel.

            “You must go now, said the old man, “For you have fulfilled the reason for your coming, although you did not know.  The Gods will be thankful to you and henceforth, you shall enjoy a rewarding life, filled with happiness and good fortune.  Go to the stone that you see over there and when you reach it, you will see another stone.  Walk to that and follow all the stones that you see, one by one. When you reach, the last one you will be back to your own time again. I now bid you farewell, for the moment has come.”

            Samuel began walking and sure enough, when he reached the first stone, he could see another further ahead.  He looked back, but saw nothing but trees.  The clearing with the farm was no longer there. The whole experience was unexplainable, bewildering, and surrealistic to him. How could he ever explain to Thomas what had happened to him, without being accused tripping on something. When he reached the second stone, he looked back again, but the first stone was nowhere to be seen.  He kept going, and the stone behind him disappeared as soon as he reached a new one.  There was nothing to guide him back to the farm.

            Suddenly, he came upon the big maple tree where he had left his bicycle. The lake was gone and the trail leading to the gravel road was dry. Everything seemed normal.  He mounted the bike, wanting to escape this nightmarish event as fast as he could and soon reached the gravel road, which was also dry and normal. Half an hour later, he made it to the highway and the first thing he noticed was a sign saying: “Brewton Village, 20 km.” That was not there when he first arrived and the four tall stones that marked the entry to the road when he came, were gone. In their place was a single, large stone with some graffiti painted on it. He looked at his watch and bewildered saw that it was precisely 12:00 noon, the same time as it was when he first arrived at the four stones. There was no way he felt like going down the road again, to the village, where he had a reservation at the inn. He just wanted to go home.

            Thomas, returning home from his night shift, unlocked the door to the apartment, and headed for the kitchen to make some coffee. He heard Samuel shouting in his bedroom, run to the door, thinking he was in some kind of trouble. He couldn’t understand what he was shouting; it all sounded like a bunch of gibberish. Thomas knocked on the door and opened it.  Samuel was sleeping, but tossed and turned as if he was fighting some kind of demonic spirit. He walked over to the bed and shook his shoulders to wake him up.  “Samuel!” he shouted, “wake up, you are having a nightmare.”

            Slowly Samuel woke up and looking completely bewildered at Thomas, shouted “Hey, what’s going on? Where am I?”

            “Jeepers man, you must have had a real bad dream,” said Thomas; are you OK? Why don’t you get up and have some coffee with me? You are going on your biking trip to Brewton village today, remember?”

            Samuel, getting his state of mind back to normal. “Thomas, he said, there is no way I’ll ever go there. I was there in a dream last night, a dream so weird and creepy I can’t even begin to explain it to you.”

Kenny Beechmount

Copyright 26 February 2011. All rights reserved.

Comments are welcome

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The Old Grist Mill

The Miller’s Daughter

Efrain was sitting in his favourite garden chair underneath the cherry tree. It was what he did every day during the summer months, if the sun was shining and the weather warm enough to keep him comfortable. Some days, when it was not, he would ask for a blanket from his daughter, Tina, who was caring for him in the evening of his life. It was a glorious, early summer afternoon with a gentle breeze rustling the leaves in the gnarly old cherry tree, loaded down with sumptuous looking red berries that the starlings feasted on several times a day. Strangely, no-one else seemed interested in eating them.

He had often sat and studied the tree and today, he thought how much it reminded him of himself. He didn’t think it was as old as he, but the contorted, knotty branches seemed to imitate the way he felt about his own ancient body, racked with arthritis and worn from years of hard work at the old grist mill and making malt at the brewery. He felt immensely tired today but didn’t want to fall asleep. Instead, he let his mind roam down memory lane for there is nothing like a journey into the time that once was, he thought. After all, today’s foolish world could not be compared to the old days.

The sun warmed his aged body as he drifted into a world of his own. Presently he found himself sitting on the wooden driver’s seat in the front of a wagon, loaded with sacks of grist, as he had done so often when he was young, but there was no horses hooked up to it. How strange, he thought. Was he dreaming? The wagon floated in the air above the grist mill and he could see Wilona, the miller’s daughter, with her white apron draped around her black dress and her dark hair tied with a green ribbon. He tried to wave to her, but he couldn’t move his hands. It was like he was paralysed, unable to call out to her or get her attention. 

Slowly, the wagon drifted over the landscape, past farms, manors and small groups of houses, all of which were familiar to him. For a while, it hovered over the little house where he was born. He thought of his parents, both of whom had spent their lives in abject drudgery on the farm belonging to the nearby manor house. He knew he had grown up in poverty. There was never money to buy all the things they needed, but his mother always had a little candy for him when she returned from her weekly trip to the country store.

He smiled as the wagon drifted toward the sheltered, small cove and the little straw thatched house near the beach, the first place he lived after he had married Wilona. He looked for his little daughter, but couldn`t see her. Perhaps she was inside with her mother, waiting for him to return from the mill. She was such a lovely little girl, full of life and rambunctiousness.

Life in the small cottage had been filled with love and tender care, but when he looked down on it again, he saw that it had changed. . The picket fence was no longer there and the little shed where the pig was kept had also been removed. The wagon drifted into a cloud and nothing was visible for a while. He gazed into the misty greyness and tried to remember what had happened; why the little house, where he first lived with his bride, had changed so much?

The cloud passed by and the wagon floated over the church where he had married the miller`s daughter so many years ago. He tried to spot her grave, but there were too many and he couldn`t distinguish hers from others. Why had she left him so early? Like a phantom image, Wilona appeared before him, her open arms beckoning him to come. Efrain desperately tried to reach her, but he couldn’t move. He called her, but no word came from his mouth and he didn’t understand why. What was the matter with him? Why could he not embrace his love or speak to her?

Slowly she vanished from his sight and when he looked down again, he saw the town in the distance with the tall church belfry and the little harbour with all its fishing boats. It lay nestled picturesquely in the bottom of the bay that stretched its shimmering surface along the shores, with all its small, secluded beaches. He recognised the little red summer cottage on one of them and gleefully reflected on the many times he and Wilona had spent a Sunday afternoon there, drinking coffee with Charlene, the widow of the barber, who owned it. Tina would play in the sand on the beach, chattering excitedly to herself about things that only she and the make-believe world she momentarily lived in could comprehend.

He could see the brewery, where he had toiled for so many, many years, making malt. Strangely, he was able to smell the steamy, yeast-like odour that permeated the room where the malt was made. It was hard work, he thought, year after year the same, but such had been his lot in life and it had not been all that bad. The door to the stable where the horses were kept when he was young was open, but no horses were there; instead, several trucks were parked in the yard outside. Much had changed, little by little, during the 40 years he had worked there. Machines had replaced work that used to be done manually and new owners took over just before he had retired. He didn’t worry about it, nor did he want to think about it, for it had been a place of drudgery for him.

It must be late afternoon, he thought, for the sun was making longer shadows in the narrow, cobble-stoned streets that hadn’t changed since his great grandfather’s time. He liked some things to stay the same and remembered walking down the narrow alley ways, lined with houses that seemingly always had been there, although the really old, straw thatched houses were gone before his time. Then he saw the old house where he and Wilona had lived so many years and where Tina grew up. The little back yard was still there, but there were no flowers and the house seemed to be empty and not well cared for. It was old and frail like him and would disappear someday soon, just like he would, he thought.

Saddened, he looked ahead and recognized the little wooded area beyond the marshland on the east side of the town. He wondered if the centuries old oak was still standing there and imagined the tree as it used to be when he was young, its giant trunk and huge, thick branches, knotted with large burls. The ground around it would be covered with a blanket of acorns in the fall of the year, on which the squirrels would feast for days on end and fill their larders for the winter. The sweet woodruff grew nearby in the thick undergrowth. He remembered how his father had taught him to pick them and put them up to dry in small bunches and then hang them on a wall in the living room. A while before rainy weather arrived, they would give off a sweet, wonderful aroma. He had always marvelled at that and called it “The rain plant”.

With the afternoon waning, the sun had turned a deep copper colour. The wagon drifted slowly toward the harbour, passing over the centre of the town and the old bell tower, whose bells had tolled for the departed souls of the town ever since it was built several centuries ago. It would not toll for his, he thought, for he would rest beside Wilona and the bells of the church near his birthplace that tolled for the souls of his forefathers for more than 300 years, would also toll for his. It was the way it should be, for it represented continuity with tradition and connection with the past, and that mattered.

The wagon was now over the water, crossing the bay that was bathed in the deep orange light of the setting sun. He saw a few fishing boats leaving the harbour to set their nets for the night and the gulls that always seemed to follow them. Presently, he was floating over the farmland where his ancestors had toiled since anyone could remember. It was the same as it had always been and he was pleased to recognize so many familiar places that had remained in his memory for so long. He saw the church and not far away the old mill, but its wings were damaged and no longer turning. He wondered what had happened. Why had it stopped working?

His daughter’s house came into view in the landscape and languorously the wagon drifted over the garden. He saw himself sitting in the chair by the cherry tree and couldn’t understand why. How could he be both down there and up here at the same time? A blinding light encircled the wagon and a strange, unfamiliar sensation enveloped him, but it was a good feeling. He saw someone coming through the light and reached out with his hands and then he heard Wilona’s voice saying “Efrain, I have missed you”. He could move again and felt curiously strong and full of vitality.

Tina walked down the garden toward the cherry tree to bring her father into the house. A large flock of starlings scattered from the tree as she approached Efrain in his chair. She called out to him, but he didn’t answer. Efrain had gone to join the miller’s daughter forever.

Kenny Beechmount

Copyright 2011

Comments are welcomeCreative Commons Licence
This work by K. Larsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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My grandparent’s home in Denmark was on the third floor (the three windows)

The following little story, written in the style of a child, is a recollection of a typical Christmas during my childhood. The year is 1946, just after the Second World War, during which Denmark was occupied by the Nazis. The country was financially in complete ruins after 5 years of brutal tyranny by the German army, but freedom once again reined in the land. There was hope for the future and re-building of the country had begun. During the war, many things simply could not be bought and at the age of seven, when the war ended, I had never tasted oranges, bananas or any kind of tropical fruit, nor real chocolate, chewing gum, corn flakes and a host of other things that we today take for granted.

We had family in USA and after 1945, we regularly received parcels with various goodies in them, things such as spices and items that were not yet available in Denmark. The following is a recollection of a parcel, a Christmas gift, that my aunt, Marenze (1895-1996) had sent to me.


                    Marentze’s Christmas Present

Snow was everywhere, great, big, huge, enormous piles of it, for it was the worst, most snowy December that anyone could remember. Being only eight years old, I had not experienced many hard winters. We were standing on the platform at the railroad station, waiting for the train, which would take us over to Grandma and Grandpa’s place in Fåborg. This was always my most favourite place to go for Christmas, or any other time of the year, for that matter. I loved my Grandparents more than anything else on earth.
The train is coming! shouted my sister Mona, who was holding my father’s hand. The sound of the huffing and puffing steam locomotive came closer. People began lifting small children up into their arms and suitcases were shuffled around, ready to bring aboard the train. The locomotive past us, spewing great, black clouds of smelly smoke out of its stack and angry, hissing sounds came from somewhere around the wheels, followed by jets of steam. It stopped, and people began leaving the train. We waited politely until it appeared that no more were getting off and then boarded.
Dad opened the door to a compartment in the passenger car and only two persons were sitting in there. “Are these seats taken”? he asked, pointing to the empty seats. It seemed a foolish, pointless question to ask, for it was clear that they were not, but it was custom to ask. “No they are not, come in and sit” replied the man sitting next to the door. Dad put the suitcases up on the rack above the seat and told my sister and me to go and sit by the window. An old woman sitting next to the man by the door began talking to my mother. “What a terrible winter we have”! “I can’t remember the likes of this since I was a little girl” she said. Isn’t it though? replied mother, “here in town the snow is piled two metres high along the side of the streets, and the city has no more money left to haul it away” The small talk continued, but I wasn’t listening.

I heard he train doors being slammed shut and the conductor blew his whistle. We were on our way and my excitement increased. I wondered if I would get the pair of ice skates I had put on my Christmas wish list, but dared not to get my hopes up too high. Dad lighted his pipe and began reading a newspaper. The old lady next to the door , dressed in a long black coat with a fox fur collar and on her head she wore a nice hat with little white things on one side of it. She looked a bit like Grandmother, I thought. It gave me a warm feeling inside.
Our first and only stop, before we reached the town of Odense, was a small place just ten km from Fredericia. No one got off and only a handful of passengers boarded the train. The locomotive hooted and soon we were racing across the landscape, which looked like a giant white blanket, dotted with small clumps of trees, farm houses and small villages. We reached the town of Odense, where we had to change trains. There were many people on the station platform and many more in the station house. Kids and adults were running around, loaded down with suitcases, bags and parcels. Dad grabbed me by the hand and we walked over to the other train, followed by mom and Mona. This train was much smaller than the one we just left. There were no compartments in the passenger cars, just rows of wooden seats, not near as comfortable. It would take us to the town of Ringe, only a short distance from Odense, but we stopped at every small town on the way.

“Dad, aren’t we soon there”?I asked. Dad looked at me and smiled. “Oh, we’ll get there right soon and then we have to change to another train that will take us to Fåborg” he replied. I knew that, for it was not the first time I travelled by train to my Grandparent’s place, but it always seemed to take so long to get there. Mom opened a bag and offered us some sandwiches, which she had brought from home. I looked at them, but didn’t see any I liked. “No thank you, Mom, I’m not hungry” I said. “Well, you have to eat something, otherwise you will be too hungry before we get to Grandma’s place”. Reluctantly I took the sandwich mom offered me and ate it. “Did you bring any cake”? I asked. Mom looked at me and laughed aloud. “Didn’t you say you weren’t hungry and now you want cake? “But Mom, cake doesn’t fill me much and it is good for me”. My sister looked at me with the kind of stern eyes she always had when I said something she didn’t like. Just because she was three years older than I was, she thought she was a “Grown-up” but I just looked back at her with a “Mind your own business” look. Mom gave me a small piece of cake and I settled down and looked out the window at the white landscape. The “clack-clack” sound the wheels made on the rails normally would make me sleepy, but today I was far too excited to think of sleep.
We reached Ringe, boarded another train looking pretty much like the one we had just left, and half an hour later we reached the railroad station in Fåborg. Grandfather was waiting for us on the platform and as soon as the train stopped and the doors were opened, I run over to him and jumped into his arms. “Merry Christmas, Grandpa, I’m so happy to be here” I shouted and gave him a big hug. Grandpa hugged my sister and mom and dad and bid them welcome. We took our suitcases and walked the short distance up to Grandpa and Grandma’s apartment. There was lots of snow here too and I hoped some of my friends had stayed home for Christmas so we could have some good snowball fights. We climbed the three short flights of stairs up to the apartment and Grandma, having seen us coming through the window, stood in the doorway, smiling all over at the sight of us. She greeted us with hugs and kisses and bid us welcome. Inside, there was a heavenly smell of all kinds of good food and I knew that Grandmother would have baked a lot of my favourite cakes and cookies.

Dad and Grandpa seated themselves in the couch and opened a couple of beers, the rest of us headed for the kitchen. Mom and Mona began helping with some of the things Grandma was doing and I sat on the little yellow-painted kitchen bench by the wall. “Grandma, can I have a cookie, please”? I asked. She turned around and smiled at me. Her long white apron was as clean as if she had just put it on. “Well” she said, “you can have one, but no more, for otherwise you will not be hungry for supper and we are having roast Goose”. Mom turned around and looked at me. “Kenny, why don’t you go in and sit with Grandpa and your dad”? she said. “Can’t you see we are all busy here”?
Knowing when to give up, I went in and sat next to Grandpa. He asked me if I wanted a soft drink and I never said no to that. A couple of minutes later, Grandma came in with a small plate full of cookies and put them down in front of me. “Don’t eat too many now” she said “or you won’t be hungry and we are having your favourite desert after the Goose. “Thanks” Grandma, I promise I won’t eat them all” I replied, but knew all too well that I would anyway and so did Grandma, for she smiled at me with a little wink in her eye.
After a while, Dad and Grandpa went down the back stairs to the basement and picked up the Christmas tree, which had been stored there for a few days. Mona and I were invited to help decorate the tree and had lots of fun doing this. There were many small coloured paper baskets to hang on the branches and later Grandma filled them with candy and cookies. We hung the special candle holders on the tree. They were made in such a way that they would keep the wax candles vertical.

Late in the afternoon, we went to church. Mom stayed behind to look after whatever was cooking in the kitchen. The service lasted a long while and afterwards, it was time to say hello to family and friends, who also had gone to the church. This took some time, for Grandfather knew a lot of people and had to wish them all a Merry Christmas. By the time we got home, dinner was ready. We helped Grandma set the table with all her best china and silver ware and a large decoration, made of small Holly branches with a candle in the middle, was put on the table as a centre piece. The goose and all the rest of the food was brought in and we were bid to the table. Grandfather made a speech, welcoming everyone and lifted his glass in a toast to King and Country. He had served in the Royal Danish Guards and always said something good about the king. Dinner seemed to take forever, but the dessert was something worth waiting for. When it was over, everyone helped clearing the table and wash the dishes. Then there was more waiting, for everyone except me and my sister wanted to have coffee and liqueur first, to let the big dinner settle for a while.
Finally, the big moment arrived. The Christmas tree was moved into the middle of the living room and all the presents put underneath it. I kept looking for a box I thought might be just big enough to hold a pair of ice skates and indeed, there was at least two that looked promising. Then the candles were lighted and we all joined hands forming a circle around the Christmas tree and while walking around it, we sang a verse or two from a few Christmas carols and some from “Holy Night”. When enough singing were done, everyone returned to their seats in the corner of the living room, where all the comfortable chairs were put. Grandma served coffee again and Grandpa and dad took some small drinks of Aquavit. I was hopping with excitement and suspense, but finally Grandfather asked my sister and me to distribute the Christmas presents. This was no haphazard affair, oh no; it had to be done in such a way that everyone in turn would get a present, so that no one was sitting empty-handed. Then we could give the rest out at will.

I opened the biggest of my presents first and was not disappointed. It was the pair of ice skates I had wished for. The next one I opened was from aunt Marentze in America. This was something new, for I had never before received anything from her, although I knew that Mom and Dad had. I opened it with great excitement and what appeared before my eyes was so unbelievable that I couldn’t say a word for a while. In a box lay two six guns, chromed with white handles and two beautiful holsters on a belt. I had never seen anything so wonderful in my whole life and shouted to my father “Dad, Dad, are they real guns”? “No”, replied Dad, “but bring them over here and I will show you how they work”. He showed me the rolls of caps that came with the guns, inserted one in the magazine of one of the guns and fired it. It gave off a loud ‘crack’ and a bit of smoke came from it. I was so beside myself with excitement that I nearly forgot to open the rest of my presents. I fired both the guns several times until Mother told me to stop. “You are making too much noise and filling the room with smoke” she said. “You have to wait until tomorrow when you can go outside and play”.
I opened the rest of my presents. There were shirts, socks, a wind-up toy car from Grandmother and a pocketknife, my very first, from Grandfather and several other toys from my Aunts and Uncles.
The next day I got up early and sat playing with my toys until everyone else got up and we had breakfast. I asked if I could go out and play and Mom said “OK”, dressing me warmly. I knew all the other kids would be on the street to show off their Christmas presents, for this was always so. When I walked up the street, I had my two guns strapped around my waist and it did not take long before they were noticed. Every one of my friends wanted to hold them and try shooting with them. They were envious, for nothing like it could be bought in this country. Some of them asked if my aunt in America was a millionaire, when I told them who had given me the guns. I said I didn’t know, but thought she must be. How else could she afford to buy such wonderful things?
Soon, Christmas was over and we had to return to Fredericia, but the following summer, I spent my vacation at Grandma and Grandpa’s place, as I did most years. It became a summer of wild games with my friends. We played mostly cowboys and Indians, using home-made feather headdresses and cowboy hats, made from discarded women or men’s hats. Marentze’s gift had made me very popular and I was always invited to play, no doubt because we always “disarmed” our enemies, when we caught them. This way, someone else would be able to carry the magic guns so it was not just me that Marentze had made happy, but everyone I played with.

Recollections from a Christmas in my childhood, written December 5, 1996.

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