Category Archives: Short Stories

Thought #55. Being an outsider.

Agatha knew full well it wasn’t going to be plain sailing. Since the very moment she made up her mind to leave her parents’ nest and headed for Spain, she had to come to terms with missing friends and family. On top of that, she hadn’t been abroad by herself and wasn’t sure how long it was going to take her to settle in. However, it was her long-held ambition, so she felt it was surely high time; in actual fact, she really had no other option.

Being an outsider can be exciting but, at the same time, hair-raising. Agatha arrived in Barcelona three years ago. It was a week before her seventeenth birthday, which she wouldn’t forget in ages.  When her mother gave her a ring and wished her happy birthday, Agatha couldn’t help but burst into tears; listless and a bit depressed, she told mum that, from the word go she was like a fish out of water.

Finding a part-time job was a priority. Agatha’s parents earned very little and she had to make both ends meet. At the end of the day, it was her decision and thus she, who shouldered the responsibility to earn a living. She had always a dab hand in the kitchen so she applied for a post to cover a vacancy in a downtown restaurant. She got the job but her boss promptly forced her to work till the small hours. His lack of empathy drove Agatha crazy. It was a dull job. Nothing out of the ordinary.

At the university, things didn’t seem to look much better. As if she was on another planet, Agatha’s uphill struggle to be liked among her classmates fell on deaf ears. Three months later, not only had she been the butt of their jokes, but also she hadn’t got a single invitation to hang out after class. She thought whether it seemed tantamount to bullying, but soon and luckily, she overcame such negativeness.

Sheila was a very popular girl at university. The typical Spanish candidate of a beauty contest, a gorgeous, brown-eyed brunette and unusually witty and razor-sharp minded. After racking her brain, Agatha realised that however hard she tried to be kind, it was hostility what she would find. Therefore, she made up a plan: to concentrate her efforts into getting in with Sheila. Perhaps that way she would finally be accepted by the rest of Sheila’s ilk. It’s no wonder that appearances can be deceptive.

Sheila turned out to be a marvellous person and Agatha, sooner than later, had to change her mind about the misfortunes that led her to try to turn her friendship into her advantage. They bonded
out of the blue, effortlessly. Spanish people are nice but it just so happens that you have to let your hair down and be yourself. Agatha just get off on the wrong foot when she firstly set foot in Barcelona. The situation had fortunately changed.

However, things are never easy. After amost two years of happiness, one night she met a boy in a disco. Pablo was a very attractive 35-year-old man. They had sexual encounters every now and again. Agatha was hooked on him. She started to miss classes and to lose contact with Sheila. That year she failed in her finals too. During the summer, Pablo’s attitude towards her metamorphosed. Maybe he had been feigning all the time. Pablo was a macho, so disrespectful and possessive a person that her self-esteem was notoriously undermined.

She fell into a deep depression and, predictably, Sheila was a kind shoulder to cry on. They headed out to Norway to visit Agatha’s parents. Two weeks later, back in Barcelona, Agatha began to come clean about her relationship with Pablo. She broke up and decided to move away from Gaudi’s city. Castellón was her next destination. She got a job in a small restaurant and signed up for a university degree on Translation and Interpretation. Sheila used to call her everyday but, unfortunately, all her past ghosts came back. A fish out of water again.

A week before her twentieth birthday she visited a psychologist following Sheila’s advice. Anxiety and an incipient depression had left her sleepless, tossing and turning all night long. The bleak prospect of her forthcoming birthday and the fact that she was going to pass it completely on her own was miserable. But, sometimes little things can have a dramatic effect on people’s fate.  Sheila’s call on the day before Agatha’s birthday was about to be one of those things.

She told Agatha that they were going to meet each other in Peñíscola to celebrate her birthday. Depite not being in the mood, Agatha gave up complaining about the idea and promised to do her best to be good company. That night wasn’t different, she didn’t sleep a wink. In the morning Agatha drove to Peñíscola, willing be dead.

It came as a complete surprise the spectacular party that her best friend had prepared. Not only was Sheila there, dressed-to-kill and lovely, but her parents, cousins, uncles and aunts, and to her utmost astonishment, some old Norwegian friends. She was lost for words, literally speechless. It was the beginning of an end. She soon got over her depression. After all, Spain had borne witness to Agatha’s coming-of-age, a difficult period that, more often than not, can be hard.

Thought #53. An ill-timed accident.

That morning I had an accident. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the kind of accident that is usually followed by a thorough investigation. It was a childish and minor one. I wetted myself. It wasn’t out of a need to go to the bathroom but unexpectedly; out of the blue. I found myself red-faced. I could admit the situation was a little funny. I thought there was something odd going on. The fact is that just before the accident, I was completely sure of having been in front of the toilet a few minutes before, ready to shoot, except that I probably wasn’t.

My bewilderment didn’t diminish when I had the second accident in a row. I spilled my coffee. How on earth could an already drunk coffee be spilled? The frontpage of The Guardian, now a hotchpotch of ink smudges and black liquid, was featuring a story about the Iraq war. I was reading it with rapt attention; supposedly, my mug was already in the kitchen sink when coffee was spilled.

I went to the bathroom and arranged my clothes. I jumped into the shower and adjusted the water temperature to my taste. After taking a quick shower, I dried myself with a towel and put my clothes on. Then, I was about to comb my hair when I found myself in front of a mirror with no image of me being reflected. I closed my eyes in a state of shock. I heard the sound of water. Marta, I thought. I set the bath curtain aside, and it was me who was taking the shower. I panicked, it panicked too.

Thought #52. A converted atheist.

Robert’s fondness for his wife was well known. He would have given his life for Joana if only she had asked him to do so. Unfortunately though, he could not help but witness the lingering and inevitable death of his beloved partner. The fate of their uphill battle against Joana’s terminal cancer was ten to one.

Since the doctor delivered them so bad a piece of news, they learned to take it one day at a time. Robert adopted a positive attitude towards the diagnostic, nothing was carved in stone yet. He resorted to faith; a new-found religious faith that would give him hope. A glimmer of hope that, surprisingly, he still holds ten years after she finally was at peace and her suffering was over.

Thanks to faith, her absence is not quite absolute. Robert’s approach to God has made up for the loss of his wife. More by accident than design, he became a fervent follower. During such a battle, seeing how Joana was undergoing endless chemotherapy sessions, he slowly discovered how science, and particularly medicine, could render a life sterile, lifeless.

Prior to those brutal sessions, he was a declared atheist. In fact, now that I come to think of it, he used to give insightful speeches on atheism back in his thirties. Who would have thought he could end up praying with rapt fervour every single day and going to church on Sundays. His change of heart was unexcepted and, at the same time, understandable. Now, he awaits. He looks forward to seeing her soon.

Naively or not, he is very upfront about why God must exist, he would have given his life for Joana, and yet it was as nonsensical as believing that science and medicine would have been able to save her. Soon after her death, he plunged into his religious studies. Her death had to have a meaning. At least, he remains hopeful and have not put an end to happiness. I have no say about this kind of situations, but legend has it that when there is little or no hope for the future, people cling to God.

Thought #45. An insomniac mattress.

Animated objects littered the deserted streets. Any living creature would have sensed the rarefield atmosphere that soured that night, but the city was lifeless of proper life. Humankind must accept its fate. A gloomy future, a hopeless existence, the dawn of things had arrived.

An insomniac mattress awakened from its fated death. More than tired, exhausted is how it was feeling. Oppressed by countless sleepless nights trying to please the jaded couple, it could not help but escape. The scenery was beyond recognition. A teapot and a radio soon joined the mattress which was leading an improvised parade.

The white noise delivered by the radio was felt by hundreds of objects as rhythmic beat. Dancing on the streets, making quirky and, at the same time, distinctive sounds, more and more of them stepped in. Beeping, clanking, clicking… a range of metallic dins filled the silence with music.

A symphony under the baton of the mattress whose driving ambition to become a conductor was being fulfilled, once and for all. Books and chairs, pencils and notebooks, baby buggies and bikes, they all gathered around the insomniac mattress, playing unthinkable dissonant chords. An increasing noise, loud and deafening, awful and incessant.

And then silence filled the room. Sweating and gasping for breath, my heart was pounding. It was only a nightmare. A few minutes later I kissed Marta gently and fell asleep for the tenth time that night.

Thought #40. Verdict: guilty 2/2.

I went to a library and asked for a copy of the newspapers that had been mentioning or examining any fact related to the crimes. I can still see legitimate fear in the face of the librarian when she saw me, it’s an image that I will never forget. I picked up the pile of papers and studied it carefully, taking notes in a little notebook: locations, names of the victims, times and dates. In short, I tried to gather as much information as I could, in an attempt to clear up my mind. My life was a real mess as I couldn’t foresee what would be my next movement. I couldn’t think clearly. When I handed out the material to the librarian I had a hunch that something didn’t dovetail.

For the next four weeks I visited the crime scenes and to my surprise, I couldn’t recall any of those places. People would run away from me as though I was a plague-ridden dog. Maybe I wasn’t doing myself any favours by wandering around like a madman. On one occasion, someone summoned the police and I was taken to the nearest police station, held in custody in a cell and then questioned. After 24 hours, they had to release me as they didn’t have any crime to pin on me.

Exhausted by the efforts expended in trying to shed light on the mysterious circumstances of those crimes, I had no option but to visit my old psychiatrist and friend. He received me at his office and we affectionately hugged each other. I needed therapy. During the following five months I did nothing but visit him. It took us more than twenty sessions to understand what was going on. Schizophrenia didn’t prevent me from bringing back my memories and I hadn’t tried to blot them out. Apparently, I could have been a victim of a misleading investigation and I could have been accused for want of any other potential suspect.

Unfortunately, society often attributes people who suffer from a mental illness with aggressive traits. Say the words disorder and crime and our brain would end up making a strong connection that would eventually make it impossible for us to see the forest for the trees. I’m unable to hurt anyone. But appearances, more often than not, are deceptive.

More by accident than design, the therapy helped me to remember how the trial procedure took place. The interrogation room where I was questioned before the trial was cold, lifeless and featureless. As if it were a film, a metal table with two chairs, a security door and a one way mirror. The man who conducted the questioning was the same that appeared along me in the front page of the newspaper I receive when I left prison. But it wasn’t a usual procedure. All I faced then was a brainwashing session. Well, not one but a series of sessions that undermined my confidence and my sense of reality. In less than 72 hours I admitted the crimes and signed a typewritten declaration.

I visited my doctor one more time. During the session I had the opportunity to tell him about those brainwashing sessions. 15 years in prison for a series of crimes I hadn’t been responsible for. My friend and doctor gave me a really useful piece of advice. I had to go on with my life. “Forget the past and try to recover your job.” were his final words.

I went to the hotel and had an interview with the director. A signed report from the doctor and a three-hour long meeting did the trick. I started working in the night shift, this time as a maintenance boy, giving a hand wherever I was needed. Two months later I received a telegram from an unknown source. “Only one more death. You paid for my sins. I’m no longer here.”

The morning newspaper showed a picture of a cordoned area near the police station. “The inspector in charge of the series of murderers that hit the city almost 16 years ago was found dead after committing suicide. Police sources say….”

Thought #39. Verdict: guilty 1/2.

After 15 years of prison, not only strangers, family or friends but also I despise myself for a series of brutal crimes I can barely remember. Leaving prison should have been the most exciting thing a convict could ever have dreamt. Ex-convicts used to say that it can also be terrifying. My exit wasn’t either intoxicating or scary, though. I felt empty, hopeless, more than lost, strayed. I was mental and that also goes back to when I was arrested on suspicion of murdering five young women.

I had been seeing a psychiatrist for years, since, at high school, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Until the trial took place I had been receiving a long-term psychiatric treatment that allowed me to live an almost normal life. For many years, I worked as a bellboy at a luxurious hotel in the city centre. After my morning shift, I even regularly attended classes of criminology at the Oxford University. My parents were well born and they encouraged me to study whatever I was keen on. It wasn’t after the verdict that they their hopes of seeing me as a perfectly sane person had definitely been wrecked. They died two years before I became a strayed destitute, before I got out of prison for crimes I can barely remember; before I was virtually and undeniably robbed of freedom and something more.

In prison, I never felt at home. The fact of being deprived of freedom of action wasn’t the worst part. In fact, I felt like a complete outsider since I arrived in prison. I never thought I belonged to their criminal kin. What can you expect from a madman? A crazy person cannot be trusted, can be? Undervalued and detested by my cell mate, I had to struggle to stay calm. Sometimes, I felt the urge to commit suicide, but soon I found myself soothed again. The doctor had augmented my dose of drugs. I took them religiously, it wasn’t necessary any kind of supervision. It saved my life countless times.

If I had to mention a friend, beyond doubt, it would be the doctor. I could see in her look a glimmer of understanding. She had the ability to penetrate deep inside me. It wasn’t her kindness. What I most appreciate was that she never mentioned the brutal crimes I was convicted for. Well, the only occasion she talked about it was when she read the admission report signed by the prison’s psychologist. Even then, she didn’t do it with a judgelike manner.

When I was released, I regained possession of my belongings. Among them, a newspaper from the day I was condemned splashed the story of an alleged psychopathic killer that was about to be judged. A picture of mine illustrates that front page article. The inspector in charge of the investigation stands in the background, almost blurred by the zoom lens focusing on me. I was roused and filled with mixed feelings. I couldn’t remember the face of any of the five women that appear below my picture. Now, six months after that precise moment, the truth could be revealed.

Thought #38. Dreams.

The majestic St Pancras Railway Station is seething with people. Clara stands near the platform where the train to Paris is about to depart. Embracing a baby warmly, she shuffles her feet nervously.

The sounds of trains rumble along, a feeling of growing anticipation runs through her. After a few minutes, Clara intently listens to the emotionless voice that utters the expected announcement: their train is getting into the station. She looks at the vanishing point as the Eurostar slows down and comes to a standstill. Five minutes and the journey will start.

The train railway carriage smells of life as London is left behind.

– Paul, darling. Please, wake up, I have something to tell you.
– I hear you.
– I’m very happy.
– Me too.
– All I wanted was to be with you, to have our own baby. You can’t know how many times I have prayed to God for this moment.
– I see.
– If only things hadn’t been so difficult.
– I didn’t want to hurt you.
– I know. We cannot change the past.

The ticket collector enters the carriage. Only a woman with her baby at the end. He advances quickly.

– Good evening, your ticket please.

Clara’s has the empty look of people on the vege of madness.

– Are you ok?

Clara remains silent.

– Can I offer you a glass of water?

No response.

– Miss?

A baby doll drops to her feet.

Thought #36. Hope against hope.

15th November 2000. Peter returned from work to find his house had burned down. Amanda’s body had vanished. No ashes to scatter on the waters of the Tamesis River. Peter ended up heartbroken, filled with grief, alone.

20th April 2017. Peter returns to find his house uninhabited, almost lifeless. 6,000 days, nights included, are supposed to be more than enough to get over a loss. But Amanda was special, too unforgettable.

He might appear to endure the distress caused by Amanda’s death but, in truth, he can barely foresee a glimmer of hope in his black reality. After many years of aimless wandering, he is exhausted. Because he is not living but dying, not walking but wandering.

Death is a central part of life. It has always been that way. It just so happens that sometimes a loss is tantamount to a devastating drought. Suddenly, zest for life no longer exists and is replaced by a decaffeinated world, so dehydrated, desiccated, devoid of juice and energy a reality that seems unreal.

But deep inside there is hope. He is hoping against hope that, at the very last moment, she would show up with a big grin on her face. And emptiness will cease, rain will make an unexpected appearance, life will sprout. His reconstructed heart will beat again.

16th November 2000. Obituary. WHITE, Peter, 41, loved husband, father-to-be and friend, died Wednesday at a local hospital following a three-hour uphill struggle after a terrible accident left him burned. He was a lifelong resident of London. Mr. White had farmed for many years west of the Tamesis River. He was a member of a Catholic Church. Survivors include: three nephews, James, John and Peter, and a heartbroken, homeless and pregnant wife…

Thought #33. Cottage for sale.

 

Thursday night.

Rachel is death to the world. Last night, she fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. She has been busy with her wedding preparation. Yesterday, she took the dress to The Wedding Boutique at Harrods to have it altered. Despite being allergic to London, her recent weight loss and the forthcoming event deserves her presence.

Fortunately, last month she stumbled upon the ad “Cottage with access to the silence, only the sounds of nature” when, at the dentist’s, she skimmed the classified section in a housing magazine. Rachel and John threw caution to the winds and took out a £120,000 mortgage to buy the cottage and the surrounding plot of land. She finally achieved her ambition to own a cottage.

John has just listened to Rachel’s voicemail message: “John, I can’t wait till tomorrow when you get back from your business trip. The weather forecast said a stormy night was expected there, in Dublin. Have a nice and safe trip. I’ll be here, waiting for you. Kisses!”. He takes a deep breath and peeps through the bathroom curtains into the bed.

The hotel room is cosy and warm, ridiculously expensive for the occasion. Luckily, Rachel’s damn cottage is out of mobile signal. He does not feel like calling her back. He chuckles to himself. “Let’s make a night of it, I’ll be there at the crack of dawn.”, he mumbles.

Friday morning.

Rachel wakes up in silence. John is snoring loudly. “He’s a terrible snorer.”, she smiles to herself. She abandons the room stealthily, trying not to make the slightest noise. She is proud of their relationship. Respect, fidelity, devotion, love… deep love. Rachel turns the radio receiver on. She is about to squeeze some oranges when she overhears a news bulletin.

“Due to the devastating storms, Dublin’s airspace remains closed since Thursday night. All UK flights have been postponed until next Monday when the storms are expected to recede. A shuttle-bus service is being arranged by Dublin Airport in association with the major flight operators. Nearly a thousand travellers are waiting for this service, which will become available later today and will bring them back to London, Manchester, Oxford and some other UK capitals.”

Rachel turns the receiver off. She picks up her phone. No signal. She goes outside and lifts it. The phone bleeps. A new SMS from “Aaa John” remains unopened. She hesitates for a brief moment before opening it. “Safe and cosy flight. Love you so much! CU”. Tears, anger, hatred. “Stay cool, she who laughs last, laughs best”.

Friday afternoon.

John wakes up. He feels dizzy. “Rachel?”. Nobody answers. The silence kills. He looks at the wall clock. The clock is dead. “Maybe I could have wound up the clock.”, he murmurs. He heads to the kitchen. He is starving. On the worktop, a torn out magazine page where a picture of the cottage stands visible. He grabs it and finds a handwritten message blurred in tears below the original ad. It says: “Cottage with access to the silence and an unused wedding dress, for sale”.

Thought #31. The killer who was never caught 2/2.

Back on her desk, Beth wonders why the killer has changed his pattern. It is unusual for a serial killer to make the slightest change in the modus operandi. “We must’ve overlooked something, this case must’ve been a coincidence”, she mumbles. David is sitting next to her, apparently aloof. He wonders why the death has been advanced in time. It does not make any sense. Confused and stumped, they rack their brains to find an explanation for the happenings.

Beth and David make a thorough review of the events and after careful consideration they draw a conclusion: the 10th body does not belong to the case. It was sheer coincidence to find it in Walthamstow Central Station. They both know that there is little statistical evidence to support this “coincidence”, however. Two printed sheets of paper rest on the workstation, showing a list of Underground lines and the Prime Numbers sequence.

01:00 p.m. Inspector May holds an online press conference. The news has crossed borders and nearly a thousand media are accredited to attend this event. Joana is the press officer in charge. She has advised Paul to be wary about unveiling too much information about the case. In short, he only said that Police had not ruled out any possibility. Nothing about David’s insights.

07:00 p.m. Gathered around the desk table of Paul’s office, a copy of the postmortem examination is handed out to Beth and David. She died of a heart attack. No traces of having been poisoned. It all seems to indicate that they were right in assuming the disconnection between this victim and the rest of the lot. Paul cracks a smile. Beth and David mimics him. No mystery surrounds the circumstances of her death.

9:00 p.m. Today’s last briefing is conducted by constable Beth. She addresses the members of the special operation, following Paul’s instructions. On Sunday, they will have to swarm Walthamstow Central Station with plainclothes officers. They will have to pay special attention to vending machines and snack and beverage stalls because all the victims have been poisoned so far. They will ask anyone that behaves suspiciously for identification.

Saturday, 22nd of December, 2011. 11:00 p.m. The station has been already occupied by plainclothes officers. Some regular police officers cover the surrounding area, otherwise, it would become suspicious after the fuss created around the case. People were in panic. In fact, the security measures have been reinforced throughout the network of tube stations. A group of officers alongside each entrance provides a sense of security among the citizens.

Monday, 24th of December, 2011. 7:30 a.m. The atmosphere at Metropolitan Police headquarters is unbearable. They have been wrong about yesterday’s operation. No death, no arrests, no killer. Probably, the killer is aware of the police’s findings and has given up. Maybe they will never catch the assassin. Paul is hopeless about solving the case. “23” is the tenth Prime Number and there is no death yet. “If only the killer had acted”, he thinks amorally.

8:00 a.m. Paul receives the call. The mayor cannot wait any more. He has been put under extreme pressure both by citizens and political opposition. He must make an statement, he cannot bury his head in the sand. He has no option but to address the nation and explain the unsuccessful operation, revealing all the details. Paul’s unshaven face shows an angry expression. His last case and he would end up as a complete idiot.

8:30 a.m. The press conference is scheduled for midday. Less than four hours left. David, the computer technician, is desperate and this situation is driving him mad. He cannot think clearly. His analitical mind does not allow him to work under pressure, except that he is about to solve the case. Looking at the picture of Friday’s corpse, he realises that police have not investigated her digital footprint. David beckons Beth to his desk.

– “Beth, I have something to tell you, but you have to be prepared to act on a hunch. We know nothing about the discarded body. Only her name and age: Clara Hinder, 38. I have tried to locate her on Facebook but there is no account with such a name. Where are her belongings? Could we gain access to them?”, he said hastily.
– “I also had the hunch that we were overlooking something, but the postmortem was conclusive and decisive. Wasn’t it?”, replied Beth.
– “You haven’t answered my questions yet. I need her mobile phone!”

11:00 a.m. After many calls, Beth had almost lost her patience when she realised that if there were a person who could do her a favour, it would be Roger, an old friend and an expert on “police shortcuts”. Roger makes an appearance and hands out a special authorisation to Beth.

11:30 a.m. David is trying to hack into Mrs. Hinder’s mobile phone. It is impossible. The device could only be accessed by using a six-digit PIN number or the owner’s fingerprint. After 10 failed attempts, the contents of the phone would be auto erased. “One hundred thousand possibilities and only ten attempts, it is impossible”, he thinks aloud. Beth approaches David nervously.

– “I have overheard you. I think we have a chance.”
– “I’m all ears, tell me about it.”
– “If only we could hack her fingertip.”
– “Go on, please.”
– “The corpse is still inside our building.”

David jumps up and runs through the office, heading downstairs into the gloomy room where postmortem takes place. The lifeless corpse remains restful, undisturbed. He turns on the lights and grabs the right hand. It is cold and numb. He places the forefinger on the phone sensor. It does not work.

11:45 a.m. In 15 minutes the mayor could jeopardise the whole operation. Beth and David look at each other in despair. They take a deep breath. David is still holding Clara’s hand.

– “Try again, sometimes my phone sensor is a bit sluggish”, she tells David.

Following Beth’s advice, he repeats the process. A slight vibration and the phone is unlocked. Five percent battery left. Beth and David sit down on the ice floor, childishly. No Facebook account, no WhatsApp app installed, no Twitter account, no e-mail address configured, no SMS sent or received in ages. A video of the victim is the only will. Unopened, unsent, unseen, virgin. They nod to each other.

12:30 p.m. The mayor press conference is over. All the nation is overwhelmed by the police findings. The murder could not act any more following this scheme. No more train stations, no more Prime Numbers. The mayor receives the honours. Paul ends up unhonoured.

Beth and David have just seen the video. Mrs. Hinder has just revealed the secret. The first body was the leader of a cult called “There is no Tomorrow”. They claimed that the end of the world was expected to materialise on 31st of December 2011. Eleven members had been chosen by God to leave this world in advance. They would go to heaven, directly. Their followers did not know who has been elected until they received a videomessage from the last victim. Mrs. Hinder died of a heart attack. No traces of having been poisoned. No message handed out to the next victim, no more suicides. Beth and David will bury the 11th name, they will keep this video secret, forever.