Large numbers of birds nested in the trees and their song was deafening. There was no farming in this area anymore, and the live animals that roamed the plains, or their corpses that rotted in the open air, led to an explosive increase in the numbers of insects. We had to remove the dead bugs from the car’s windshield twice a day, something that I only remembered my father talking about. Depending on our location, mosquitos and flies were so abundant that at times they overwhelmed us, getting into our nostrils and ears by the dozens. We constantly suffered bites and stings and the resulting itching drove us mad. The insects drove the animals wild too. The abundance of insects positively affected the numbers of birds and bats. I imagined that the world was now returning to the wildlife situation prior to the nineteenth century – naturally without the species that mankind had eradicated in the interim. I wondered about climate change too. With the pandemic, the release of carbon-dioxide caused by humankind’s activities had come to a sudden stop. At the same time, most of the land that had been used for agriculture before the pandemic was now being reconquered by bushes and trees. This rich vegetation tied carbon-dioxide down in the form of biomass. Although it was too early to tell any difference, I suspected that the Earth’s average temperature would slowly start to decrease, leading to colder winters, the refreezing of the polar caps, the reappearance of the large glaciers, lowering of the sea levels and an end to desertification.
The first two novels of the TWO JOURNEYS trilogy. Get you copy in any internet bookstore, in any format.
In a previous post I provided details about the new novel that I am working on: REBOUNCE is the preliminary name of this book and the third and final book in the TWO JOURNEYS trilogy (get a copy of the first two books, for instance on your iPhone / iPad). I am now at 45,000 words, 55,000 to go.
The hero Alan, as tough as nails… combining unrelenting courage, adaptability, compassion and inventiveness – pre-conditions essential to survive in a devastated, post-pandemic world.
Danger lurks around every corner, and not just from humans. To illustrate the man’s resilience: here’s a short sample from the unedited manuscript. DON’T try this at home.
Stay tuned for more.
Part of Chapter 7
Lewis’ eyes explored my face. “What happened to your eye?”
Usually, people ignore the black patch that covers my left eye, they just stare at it curiously, too embarrassed to ask.
“A guy with a knife attacked me.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
I shrugged. “He’s too. I shot him.”
Lewis’ eyebrows went up, a combination of respect and shock. I usually tell anyone who asks me this story. Why not make the best out of the loss of an eye? In addition, the true story was so embarrassingly weird, that nobody ever believed it.
I had at one point made the foolish decision to take a motorbike for a ride. In the absence of humans and pesticides, insects had returned in large numbers and as the engine accelerated onto an unspoiled stretch of highway, I hit into a cloud of fat hornets. One had landed in my eye and stung me multiple times. I fell off the bike and barely made it back to base. The next day, my left eye swelled up beyond recognition. I dragged myself to a drugstore where I camped for a few days, trying out any useful medication or antibiotic that I could find. It was no use; without any help, I suddenly had to decide between dying or operating on myself; the left side of my face was swollen like a red balloon, and the eyeball was gray and obviously invested by an aggressive, unbeatable bug. I pulled a stretcher into a backroom, mounted lights and a mirror above it, and prepared an infusion with a cocktail of salt, painkillers and antibiotics. Lying on my back, I anesthetized half of my face. The next hour was the most horrible in my entire life. On some level, even my wife’s death was by comparison a walk in the park. In my dreams, especially after a heavy meal, I sometimes still see the scalpel approaching my eye. The first incision was excruciating. I shortly passed out from pain and the obnoxious smell of puss and blood that ran down my face. I screamed in horror and shook my head like a wild man. After many minutes I regained some control, and feeling slightly better, I turned my head back to look at my reflection in the mirror. With my gloved hand I opened my half-closed eyelids. The eye itself was gone, the socket a gaping hole, with some ugly bits of tissue and the stump of the nerve in the back. With trembling hands, I rinsed the wound and patched it up with bandages and disinfectant that I had prepared earlier. Then I fainted. It took me six weeks to recuperate.
Find out here how to get a copy of my highly rated books
Cinema – hard to imagine life without it. Pronounced close to death for years… but nevertheless artists keep on cranking out movies, and good ones too. Why do people enjoy cinema so much? A cinema is a unique place: you visit it with dozens of people, no need to talk, great for a first date, and (added bonus) you have to switch off your mobile. To keep track of all the movies, and some of the television series and shows that I’ve seen, I began creating a list many many years ago.
What makes a great movie?
I’ve seen hundreds of movies over the past 50+ years. The first-ever movie was Mary Poppins, I was a boy of 5 or 6, and going to the city cinema with my parents and older brother and sister was an amazing experience, engraved in my memory. Shortly after that: the Sound of Music. No wonder I still rate these two movies as top of the list. The miracle has never left me. From The Godfather, to Young Frankenstein, all the way to Hannah Arendt and Bohemian Rhapsody… I love cinema.
One key criterium for a great movie is great acting. Charlotte Rampling, Harrison Ford, Stephane Audran, Robert Mitchum, Isabelle Hupert – these actors immerge in their roles so that you actually believe they are the character. Great directing. Francis F. Coppola, Martin Scorsese, John Ford, Margarethe von Trotta,… all these directors managed to great a convincing, wholeness, an consistent atmosphere. A great movie also depends on a great storyline, which may be fantastic and absurd, but which is totally consistent within itself. Most of all, a great movie is memorable. Many movies are utterly forgettable, interchangeable. Good movies you will never forget, even when they were made on the tinniest budget, even with unknown actors.
Exciting news about my new book. In case you have been wondering why I have written only few blogposts over the last months… first, I was very busy with my fundraisers, which managed to raise more than 2500€ for charity through my paintings and books. Then, I was giving several interviews to newspapers about my books, which took up some time time. And next to that I am now working on my FOURTH NOVEL… which will be the final book in the TWO JOURNEYS Trilogy – the grand finale!
TWO JOURNEYS (2010), and the second novel in this series FIELDS OF FIRE (2015) deal with the aftermath of a corona pandemic; these are high-rated post-apocalyptic adventure novels. The third and final installment has the provisional title NIGHT OF SORROWS, and I hope it will hit the (e)book stores before the end of 2021. Research has been taking up considerable time; I had to study the geography of the areas where the novel is situated, spanning two continents, as well as new technological developments – the Internet-of-Things/IoT, Artificial Intelligence, space travel, robotics and more. In 2010, TWO JOURNEYS made a predication about the danger of pandemics and especially corona. My new novel tackles the risk of artificial intelligence for mankind… I don’t want to give away too much at this stage, also as the plot is still developing – let’s see where it may ultimately end.
Currently I am at 25,000 words, so at a about a quarter. I am cranking out 10,000 words a week, probably 2 months more of writing, then re-writing, and then it’s off to the editor. If you would like to pre-read the manuscript, or if you are an editor, feel free to contact me :-) For all those of you that can’t wait until the book is available, below is the first chapter & prologue. Mind, it still has to go through several rounds of editing, this is the raw initialtext. Comments welcome!
Here we go… strap on your seatbelt.
Night of Sorrows / Prologue
First draft. Copyright Clemens P. Suter 2021
Every beginning has its challenges. Every ending too, but at least good endings happen quickly. I stare at the paper in front of me, the handwriting contrasting black against white. A tear, which must have fallen out of my remaining eye, has deformed a written word, like a lens enlarging a crucial yet long forgotten detail. Five pages finished. If I continue writing at this speed, I will have died long before I reach the end.
Over the years I often toyed with the idea of writing down my story, which is exciting by any man’s standards. But there were numerous reasons not to do so. For one, my life left little time for scholarly work. More cynically: an author needs an audience, and is there any audience left? Who will ever read my notes?
The darkness surrounds me like a cloak, only disturbed by the flickering of the candle. I adjust the blanket around my shoulders. A fire roars in the woodburner, but it doesn’t help against the cold. Outside, a snowstorm tears at the walls of the cabin. I tilt my head to listen for sounds. It is deep in the night, early morning almost, hardly the time for any creature to be about. Did I hear something, a distant shout? I chose this hide-out on purpose, far away from any predator’s path. My many years of experience always keep me on full alert; I’ve had too many unhappy encounters with four- or two-legged hunters. I look at the dogs at my feet, but they seem unalarmed. I shrug off any fear and try to retrace the thoughts that passed through my head a few moments ago. Why did I survive so long, while so many died? All my friends and most of my enemies – long gone. The hand that holds the pen is gnarled and covered with the spots of age. I have lost weight and muscle and the hair on my scalp. My back is stooped, my joints hurt in the morning. But I am still here, going like an old clock.
The pandemic devoured humanity, the fallout sterilized the planet: but neither managed to kill me. Was I chosen? Or was I punished? I never was a religious or superstitious man, and deep inside I know that no miracle or lucky star is needed to explain my survival: it is just freak coincidence. I am like the single bacterium that has picked up resistance against an antibiotic, the last tree that remains standing after a forest fire.
For a few moments, my thoughts continue to wander, until they uncomfortably home in on the events of that singular winter, so many years ago. They always do. With all the drama of my past life, those events stick out like a sore thumb, impossible to ignore, blotting out many other memories of my eventful life.
I stand up from my chair, shrugging the blanket from my shoulders and the bad thoughts from my mind. The dogs raise their heads towards me, their eyes gleaming in the dark. Although I feel the need to write down my story, in the hope of expelling the bad taste that it leaves in my mouth, I cannot continue.
Restlessly I pace the cabin. I tilt my head to listen. Finally, I remove the bar open the door. The storm is astonishingly strong, and snow immediately sweeps in. I feel the sting of the cold as the air hits my face. Visibility is low; at the most a few meters. I cannot even sense the valley that lies in front of the cabin. The flame of the candle is blown out, and in the semi-darkness, I see how the papers from my desk are blown out of the cabin and into the white landscape. I laugh madly. The dogs cower close to my legs, tails between their legs. Together we stare into the darkness.
I listen. The wind blows loudly, but I am now convinced that I can hear a sound, far off, irregular and organic. Something is moving out there, something or someone is shouting. Friend or foe, I cannot tell. I grab for the rifle that stands against the wall and I check that is it is loaded.
I remain in the doorframe. Closing the door and putting the bar back on isn’t an option; it never is. The enemy doesn’t rest, they never give up the chase. They continuously circle, pounce, bite and kill without mercy. Likewise, friends are unceasingly in need of help, faltering and hopeless, they lose themselves in the darkness of the night. Fear or compassion; I’m forced to confront any obstacle, to handle any challenge, swiftly and if need be mercilessly.
I slip into my coat and I put on my moth-eaten woolhat and gloves. I stuff a torch into my pocket. The wind picks up speed. The darkness is now complete; no sign of a rising sun, stars nor moon.
The snow stings in my eyes as we step from the door into the wild white vortex, gun raised, dogs barking. I feel how my teeth bare themselves in a menacing grin. No matter how old I get, no matter how much these old bones hurt, by everything holy and unholy, throw it at me, life.
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.