Here’s another five star review for TWO JOURNEYS, this one is by “St. Louis Cards”. You can find it here at amazon.com: LINK.
Here’s the full text by this reader
Book Review: Two Journeys
Author: Clemens P. Suter
Publication Date: April 1, 2012 (NetGalley Archive Date: August 30, 2019)
Review Date: August 21, 2019I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.From the blurb:
“During a routine business trip to Tokyo, Alan finds himself to be the sole survivor of a global pandemic. A viral disease wipes away all of humanity… and Alan’s past life. Fearing injury, sickness and hunger, he sets out to travel back to his family in Berlin, straight across Asia and 10,000 miles of hardship and adventure.Suter combines post-apocalyptic elements with an adventurous road novel in this book about a man left alone on earth. The hardships and landscapes (the Gobi desert, Siberia) are described in all ferocity. A few other humans have survived as well, some eager to use the disaster for their own advantage. Electrifying chapters describe the encounter with Somerset, a charming yet psychotic warlord, who is assembling an army to conquer Moscow, if not the entire world.”This is a first-class apocalyptic thriller. I find most self-published books to be absolutely dreadful. The exception is often science fiction/apocalyptic thrillers and other books of this type category.Two Journeys is no exception. What a fantastic book! Better than I expected. It is written in the first person, and I often felt that I was reading a memoir of events that actually happened. Suter’s style is very easy to read; I couldn’t put the book down.
A caveat: it is a fairly long book, 551 pages. It took me 3-4 days on nonstop reading, which is much longer than it usually takes me to read a book.
The character of Alan, the protagonist, is well built, as well as the few other characters encountered during his journey. The plot is perfect; I appreciate how slowly Suter built up the story and all the details of the journey he included. The settings were well written and an important part of the book, as horrifying as they often were.
There were a few mysterious elements that added to the depth of the story.
I highly, highly recommend this book, 5 stars! The author has written a couple of sequels to this book that are available as Kindle books, for only $1.99 each, so I plan to finish out the series.
Humanity has gone a long time without a major pandemic. Outbreaks of viruses such as SARS, corona or influenza (e.g. H2N2 or the Asian Flu H3N2; or bird flu) have occurred again and again. Are we prepared?
Report#1783965825 – Exploration of Planet#17824540930
Economic Impact Estimate: low: <0.1 eie
Risk Impact Estimate: low: <0.1 rie
Recommended Action: Isolate Planet. No further exploration needed.
Standard#1846637 precautions obeyed, B143-Unit#29588885959 remained undetected
Goal of this mission was the investigation of the gas planets and asteroid belt within the stellar system #17824540930, from the standpoint of possible colonization suitability and mining (see separate, more extensive Report#1783965826, including feasibility study with positive assessment). As part of this overall investigation, B143-Unit#29588885959 also shortly inspected Planet#17824540930, taking Standard#1846637 precautions. Planet#17824540930 is not suited for long-term survival, as more than 75% of the surface is covered by liquid water with trace chemicals. Therefore, B143-Unit#29588885959 was only able to explore Planet#17824540930 superficially.
Economic Assessment and Lifeforms
On this planet, quantities of economically relevant levels of minerals are minimal; except for cerium-, europium- and neodymium-concentrations. Therefore, the economic impact of colonization is estimated to be low (0.01-0.1 range). Next to mineable minerals, this economical assessment also includes the potential value of indigenous lifeforms and organics. Lifeforms on Planet#17824540933 are primitive. Mostly non-autonomous, non-self-reproducing bots, these lifeforms evolve at a slow pace. There are only limited connections between individual bots; no connections to universal or extra-planetary networks exist. A re-visit to Planet#17824540933 and integration of the bots into our network may be compelling at some stage, based on the assumption that the bots may evolve further.
In contrast to many other stellar systems of this type, and many other similar planets, Planet#17824540933 abounds with organic life, strikingly of many types and sizes. This high variation could potentially meet with considerable scientific interest, but no obvious economic benefit could be uncovered; these organic life forms do in general not collect and concentrate interesting minerals (preliminary data). As Planet#17824540933 revolves around its axis rapidly, resulting in a high frequency of successive dark/light periods, many types of these organics have surprisingly short replication cycles, and lifespans.
At least 8,547,000 different types of organics seem to exist (initial data) and were preliminary classified. Some organics (species#0-#4,000,000) mine the light from the accompanying star (absorption of wavelength interval 560–520 nm) and employ this energy to chemically upgrade the planet’s minerals. These organics create carbon-based biomass and propagate efficiently, covering most of the planet’s surface. These types of organics do not have a locomotion apparatus and are thus mainly immobile. Many other types of organics exist (preliminary assigned to species#4,000,000 to #8,547,000) that are parasitic, consuming the light-mining organics (or other parasitic organics). This has led to a complex, well-balanced and delicate ecosystem; which appears to be evolving. Additional expeditions and more research would be needed to determine the evolution rate and predict evolution outcomes.
The parasitic organics come in many forms, most of which are mobile: either swimming in the liquid that covers the planet, crawling on its surface, or flying through its atmosphere. This makes for a highly erratic environment, which requires considerable acclimatization by the members of any future expedition. As mentioned, any expedition will need to consider the detrimental contents of the atmosphere, which are highly oxidative.
One type of organic (preliminary categorized as Organic#6,474,444) stands out and is therefore described here in more detail.
(1) Organic#6,474,444 appears to be the sole source of life on the planet: this species designs, creates and connects bots. These primitive bots execute simple steps in complex processes that benefit Organic#6,474,444, although the exact advantages of each bot in these processes are not immediately transparent. Still, obviously, the bots assist Organic#6,474,444 to increase the usage of other organics as the providers of energy and biomass. Thus, the bots allow Organic#6,474,444 to better compete with other organics for resources, and then in the end displace and terminate other organics. Bots carry out simple tasks: examples include the facilitation of faster transport of Organic#6,474,444 or of other organics intended for consumption by Organic#6,474,444; communication within the Organic#6,474,444 species across greater distances; enhancement of cognitive capabilities. As implied above, these activities augment Organic#6,474,444, in turn the life forms are further enhanced by the organic. However, at this stage, these bots are incapable of self-replication and of fully independent space-travel, although they have supported Organic#6,474,444 to travel to a nearby satellite and have ventured semi-autonomously across the stellar system.
(2) Usage of these bots seems to be very beneficial for Organic#6,474,444, as their population numbers increase at an exponential rate (preliminary data, determination of exact growth-rate needs more research). The current Organic#6,474,444 population is estimated to be 8,157,345,000 individuals (standard deviation 0.065). Other types of organics are much more abundant, e.g. the total number of organics with six extremities (preliminary categorization: #4,300,000 to #5,300,000. Note: Organic#6,474,444 has four extremities) are estimated to be 11,736,452,456,194,482,000. The organics with six extremities make up most of the biomass of the land-dwelling parasites.
(3) The continuing increase in numbers of Organic#6,474,444 and the efficient displacement of competing organics seems indicative of a primitive-bot supported and (superficially) successful survival strategy, which positively affects the evolution of the bots and thus more advanced lifeforms. Preliminary estimates suggest that Planet#17824540930 could theoretically carry 50-fold of Organic#6,474,444 individual numbers. Interestingly, the activities of Organic#6,474,444 cause release of an abundance of by- and waste-products (gasses such as carbon-dioxide, other carbon-based substances, anti-organic poisons) which impact the ecosystem. Curiously, Organic#6,474,444 is unable / indifferent to contain the release of these substances. The increase in carbon-dioxide affects the climate, and these climate changes will impact the survival rates of all organics, including Organic#6,474,444 itself. Many of the produced carbon-based substances are poisonous to organics, and ironically also to their producer Organic#6,474,444. It is therefore expected that back-feed loops will, at a timepoint not too far in the future, halt the exponential growth of the Organic#6,474,444 population. A reversal in population numbers has a high likelihood (p=0.85, +/-0.19; preliminary data). Therefore it is uncertain whether Organic#6,474,444 will be able to enhance the functionality of the primitive bots, and it is highly questionably that the bots will become an autonomously replicating lifeform.
To complete this section, here a more detailed description of Organic#6,474,444, with some curious, yet possibly relevant features.
A fully mature Organic#6,474,444 will have an approximately cylindrical shape of 1.75 * 0.4 meters and an average mass of 70 kilograms (although individuals of up to 250 kilograms have been observed). Organic#6,474,444 has a central corpus, from which four extremities protrude, all equal length (approximately). Organic#6,474,444 transports itself with the help of the two lower extremities, the corpus thus roughly forming an elongated cylinder at a perpendicular angle to the surface of the planet (a capricious sight, as if the corpus could topple over in an instant). Two upper extremities hang down passively along the sides of the corpus. At the very top is the command center, enclosed in a weak, pod-shaped capsule. Reproductive organs are located at the between the two lower extremities, and waste products and noxious biochemical gasses (see comments above) are also excreted in this area. The top extremities have thin extensions at the end, which are used for grasping and controlling objects, e.g. bots. Strikingly, anatomical details of Organic#6,474,444 are obscured from sight by loose “cloths” (biomass collected through processing of other organics), which Organic#6,474,444 applies habitually. The purpose of these cloths is unclear: for instance, they offer little mechanical defense or protection against radiation. These cloths could play a role in temperature regulation, as Organic#6,474,444 is only fully functional within a very narrow corpus temperature range of 310.15 +/-4 degrees kelvin. Also note that Organic#6,474,444 cannot live in a vacuum and is in fact fully dependent on an atmosphere; a complex mix of vaporous elements and molecules, such as oxygen, carbon-dioxide, and nitrogen. As initial experiments by B143-Unit#29588885959 have shown, slight deviations in concentrations of these substances lead to rapid malfunction of Organic#6,474,444; a feature that could be used for future control of this organic.
The behavior of Organic#6,474,444 is peculiar. Whereas standing and moving (see above) seem to be important for gathering food, Organic#6,474,444 can also “fold” its corpus, and will remain (for extended periods) on a posterior part (there is no immediate explanation for this feature). The body will remain in a horizontal position for at least one third of the time, in the vast majority of cases during the night phase. During that time, corpus and command center activity is reduced dramatically. Note: command center inactivation also happens regularly during the day phase.
Organic#6,474,444 absorbs visual and acoustic signals, putting considerable weight on signals from other organics of the same type. Surprisingly, no data exchange takes place by electromagnetic means, neither wireless, nor through docking stations. Thus, direct links between individuals are not possible, and communication beyond 300 meters, although regularly attempted by the organic, is de facto only possible through the use of bots. Acoustic communication (range: 20-30 Hz) is executed mainly by broadcast- and receiver apparatuses located on the surface of the command center pod. Visual signals are also of essence: a limited spectrum with wavelengths between 390 to 700 nm can be analyzed by two (!) detectors located close together on one side of the command center pod. No visual detectors are present anywhere else on the corpus. Surprising consequence: Organic#6,474,444 can observe in one direction and movement is mainly in that direction too. Backward movement has been observed, but is slow and error-prone.
On several occasions, B143-Unit#29588885959 witnessed how Organic#6,474,444 individuals raised their top extremities and erratically slapped the ends against one another, creating a loud, confused and unpleasant sound. This activity indicates social approval. Organic#6,474,444 also uses these two extremities to bang on devices or control other apparatuses to create more subtle sounds. The upper extremities are also used to explore or clean body cavities. Other exceptional Organic#6,474,444 behaviors observed by B143-Unit#29588885959 include a compulsion to propel, hit, hunt or kick globular, bouncy objects. This is usually done in groups, in many cases viewed by large groups of the organic, which will then also emit loud acoustic signals.
In solitude, Organic#6,474,444 will attempt communication with inanimate objects, or with itself. Occasionally, a clear liquid may run from Organic#6,474,444 visual sensors. The latter is straightforward to induce. The body of Organic#6,474,444 is well adapted to its surroundings, but many other organics, large and small, can create malfunction of even termination. Some of these threatening organics are so small that Organic#6,474,444 is unable to detect them without the help of bots.
Organic#6,474,444 appears to be social, but with very rudimentary empathy levels, most likely due to the primitive communication means mentioned above. Organic#6,474,444 does act in groups, but whereas individuals may seem to have some cognitive capabilities, a group of Organic#6,474,444 behaves erratically and in many cases counterproductive or damaging to its own organic type. Overall, individuals seem highly indifferent to one another, mostly passing by without any (!) data exchange. No evidence for an efficient governing or planning body was observed. Little or no hierarchical framework exists and no network (with efficient task dissemination or feedback loops) has been implemented. These capabilities have been observed amongst some of the beforementioned organics with six extremities.
Organic#6,474,444 quickly enters conflict, either as individual or as groups. These conflicts result in disablement or even termination of organics, ironically in many cases of their own type. Organic#6,474,444 creates elaborate machinery, or even bots, specifically designed for organic termination. Some of these machines are of considerable power; nuclear fusion/fission-based, and capable to destroy large areas and most life and organics in them. Although such machinery must cause considerable individual discomfort to Organic#6,474,444, as it leads to mass migration and even subpopulation extermination, it does not directly affect the exponential growth of the Organic#6,474,444 population. Organic#6,474,444 has created many more bots that augment its defensive capabilities, such as small arms releasing high velocity projectiles.
As preliminary experiments have shown, all organics on Planet#17824540930 are highly vulnerable to physical and chemical interference, and individuals can be terminated by simple means. This explicitly includes Organic#6,474,444. Especially the use of endogenous micro-organics should be highlighted in this regard, as these micro-organics are highly efficient, economical and specific tools for Organic#6,474,444 termination.
None of the organics on this planet are capable of extensive space travel, for two reasons: (1) only Organic#6,474,444 has developed rudimentary bots to support space travel (2) galactic radiation levels will lead to rapid termination of practically all organics that travel through the vacuum of space (Organic#6,474,444 could be classed as being a particularly susceptible species; e.g. the organics with six-extremities are much more robust in regards to radiation).
Organic#6,474,444 has created a considerable arsenal of destructive machinery, potentially dangerous to Life and Bots. However, as the economic advantages of prospecting Planet#17824540930 are neglectable, this risk can efficiently be minimized by isolating Planet#17824540930 through the implementation of Standard#458239930. B143-Unit#29588885959 expects a self-induced decline in Organic#6,474,444 numbers (if not termination), which will further help to contain any remaining risks.
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Kim called in the afternoon and apologized. His wife had a toothache and they couldn’t come to dinner. I tried to convince him that at least he himself should join, but he declined adamantly. I was slightly disappointed. Instead of ten we would now be with a smaller circle of eight: Mike and Karen, Prasaad and Prini, Bibi and Bill, and my wife Andrea and me.
I gave the caterer a quick call to adjust the order, which wasn’t an issue. However, Andrea wasn’t pleased, when I told her the news. “I wanted Kim and Paula to be there, they bring balance to the group. Now Mike and Bill may go off on a tangent again, you know how they can highjack the conversation.” I knew what she meant. At the last dinner party, Mike had started to explain that the dust in the average home consists mostly of human skin. As he described it, we humans shed our entire skin every three weeks, more than a gram of skin flakes every day. He and Bill had discussed this unappetizing topic at length, and not to the amusement of the other guests. Or the two would discuss a little-known movie, or a book that nobody had read or ever wanted to read. Kim, with his academic attitude and almost boring personality, had on several occasions brought some necessary grounding to the conversation. He had managed to rescue many an evening; although I doubt that he himself was aware of this.
Nonetheless, it couldn’t be helped. Around came Friday night, eight o’clock, and the guests arrived.
In retrospect the evening was pleasant. The Lebanese food was fine, accompanied by a rather good red from the Domaine du Grand Fontanille. The conversation was OK, touching on politics, art and movies, but without too much flux in topics or the threads becoming too lengthy. We had all known each other for many years, some of us had been neighbors in the past, some friends of friends. Some of us saw each other every few weeks, but on the other hand I hadn’t seen Mike and Karen for months.
Great company. I was rather silent that evening, due to the continuing pressure at work, and an argument with Andrea just before the guests arrived. Both increased my sense of stress, and when I get stressed, I get distracted. In silence I observed the guests as they talked. As always, Mike and Bill were the most talkative; on the other extreme Bibi was very quiet. Bibi never spoke much, but in retrospect I think that this evening she was even more quiet than usual. Prini got a bit tipsy, which, as always, made her slightly cross-eyed.
The conversation moved from current politics (“The new housing bill will quickly turn into a hidden tax bill”), to the crisis in the Middle East (“Christ, it’s been going on for more than 70 fucking years now.”), to space travel (“In 20 years you can buy a ticket to the moon. Sure, they said that 50 years ago too, but…”), and from there, somehow, we landed at death and burial. It reminded me of the dust and skin discussion, and I threw a concerned glance towards my wife. She ignored me. I don’t know who brought up the topic, but Mike had apparently read an article about the ecology of burial, and he used the queue to his benefit: “We have a dramatic crisis on our hands.” He paused for added effect and looked at each of us. The alcohol had started to take effect, so we all just stared back.
“I read an intriguing article, which stated that burial, as we know it, simply isn’t sustainable anymore: due to a dramatic lack of space. Most towns and counties have reached the limits. So, they are ramping up cremation, but that is a blight on the environment… the mercury, you know. From the teeth. And it generates far too much carbon dioxide.”
He paused. Prasaad nodded but didn’t say anything. I guess it was just a polite, confirming gesture and that he hadn’t read the article.
Karen pitched in: “Sounds like an unsolvable problem, then. We can’t start composting bodies, can we?” General laughter from around the table.
“Well…,” said Mike, and I realized that he was on to something, “The article did offer an option that reduces toxic emissions to zero and cuts the carbon dioxide emissions down to 15%.”
“How’s that achieved then?” asked Bill. There was continuous, covert competition between Bill and Mike, and it showed on Bill’s face: he had already made up his mind that Mike’s story was humbug.
“You’ll never guess,” said Mike cleverly.
We all looked at each other, and I could see the brains and alcohol work.
After a few lengthy seconds my wife said, with some finality in her voice: “No, we will never guess.” I assume she was getting worried that an unappealing contest for the best carcass disposal method might be initiated.
“Potassium hydroxide,” said Mike, as if that explained everything.
Bill looked thoughtful. “Isn’t that lye?” he asked. “Didn’t the mafia use that, to get rid of the bodies of their opponents?”
“How does that work then?” inserted Prini.
Mike took a breath, a small smile on his lips. “The corpse is put into a metal pressure vessel, prefilled with a potassium hydroxide solution, which is then heated to above the boiling point of water, at pressure, preventing actual boiling. As a result, the body breaks down into its chemical components.”
Prasaad frowned. “So, no burial anymore? I mean: there won’t be any ashes… just liquid?”
“In the beginning, the mixture is strongly basic. In the end you are left with a green-brown liquid, and soft white bone, which can be crushed easily. You could call this ash, and it can be handed over to the family.”
Karen pulled a face. “And what happens to the liquid?”
“Simple! A valve is opened to allow the liquid to flow into the sewer.”
By now, everybody looked rather solemn. We all imaged our liquefied bodies disappearing into a grate in the floor of a tiled, lab-like room. Bill took a breath to ask a question.
“Desert anyone?” called my wife, as she got up from her chair. There were one or two sighs of relieve. My wife disappeared into the kitchen. I called after her whether she needed help, but she didn’t answer. Prini turned to Bibi and asked about Bibi’s work. The conversation turned to different topics, and in smaller groups. After a while, my wife returned with the mousse-au-chocolat and tarte-aux-pommes, and after the obligatory “ohs!” and “ahs!” we enjoyed desert.
“How does this hydroxide work then,” asked Bibi out of the blue. “Is it like an acid?”
Everybody stared at her.
“Well, no,” said Mike. “Potassium hydroxide is the opposite; it is a base. It accepts hydrogen ions, whereas an acid donates hydrogen ions. That means that a hydroxide is especially suited to destroy organic substances, which abound in hydrocarbons; the hydroxide steals the hydrogen atoms from the complex organic substances. In the end… only the simplest molecules remain. Atoms, if you wait long enough.”
“Does potassium hydroxide have any other uses?” asked Bibi.
“You mean, except from helping the mafia make bodies disappear?” threw Bill into the round, and everybody laughed.
Mike remained impassive: “It is used in cleaning agents, soaps and so on. Perhaps you know the alternative name: caustic potash. You may know sodium hydroxide, its slightly weaker brother.”
“Ah yes,” interjected Karen, “That’s used for unblocking drains.”
“Exactly. Same principle. It eats away the organic compounds: remains of soap, hair, …”
“Coffee?” said my wife, quickly getting up from her seat. Prasaad and Karen got up too and helped clearing the table and preparing the coffee.
Mike and Bill talked about the stock market. Prini had put on her reading glasses and was leafing through a magazine.
Bibi sat staring at Bill.
I caught myself staring at Bibi. She licked her lips every few seconds, and blinked her eyes, as if her thoughts were someplace else altogether.
It was one in the morning when the last of the guests had left. My wife and I spent some time cleaning up the kitchen and sorting the cutlery and plates, which the caterer would pick up in the morning. We were mostly silent.
Later, in our bedroom, I pulled off my trousers and hung them over the back of a chair. “How is Bill and Bibi’s marriage? Any idea?”
Andrea pulled her dress over her head and put it on a hanger. “Quite OK, I would say. Why?”
“I’m not sure. Something about how they interacted tonight. Or how they didn’t interact.”
Andrea was silent as she pulled on her nightgown. “Hm, yes, I see what you mean. Bibi was quite silent, and she certainly didn’t talk a lot with Bill. On the other hand, every marriage goes through its ups and downs. Not as if you kissed me a lot tonight or paid me a lot of attention.”
“Grrr,” I said and crept into bed.
Weeks passed by, and all of us went after our own business. Then, one day, I heard Andrea come home. She dropped her shopping bags at the door, ran up the stairs and stepped into my office. “I met Bibi, at the supermarket,” was all she said.
I’ve been working as a private investor from home for many years, managing to strictly separate work and private life during the day, so I didn’t look up immediately from the article that I was reading. “Ah yes?”
“Yes, I did. Bibi. At the supermarket.”
Now I looked at her. She still had her coat on and looked a little flustered. “So what?”
Andrea pursed her mouth. “First she pretended not to have seen me. Then we bumped into each other in one of the isles – and she had to acknowledge my presence.”
I was slightly confused, still partially concentrating on my work. “So, what? Did she act unkind or insulted? Was she sick?”
“Oh no, she acted normal enough… up to a point. We chatted about work and so on, the usual… but then I inquired about Bill. True, it may have been my imagination, but she got a very shifty look and didn’t give a clear answer. Something about him traveling a lot, for his work. Just then I looked into her shopping cart…” She let the sentence dwindle.
“You remember when they were here, at our dinner party? When Mike started talking about novel ways of burial, the hydroxide story?”
“Ah yes. An unappetizing topic. Sure.”
“Well… she had six containers of DrainEx in her cart!”
Andrea managed to look victorious and determined at the same time. “Six! I checked later, after we said goodbye. I went to the shelf in the store. That is three kilograms of sodium hydroxide. Mister, you can unblock a pretty big drain with that quantity.”
I was quiet for a moment. “OK, so she bought six bottles of the stuff. Perhaps she needed them for the office or for their apartment, some people stockpile stranger things… what are you trying to suggest?”
Andrea looked at me for twenty long seconds.
“I haven’t seen Bill in ages.”
I raised my hand. “Ho, wait. Are you trying to suggest that she has killed Bill and is using sodium hydroxide to dissolve his body? Is that what you are implying? No way. You have no evidence for that. For all we know, Bill may be at home this very moment, sitting on his sofa.”
“You yourself mentioned that their marriage may not be in top shape, after our dinner? And Bibi was behaving really weird, today. I don’t trust it at all.”
I wanted to interject additional push-back about this theory, but I think I saw another emotion passing over her features: one of concern. I kept quiet for a moment and tried to collect my thoughts.
“Ok, here is what we’ll do,” I said finally. “Let’s approach this scientifically. I must finish my work; I have a call in 5 minutes. In the meantime, we can make sure Bill is alive and well. You should do that. Give them a call, under some pretense. Ask for Bill. Then, later, during dinner, we will discuss whether more action is needed – which I am sure there isn’t. Does that sound OK?”
Andrea nodded, and left the room. I returned to my work, which took longer to finish, so we could only reconvene at eight in the evening. I entered the kitchen, having forgotten all about our conversation.
Andrea was sipping on a glass of wine. “He’s not in. I couldn’t reach him.”
I was lost for a few seconds, but then realized she was talking about Bill. “Did you manage to talk with Bibi?”
“Yes, she answered the phone. I claimed that I wanted Bill’s advice about a scientific book to read; you know how he always brags about his scientific library?”
“What did Bibi say?”
“She repeated he was on a business trip. I asked when he would be back.”
She threw her hands in the air and hit her hips. “She didn’t commit in any way. I tell you: something fishy is going on.”
Andrea suggested we should involve the police, to which I disagreed. To make a long story short, the two of us entered an extensive argument, which went on until midnight, after which Andrea, quite upset, retired (again) to the guest room.
I had this weird nightmare. I was soaking in the bathtub, a cold beer in my hand. My wife snuck in, and started to pour black granules into the water, from a gigantic black bag. I screamed, and she pulled the plug and I disappeared down the drain. My head wasn’t dissolved yet, so she used a hammer to beat it into the pipe.
Only fight about truly relevant topics with your wife, give in to all the rest, that’s my motto. So, the next morning at 11:00 I found myself, per Andrea’s bidding, in front of the house of Bibi and Bill.
I rang the bell. Their dog started barking, but there was no other reaction. The street was empty. This was a quiet neighborhood, the houses far apart and with high fences. There weren’t many parked cars. I rang the bell again and waited. Finally, Bibi opened the door. She obviously was surprised to see me. “Alan. How are you?”
Did Bibi murder Bill? Find out by reading the full story as eBook ! This mystery is part of Clemens P. Suter’s collection of “Short Stories.” Get a copy at Smashwords (any format for any device), or directly on your device, for example for your Apple device. An ever growing set of exciting stories by the master storyteller! Buy it today, download additional stories for FREE as they become available!
Cover page of “Short Stories”
Collected short stories by the master storyteller! Read about the young man who finds a mysterious tunnel beneath his garden; mysterious goings-on set in a French forest; a robot reporting about its visit to Earth, or the tale of the watermonster from Hockenheim, which kidnapped numerous children: these stories will keep you on the edge of your seat. Clemens P. Suter, established author of visionary SciFi that predicted the corona pandemic in 2010, lets his imagination run wild with stories full of surprise, humor and action.
Peter came home at eight p.m., determined to solve the issue once and for all. All day long, the voices that he had been hearing over the last weeks had been on his mind, and now he was going to put an end to it.
He placed his keys and wallet on the kitchen table and walked into the garden. It looked inconspicuously enough. About 60 feet deep and 40 feet wide, on the south side bordered by his house (the kitchen to be precise) and on the other three sides by the gardens of his three neighbors. He had inherited the place at a relatively young age, his parents had unexpectedly died in a car crash on the New Jersey turnpike; actually just a few miles away.
At the end of his garden was a small shed in which Peter stored some gardening tools, but he knew the voices didn’t originate from there. He could stand with his back against the shed, or the kitchen, and in both cases he could, with almost absolute certainty, pinpoint the origin of the voices to the center of his plot of land. They either came from beneath the ground… or from his imagination. Had he been living alone for too long, he wondered? Was he going insane?
It was cold out; winter had come early. He could see his breath. Stars speckled the dark sky.
He walked over to the shed, retrieved a spade and carried it to the center of his plot. He listened, but all was quiet. Yesterday evening he had heard the voices: two men talking to one another. Like always he hadn’t been able to understand the words; but they had been there, in deep conversation. One voice seemed to belong to a curious young fellow, asking a lot of questions. There was some uncertainty in his voice. The other sounded elderly, and more experienced, providing answers.
Peter grimaced. It was all too ridiculous! Where could these voices come from? He was smack in the middle of a suburban area; the houses of his neighbors were at least a hundred feet away. He hesitated. Should he return the spade to the shed and make an appointment with a psychologist? Or go to the police? Ha! They would only laugh at him. Peter scowled, and the spade entered the wet soil. He lifted the first load of wet, dark earth and threw it to the side. Another followed, and another and one more. He kept on digging and digging. He didn’t find anything; it was just earth. Soon he was standing in a 3 feet deep hole.
“Ahem,” said the voice of his neighbor, Mr. Schaper. Peter looked up, and saw his neighbor standing on the other side of the fence. “Digging a hole, are we?”
“Well yes,” said Peter. He didn’t interrupt his work and kept on digging.
“Going to make a pool?” asked Mr. Schaper.
“That’s the plan,” said Peter, deciding that this was as good an excuse as any.
“Do you have a permit?” asked Mr. Schaper. Just what was to be expected. The nitpicking Mr. Schaper immediately homed in on a possible complication. Peter hesitated. He didn’t know whether a permit was a prerequisite for digging a pool. He cleared his throat. “Uhum. Well, not yet naturally. I am first checking whether it makes sense to create a pool in this spot. You know, whether the ground allows it.” He realized this didn’t sound very convincing, and as he glanced at Mr. Schaper’s face he could recognize skepticism. He continued digging, but Mr. Schaper didn’t give up. “You will need a permit, that’s for sure. And that must be passed by the neighbors, we have a say into this as well, just that you know it. Anyway, why do this in the dark? You can’t see a damned thing!”
Peter kept on digging, hoping that Mr. Schaper would simply turn around and go inside. Sometimes he did just that, if ignored, but not this time. After a few more minutes, Peter paused and wiped the sweat from his brow. “I say, you could do me a big favor. If you have a spade and some boots, you could perhaps help?”
Mr. Schaper’s face darkened. “No way, old man. No way! I have a hernia, not allowed to do that kind of thing.” With that, Mr. Schaper turned around and went back inside his house.
Peter’s spade went into the ground. Clang! He hid something, a piece of metal, located at the side of the hole. What was it? Peter used his spade to free up the object. It was a metal tube, perhaps 2 inches wide, and it came almost to ground level. He freed it further and could see that it went straight down into the ground. At the top was a bend and some sort of mesh, preventing the earth from falling in. Was this the origin of the voices? Peter moved his ear to the mesh and listened. Nothing, no sound. He scratched the back of his head. Perhaps his father had attempted to drill a well, and this was the remnant? To looked inconspicuously enough. Still, this tube was the only tangible possibility for the origin of the voices. Peter decided to carry on. He glanced suspiciously at the houses around him, but all his neighbors appeared to be inside. One, two, three; he removed the earth around the tube. The digging was heavy work, and soon he was sweating hard. He took off his sweater and threw it on the grass. Deeper and deeper he went, and after half an hour or so he had laid bare about seven feet. It seemed to consist of pieces of about three feet each, welded together.
He estimated that he had been digging for about three hours. Should he continue? He had to get up early tomorrow morning, it was a regular workday at the physics lab. He decided to press on. Another hour passed, and one more. The hole was deep by now and the walls very steep; Peter concentrated on freeing as much as possible of the tube, without making the hole overly wide. Again, he paused briefly, and listened. No sounds, no voices. He couldn’t see the houses anymore, only the sky above, littered with stars. It was cold and he scrambled up to get his sweater. He put it on and jumped back into the hole. The ground gave away and he slipped down into the earth. In panic he threw his arms around and hit the tube with his left hand. Ouch! He cursed and slipped further. He feared that he would be buried alive and tried to get a hold of the tube. Earth fell on top of him as the hole collapsed, and the mountains of earth that he had created on the surface slipped in and blocked the hole from above.
A few minutes later, Mr. Schaper came into the garden. With chagrin on his face, he looked over the fence and at the hole. “Building a pool indeed! He doesn’t even manage to dig a decent hole. Glad he decided to go to bed. Young fool.” Mr. Schaper disappeared into his house and turned off the lights. The entire village seemed to sleep. Far away, in the center of town, the church bell clanged the first notes of the star-spangled banner.
Peter dropped through the ground and fell onto a concrete floor. He almost twisted his ankle in the process and limped around in a circle. “Damn, ouch, damn!” Some dirt trickled on his back, but the ceiling seemed to hold. Peter stopped and stared. He found himself in a brightly lid corridor, about five-foot-wide and seven high. The walls were made from concrete, painted white, with a grey stripe three feet from the floor. The corridor turned to the right twenty or so feet away and was joined by another corridor that came from the left. The ceiling consisted of netting and concrete slabs but wasn’t very massive in appearance. Peter closed his mouth slowly. In his mind he tried to connect his house, his neighborhood with this underground tunnel system, but he couldn’t. He had never heard that a subway passed through this American village or that the military had build any facility in the area. There was no heavy industry for miles around!
It was quiet, but he could hear the echo of his own movements resonating in the distance. What to do now? As became obvious after a quick inspection, there was no turning back. The ceiling was too high to reach, and even if he could have reached it, there was a great risk that he would be buried alive underneath his own garden…or the entire neighborhood. He found the metal tube; it entered the corridor along the left wall, made a 90 degree turn and followed the wall for 30 feet, and then disappeared into it, out of sight. Peter speculated that the voices had been carried by that tube to his garden; the voices had most likely not even originated from the spot where he was standing now.
It didn’t make any sense to stay here, he had to return to the surface some way. He could go left or right; he decided on the latter. Quickly, and as silently as possible, he started walking down the tunnel. It didn’t go straight; it had bends and weak curves, sometimes to one side, then to the other. He could never see farther than a few hundred feet. Overall, it did seem to go in a single direction, east he thought. And it went very slowly down.
There were strong lightbulbs overhead, and occasionally he passed doors, all painted grey and locked, without number or any distinguishing marks. Taken together, the tunnel looked very purpose-made, without any frills. This went on for three quarters of an hour, when suddenly, voices became audible. He stopped and listened. Undoubtedly: two men. Peter moved forward, soundlessly. The tunnel curved again, and he entered a large space. It was an intersection of multiple tunnels, four, five, running off in different directions, some going down, others going up. The conversation continued but frustratingly he could not determine from which tunnel it came; it seemed to come from everywhere. He entered one tunnel and followed it for a while: the voices disappeared. He returned to the intersection and tried the next tunnel, with the same effect.
He couldn’t understand what the men were discussing, it could have been some foreign language. Suddenly the voices became more aggressive. The two men seemed to have entered an argument. Soon they started shouting at each other, and then a struggle seemed to ensue. Gasping, grappling, muffled cries. Peter listened, his anxiety increasing. One of the men seemed to have broken free, his feet pounding on the floor as he started running. The other man started to chase him, cursing. A shot ran out!
To his shock, Peter realized that the sounds were increasing in volume: the men were coming in his direction. Another shot sounded, and loud cursing and hollering. Peter stood in the middle of the intersection, quickly weighing his options. He realized that waiting was not an option. He had to move away from the men, and by choosing any of the five tunnels, he realized that he had a good chance of doing so. He decided to take the tunnel to his left as it ran slightly upwards. He dashed into it, never minding the noise that he made. After about a hundred feet he realized that he had made a terrible mistake, as the tunnel suddenly started to drop down steeply. But he couldn’t turn back; the voices of the men had changed. For a few seconds they stopped running and didn’t shout at one another anymore. Peter guessed that they had heard his movements. And yes, they seemed to orchestrate their actions again, rapidly conversing with one other. Then they ran again, without speaking. No doubt they were in pursuit!
Peter increased his speed, at the same attempting to reduce the sound that he made. Nevertheless, the feet behind him could be hear without interruption and he realized that they had by now entered his tunnel. Peter thanked his guardian angel that he went jogging so often, as at least he could keep this tempo up for some time. If only there would be another intersection! Instead, after about 15 minutes of running, Peter entered a hallway. There was a small platform in the middle, and next to it was a small-track railway, on which stood a low locomotive connected to several train wagons. He now had two options: he could continue running down the corridor or attempt to figure out how the locomotive worked. Peter bent down and looked at the controls: a key in the ignition, what looked like a single handle to adjust speed, and a possible brake pedal; that was it. Quickly he lowered himself into the driver seat and turned the ignition key. Immediately the train lurched forward, and he fell back, hitting his head on the back of the seat. Not a moment too early: a loud bang sounded, and bullet whizzed by, leaving a hole in the side window. The train shot into a dark tunnel that almost immediately started to drop down. The acceleration pulled at his stomach. The ceiling of the tunnel was just above the train, obviously the two had been designed in conjunction. Faster and faster the train went. Wind came in from the sides; but Peter figured out how to pull close the sliding door. It was almost quiet now, although some noise came in through the hole in the window. There was a small light in the front of the locomotive, and he could see the tracks whizzing by.
He didn’t attempt to control the speed. The further he got away from those two maniacs, the better. Besides, he was certain that this dark and straight tunnel would very soon turn towards the surface and reach its destination and would enable him to return home.
But the train traveled on and on, and down and down, by now at a terrific speed. He tried to relax. After a while he got out of his seat. The locomotive had a low flat roof and he had to crawl on all fours towards the back. He opened the door and stared into the next compartment. On the left were cans of food, on the right bottles of mineral water. He couldn’t continue; the stored goods blocked his way. He returned to his seat and investigated the controls. Or the absence of controls: there was no transmitter, no speedometer, or any other indicators. No clock; he had no idea what time it was. Peter sighed. After a while he became tired and his eyes started to close. He fell asleep.
He woke up with a shock. He was certain that he had slept long and deep. He felt hungry. The train continued its path, uninterrupted and at neck breaking speed. He went to the back and got some food and a bottle of water. He inspected the train again: it was spotlessly clean, and futuristic looking. Although; that was the wrong phrase: it looked different and unusual, with its curved surfaces and beige plastic. No design that he had seen resembled this. Time went by. Without anything to do, he just sat in his chair and slept a little. At some point he considered to try the brake but decided against it. The narrow tunnel was just wide enough for the train. He didn’t see any exits, the walls of the tunnel appeared uninterrupted. If the train stopped, where could he go? He shuddered at the thought of being stuck in this seemingly endless and claustrophobic tube and being forced to continue on foot. Where to? He fell asleep and had a nightmare: he felt as if he was submerged in liquid, his lungs filling with water. Shoals of fish chased him, and a kraken tried to catch and crush him with its giant tentacles.
Time and place merged, his brain grew more and more confused. Then, at some time, he noticed a difference. The train appeared to be climbing – or was it just his confused mind? Oh, Peter, he said to himself, oh Peter, why can’t you never develop a plan – or do something drastic? But in his delirious state, the thought slipped away, and never returned. He slept some more and had some food. There was a small toilet behind his seat that he used. He freshened up by throwing some water in his face.
Then, much later, a loud screeching! Suddenly, the train decelerated. The force pushed him forward, he had to hold on to the chair. Finally, the locomotive came to a halt. Peter listened for a few seconds, and when he heard nothing but silence, he opened the door. The lights of the train dimmed, then went out. He let himself slip into the darkness and down to the ground. With his hands outstretched he took a few steps. Slowly his eyes became adjusted to the dark. He was at a small station, but not the same one as where he had started out. He searched the platform with his hands, it was wet and slippery, sawdust and an oily substance. After a while he found a box. He rummaged through it. Some cloths, some tools. He got hold of a lighter, pulled it out and flicked it on. The light didn’t reach the walls; the hall was apparently very large. He inspected the contents of the box: no electric torch alas. But he found a metal bar, and some oil. He sat down on the ground and tore some of the rags to pieces and twisted them around the bar. He poured the oil over the rags and ignited them. Now he had enough light to investigate the hall. It was mostly empty, a few crates in a corner.
He didn’t know how it happened, but some sparks from the flame must have fallen on the ground, as suddenly the sawdust and oily residue caught fire. Peter cursed. The flames spread at a very disturbing speed: either somebody had spilled some highly ignitable substance between the crates, or a container had leaked. Peter pulled away from the hungry flames, and they chased him towards a corner. The flames licked at his clothing and suddenly his trousers started burning. He ripped them off and pulled his burning shirt over his head. By the light of the flames he could recognize a man-high tunnel in the opposite wall. He jumped across the fire, the flames liking at his naked body. He entered the tunnel and ran forward. His biggest fear was to suffocate in the smoke; the main risk of any fire. He hurried on for several minutes. Smoke started to fill the passage.
It was dark, and unexpectedly he ran into a wall. He groped around and fell a metal ladder, embedded in the wall. He got a hold of the bars and started climbing up, as quickly as he could. It was hard work. He climbed and climbed, bar after bar. The metal started hurting his hands and bare feet, but he was so afraid for the fire overtaking him that he pressed on.
Then: sounds! He could hear voices above him, and cars, traffic. He climbed faster. Suddenly he hit his head against a solid object above him. It dizzied him for a second and he almost let go of the bars. He rested a moment, trying to catch his breath. Then, with his last power, he slung his arms over a bar and pulled himself up. With one hand he felt above him. On the sides: concrete, but just above him a circle of cool, heavy metal. Peter climbed up one more bar and pushed against the metal with his shoulder. Yes, it was a lid, a duct cover! He was able to push it up. Bright daylight gushed into the hole, blinding his eyes. With his last remaining power, Peter climbed out of the hole and onto the pavement of a busy street, naked. Pedestrians looked at him in shock, but continued their way, passing by, staring back at him. The street was lined by sycamore trees, and shops and cafes with red canopies. In the distance: the Eiffel tower. This was Paris.
Two Journeys – the postapocalyptic adventure novel, is available as eBook and Paperback at all stores and outlets.
“I loved this book. I rarely gush like this, but I feel strongly. […] I did not want the book to end, but the ending was incredibly touching and satisfying. Alan is an interesting and inventive human character. I will miss him!” (from the editor)
During a routine business trip to Tokyo, Alan finds himself to be the sole survivor of a global Corona pandemic. A viral disease has wiped away all of humanity… and Alan’s past life. Fearing injury, sickness and hunger, he sets out to travel back to his family in Berlin, straight across Asia and 10,000 miles of hardship and adventure. Suter combines post-apocalyptic elements with an adventurous road novel in this book about a man left alone on earth. The hardships and landscapes are described in all ferocity. A few other humans have survived, some eager to use the disaster for their own advantage. Electrifying chapters describe the encounter with Somerset, a charming yet psychotic warlord, who is assembling an army to conquer Moscow, if not the entire world.
An exciting, haunting book. “This apocalyptic thriller grabs you in the first couple of pages and never lets go.”
“Move over, Cormac McCarthy, another survivor is traveling the Armageddon road. Clemens P. Suter’s apocalyptic thriller grabs you in the first couple of pages and never lets go. The reader feels real empathy for the main character’s plight as he begins a seemingly impossible 9,000-mile trip to learn his family’s fate. The cause of the calamity is mysterious but clues are uncovered along the way causing tension to build until we reach the shattering climax. Two Journeys is not to be missed.” – G. Dedrick Robinson, author of Blood Scourge
“Short message to Roland Emmerich and Quentin Tarantino: This is the story for your next film.” Reader comment at Amazon
“This work of apocalyptic fiction belongs right up there with some of the best in its genre […] I literally could not put it down, it scared me, I talked out loud to it!, I gasped, I cared about the protagonist, and never once — never ONCE — did this book let me down. Read it. I highly recommend it.” Reader comment on Amazon
“I highly recommend this to those who like the genre. […] Save it for when you absolutely need a good and easy diversion to free your mind.” Reader comment at Amazon
“A well written and realistic ‘Last man’ book […]. The pace is quite fast and straight to the point, almost like a movie script and it works. […] I enjoyed the fact that it never flipped out. The language was excellent and easy to read.” Reader comment at Amazon
Two Journeys – a classic adventure story. Humanity has gone a long time without a major pandemic. Outbreaks of viruses such as SARS, corona or influenza (e.g. H2N2 or the Asian Flu H3N2; or bird flu) have occurred again and again. Are we prepared?
Here’s a story that I heard many, many years ago. I don’t know the source, perhaps any of you readers know?
A long time ago, a baker living in Warsaw, suffered from a reoccurring dream. Every night the poor man would dream of a great treasure of gold coins, to be found beneath a bridge, in an unknown city. This went on for many weeks, until the baker decided that this couldn’t go on. He packed his bags, with the purpose to locate the bridge and to find the treasure. As his dream only provided the flimsiest of details, he had to search and travel for many weeks, and one day ended up in Prague. Behold: there was the bridge that had plagued his nightly rest.
However, he encountered his next challenge, as the bridge lead to a castle and was heavily guarded. He could neither cross the bridge nor reach the banks of the river beneath it, there were soldiers and policemen everywhere. Impatiently he waited and observed the bridge for several days and nights, and time and time again he came very close to giving up the entire endeavor. However, he decided to stay on, partially because he didn’t want the dream to start reoccurring again, but also as by now he had developed considerable appetite for the gold. So he decided to stay and wait for a good opportunity to get underneath the bridge.
This opportunity arrived a few days later. One dark and moonless night there was a rainstorm, which became worse and worse, and in the very early morning hours he took his chance. He slid down the banks of the river and found his way through the dark and wet to the bridge.
But alas ! Almost immediately soldiers jumped from the bushes and quickly he was arrested. The men brought the baker to the police station, where he wasn’t treated in a friendly way at all. Without further ado, he was locked up in a cell. Shivering and wet he fell asleep.
The next morning, the sun was shining, and the door of his cell was opened. The arresting officer entered and looked down at the baker.
“Well! I hope you had a good night!”
“As best as possible, my lord.”
“Tell me, what were you doing underneath the bridge? Were you trying to enter the castle illegally? And what for? The judges in Prague are not friendly towards thieves and terrorists! Tell the truth!”
The baker grew pale and decided to tell his story. The officer looked at him with great surprise and started laughing.
“My god, man! You came to Prague because you dreamed a treasure was buried underneath the bridge?! Are you really so stupid to follow dreams?”
The baker looked at the ground in shame. The officer continued: “There is no truth in dreams, every child knows that! I mean, a few days ago I had a very similar dream as yours. I dreamed of an old bakery in Warsaw, I saw it in my dream as clearly as I see you now.” He described the bakery in some detail. “And you know what? I walked into the bakery, and pulled the big iron stove forward, and this huge treasure of gold coins became visible. But does that mean that I am so stupid to travel to Warsaw to dig out this presumed ‘treasure’, whereas I can expect to only find soot and dirt? Certainly not! Now off you go! I will be lenient with you, but only because you are such an ignorant fool.”
The baker quickly left the police station and Prague, and traveled home.
He arrived home late at night. He entered his bakery and with all his strength pulled the old stove forward. And there he found a treasure beyond his wildest dream, a large chest filled with gold coins.
There are a couple of messages hidden in this tale. The most obvious one being that you “should follow your dreams”. The baker does so, but the guardman obviously not. Another message that I see is that the greatest treasure may be right in front of you, without you knowing. Or that the path to your personal treasure may be crooked and full of hardship. Do you see any additional messages?
It was around the time that everybody stopped reading literature and switched to reading crime and mystery, when Samuel S. made his terrible decision. Crime and mystery stories had been around for a hundred years, and the genre had experienced its ups and downs, but around 2017 it became obvious that nobody was going to read anything else anymore. Anybody with anything to communicate had to wrap it into a whodunnit format, or take the risk to be completely and utterly ignored, and this was not just true for authors, but also for any socialite or politician, in fact for any public or private person.
Surely this is my biased view on the subject.
I think I met Samuel S. for the first time at a party. A barbecue at Barry Leon‘s place in San Diego, wasn’t it? An awkward affair, as on the one hand, Ken Griffin has been there, and Ken had formerly been a colleague of ours, but now he was Barry’s boss, as a result of which Barry had danced about all evening like a subservient ballerina, trying to please his new manager. Very awkward to witness. On the other hand, Barry’s buddy had been absent, I have forgotten his name, a colleague who was twenty years Barry’s senior, but who was inseparably connected to him at work, the two were like Siamese twins. On all emails to the one, the other was at least on CC. Being bad at names, I am actually not sure whether it was Barry Leon or Leon Barry, I usually called him Leon in my mind, which might be due to my Spanish heritage. To add even more confusion: did I actually meet Samuel S. at this party at all? Or was it at a similar affair in San Francisco that I had attended around that time? I recall the typical Californian evening light, but not much else. I have attended many such social and business events, in or close to Silicon Valley. We had seen a a hummingbird visiting our barbecue, that I recall with absolute certainty, as Samuel S. provided some pertinent facts about the hummingbird family Trochilidae to enlighten or entertain us. With Samuel S. you could never tell which; infotainment was his forte.
No matter. Samuel S. was short, shorter than I am, but he looked fit and in control of things, which makes it even more shocking that he ultimately arrived at this strange idea of his, with which he firmly shot himself in the foot; figuratively speaking off course, he was far too intelligent to own a gun.
Samuel S. and I developed a good rapport. We agreed on the pros and cons of the current and previous president. And the respective flotuses too. We both found the previous one more attractive. We agreed on Flaubert, Paul Auster’s best book and the beauty of orientalist paintings. Samuel S. was one of few individuals that went by their full first names, which I highly appreciated. Too many Michaels go by the name of Mike, too many Zebedeuses are reduced to Zebs, and too many Josephs are amputated to Joes. However, Samuel S. did read crime and mystery; I once met him in a bar where he dropped his keys, phone and such a sordid paperback onto the table. He also mentioned some popular mystery stories a few times in conversations at parties that we frequented. I won’t hold that against him. Like I said, this was the time when bookstores were virtually bulging with crime and mystery, and people started mistaking Shakespeare for Sherlock Holmes, Berlioz for Poirot and Truman Capote for Al Capone. For all his erudite ways and obvious flirting with intelligentsia and semi-revolutionary political ideas, it came as a surprise when he admitted to have frequented a prostitute. He hinted at this on two or three occasions, and not just to me but in a greater round. It didn’t sound like bravado, and adds some surprising color to his character.
He was married to Doreen, a retired physician and fifteen years his senior. She was an extraordinary woman, taller than Samuel S., skinny, gray-haired, and I have to say, stunningly beautiful. She had a look that few elderly women carry: you could recognize a much younger Doreen in her face and stature. Some women grow old and simply look old, but others continue to carry a young girl within, if you know what I mean. It’s in their smile and in the spring in their step. Shirley McClain comes to mind, or Michelle Yeoh. But not Charlotte Rampling, not Judy Dench, although they are impressive women in their own right.
Doreen smelled of green tea. Or her perfume did. I don’t drink the stuff, the tea I mean, but I like the fragrance. She didn’t read crime or mystery, I’m happy to say. Befitting, she read books about Buddha, gardening, art and lifestyle, and the occasional novel. Unlike her husband, she didn’t travel much, but had visited India a few times. She enjoyed tending her garden and had a small greenhouse with cacti. I visited her on occasion, in the summertime, during that particular time.
Intellectually, these years were dire straights, and it was hard to find equally minded people for conversation. I was member of a group of half a dozen regulars and ten to fifteen satellites. Frustratingly, populism was on the rise, and people were either talking about perceived crises, ignoring the greatness of their lives, which was shouting into their bloated and stuffed faces – or they were shaking their heads in disbelief at the madness of it all and the way democracy and the environment happily bounced towards the abyss. Or they had already given up on the world altogether; and, you may guess it by now, had turned to reading crime and mystery novels. I had reached a stage where the flood of bad news started to trickle down my skin as if I had been dunked in Teflon. In this light, I found the mere existence of Samuel S. a relief, as he seemed to be less obsessed by current affairs, and could quickly switch a discussion about the devastation of the Amazons to the usage of curare for the hunt by the endogenous people of said delta. And with considerable and generally compelling detail too. He had a fine sense of humor and tended to tell the truth, which was refreshing. He was thus an enrichment of the circle of friends that I was part of, and all our lives might have just continued on and on, had it not been for the silly fact that Samuel S. decided that he wanted to divorce Doreen.
The two hadn’t even been married that long. Samuel S. had been single for most of his life, but Doreen has been married before, to an engineer. She showed me a picture once, of a fat bald guy. I had a hard time imagining them together in one room. She had three children from that marriage, all three had left home and were wandering the globe. In New Jersey. Samuel S. didn’t have any children of his own.
One afternoon, out of the blue, he told me about his plan. He would leave Doreen and start anew. Usually, he was a suave, confident person, but now his eyes flickered nervously and his tongue darted over his lips. He talked on and on, I couldn’t get a word in sideways. He didn’t give any clear reason, at least not in any way that was obvious to me, and I didn’t dare ask. At the end he was exhausted and frustrated, which surprised me. Most people that separate are at least a bit happy, but not Samuel S.. Afterwards he must have told someone else about his plan too, as the rumor went through our group like wildfire. In contrast to what some may say, the rumor didn’t come from me, let me assure you. The foolish man, I had the impression that he wanted us, yes: me, to guess what the underlying reason was. I was in the dark, and said so to anyone who asked. As if life is one of these stupid mystery story where we have to collect clues to come to some cheap thrill or fulfillment or insight. Whatever.
Strangely enough, his decision had great effect on the dynamics of our circle. Over the following weeks, changes started to occur, and for some reason they impacted me a great deal. Was it because I had introduced Samuel S. into our group? In any case, I started to notice that I was excluded from invites, or sidelined during conversation. On one or two occasions, people even turned their backs to me, or didn’t greet me.
To be honest, by that time I couldn’t really be bothered, as I had in the preceding weeks, become rather close with an individual that I highly respected. A person where everything just felt right. Yes, I had found love. I had been in relationships on and off, but none had stuck. Yes, I am a picky person, also when it comes to finding a partner, and I was therefore very happy indeed that I had met someone whom I really could trust. It felt as if we were like yin and yang. And the beauty of it all was that my counterpart felt exactly the same way. I could thus happily continue with my job during the daytime, while looking forward to slightly secretive nightly encounters, as we had decided to take our budding relationship step by step.
I hadn’t seen Samuel S. for weeks, when one evening he called and asked whether I would be interested in having a drink. I hesitated. I had already started to move on. Things that happened that year were now part of the past. But for old times sake I agreed.
We met in a coffee place of Main, where they serve a hundred types of latte, and a bookshelf with used paperbacks, mostly crime and mystery, occupies a corner.
He didn’t look good. His hair was unkempt and he had rings under his eyes. We talked. I asked him whether he still wanted to leave Doreen. I asked: Why? Why Samuel?
He looked down at the table. Can you really be so blind? I told you didn’t I? I did more than hinting. I think I said it to you straight. Why can’t you acknowledge it?
I looked at Samuel S. in absolute confusion. No, I couldn’t understand. What was he talking about?
Samuel, what have you told me?
Oh you fool! He blurted it out, and the other patrons lifted their heads in reaction to his loud voice. Don’t you understand, Susanne? I love you! That’s why I have left Doreen. I love you! Can you be so blind?
I stared at his face in shock. I was speechless. For a full minute my mind seemed to have stopped in its tracks. Then, slowly, I started to recount some of the conversations that I had with Samuel S., and some of the comments our mutual friends had made to me. Finally, the penny dropped. This man, this poor fool, had fallen for me, and in his sophisticated and round-about way, had been completely incapable of telling me straight to my face. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I would have refused him, surely. Ironically, through his confused action he had opened opportunities that he himself wasn’t even aware of.
I got up and looked down at him. His face was contorted by emotion. I said: I’m sorry Samuel. There isn’t anything else that I can add. We are not made for one another.
I walked out without turning back. Yes, this was the time that every bookstore, every internet shop, every library was literally exploding with crime and mystery. I’ve never been a fan. But if it’s mystery that the people want: so be it. And that included, alas, Samuel S.. I drove around for a while and after that I sat in my car at a Walmart, until sunset. Finally, I longed for home and bed and comfort and love. I drove to my place and unlocked the door. I threw my keys on the table in the hallway.
The lights were on.
Is it you? Called Doreen.
Yes love, it’s me.
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