The Sound of Silence

When Sarah Johnson woke up it was well past noon – she could tell because the sun was already up. This far up north that didn’t happen early in the day during winter. She groaned as she moved and felt how stiff her arms and legs were. Her head hurt like hell and she realized that she was lying on a flight of concrete stairs. One of the steps pressed painfully against her right temple and as she drew closer to her senses a heavy nausea grew alongside the pain. Somewhere in the distance she could hear traffic passing but where she lay sprawled only the ringing in her ears broke the silence. Fuck. She had done it again.

The palms of her still numb hands slipped on a thin layer of ice as she tried to rise. With clumsy movements she managed to maneuver herself  into a sitting position on the stairs, and that’s when she saw the blood. She shivered. Where her head had been, the ice coating the concrete step was tinted a dirty, dark red. Her hand moved to her temple and the nausea rose as she felt the jagged edges of the cut there. The blood had coagulated or frozen and it was impossible to know how deep the wound was – but what she could feel of it was enough to make her flinch. Being drunk and falling asleep in stupid places was not entirely new to her, although most often it at least happen indoors. It was stupid, but usually it had ended well. This time however, she realized with a pang of fear, she was actually lucky to still be alive.

She dragged herself up with the help of a metal handrail running alongside the stairs. For several seconds she just stood there, panting heavily and trying to get her pulse to calm down. No matter how much her lungs worked, she couldn’t quite seem to get enough air into them. She felt lightheaded and the ringing in her ears persisted as she took in her surroundings. Below the stairs was a walking trail emerging from a tunnel running beneath a now silent railway track. She realized that she actually wasn’t that far from home. This was not the road she usually took from the bus but occasionally she did. It was a bit shorter but ran through a somewhat bad part of her area and was not the smartest choice after sunset. Drunk, badly dressed for the cold and unconscious in a bad part of town at night. She understood that she should count herself lucky to have woken up at all, even not considering the nasty cut to her head.

Using the handrail for support she managed to climb the stairs and ended up on a small yard surrounded by unkempt tower blocks. A chill wind tore at her sparse clothing and she hugged herself as she started staggering homewards. The prospect of a hot shower and a nice cup of tea afterwards kept her moving forward even as her entire body protested violently. That, and a promise to herself that she would never get so drunk again. At least not soon.

***

There was something wrong with the thermostat. She had turned it little by little until it was now all the way towards red, and still the water was lukewarm at best. She stood under the shower head and shivered like a leaf, desperation kicking in. This was the third shower she took tonight. The first one had managed to warm her, but once out in the living room and wrapped in four blankets before the TV she had quickly begun to feel cold again. Her lungs ached and her throat and mouth felt dry and sore. Spending the night out in the cold had certainly left its marks and she had understood that she was running an increasing fever. It had not been long before she was back in the shower again, but by then the real shivering fits had already begun kicking in.

Now she stood here for the third time. It was almost midnight and she was freezing like hell despite her best efforts to turn up the temperature of the running water. She had to call somebody, get them to fix this. But first she needed to take something for the fever. She stepped out of the shower and tore a dry towel from the rack, desperately draping it around her shaking body. When she turned to shut off the water she suddenly stopped dead with her hand on the tap. The soap bar resting on a plastic shelf right beneath the water spurting from the shower head had shrunk to an unrecognizable size. Like it had somehow melted away. She stared, blinked and then quickly turned off the water that to her trembling hand did not feel hot at all. Resolutely ignoring the heavy steam that had formed on her bathroom mirror she then hurried towards the kitchen, desperately hunting for aspirin.

***

When she awoke it was already dark outside again. She had slept through the entire day and the fever had given way to a numb and weak feeling in her entire body. She had expected her sheets to be all sweaty and damp but they weren’t. Instead, a disturbing, sweet smell had filled the room as she slept and she sighed as she looked over the edge of the bed to see if she had thrown up during the night. When she couldn’t find anything on the floor or in the bed she settled for opening up the window and hoping that it was just her illness-wrecked senses playing tricks on her.

Down on the street people were going about their business as usual, cars and pedestrians filling up the winter darkness far below her. She was struck by a strange feeling of unreality, as if she were watching everything through a thick two-way mirror, unable to be seen herself. This illusion was suddenly broken, however, when she noticed a person standing on the other side of the street with his eyes fixed on her building – staring straight at her. There was something deeply disturbing about his whole character and she began feeling sick again. Shivering she hurriedly closed the window, ignoring the putrid smell that still clung to everything in the room – especially to her. It was nothing, she was seeing things. She should call somebody, but the reception at the hospital had closed already and she didn’t feel ill enough to call the A&E.

***

Three sandwiches and a large glass of orange juice were staring accusingly at her from the low living room table between her and the television set. She knew she should be hungry but still couldn’t bring herself to eating or drinking anything. Instead she focused on the TV screen where the third season of Gilmore Girls  was served in marathon by her old and struggling DVD player. She really loved that series, had re-watched it four times already over the years. Laughing at the witty dialogues made her temporarily forget that something was very, very wrong with her.

She opened her mouth to burst out laughing at yet another absurd situation in the fictional family, when sudden panic struck her. She couldn’t make a sound. She tried screaming, but there was no air in her lungs and she realized that she had not been breathing for a long time. As if she had simply… forgotten to do it. She drew a deep breath and finally the noises from the TV were accompanied by her own sounds as she started sobbing uncontrollably – but no tears came. She then sat there in the couch, fixedly breathing deeply and rhythmically for a long time as if that could somehow erase the strange experience she had just had. Could a person die from forgetting to draw breath? She had never heard of it. Didn’t the body do those things on reflex?

She jumped as the phone rang. She didn’t recognize the number, but wanted so badly to hear another person’s voice that she answered anyway.

“Hello?” Her voice was rugged and dry. She was surprised at how hard it was to form words.

Silence. The sound of… not breathing, something else. Maybe a faint backdrop of traffic. Then, suddenly, a voice.

“Have you realized yet?” And somehow she knew. That guy on the street.

She dialed off, more frightened than her internal logic could account for. She got up and frantically closed the curtains. After hurrying through the apartment and turning off all the lights she wrapped herself in blankets and curled up at the edge of the couch, listening and shaking in the darkness and silence. Her pulse didn’t go up, however, and she realized that she had once again forgotten to breath.

***

She knew that she must be dreaming, but still she didn’t wake up. It was night. She was on the concrete stairs again, but facing their base. The frozen blood from the cut on her temple still glowed dark against the icy white covering the steps. She knew she should be freezing in the cold air, but she felt nothing. Below the stairs the narrow walking trail begun, barely illuminated by a flickering street lamp. The circle of its light didn’t stretch far from the base of the stairs, and beyond it reigned darkness. At the edge of the visible world she could see the mouth of the tunnel gaping at her. For the first time she shivered, but it wasn’t from the cold. She knew that she should be able to see light at the end of that short tunnel, but she saw nothing but blackness in there.

Despite herself she started walking down the stairs, step by step and fear growing inside her. She didn’t want to know what waited for her in there and still something beckoned her closer with its terrible silence. She stepped down onto the walking trail but stopped in the middle of the light circle cast by the lamp, feeling herself shrinking as she stared into the pitch dark. There was something very wrong about everything. It looked exactly like the tunnel she had walked through on so many ill advised night strolls, but she knew from the bottom of her very being that it was nothing like it. This was something much older, darker, deeper, something masquerading as the well known just to draw her in. She realized that there was faint sound echoing from deep within the tunnel and she knew that she had heard it once before. In the background of a strange phone call. She turned and ran, but the staircase was dark and slippery and before she could do anything the sharp concrete steps rose up to meet her.

 ***

She woke with a start to a dark room filled with silence. Not even the sound of frantic heartbeats pulsing in her ears broke the eerie calm anymore. She got up, almost retching from the putrid taste sticking to her tongue and to her teeth. The smell was everywhere now but she didn’t even dare open the windows. What if he was still outside?

Her entire body felt stiff and almost didn’t obey her command to move into the bathroom. On the way there she glanced at the answering machine. She had been away from work for three days now and people were starting to call. She was desperate to talk to somebody, but somehow she was too tired to reach out. As if it would require a tremendous effort to penetrate the two-way mirror she had imagined earlier.

She tuned on the light in the bathroom but was instantly blinded and had to turn it off again. Her eyes didn’t seem capable of adjusting to the light anymore. She splashed some water into her face, hoping that it would make her feel better. It didn’t. She met her own eyes in the mirror and drew a shocked breath. She was so pale. Dark rings under her eyes and in the hollows of her cheeks made her look almost… dead. The insight frightened her and she hurried to turn on the light. And then she screamed.

It was not the mattness of her hair and her eyes, or the blueish tone of her skin. No, it was the sight of the scar at her temple. It had not healed at all and the edges of it seemed to have stretched and torn, as if the skin was beginning to come off from the skull. Reflexively her hand went to her mouth, and she stared into the mirror in horror as she realized that only two of the fingers on her right hand had their fingernails left. She bent over the toilet to throw up, but nothing came out. Nothing moved inside of her. It was as if all her organs and processes had actually stopped.

She screamed, a rough, parched scream that scared her even more, and dug her fingertips into her scalp as she staggered away from the mirror. Large bits and pieces of hair came off without her even tugging at it. She screamed again and ran into the living room.

She grabbed her phone and frantically dialed the emergency number, failing two times before her trembling fingers got it right. They left a viscous, sticky residue on the blinding screen but she didn’t care about that right now. She was falling apart, she couldn’t breathe and when she brought the phone to her face she realized that the putrid smell was actually emanating from her.

She almost couldn’t hear the operator’s voice as they took the call – were her ears shutting down as well? She groaned inarticulately, unable to make her tongue obey her.

“Miss? Can you hear me?” The operator’s voice fought its way through the two-way mirror and Sarah made another desperate attempt.

“Aheullph ghe”, she screamed and then realized that she could not close her jaws anymore. A guttural sound escaped her throat, but now she could barely hear herself. The world was growing silent. Even her vision was fading by the minute. Desperately she stared at the screen of her phone as it went from blurry green to an even blurrier red. The operator had ended the call. She tried to find the redial function, to find any function, but all she could see now was light and darkness.

Sarah screamed again, but this time there wasn’t even an attempt at coherent language. She didn’t know what was happening, but her body was shutting down all around her and there was nothing she could do. She didn’t even know if she was still sitting on the floor or if she had fallen over, all her senses were an ambiguous mess of dull impressions now and even her thoughts were sinking into a thick, clammy fog.

Then suddenly: a sound. The doorbell. The small vestige of her that could still feel panic and hope started kicking and screaming, forcing her near numb body to crawl towards the front door. She had heard the doorbell ring, she was sure of it. Or at least as sure as she could be of anything in this state. It must be someone from work, come to see how she was doing. They would help her, drive her to the hospital, everything would be alright, she would not die, she would not fall apart, she would not… She could not reach the door handle. Panic. She started scratching at the inside of the door. Faintly, uselessly, like an old, weak cat. She heard the doorbell ring again, closer this time. Don’t go away, she thought. Don’t leave me. I’m in here, I need help…

“Ah, fuck it”, a voice muttered on the other side of the door. She somehow recognized that voice. Then there was another sound, a scratching and then a click. Warm light flooded over her as the door opened towards the stairwell, blinding her again and making her try to shut her eyes. She realized that she couldn’t. A dark shape towered over her where she lay on the hallway carped, its silhouette a blurry blackness against the yellow light from outside. The shape stepped over her and closed the door, then bent down and looked straight into her dry, half seeing eyes.

“Well, there you are. You are a terrible hard one to reach, you know that?” Then she knew who he was and all she could feel suddenly was fear. What has this man done to me?

She tried to scream at him, to accuse him, to plead with him to leave her alone, to let her live, to help her…

“What was that?”, he said and she could have sworn that there was an unpleasant smile in those words. “Oh no, you’re not dying sweetie”, he said in a voice that didn’t try good enough to actually sound kind or caring.

She tried to protest, but his blurry silhouette just shook its head and put a finger to its lips to silence her. “No, not dying. Dead already, rather. Matter of fact, darling, I’m kind of surprised that you haven’t noticed. What with that smell and all. But what do I know, people never cease to surprise…”

He was silent for a moment, seemed to be eyeing her over. Sarah made a final attempt at speaking, but only succeeded in making the last trace of air leave her lungs in a tortured groan.

“Come, come, none of that now”, he said. “Being dead is not that bad, there are many perks to it actually. But yeah, you have obviously let yourself go way to far. But no worries”, he added and rose to his feet, “Vincent’s gonna fix you right up.”

She could hear his steps retire as he walked into the living room. She couldn’t even draw breath anymore. “Vincent, by the way, that’s me”, he continued from the other room. “In case you were wondering. But I reckon you’re not doing much of anything right now. Dead and walking for three days without feeding, well, that must be considered a rather crazy feat.” He was doing something over there in the living room, but it was not until he reemerged in her field of vision that she realized that he had removed the carped from the floor.

“People will probably talk”, he breezily continued, as if this was the most normal thing in the world. “Sure, they’ll say that it was mostly my fault for not reaching you sooner, but as I said honey, you’re a terribly stubborn specimen to say the least! Anyway, enough about that now. We have to get your rotting ass out of here so that my people can clean out the apartment. Can’t leave it stinking like this now, can we. Oh, is that your finger on the floor? Never mind, I’ll have someone bring all your parts later. Now, I hope you’re not offended if I do this…”

She could only stare blankly, flaccidly, as he bent down, put the carpet on the hallway floor and started wrapping her in it, rolling it around her layer by layer until all she could see was darkness and all she could smell was her own rotting body.

He lifted her up and carried her away, closing the door behind him as he went. He might have put her in a car, because soon she could hear the faint sound of an engine. All the while he kept on talking in that jovial, carefree tone of voice. She could hear him distantly through the thick fabric of the carpet.

“Don’t worry, sweetie. You’re no Miss Universe right now, but as soon as we figure out what your vitae is we’ll get you right back on track, you count on it. We’ve all been like you once, nobody’s judging. Or, well, maybe some, but not I. I’ve seen worse, I tell you. Having died and still not being able to, you know, leave the body… Well, I’ll tell you this. The first couple of weeks will be quite rough on you, I’ll be honest. Eating human flesh or souls or whatnot, I’ll admit it’s a bit different. But you’ll get used to it. I sure did. ”

The man called Vincent kept on talking, but Sarah had stopped listening. Something was drawing closer, she could feel it. Something old, something dark. The car stopped and he picked her up again, started walking. Entered a door, passing through an echoing corridor and then descending some kind of stairs. And that’s when she heard it, that sound. A sound she had heard only two times before, but which she had learned to fear more than anything. It was the sound of silence, the sound of darkness. The sound of beyond. And the terror she felt at the realization of where he was taking her awakened finally the last remnants of faltering force within her and she screamed.

***

Vincent stopped talking as the muffled hysteria from within the carped made it clear that she was not listening to his friendly explications anymore. He sighed and glanced around to make sure that nobody was close enough to hear her. Of course nobody was, he was too good to make sloppy mistakes like that.

“Now, now”, he said tonelessly and realized – not for the first time – that empathy and reassurance were not his strongest points. “No need to panic, darling. We’re just going home.”

Then he jumped down onto the subway tracks and started walking into the crossroads darkness where things were not as under the sun and where people like him – and her – could live in secret and shadows and madness. “Welcome to Twilight”, Vincent murmured, half to himself, as he crossed the line where the light from the platform couldn’t reach them anymore, and they were gone.

#5.3

This is a short chapter from the novel I’m currently proof reading and editing. It’s originally in Swedish, but I translated this part. I know it won’t make much sense without a context, but I couldn’t help myself. Enjoy! 😉


 

The same kind of darkness, the same night. An entirely different room. The walls of the office: stained wooden paneling. The desk: dark oak, probably antique. The style otherwise: so super modern that the wooden details felt like stylish design decisions. Getting inside had not been difficult; the man who owned the office had paid well for his murderer’s education. Soon he, too, would be dead.

Malcolm hadn’t even bothered to hide. This time he had removed the light bulb from the lamp in the ceiling, and the shadows along the walls did the rest of the job. When the sounds of traffic from outside were joined by those of footsteps on the stairs and the rustling of keys, he didn’t even feel nervous. If any feeling at all pierced through his concentration, it was excitement.

The man who opened the door didn’t even look around. With hurried, purposeful steps he moved over to the desk and started unlocking one of the drawers. His movements were stiff, irritated. He had received a call about an hour ago, the higher ups wanted a report. Tonight. He didn’t like being ordered around like this – if they only knew who they were dealing with. He would have liked the situation even less had he known who was really behind that call – and who was now slowly shutting the door behind him.

A click. The man turned around.

“Who the fuck are you?”

Malcolm smirked at him from the shadows. “I’m here to report. Samuel Edmunds is dead, just as you ordered. In his hotel room after the conference. No surviving witnesses.”

The man just stared at him for several seconds. Then he took a step forward. “Are you out of your fucking mind? You cannot come here. You’re not supposed to come here. You know perfectly well how our communication is supposed to work. Are you aware of the risk you have put me in by –”

Malcolm calmly cocked the gun he was holding at his side. The man stopped dead. Something in his eyes changed.

“Take it easy”, Malcolm said. “I’m perfectly aware of the risk I’m putting you in by coming here tonight. The question is, are you?”

The man cleared his throat. Struggled hard to retain his authority. Failed fatally. “And what the hell is that supposed to mean? Are you threatening me? Do you have any idea what I could do to you? You are nobody, and I know everything about you. Everything. If you try to pressure me in any way, I will –”

“I’m not here to pressure you for money”, Malcolm replied. “But you do have a point. You know way too much about me, and that is why we are standing here.”

“Does Nicholas know that you are here?” Fear now, in his eyes and in his voice.

Now Malcolm laughed, he could not help himself. “I strongly doubt that.”

One second of silence. Hesitation, insecurity. He cannot read me. Has no idea what I am planning.

”Listen”, the man said finally. The voice was mimicking that of a confident man, but not very convincingly so. “Nicholas doesn’t need to know about this. In fact, nobody needs to know. If you want to talk retainer, then let’s do that. A phone call or a middle man would of course have been better, but now that we are–”

Malcolm slowly shook his head and the man’s voice trailed off. “We are not going to talk retainer. Actually, we are not going to do anything together at all. I am going to shoot you in the head, and you are going to drop dead on top of that overvalued carpet. Then I am going to take that sheet with account information that you are holding in your hand and walk away.”

The man swallowed hard. His eyes darted nervously. ”This is insane, and you know it. My colleagues will send people after you. You’ll not stand a chance if you do this.”

“Well, yes I will”, Malcolm said. “But only if I pay them a visit as well.” Then he raised his gun and did exactly as he had promised.

With the bloodstained and unbelievably valuable sheet of paper tightly clutched in his hand he then hurriedly left the office. He had two more men to visit before sunrise, and several bank accounts to empty. He still wasn’t entirely sure that he knew what he was doing, but it was too late to back out now. Come morning he would be free, but before that he would have to file a letter of resignation signed in blood. There was no time for hesitation – Nicholas had taught him that.

On Blood And Dreams II

This text works as a stand-alone, but if you want to read the first part you can find it here.


The brave new world she stalked through was filled with brave new lives and brave new loves, but not for her. Never for her. She would taste the warmth of innocent hearts and let it awaken in her for a moment memories of a time when she as well had felt and dreamed and hoped, only to leave them just as empty and dying afterwards as she had been left herself so long ago. But whilst the blankly staring eyes of these new lives were doomed to fade not long after she walked away, her own two eyes were cursed to remain forever open.

She saw cruelty, she saw suffering and death and all of these were far worse than the pain her own hunger and cold would ever be able to afflict upon a humanity that was slowly torturing itself into hardened submission.

Sometimes she took lives in the name of souls too defeated to extract their own vengeance upon murderers and oppressors. It was during such brief moments of chimeric justification that she came close enough to feeling to actually remember that the word had a meaning attached to it.

For the most part, however, she took lives in the name of her own vices and did not discriminate between the guilty and the innocent any more than the blind distinguish between light and darkness. It was during such moments of liberating numbness that she realized that feelings and principles were constructions belonging to the living, and that monsters such as herself were meant to thrive and thirst in the regretless shadows of apathy. And so she did, until the night when she heard again the words of a monster long dead being spoken into the night like painful phantoms of the past.

The boy was young, but still older than she herself had been when the night had swallowed her heart and slowly begun hollowing her from the inside. He had dreams in his eyes and fight in his voice when he recited verses forgotten by the new world but remembered in the hearts of lovers and warriors, and she stood in the shadows and waited and hated as memories too painful to keep but too precious to lose struggled towards the frozen surface of her soul.

His borrowed words were embraced by those who heard him speak and she realized that he was known and loved and respected for knowing and speaking them. She also realized that he had broken something inside of her by doing so, something that was bleeding and would not mend on its own.

Mad with memory she stalked him through the night. She learned his name and his passions and saw him dance and laugh and live. He was a poet and a dreamer, but unlike the monster whose words he worshiped he was no thief and would not steal another’s heart unless freely given. She realized she saw in him something she had vainly looked for in her long dead killer and lover, and she hated him for it because the thought frightened her more than she wished to admit.

Nights went by and unseen she followed him through them even as the wound inside of her kept bleeding. For full a year she listened as he spoke the words of others and of his own, and watched him struggle with life and words and dreams. She was drawn to him in ways that she could not explain and for a time forgot to be the thirsting monster in the regretless shadows.

But time affected him as it did all mortals, and she heard his words and thoughts growing heavier and deeper for each moon that passed. The dreamer boy was turning into a man, and she knew that soon he would be old and withering and dying. His inspired words and dreams would slowly harden into pragmatic philosophy and then he would die, like they all did.

But he had made her feel, if only just so slightly. She knew that the uncaring apathy was ready to embrace her again, but having seen the light anew through this living thing she knew she would have to die all over again if she let it. So in order to save her mind and her memory of a soul from drowning, she stepped out of the shadows.

She stared into his eyes, she touched his face and she watched cold realization creep over him. Then she snapped his neck and drank his blood and listened as he drew his final, chocked breath.

And as she watched him die she slit her own wrist and let the red darkness pass from her to him. He would never grow old and die, and his words and dreams would never change.

“I have all the time in the world”, she whispered as life left him and made room for something new. ”Make me love you.”


This is the second part of an installment of three. It was inspired by a writing prompt, and you can find the first part here. Stay tuned for the third and final part, and feel free to leave comments!

Tracks

This text is from 2008, and was written as part of a short story project I never finished. I’ll read through it when I get back home and see if I need to make any changes. Feel free to leave a comment!


Happiness, laughter, naive delusions that life will last forever. In young years everything can have such a wonderful aura of invincibility, and in the eyes of the newborn explorer anything is possible. But this kind of imaginary reality is so frail, so easily shattered, that what seems in one moment to be the start of something, can suddenly turn out to be the end of everything.

The snow was falling intensely outside the windows, striking against the front of the small car like stars around a fast flying space ship in one of those movies. There were just the three of them, on their way to her family cottage some distance outside of town. They had been driving for about an hour, and were more than halfway there. As usual they were all joking and laughing, she in the back seat and her two friends in front. The sky was inky black and no star was visible in this long winter night – only the full moon helped light the shadows of the road where the car’s headlights were too caked with snow to do it.

Later she would remember these details as clearly as if she were still there in that car, in those last moments of the world. She would breathe these remembered moments as if were they oxygen and she drowning, alone and desperate in a dark sea. She saw them smiling back at her through the rear view mirror and then they all burst out laughing at what had just been said. They had known each others for years and knew that they would still be friends when they were all old and gray, sitting at some home and whining about the ways of new generations. This though, as it would turn out, was never going to happen.

She saw the one of her friends driving turn around towards her to say something. She heard her other friend scream suddenly, and saw the driver hastily turn his attention back to the road. He also screamed, and turned the wheel frantically in one direction. The car jumped and spun on the icy road. She screamed. They all screamed. She never even saw what had caused the commotion, and then everything turned black.

In confused and despairing lonely hours to come, despite the blurriness that had consumed every other memory of that fateful awakening back to light and reality, she would always be able to recall cold snow against her bruised back, someone screaming about a survivor and a blanket being wrapped around her shoulders by supporting hands – a blanket that was most probably warm but which she could not at that moment feel at all. Her senses registered no sound after that whatsoever, even though she was well aware that there should be sirens screaming since she could see them flashing, and a fire roaring since she could see the reflection of its flames against the glittering white winter snow. The flames themselves, though, she was not allowed to see. She was promptly turned away from them, even as several uniform clad men and women rushed past her to reach the source of their raging dance. She was all alone, even with all the people surrounding her and supporting her. She could not hear their worried voices, she could not see their concerned faces for all the tears in her own eyes. She knew nothing but that she was alone. The two stars that had once lit her darkness would never shine again, and her own fire was waning. But still no pain. Only tears and silence.

Just before they gently pushed her inside one of the waiting emergency vehicles, she managed one last glance back at the burning wreck that had once been her friend’s red car. The flames stood in screaming contrast to the dark forest and the black winter sky, and in a way it was all very beautiful in a terrible, terrible way. But what caught her attention most was not the fire, not the mashed metal of the carriage body or the limp arm of the person that was now being carefully lifted out of the car by two fire fighters clad in bright colours. No, it was neither of those things. Rather, it was something far more insignificant. Beside the burning car, in the snow that was melting by the fire even as she watched, were a collection of tracks made by small, small paws, trailing away from the scene of the tragedy and into the nightly forest beyond. And she would remember afterwards how she stood there, looking at those tracks, holding the hems of the blanket close together, and finally totally comprehending the full horror of the situation. And then came the pain. Then came all the terrible, searing sounds of the world. Then came the cold, the desperation. And she would remember nothing more.

She spent a long time in a hospital where everything was white, and everyone was smiling at her, talking to her in low tones as if the sound of human voices would damage her ears. She saw pity in their eyes and felt that she could not get away soon enough. But there was much inside her that was broken, not counting her heart, and her stay in that place would not be a short one.

Nights were her worst time, since it was then that everything around her went silent and she had time to think, to ponder and to grieve. Dreams were never easy on her and the memories she had of the accident she was forced to relive every time she closed her eyes. She grew to hate the white walls and the smiling people with the soft voices and the pitying eyes. She grew silent and withdrawn, and when at length she was allowed to leave the confinement of the white, accursed walls she had already sunk below the surface of herself. And slowly drowning, invisibly, unnoticed and seemingly irrevocably, she entered the world anew – but nothing was longer what it had been, and she least of all.

Spring came and with it memories. Memories of a time that had been happy and innocent, before the world ended and shades emerged to put up a pretense of blissful normality. She never returned to everyday life, to the things she had liked to do in the time Before. She only wandered and remembered, tortured herself with What Ifs and Whys. Her wanderings took her to places they had been together; an old playground, a steep hill destined to be covered in green grass when the weather got warmer, the roof of an old house where no one dared to live anymore in fear of wandering legends. In all these places she saw ghosts of her Happy Life, shadows of her lost friends laughing and singing.

Summer came and the steep hill gained its soft draping of flowing emerald. She lay there for hours gazing up at the sailing clouds above. Then she went down to the lake where they had used to swim on sunny afternoons. She sat down in the life-saving boat they had used to borrow-without-asking on several occasions, and gazed out at the dark waters. Nothing was as it should. Not anymore. She felt that she should have died in that car, too, which would have saved her from this agonizing existence. No shape of cloud and no song of water could ease her inner pain, and no bright summer sun would be ever able to light her darkness.

Autumn and falling leaves. Rain and thunder, wind and the crow of dark birds on otherwise empty branches. The season did nothing to help her, but she felt at home in it since it mirrored her inner feelings. The sorrow did not go away, as the others had said that it would. She hated the word “Eventually”, since the vocabularies of all the people surrounding her seemed to have suddenly lost all other words while they were in her presence. During stormy evenings she crept up into the window of her room and looked gloomily out at the darkening streets where falling water and wet red leaves seemed to compete furiously for the wind’s attention. Let me be a leaf, she thought. Let the wind take me and carry me away.

But she was no leaf, and when the air got cold and the wind grew biting rather than wet, she sat there still by her window, looking down at those streets. Soon the ground became white with frost and later covered by an even whiter blanket of snow. This was when she went out into the world again, to fully feel the pain of knowing that a year had passed her by and nothing inside her had changed even the slightest bit. She wandered the known streets. She left them for unknown ones, and ended up outside the areas of the most crowded habitation. Trees grew here, and the road was small and would not allow the width of two cars beside each other.

This road she walked, never looking back or up at what was in front of her, but always looking down at the ground, thinking and grieving. This is probably why she did not at first notice that someone was walking ahead of her. She saw the tracks before she saw the people; in fact, it was when she saw the tracks that she looked up from the ground at her feat, and noticed them. Shocked, she stopped on the road and only stared. For the two people that were walking some distance ahead of her could not be any other than the two persons that she missed most in the world, and also the two persons she had expected the least ever to see again. Two pairs of tracks trailed after them in the snow on the ground, and they seemed to be dancing where they went; dancing in the beautifully falling snow, just like they had used do in the past.

She called their names, but they did not seem to hear her. Laughing happily, they continued down the forest road, away from her. She called again and started to run after them, joy rising in her heart for the first time in a long, long time. Could this possibly be true? What had really happened on that night, since they were both here, now, alive? But she did not give these thoughts much time, since she had to run her fastest not to lose sight of them. Because however fast she ran, she never seemed to get any closer to them; they were always a long distance ahead of her.

They rounded a turn in the road and were for a moment hidden from her sight by the close growing trees of the forest. She hurried to catch up, but when she too had rounded the turn they could no longer be seen. Confused and disappointed she stopped. In front of her was a small bridge spanning a frozen river, but the tracks her two friends had left did not go any further than the beginning of that bridge. Then they were gone, without any sign of where they could have disappeared.

She gazed out over the river, and saw how the ice crystals on the snowy surface mirrored the twinkling stars in the dark heavens above. The forest was silent but for a murmuring wind that danced in the treetops. No laughter, no dance. Not even a nightly bird broke the tranquility. And nowhere anyone at all. Again she was alone. The bridge stretched empty in front of her, and on either side the world seemed to hold its breath and wait for her to think through the strangely wonderful thing that had just befallen her. But yet she did not understand.

Then she turned around to return the same way that she had come, and suddenly she remembered the tracks. There should be more tracks than her own in the snow behind her, if she had not imagined it all and was finally going mad. But the tracks of two pairs of shoes that she had been following were not there anymore. Only the depressions in the snow where she had put her own feet remained, and even they were being filled with falling snow as she watched.

With a heavy heart she was just about to take the first dreary steps on her journey back home, when she noticed them. Small, small tracks made by paws trailed along her own. Tracks made by two cats, seemingly playful, dancing, where the tracks of her friends’ shoes had been a moment ago. And suddenly she remembered. The very same kind of tracks on the snowy ground next to a burning car on a winter night like this, a whole year ago. Two pairs of tracks leading away from two persons killed in a tragic car crash on a dark road in the middle of nowhere. Two. And now the very same kind of tracks on a snowy night road where she had only moments before spotted her lost friends, very much alive and even dancing happily.

All came back to her then. Every memory, happy and sad, good and bad. The laughter, the screaming, the pain and the cold. She relived the end of the world, but not in the same way as she had done every night for the last year. Stronger, more painful. But then there were the tracks in the snow. It all ended and started with those tracks. Cat tracks. Two cats dancing in the snow.

A single tear rolled down her cheek, and she followed the tracks all the way back to where the houses begun. The silence was still unbroken, but inside of her a bright red flower had sprung up from soil that she had though of as dead and dry.

There are those who claim that the souls of lovers, if brutally and suddenly ripped from the world and from each other, can sometimes escape in the form of nightly creatures. Cats? Perhaps. I am not sure what to believe about that, but what I do know is that where a heart was earlier slowing, stopping, it is now starting to beat with more strength than it has ever had before. Someone who thought that all was lost suddenly discovered that nothing is ever, ever lost as long as there is a will to survive, to carry on. And as seasons change and the sun and moon continue to circulate the sky, so does hope return to a world that has ended many times but has been resurrected almost as often. For hope is our strongest force; a force that will outlive time itself.

The Star Child

Yet another old text, this one written in September 2007. I´m still in Budapest, so you´ll have to wait until Tuesday for a new text (and a proper grammar/spell check) 😉


It gave her no consolation whatsoever to think of her life’s adventure as just a dream; nor did it soothe her when all those around her stubbornly continued to tell her to do so. Reason battled emotion inside of her head when she thought about it – and believe me: this she did almost all the time.

Some nights had passed since her recovery to reality, as all the others saw it. Some nights of unendurable, bodyless pain that no one could see in her face and which she refused always to admit even to herself. Always, but for the lonely hours just before dawn, that is. For in those small hours of twilight illumination, as all infused with the smallest inkling of craving for dream adventure would know, all your hidden thoughts are brought up before the merciless court that is your own half sleeping consciousness for hard interrogation. No shady corner of your mind is left unsearched when the restless soul seeks to ponder every fault ever done to or by you, in an attempt to please the unseen and half imagined watchers in the dark – those everyone tries to convince of their undisputable innocence when in reality all they want is to convince themselves.

And she, she was no exception. The only thing that separated her from all the others over the world, lying in the same way, praying to the rising sun to grant them a few merciful hours of sleep again before the beginning of the new day, was that she had a choice and did not know it. She could at any given time rise from her bed and leave the gloomy room behind; yes, literally fly out the window to reunite with the subjects of her endless pondering. This, though, she did not know in the same way that she could not truly accept that all she had witnessed and experienced in the past nights was as truthful a reality as the bed in which she lay at night, or the ceiling at which she had now been gazing unceasingly for how long she could not tell. And this ignorance, involuntary though it may have been, was close to costing her her life.

She was ill and she knew it. Nothing done by the others to keep from her the truth could prevent her from sensing it in her whole being. The fever that ate her constantly, tearing away her sanity at the same pace as it consumed her physical being, burned her from within like the fire of a raging star. And that star was visible every morning at her waking, to all those who loved her and cared for her, in her newly opened eyes before the agony of the newborn day burst forth to drag her away from her peaceful dreams once more.

This way her life had become not a year ago, but signs of this condition had been creeping up on her all of her life. In her early childhood she had often been forced to stay home from school due to her ever coming and going fever which always left her frail and weakened, knowing the span of several weeks was to expect before she would be fully recovered. Or almost fully. Each time the fever got a little more of her, and in the last few years she had been forced into a kind of exile from reality, mostly staying indoors, locked up in her own room with the computer as the only window to the outside world.

But even then her condition had been endurable. She had never given much for society anyway, thinking its every day intrigues all too prosaic and meaningless. Not that she did not see the wonders in the world of men and women; to the contrary she saw it very well, eyes wide open. Her problem was that she did not feel part of it and in that lay her great salvation since she was robbed cruelly from it at an relatively early age.

Her loved ones had all through her wasting away provided her with books plentifully, knowing her to be helplessly in love with the outside world though neither capable nor willing to be part of it. She read all kinds of literature, both fact and fiction, devouring the written word as though were it nourishment for her dying form, and she also wrote her own. At the computer or using the more old fashioned means of pen and paper she tended to lose herself for hours writing fantastic tales of creatures of the sky or of the forest, pressing her imagination to the extent and with the conviction that all but her loving family would have questioned the degree of her sanity. This, though, they never did.

And now, sadly, the moment they had all been dreading but oh, so fearfully waited for, had at last come. The girl with the silver hair and the star-filled eyes, she that would have been just about to enter the complex but wonderful world of early womanhood had she been allowed to live, was dying before their eyes. Long had it been since she last had had the strength to lift her delicate fingers to the keys to write her fantastic stories of other worlds. Long since she last had the voice to reassure them that she was just fine and would be totally alright after a quick rest. Long since she communicated at all, except through unconscious ravings in her twisting sleep or through low, repressed moans of obvious pain in her few waking hours.

All they knew now was that she was in pain, that she had been unreachable for several days and had awakened only a couple of nights ago, laying staring quietly at the ceiling ever since. At one point after her waking up she had related in a fast flow of words the substance of her long night’s dream, still not taking her eyes of the wooden boundary above. It had been the most fantastic imagination of all the stars being individuals gazing down upon the world, of the forest being full of strange beings with their own tales, of seeming human beings passing us by every day but really, perhaps without knowing it themselves, being the stuff of legend down to the core.

She told them in swift words that she had been floating with the stars – her sisters and brothers – singing to the moon and the sun that are forever the mother and the father of them all. She told them that she had seen the world from above, in obscured vision due to her still earthbound form; that she had seen a wolf in agony because of his love for a mortal woman, and a man brought into the human world after a full life among the very small people of the woods.

I am sure she would have told them many more things about all the faithfully kept secrets unknown to mankind had it not been for their interrupting her, their attempts to assure her that it had all been naught but fever stained nightmares not to bother thinking about ever again.

At those words she grew quiet. At those words her spirit sank and the pain filled once again the gap that had for some merciful moments been occupied by dreams and wonders that she had almost believed in. At those words she was once and for all totally convinced that death was standing beside her bed, distancing and alienating her from the loved ones that surely meant nothing but to comfort her but who only succeeded in doing the very opposite.

For one day and a night, finally, she had neither eaten nor slept – only stared out in the space above her, waiting for the ender of all life finally to make his claim on her. She dared not look out her window, that was always open to the night sky due to her eager wish, lest she be reminded of her impossible dream of stars and skies and succumb to crying or to fear of death. She could afford no such thing.

She wanted so badly to be able either to fully believe in her fevery dream or totally to dismiss it as imagination; in the first of these cases she would not have to be afraid of anything, and in the latter she could muster her last strength in life to write the dream down for those she left behind to wonder about it when she was finally and irrevocably gone. She could, as it now was, do neither of these things and this was her great sorrow.

And as she lay there, listening to the others roaming about the house, occupied by their every day tasks thinking her asleep, she fell to pondering what death would be like. Would there be anything left of her spirit after it had fled her body? Would she feel the pain of drawing the last, totally unuseful breaths right after her heart had failed and would aid her lifespan no more? Or would her soul by then be already halfway on the “other side”, and by that preventing her from knowing fully the horrors of final, hopeless mortality?

She tried not to be afraid. She tried not to feel the pull of deadly, primal fear that always precede the utter unknown. She had promised herself that she would be strong, that she would not upset her family more by showing her pain and anxiety in front of her approaching end.

Night fell slowly outside. She heard the others talking quietly in the kitchen about whether or not it would be wise to disturb her in her sleep to check how she was. She knew that in the end they would settle for glimpsing in at her through the half open door to see that she was still breathing, and then let her be. She did not mind. She never did anymore.

The gentle creak of the door followed by soft footfalls withdrawing confirmed her thoughts, and soon she knew that she was alone awake in the house.

She was not to look at the stars, she knew it. She was not to think of the dream or to feel false hope building inside of her. Hope was for all but her now. All was for all but her. But still something drew her gaze to the sky outside. A faint noise – a voice? It could not be. But there it was again; soft, safe, reassuring. She knew that voice. She had known it all her life, but had only heard it once before in a distant past. Maybe in another world.

Breeze in the light white curtains, filling the room with a flowing light that came from nowhere and everywhere still. Was this death? Surely not. And still she was sure that she was not dreaming, that this was really happening and that she was to understand it in some way. And it made sense, this ghostly light and this loving voice from the starry sky. Deep inside of her it did.

She could hardly believe it when she felt her own feet upon the cold tiles of the floor and the soft swirl of her nightgown around her ankles as she moved towards the window. Her fever burnt skin was soothed somewhat by the soft night breeze from outside and she felt weak but alive in those last moments. With hands upon the window frame and silver hair glittering in the light of the full moon, which she had not beheld for months, she lifted her head and gazed up at the forbidden stars. They sang to her now, in her head and in her ears. It was a song she knew all too well but had never sung. It was the song of her fever dream.

She knew that she must be hallucinating, that what she saw and heard must be her dying mind’s final salute to the world, but she stubbornly refused to be robbed of this her last moment in life – be it real or not. I guess that is why she wasn’t scared when the light of the sky – the moon herself – spoke to her in a melodic singing voice, calling her from afar. And in the moment she looked up onto the utter brightness of the otherworldly source of evening light she thought for a split second she saw the face of a goddess smiling down at her from between scattered stars.

Had it been not for her dreamy amazement and sense of eerie victory, she would in this moment have felt the horror of death she had so dreaded in her last few nights. Her heart was beating its last struggling beats now, and the breaths of night air that passed her lips now in waves that were uneven but refreshing did little good for her any more, as her body was at last too weak to bring them to proper use for her survival. This, though, she would not acknowledge anymore than she could bring herself to think of her family that would surely despair in the morning at finding her lifeless at the floor by the open window, and without doubt blame themselves for their recklessness in leaving it open for the cold wind to hurt her.

In those last seconds of her life she could not, and would not, tear her eyes from the faces of the sky that so fondly gazed down at her and beckoned for her to join them. Wind in her face, wind in her billowing linen gown, and she climbed the windowsill smiling.

Standing there at the edge of the known universe, at the end of her world, she was not afraid of death or falling. She had been falling and dying for as long as she could remember, and this would be the last time. This would be her flight for freedom and adventure. And then she took the step, and all the stars drew in their precious breaths but never quit their singing, and the moon that was the mother of them all reached forth down to earth to break the fall.

Have you ever experienced, on a particularly starry night, perhaps in the middle of biting winter when the northern lights are dancing across the sky whispering secrets to all those with sense to listen, a moment in reality when the space and the world grow so quiet you could hear a snowflake hit the roof of a car? Often following those rare and precious moments you can se a star shooting across the night towards some fantastic destination far away. But sometimes that quiet is followed by the birth of a new star into the sky, so bright and clear that all take for granted that is has been there always, since nothing so self evident could ever have not existed. Well, if you have, and if that happened recently, maybe not more than a few years ago, it might well have been the very same occasion that is related in this story. Because when she took the fatal jump from safety and knowledge, and the stars were stunned and the moon calmly reached for her, she did not fall. The night took her in and she flew, ever ascending, never looking back, towards the stars that twinkled welcomingly and the moon that ever smiled towards her homecoming daughter.

Happily she understood that her dreams had been not fantasy but wonderful reality, and in her flight to her carefully guarded place on the nightly velvet curtain she was told everything by her brothers and sisters – everything about the world and everything about their own omniscient ever presence. And in the millennia to come she guarded safely always from her haven in the sky, ever able to look down upon the world she so loved from, a vantage point where she could see and know all without having to participate in commonplace human life. Not until now could she truly comprehend the beauty of life or the wonderful mystery of the world. Not until now did she understand that reality is so much more than what the human people want to think in their ignorance. And not until now could she possibly grasp the true meaning of the word happiness. This and much more came to her as she took her place close to her mother, who lovingly embraced her and said that she was so, so very much awaited and longed for. She was home at last.

Grief struck her mortal beloved ones in the morning at her absence. Her bed was empty, the window wide open and not a trace was to be found of their beloved girl who had been dying for so long they could not accept the thought that she was gone but not dead. The police was called in, the neighbours searched everywhere, but nowhere was the girl with the silver hair and the starry eyes. Nowhere could word of her be heard and nowhere was consolation for those who loved her. Weeks passed and the sorrow was so great that not even when the night called them with soothing song of tidings and consolation did they take their time to look out at the sky of stars.

Thus it was not until a long time afterwards that they found their answers, even though not all of them were willing to believe in such tales that others took for facts in their desperation after an end to this agonizing not knowing. The answer was in the girls computer, that had stood vacant since her disappearance and was at the time of their discovery covered with a fine layer of dust. What they found was one of her stories of old, this one being one of the last ever written by her before her illness took hold of her for good.

It told a rich tale of the love affair between the sun and the moon, who could meet once a month only when their paths crossed and who at all other times missed and searched for each other unceasingly. Their meetings sometimes resulted in the birth of a new star, and sometimes, even more rarely, the star child was placed into the world as an earthbound being to learn and wonder before ascending to her predestined place in the sky. These children could not live as mortal creatures for very long, since the star fire inside of them always burned at their earthly form and eventually caused it to die painfully. But before this happened the child was given the choice to join her kind on the outmost border of the world to see all and know all forever, and most often the child choose to do so. That resulted in the child’s disappearance from the mortal world without a trace, but her reuniting with her true family above.

This sole evidence would have convinced alone the most desperate of truth seekers since it was in the eyes of the human world a child’s tale and nothing more. Things were settled only some days later, when a knock on the door announced a stranger on the doorstep. He was finely dressed in clothes not very appropriate for this time and era, but which would surely have been very suitable some hundred years ago. He kept looking down at a beautiful watch he kept in his inner pocket, as if he was in a hurry to get somewhere else, and, after introducing himself as one Mister Wolf, quickly presented to the family of the disappeared girl a letter written in an all to familiar hand on a beautifully textured piece of paper.

Then he excused himself and withdrew as suddenly as he had come, down the narrow trail of concrete tiles that lined the sidawalk. Many attempts by the police to find the mysterious stranger were later made, but with no success. During a short period his description was posted every day in the local paper, in the hope that he could lead the authorities on the right track in finding the missing girl, but with no result whatsoever. It was as if he had never existed.

The family of the girl, though, was not any longer as eager to look for their missing love. The letter they never showed to the police, since they knew they would not believe a word of it. But they themselves did. Its contents shall not be related here since it was neither addressed to us nor relevant for the ending of this story, but I will stretch as far as to confirm what you should have already guessed. It was written by the star child, as a last consolation and explanation to those she still loved but would never talk to again. It was written in loving words and in a style which brutally ended all doubts as to its genuineness. It calmed the distressed family and made them feel at ease at last, after all this time.

They collected all the stories ever written by her of her beloved and amazing fantasies into a book that could and would be read by many mystery thirsting souls, and they knew that she was at peace wherever she was. And every winter night when the moon was full and the northern lights danced across the starry sky, they always stopped by the window, taking their time to gaze up at the shining stars, knowing that somewhere up there, south east of Orion, she was lovingly gazing back at them.

On Blood And Dreams I

She was born in shadow and in blood, but that was long ago when the tall firs were sprouts and the ways of men were different. She was taught to live and let die by a monster with a heart, and the years saw her changing and hardening with every drop of red that forever stained her gentle hands and lips.

Her monster was a poet and a thief, and he had stolen her life without a second thought after hearing her recite his work in the house of God, and instantly falling in love with the sound of her voice. She herself was a singer and a romantic, and she had let herself be stolen without a struggle, after drowning helplessly in his eyes and instantly realizing that this was a death she did not wish to be liberated from.

Every night was dark poetry as the monster guided her through a world transformed by her hunger and by her innocence lost, and every day was sweet oblivion as he cradled her dead body in his just as lifeless arms. There was no shame, there was no remorse. If there was anything, there was art and they both reveled in it just as they reveled in each other’s company and in the blood that flowed like ample wine wherever they went.

The sprouts grew into saplings and men learned to worship the gods of science and enlightenment. There was never a shortage of affection in her still heart, and she looked with anticipation into this new night where she would follow him unafraid and with eyes wide open. He, however, the monster who had stolen her heartbeat and brought her this far beyond the life spans of all she had ever known and loved, who had seen her bury parents, sisters and brothers and who was now her only anchor in a world gone mad from industrial hubris, was silently losing faith.

He was a poet, but in this new world there was no room for words like his. The stories of this new century were not his stories, and the proud name that had once been on everyone’s lips was now only whispered by her, his stolen love, as she desperately tried to ease his pain and sorrow.

There was war, there was revolution and nobody any longer remembered the rhyme and verse of a dead monster whose words had once given birth to the thoughts of dreamers and the bravery of lovers and warriors. Together they had defied time and seen the fall of kingdoms, but now she was slowly watching oblivion do to him what death had never been able to accomplish. He was withering away before her eyes, and despite her best efforts to drag him with her into the brave new world it soon stood clear that he lacked the bravery – or the will – to follow her there.

“If I can’t get people to remember me, then what do I have?”, he said to her by twilight on that fateful, final night. ”We are creatures of shadow outside of time, doomed to watch the world change and our footprints in the sand fade away. I do not know this new world, I do not understand its struggles and its victories. Even my name has been taken by the waves, there is nothing left for me here.”

She silenced him and sang to him. They cried together for everything that had been lost along the way. They kissed and they loved and then she fell asleep on his arm, content that she had been able to reach him in his darkness and that everything would be alright. She would help him find the words that he had lost, just as she would make the world again know his name.

When again she woke, he was gone. In the moonlight outside she found his golden ring, resting silently amongst ashes that were slowly being carried away by the wind. He was gone. The new world was beginning, and she was alone.

The saplings grew into tall firs and men learned to worship the gods of machine and profit. She was born in shadow and in blood, but that was long ago when she was taught to live and let die by a monster with a heart. Now the years saw her changing and hardening with every drop of red that forever stained her gentle hands and lips, and she had long since sworn by that same red that she would never love again.


This text was inspired by a writing prompt, and is the first part of a story split in three. Stay tuned for the next part!

The Painting: A Ghost Story

This is an older text, written back in 2011 as part of a Halloween theme for the English class I was teaching. I wanted it to contain the most common ghost story-tropes in order to give the students inspiration and tools for their own stories. Feel free to leave a comment.


It was a dark and stormy night. A man was walking slowly through his equally dark house, admiring through the gloom his collection of old and fantastical things. He was old himself, and had been interested in antiquities his whole life – and because of this his collection had grown large.

An old grandfather clock struck midnight. He had acquired it from decedent estate sale ten years ago. From the same place came the crystal chandelier in the ceiling and the oaken chair in the corner. He stopped in front of his newest acquisition, a large painting depicting a house by the sea. It had been auctioned out for almost no money at all at a local sale that very same day, and he had bought it without hesitation. Now that he stood regarding it more closely, though, he could not help feeling icy shivers running down his spine.

He had bought it because the house in the painting looked a lot like his own house, down to the old willow tree that grew outside his bedroom window. The sea in the panting, of course, did not match reality. There actually was a lake some distance from his house, but no sea. He had thought the similarities to be amusing when he had first seen the painting in broad daylight. However, now that he stood looking at it in the middle of the night in the light of the full moon, he did not feel amused at all.

The similarities to his own house now made him feel uneasy, and he wondered suddenly if there really had been a candle burning in the painted window earlier that day. A sudden pang of superstitious horror struck him, and he hurriedly took the painting off the wall and hid it deep in a closet. He didn’t know why, but he didn’t like the way the branches of the painted tree reached for the little house by the sea.

Several weeks passed, and he forgot about the painting. He added even more artifacts to his collection and grew even older. It was not until autumn had closed around his house and robbed the willow outside his window of all its leaves, that he even thought about the painting again.

It happened late one night, when he was just about to go to sleep. The roof of his house was creaking in the wind and the tree branches were scratching against his window. A sudden noise caught his attention, and he realized that the photograph on the wall opposite from his bed had fallen to the floor, seemingly without explanation. As he inspected the damage done, he concluded that the frame was totally broken. He would not be able to put the photography back up without first replacing the broken frame.

Sighing, he picked up the glass and splinters and carried them into the next room to throw them away. It was when he passed the closet that he suddenly came to think of the painting he had hidden there. Much time had passed, and he could not remember what had gotten him so worked up, giving him such goose bumps. So he took the painting out of the closet and looked at it again.

Nothing had changed in the panting, of course. It was probably just his imagination that made him think that the tree in the picture had had leaves when he last looked at it, and the sea had probably always been full of billowing waves. Looking at it now he felt silly for ever having hidden it away in the first place. And he certainly needed to replace the broken photograph with something. So he did.

Pleased to have accomplished something at this late hour, he lay down in his antique bed and looked at the painting now hanging on the wall across the room from him. It certainly was a work of skill, with its masterfully executed details. It was almost as if he could see the flame in the portrait house’s window flickering. His imagination again, of course. And soon he drifted away into the land of sleep.

It must have been the roaring of the waves that awakened him. It was still pitch black outside. He lay still in the darkness for a while without opening his eyes, trying to go back to sleep – but sleep wouldn’t come. If the sea would just go quiet… Then he opened his eyes in horrible realization. Dread started to creep over him as he came to his senses and suddenly remembered that there was no sea – apart from that in the panting.

Now wide awake, he stared at the portrait on the opposite wall and gasped. The candle in the painted window was now clearly flickering in the wind that was obviously tearing at the spiny branches of the oil-color willow tree. And the sound that had woken him up really did come from the painted waves throwing themselves against the rocks by the beach.

But none of these things was what made his breath catch in his throat and his limbs go numb. No, what made his blood freeze in his veins and his hair stand on end, was the sickening sight of the corpse-like creature that came crawling out of the sea, dripping of sea weed and death even as he watched helplessly.

He tried to scream, but like in a nightmare where you can do nothing but watch, not a single sound escaped his parted lips. A smell like that of putrid flesh spread in his room as the hellish wraith drew closer to the frame of the painting, and when it was almost past the tree a black liquid, like rotten tar, began oozing out of the picture, down the wall and towards his bed.

The last thing he saw was the demon’s eyes, staring ravenously at him as it closed in and pressed its decomposing face to the inside of the portrait and began tearing away at it with talons dripping with something red.

They found him the next day, hanging from the old willow tree outside his bedroom window. Rumor had it that he had finally gone mad from living all by himself in that old cottage, his only company thousands and thousands of dollar’s worth of remnants from other people’s lives. Some of his collection was claimed by distant relatives, but some of the belongings were too grisly even for his greedy kin.

For example they found an old painting hanging on his bedroom wall, opposite from his bed. In an eerie way it seemed to depict the late old man’s house, willow tree and all. But this was not what made the relatives instantly send it away to be sold cheaply at an auction. No, what made them turn away in disgust and try their best to forget about it was another distasteful similarity.

Because from one of the branches of the painted willow tree, a body was hanging. So masterfully painted was it that the startled relatives later could have sworn that they had seen it swinging back and forth in the autumn wind…