Short story: Haste

Time froze. That fraction of a second Stan shared with Leah lasted long enough for her life to fly by before her eyes.

“Run!” his whisper was gentle, but firm.

“No, I can’t, not without you!” she opposed.

“I’ll be fine,” Stan sounded less convincing than a bad preacher. “Don’t worry about me, you must make it!”

“Thank you…” Leah softly squeezed his hand.

Stan nodded, “Take care, run now!”

She could not miss the plane. The head start he gave her must be enough, he hoped, walking out, holding her handcuffs.

Short story: Heavy

Lily lay looking into the dark of the ceiling, listening. Her heart pounded in the silence of the ghastly walls. She wished it tore and choked instead. But it kept beating, to her dismay.

The signal woke Peter up. He rushed out of his bedroom. They had agreed she would only press the red button once. The last 1461 sleepless nights made him look older by sixteen years, at least.

“Yes, honey,” the enthusiasm of the 24-year-old man was wearing off.

And then the words. The heavy words he could distinguish among the myriad of noises.

“Pull… the plug, Peter, you can’t live with me like… this.”

“I’ve made a promise, dear, I’ll keep it as long as I have breath in my lungs,” determined, he hugged the limbless body of his young wife, and fell asleep.

Slowly, She Lives: She Stands on The Edge (part 5)

(She Stands on The Edge is the fifth and last part of the short story Slowly, She Lives that I wrote during a spring semester in Hjo folkhögskola seven years ago. You find links to the other parts below. Originally, it was written in Swedish, but I translated it, too. It has been sitting on the hard drive of my laptop since 2006, untouched. Enjoy!)

Previously: When All is Said and Done (part 4)

4:59 – April 12

She breathes eagerly and determined, as if she were on her way to victory. She knows that she already is on the winner’s side. The others observe her with a deep and sincere wonder. Voices full of gladness shout high above sorrow and need.

Today is the time to go. Today is the time to arrive. Where the ship takes her she is not really sure. She has only heard stories about the ship and tales of the destination. She stands on the edge and waits for the one who knows her best. The star is coming back to fetch the angel. Her eyes are closed and lips concentrated.

I am waiting for you, come soon, my morning star! Come, darling! Come and take your angel home! Come!

Slowly, She Lives: When All is Said and Done (part 4)

(When All is Said and Done is the fourth of five parts of the short story Slowly, She Lives that I wrote during a spring semester in Hjo folkhögskola seven years ago. You find links to the other parts below. Originally, it was written in Swedish, but I translated it, too. It has been sitting on the hard drive of my laptop since 2006, untouched. Enjoy!)

Previously: The Pure White and The Filthy Black (part 3)

1:43 – January 15, 2005

I want to tell you about something now, something that happened with me several hours ago. I know that you are willing to listen to me now. You have done it so many times. That is why I turn to you yet again. And I owe you so many sleepless nights. It is hard to find the right words to describe it. Try not to focus on how I write it, but understand the situation. But before I do that, let me say one thing, which you already know.

Despite the fact that Sarita and I fight constantly, we reconcile quickly after yelling, hitting and throwing plates. The thing is that we love each other, but in itself, our love is expressed in some violent way. I hope that you understand me now, my dear friend. I do not know why it is as it is. I can only guess. I am not trying to excuse myself in any way now. Neither do I want to do it, not this time in any case. I just want you to know that she means a lot to me, though quarrels are more common in our home than maybe they are in someone else’s.

After a Friday-night fight with Sarita, I went out. As you already understand I was very nervous. It was cold outside, minus ten degrees probably, but I did not care about the temperature then. Neither did I care about the direction. I wanted just to go away from the flat, away from the town, away from the world. I had never felt so worthless before. In fact, I did not see a point in living. I did not understand why such a person as I should walk upon the earth and plague others with my infected personality. I know that what I am saying seems unbelievably extreme. And it is actually, now that I think about it. But then, just several hours ago, it did not at all seem irrational. There and then it seemed as logical as it could get. That is to take my life, my worthless and meaningless life. I was not thinking straight, obviously. But, my dear friend, I did not want to see my near and dear suffer, you know? It felt that for my entire life I had only made others suffer. And I am not less sick and tired of it all now than I was several hours ago.

I walked along the bank of the river, which, as you know, I would always do, when I feel bad. Stupidity of all kinds captured my thoughts. My brain felt like jumping out of my head. My eyeballs were hot and bloody. When I came staggering to the bridge over the deep water, I did not recognise myself and cast myself in.

(I cannot write this without tears on my eyes.)

When the water was all around me it felt like someone had given me anaesthesia. I felt enclosed in a little frozen room without sound, without light, without life. I did not feel my limbs. My whole body became a shapeless lump. I could not move and I could not breathe. For the first time in my life I felt really happy. My stone-cold thoughts clanged in my head, “Finally you have freed the world from your terrible hypocrisy. Finally the world can breathe out. Finally… finally…”

I do not know how long I was underwater before I felt an almost imperceptible splash. I did not hear it, but I felt it in my body. Then I felt a hard and fine grip on my shoulders and I awoke as if from deep dream. When my unexpected saviour laid me down on my back in the snow, I was filled with the worst wrath in the world. I managed to get up to my feet and started shouting at the man and throwing evil blows of my clenched fists on him. He was a burglar who stole my only effort to do something right, I thought. “You had no right to save me,” I yelled without words on my lips while I was trying to reach his head with my strokes. “It is my life,” I cried. “And no one will control it, except for me!”

After a couple of successful strikes, when I got exhausted of hitting his shoulders, he quietly lifted his jacket from the ground, put it around me and then he said, “Come!” Then he reached out his hand to me and it was then that I noticed that his eyebrow was bleeding. I looked at his clothes. They were not drier than mine. “Come,” he repeated like a mother, when her child is in danger, tries to softly persuade the little one to come down from the windowpane, for she understands that she must not scare the child with her threats or shouts—otherwise the child can find himself in more dangerous circumstances.

I did not know where we would go and what he wanted to do with me, when he asked me to come. Come? What? Where are we going? I remembered what happened to me last fall, when I went for a walk in the wood. Do you remember? I remembered the low-hanging branches and the high treetops, the chilly gaze and the strong grip. How fricking near danger I had then and how near another danger I could have been now! “A cup of warm tea will be enough,” I heard his voice. It was difficult for me to understand what he said. It must have shown, for he added, “So you don’t freeze completely,” and he smiled at me. “When all is said and done, a cup of warm tea is the best thing in the world after taking a bath in ice-cold water, isn’t it?” And so I smiled at him and said, “Why did you do that? Why did you risk your own life?” He sighed lightly looking at his ice-stiff jacket and said, “Your life is more worthy than my clothes. But my own life, I lay it down voluntarily. I have the right and authority to lay it down and to take it up again.”

My dear friend! You will most probably never hear from me again. But I promise you that you will never be forgotten. You are the person whom I will always long to be with. To you I am most thankful. You see, he offered me something I needed. And I accepted it. He offered me life—something I could not refuse.

Next week: She Stands on The Edge (part 5)

Slowly, She Lives: The Pure White and The Filthy Black (part 3)

(The Pure White and The Filthy Black is the third of five parts of the short story Slowly, She Lives that I wrote during a spring semester in Hjo folkhögskola seven years ago. You find links to the other parts below. Originally, it was written in Swedish, but I translated it, too. It has been sitting on the hard drive of my laptop since 2006, untouched. Enjoy!)

Previously: The Soundless Movement (part 2)

5:37 – June 3, 2035

Erelah looks at her teddy bears. They observe her with friendly looks round the clock. They have been her friends whose ears were always ready for her stories. They have seen her smiles and they have also seen her tears. She casts a look at her husband who has just turned round. Today, there is no cup of fresh morning coffee beside her when she wakes up. He is exhausted after having gone out of his way at work without breaks. No. This time it is he who gets his coffee in bed. She kisses him softly on the cheek so as not to wake him up and goes out.

The early Sunday morning is clear. The sun wakes up and opens his eyes and smiles at Erelah. The water reflects the sun’s smile and the wind moves of gladness. Erelah walks along the beach in her dressing-gown. She stops and looks at the sea—the sea where the new day is about to begin.

A couple of swans are flying south. Then they change the direction hastily and fly towards the coast where Erelah is standing and admiring the two birds. They do not seem to notice her. Maybe they do not see her in the colorless paleness of the sand. Or maybe they simply do not care about her.

The swans are swimming in the cool clear water, while Erelah is trying to find an answer to the question, which she has not been able to do for the past thirty years. After meeting her husband she has not been able to understand what it is in him that draws her interest. But though she cannot understand it, she accepts it. But even more than the strange and incomprehensible devotion to her husband, she cannot understand his affection for her. That is the question she is trying to find an answer to—why is he still around? Why not someone as beautiful and pure as these swans?

He has always told her that her outer beauty could have been as vain as dust and that he would still prefer to get to know her better with every breath they take together. If it is not her beauty and slender body that attracts her to him, what could it be then? She knows that it is not what’s inside of her that is appealing. Because she is sure that during the first two and a half minutes of their first meeting, she left no doubt that she had nothing but the dirt inside. She was confused. And the swans, the pure white creatures, remind her of the contents of her filthy black self.

Next week: When All is Said and Done (part 4)

Slowly, She Lives: The Soundless Movement (part 2)

(The Soundless Movement is the second of five parts of the short story Slowly, She Lives that I wrote during a spring semester in Hjo folkhögskola seven years ago. You find links to the other parts below. Originally, it was written in Swedish, but I translated it, too. It has been sitting on the hard drive of my laptop since 2006, untouched. Enjoy!)

Previously: Life and Love (part 1)

2:46 – 16 maj, 2002

She wakes up, in sweat, of a tormenting feeling
Embracing her body in an ominous way.
It is neither fright, nor can it be fear,
It’s the first time in ages she meets it again.

Shaken, she prayed for it to disappear;
Instead, it became a sharp thorn in her flesh.
It tortured her by a mad craving for winter
Holding her tight by the neck in a mesh.

She dreamed of a desert, she dreamed of the sun,
She dreamed of a summer that would never end.
She was not hopeless, for winter got shunned
The longing she fostered inside would soon mend.

18:58 – October 16, 2004

The forest is dark and damp. The autumn rays do not get access to the gloomy secrecy that is down here. Erelah cannot remember a time when she did not like the forest. It is so enticing; it is so terribly amazingly enticing. She wonders why Sarita never wants to come out with her for a walk. She says that the forest is dangerous and that it lets her down, for it has a black funeral dress on. They have lived near the forest for almost six years, but she still cannot understand how large the space for self-expression there is, there, beyond the branches and the trunks, those powerful and tender branches.

Erelah’s face grows rigid when her eyes suddenly fall on it. It stands stone-stiff and stares at her, her hair, actually. It is frightfully quiet in the forest. She has never noticed how quiet it can be in her dear dark forest. It bows its head slightly, as if to welcome her into its dwelling-place. Its seeming hospitality is dimmed by the dread it arouses in her. But it is not simply dread that its presence causes her to sweat. What she cannot grasp is that she does not feel a desire to run away, to hide herself from its hidden expressionless gaze. In fact, its face is almost totally hidden under its long black shabby hair. Its big chin is the only thing she sees of its face. It is an unshaved and perfectly still chin.

Erelah does not hear a single sound when it moves. Its steps are heavy, but silent. Not even a single twig, not a single branch is heard breaking when it is treading forward towards her upon the damp floor of the forest. It approaches her and glares at her hair through its nasty wisps of hair. It smells of moss and wood. She smells of pleasure and horror. Its breath is deep and soundless. Her breath is charmed by the disgust.

As tenderly as it can, it starts stroking Erelah’s hair. Suddenly, she feels safe. With no intention of doing it, she closes her eyes and enjoys her fear. It feels like a dream. And if she is really sleeping, then it is an unnoticeable dream. Her dream is nice, too. Uncommonly nice. She opens her eyes, for she is overwhelmed by the surprise. She cannot really understand how something as terrible as being desired of a frightful forest creature she can be enjoying at the same time. It seems to her that being desired in such an impudent way is actually what she is striving after. But surely this cannot be what she, Erelah, has been looking for during her entire life?

Without her noticing it at first, its hand is now stroking her cheek. The hand is soft and smooth under its rough dry fingers. At that very moment, she notices its emotionless look. It is terrible. Two deep eye-sockets with no eyeballs are stinging all of her innocent body. With all of her slender strength and thick detestation, she pushes it suddenly down and sweeps running.

She breathes heavily. Her heart is beating even heavier. Her heart fights against her chest, as if it were not getting enough air to breathe inside and wanted out. When she comes out of the forest she wishes to turn and return to the place where she was loved and desired. She is, on the other hand, afraid and disgusted of being desired for what she looks, not for what she is. She wants to be free when she is around the strong forest creatures. But they look at her, not into her. The surface. The exterior. And it is precisely what she is most indignant with.

Next week: The Pure White and The Filthy Black (part 3)

Slowly, She Lives: Life and Love (part 1)

(Life and Love is the first of five parts of the short story Slowly, She Lives that I wrote during the spring semester in Hjo folkhögskola seven years ago. Originally, it was written in Swedish. It has been sitting on the hard drive of my laptop since 2006, untouched. During the coming five Saturdays, I have the pleasure of presenting it for public viewing here. Enjoy!)

8:12 – February 7, 2004

It takes longer to wake up than to become pregnant. Which of the two takes more courage, she does not know. Neither does she care much about it, though sometimes she is really interested in how it would feel to have a little life inside her own body. Not because she wants to create life and admire the little one lying on her belly after much “anticipation”. No, she would rather want to know what it feels like having a human being grow inside her, because she seldom feels that she has a life of her own.

It becomes worst during the weekends, for a week is over and another one is coming, a week of disappointment and bitterness. She turns bitter, when disappointed. She turns disappointed when she does not manage to get what she has spent the past twenty years – her whole life, that is – looking for. One does not know what they are looking for until they find what makes their heart beat faster. Then one is glad, almost happy, over their discovery. But it is just a moment which disappears instantly, which one cannot realise when they are happy. In fact, one is happy when they understand that they are needed. That there is some meaning to existence, that there is some meaning to taking a breath after breath, boring and monotonous.

She is awake, in bed, but it is Friday under her blanket. Her body and days of the week agree not to match, always. The radio is quietly playing some Saturday morning music. She notices that she is already annoyed. She becomes nervous, too. Her eyes are wide open now and she sits up in the bed. Her sister is lying on the bed across from her and is cute sleeping – the little princess. She loves her sister more than anything else in the whole world. Even more than what she is looking, daily. She loves her sister even more than herself, which is not anything hard to imagine. She may not fully understand how much she loves her, for the love does not dwell in her mind, but rather in her heart. And the heart and mind do not communicate with each other on a regular basis. Not usually, anyway.

A couple of months ago she got a present, a teddy bear. It must have been a guy who gave it to her. Of course, it is not the only teddy bear she got as present from guys. Guys also give her compliments. She gets at least twenty-six compliments a day. Once a friend of hers told her that it was because she accepted compliments as engagement rings that she always felt bitter. She did not stand it a single moment. She then denied that compliments meant anything to her. And they do not. On the contrary, they mean a whole lot to the guys. Thus, every night she has a great variety of bear alternatives to choose from to hold on to in her sleep. But this teddy bear is special. Although he lost an eye and is completely ragged, she loves him, with all of her confused heart.

“Good morning!” Sarita’s voice sounds unusually soft. She stares at the ceiling and does not look at her sister, already awake. “Crap. I’m so tired,” she sighs. “What’s the time? Why didn’t you wake me up earlier? How long have you been up?”

Erelah does not answer, for everyone knows that she does not like being asked many questions. Especially not in the mornings. She turns her head to her sister:

“Do you love me, sis?”

“More than a bird loves air, a fish water and a lion freedom,” both sisters knew Sarita’s sarcasm for an answer was true.

“Haha, I love you even more, baby!” Erelah laughs and throws her pillow on her sister. It is now that her body accepts the Saturday. Now she can live again.

Often, Erelah thinks about love, too often probably. From the very beginning, since her childhood, the topic of love has found a special place in her thoughts. When she was born she experienced love. During the years, she saw it decrease. All the more distinctly, with every day, it decreased around her. But it appears every time she understands she is not alone, that there is someone who cares about her. It is, in fact, enough with one such being. And it can be whoever. Most importantly, they exist. Whoever, wherever. She constantly needs someone who cares about her, so that she is able to get new strength, so that she is able to breathe, so that she is able to live, so that she is able to withstand the temptations and endure the ordeals. Today, it is Sarita.

Next week: The Soundless Movement (part 2)

Short story: Moonlight

Harold forced his eyes open. Blood filled his mouth. He tried spitting it out, but in vain. His limbs were numb and his head wet.

“Lydia… Where’s Lydia?” his thoughts did not produce any sound or result in an answer. The moon was silent.

With all his might, Jim was clenching the steering wheel, his hands trembling. His senses were dull, but his thoughts were clear. Despite the unfinished bottle of bourbon he left at Johnsons’.

“Not my fault, it’s not my fault,” echoed in his ears. But even louder were the old couple’s screams against the now crimson bonnet of his silver Jaguar. The moon was silent still.

Short story: Smoke

Ben locked the door and looked around. The shed smelled of raw autumn. Julie hated autumns. They reminded her of the coming frost.

“Last smoke,” he thought slowly. “Yeah. Why not.”

The damp match would not light. Ben was in no hurry. Julie would ignite. Matches were supposed to light at once. Old newspapers were supposed to be thrown away. Husbands were supposed to provide. She would ignite.

But she needn’t worry. Not any longer. Ben was ready. So was the rope.