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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„Großvater, Großvater!“ Die beiden Jungen stürmten in die Küche und warfen ihre Schultaschen in die Ecke. Der alte Hans wachte erschrocken auf, seine Pfeife noch im Mund. Schuldbewusst blickte er in Richtung des Holzofens, wo seine Tochter Annie, die Mutter von Hans Junior und dem kleinen Fritz, das Mittagsessen zubereitete. Aber da sie die Kohlsuppe umrührte, hatte sie ihm den Rücken zugedreht und nicht bemerkt, dass er eingeschlafen war.
„Ja, meine Kinder, willkommen zu Hause. Wie war es in der Schule?“
Fritz, der jüngste, war der erste, der Jacke und Schuhe auszog und sich seine Hausschuhe überstreifte. „Großvater, erzähle uns die Geschichte! Die Geschichte vom Monster. Du hast es heute Morgen versprochen!“
Hans Senior lächelte in seinen Bart. Mit Sicherheit hatten die beiden Jungen heute in der Schule nicht viel gelernt. Sie waren zu gespannt, seine Geschichte zu hören. Jetzt kuschelte sich auch Hans Junior an ihn. „Bitte Großvater!“
„Nun…“, sagte der Alte, „es ist noch etwas Zeit bis zum Mittagesse. Da könnte ich wenigstens anfangen. Aber zuerst musst du noch etwas Holz auf die Flammen werfen. Im Zimmer wird es ein bisschen kalt! Und, Fritzi, bring du mir etwas von dem kalten Kaffee. Die Kanne steht direkt neben dem Herd. Und dann kommt her und setzt euch neben mich, jeder auf eine Seite.“
Annie drehte den Kopf zu den dreien: „Habt Ihr mich vergessen?“ Sie lächelte. Die Jungen standen auf, rannten zu ihrer Mutter und küssten sie auf die Wange. Bald prasselte das Feuer im Ofen wieder, und Opa hatte auch seine Tasse Kaffee. Er paffte an seiner Pfeife. „Jetzt lasst mal sehen, wo ich anfange…“
Die Jungen sahen ihn aufmerksam an, ihre Wangen rot von der Winterkälte und Spannung. Die Kerze auf dem Tisch flackerte. „Ah ja,“ begann der alte Mann, „es muss mindestens dreißig, vierzig Jahre her sein…“ Sein Gesicht wurde nachdenklich und ein bisschen traurig, als die Erinnerungen langsam zu ihm zurückkehrten.
Es war ein Dezember gewesen, ein paar Wochen vor Weihnachten. Die Stadt Hockenheim ruhte friedlich in der Ebene des Rheintals. Die Leute gingen ihren Geschäfte nach; Kinder wurden geboren und gingen zur Schule, junge Leute verliebten sich, Paare gründeten Familien und alte Menschen starben. Das Virus, das auf der ganzen Welt so viel Chaos angerichtet hatte, war lange überwunden. Die Wirtschaft hatte sich etwas erholt, und die extremistische Regierung, die der Pandemie gefolgt war, war gestürzt und durch etwas Recht und Ordnung wieder ersetzt worden.
Ja, in Hockenheim war alles in Ordnung. Bis zu jener Nacht. Es war an einem Dienstag, daran konnte sich der alte Hans gut erinnern, da er dienstags immer im alten Kirchengebäude Schach spielte. Er war spät heimgekehrt, und seine Frau war schon ins Bett gegangen. Annie, damals ein kleines Mädchen, schlief friedlich in ihrem Bett. In dem kleinen Flur des Hauses zog Hans seinen nassen Mantel aus. November und Dezember waren sehr regnerisch gewesen und der Kraichbach war weit über sein Ufer getreten. Glücklicherweise hatte sich der Stadtrat vor vielen Jahrzehnten für ein Wassermanagementprojekt entschieden, das sich nun als sehr vorteilhaft erwies. In Wirklichkeit war der Kraichbach ein kleiner, sich schlängelnder Bach, der Wasser aus den Hügeln im Osten sammelte, durch Hockenheim führte und einige Kilometer nordwestlich in den Rhein mündete.
Hans beschloss, vor dem Schlafengehen einen kleinen Schluck Rotwein zu trinken, und hatte gerade eine Kerze angezündet und sein Glas gefüllt, als ein donnerndes Hämmern an der Haustür ertönte. „Das der mi veräbble wird!“ fluchte Hans, als er zur Tür eilte und sie öffnete. Draußen standen sein Nachbar Roland und ein Polizist. Hans sah die beiden erstaunt an. „Was ist los?“ fragte er.
„Folg uns. Schnell!“ sagte der Polizist. Ihre Gesichter waren blass und ernst ,ja voller Angst. Er erkannte, dass etwas Schlimmes passiert war. Eilig griff er nach seinem immer noch tropfnassen Mantel und die Kälte des Kleidungsstücks auf seinen Schultern ließ ihn zittern. Oben fing Annie an zu weinen und seine Frau rief etwas.
„Alles in Ordnung, Liebling!“, rief Hans. „Es ist Roland… und ein Polizist. Ich werde bald zurück sein.“ Ohne auf eine Antwort zu warten, trat er aus dem Haus und zog die Tür hinter sich zu. Die beiden Männer waren schon losgelaufen. Sie verließen die Schulstraße, bogen in die Hirschstraße, in die Ottostraße und von dort am Rathaus vorbei in die Marcus-Zeitlerstraße. Mehrere Männer standen vor der Hausnummer 15, Fackeln in den Händen und grimmige Blicke auf ihren Gesichtern. Der Polizist schob sie aus dem Weg, und führte Hans und Roland in ein Zimmer im hinteren Teil des Hauses. Eine Frau, die Hans unbekannt war, saß weinend auf einem Stuhl. Ein Mann, vermutlich ihr Ehemann, stand neben ihr und hielt ihre Hand. Auch er hatte Tränen in den Augen. Der Polizist zeigte auf ein Kinderbett. Er sah Hans an und sagte nur ein Wort, als würde es ausreichen, um die gesamte Situation zu erklären.
Hans spürte einen Schauer über seinen Rücken laufen. Er wusste jetzt, warum ihn die Männer geholt hatten. Der Bürgermeister war nicht in der Stadt, und Hans war stellvertretender Bürgermeister. Eine ehrenamtliche Rolle ohne Bezahlung, aber in solchen Notfällen mit einigen Verantwortlichkeiten. Er schaute von einem zum anderen und inspizierte das Bett genauer. Offensichtlich hatte hier ein Kind geschlafen, ein Mädchen, wie es aussah. Hans trat zur Terrassentür, die zum Garten führte, und berührte das Glas. Zu seiner Überraschung war die Tür nicht abgeschlossen und schwenkte auf, so dass er und die anderen in den dunklen Garten schauen konnten. Hans sagte nichts und stellte keine Fragen. Stattdessen trat er in den Regen. Der Polizist schaltete seine Taschenlampe ein und folgte ihm. Sie gingen durch das Gras bis sie am Ende des Gartens an eine Wand kamen. Instinktiv beschloss Hans, ihr nach rechts zu folgen, bis zu einer Tür, die ebenfalls nicht verschlossen war. Von dort in einen kleinen Durchgang, dem sie folgten. Nach nur wenigen Schritten zog der Polizist Hans am Ärmel. „Schau“, stieß der Mann knapp aus und zeigte auf den Boden vor ihnen. Dort auf dem roten Sandstein war ein Fußabdruck. Sie bückten sich, um ihn zu inspizieren. Er war so groß wie ein Männerfuß, aber breiter. Die Abdrücke einzelner Zehen waren deutlich sichtbar, aber weit voneinander entfernt und scheinbar durch Häute verbunden. Dieser Fußabdruck glich nicht dem eines Menschen. Er sah aus wie der Abdruck eines riesigen Frosches oder einer Amphibie. In der Gasse hing ein seltsamer Geruch von verschmutztem Flusswasser und Blut. Ein Gefühl der Angst überkam die beiden. Sie überprüften ihre Umgebung auf irgendwelche Bewegungen, aber der Besitzer des Fußabdrucks war nicht zu sehen. Eilig suchten die beiden Männer den Boden ab, aber sie fanden keine weiteren Fußspuren.
Der Polizist rannte zurück zum Haus, und bald durchsuchten alle verfügbaren Männer die dunkle Stadt bis es im Osten zu dämmern begann. Die Männer hatten das vermisste Mädchen nicht finden können. Aber sie hatten noch einen nassen Fußabdruck und ein Stück vom Nachthemd des Mädchens nahe der Brücke in der Karlsruherstraße gefunden, die den Kraichbach überquerte.
Annie stellte den schweren Topf mit Kohlsuppe auf den Tisch. „Mittagessen“, rief sie und wischte sich eine blonde Haarsträhne aus den Augen. „Hol bitte das Brot, Fritzi.“
Die vier ließen sich nieder und aßen wie immer schweigend. Kein Geschichtenerzählen während der Mahlzeiten! Die beiden Kinder sahen den Großvater erwartungsvoll an. Der alte Mann schlürfte seine Suppe und gab vor, die Jungen zu ignorieren. Nach dem Essen wischte er sich die Semmelbrösel vom Bart und stopfte seine Pfeife. Die Jungen legten noch etwas Holz aufs Feuer und Annie fing an, den Abwasch zu machen und die Kochecke zu putzen.
Am nächsten Tag war die Stadt in Aufruhr. Die Leute trafen sich an Straßenecken und in den zahlreichen Bäckereien und Friseurgeschäften und spekulierten über die Ereignisse der Nacht. Bald waren sich alle einig, dass ein Monster, ein Wassermonster, für die Entführung des Mädchens verantwortlich war. Niemand schien zu glauben, dass das Mädchen noch lebte; viele Hockenheimer betrachteten Optimismus als Ablenkung. Die nassen Fußabdrücke waren ein klares Zeichen dafür, dass etwas aus dem Fluss gekrochen war, der Fluss, der jetzt mit Wasser hochgefüllt war. Der Stadtrat versuchte zusammen mit dem inzwischen zurückgekehrten Bürgermeister die Bevölkerung zu beruhigen, aber ohne Erfolg. Ein Edikt mit einigen einfachen Anweisungen wurde veröffentlicht, einschließlich des Ratschlags nach Sonnenuntergang drinnen zu bleiben und alle Fenster und Türen im Erdgeschoss verschlossen zu halten. Einige begannen sofort diesen Richtlinien zu befolgen. Aber viele entschieden, dass sie unwirksam und sogar unsinnig waren, konnten jedoch keine besseren Maßnahmen anbieten.
Und so verbrachte die Stadt mehrere Tage in Angst. Obwohl die Suche fortgesetzt wurde, fand sich keine weitere Spur des Mädchens. Die Leute wurden skeptischer gegenüber der Theorie, dass ein Wassermonster, dessen Existenz bestenfalls hypothetisch war, tatsächlich der Schuldige gewesen war, und die Wut auf den Stadtrat wuchs. „Ha-noi“, versicherten sie einander, „es ist schwer zu glauben, dass dies ein Monster war. Es war wahrscheinlich ein Perverser, ein Landstreicher von außerhalb der Stadt. Ein Ausländer vielleicht?“
Aber fünf Tage später, tief in der Nacht, wurden die Bewohner der Goethestraße brutal aus dem Schlaf gerissen als ein schrecklicher Schrei durch die Straßen hallte. Als nächstes waren hämmernde Schritte und aufgeregtes Geschrei zu hören als die Nachtwache, die der Bürgermeister hartnäckig gegen den Willen des Stadtrats aufgestellt hatte, zur Szene eilte. Die Männer stießen auf Blutflecken und nasse Fußspuren, die nach Osten führten. Hastig folgten sie diesen, Schlagstöcke in ihren Händen, durch die Karlsruherstraße, und als sie sich dem Kraichbach näherten, konnten sie in der Ferne eine massive, zusammengekauerte Gestalt sehen. Die Gestalt stieg zur Brücke auf. Gegenüber der uralten Statue des Heiligen Nepomuk, dem Beschützer vor Überschwemmungen und Ertrinken, stand sie einige Sekunden lang an der Brüstung, hob die Arme und warf etwas, das wie ein Bündel weißer Kleider aussah, ins Wasser. Die Gestalt sprang hinterher… und verschwand.
Die Männer der Nachtwache leuchteten mit ihren Lichtern ins schlammige Wasser. Einige Sekunden lang schien sich ein Körper stromabwärts zu bewegen. Was auch immer es war, es blieb unter der Oberfläche und bewegte sich sehr schnell. Im Dunkel der Nacht machte es keinen Sinn, seiner Route zu folgen.
Stattdessen entdeckten sie entsetzt ein mit Blut bedecktes Nachthemd und der blutige Fuß eines kleinen Kindes. Einige der Männer wandten sich ab um sich zu übergeben. Anscheinend hatte sich die Kreatur vor ihrer Rückkehr in den Fluss für einen Snack entschieden. Auf jeden Fall hatte das Wassermonster von Hockenheim, wie es jetzt offiziell genannt wurde, sein zweites Opfer gefordert.
Danach war in der Stadt Hockenheim nichts mehr wie vorher. Jeden Tag, sobald die Sonne unterging, gingen selbst die Skeptischsten in ihre Häuser und verriegelten ihre Türen. Viele, besonders die Eltern junger Familienvernagelten ihre Fenster. Die Stadt sah aus wie eine Geisterstadt. Dies wurde durch die vielen geschlossenen Geschäfte in der Karlsruherstraße noch verschärft.
Aber das Wassermonster kehrte zurück und schaffte es ein drittes und ein viertes Opfer aus den Häusern zu holen, die nicht gut genug geschützt waren. Die Stadt wurde von einem unsichtbaren, gewaltigen Feind belagert. Es ist fast unnötig zu erwähnen, dass Weihnachten und die Silvesternacht unbemerkt vergingen und in vielen Häusern ohne die traditionelle Weihnachtsgans, Kartoffelsalat und Bockwurst.
Großvater zog an seiner Pfeife. Die Jungen sahen ihn wissbegierig an. „Was geschah als nächstes?“ flüsterte Fritzi.
„Nun“, sagte Hans Senior, „hier kommt Frederick Quicksilber in die Geschichte. Frederick lebte mit seiner Mutter im Osten der Stadt in der Nähe des Friedhofs. Ein unglücklicher Mensch, denn Frederick war ein kleiner Kerl, ein Zwerg.“
„Vater!“ rief Annie aus der Küchenecke, „Du solltest dieses Wort nicht verwenden.“
„Ja, richtig“, sagte Großvater. „Ähm. Lasst es mich so sagen: Frederick war eine Person mit alternativen Körpermaßen… auf minimalistische Weise. Klug und bescheiden war er, der liebe Frederick. Aber seine Bemühungen, die Stadt vor dem Monster zu retten, was er tatsächlich tat, wären ohne die Hilfe dieser unglaublich dicken Frau nicht möglich gewesen.“
„Vater!“ rief Annie erneut.
Das Gesicht des Großvaters wurde rot. „Arschkrott“, sagte er leise und blies aufgeregt Rauch aus seiner Pfeife. „Wie kann ich das sagen… diese Frau hatte auch alternative Körpermaße… aber optimiert in Richtung…“, er brummte, „…aber in Richtung eines maximierten Body-Mass-Index.“
„Warum willst du das alles erwähnen, Vater? Kannst du nicht einfach überspringen, wie sie aussahen?“ fragte Annie.
„Herrgottnochmal! Es ist einfach wichtig für die Geschichte“, grunzte der Großvater und bemühte sich, sich zu beruhigen. „Jedenfalls hieß diese Frau mit dem maximierten Body-Mass-Index Obesia Guirlande. Obesia lebte allein und war vielleicht etwas älter als Frederick. Bis dahin kannten sie sich kaum.“
Eines Tages trank Frederick Kaffee in einem alten Café am Ende der Karlsruher Straße, das unter dem Namen Etcetera geführt wurde – ein Name, der „und andere ähnliche Dinge“ bedeutete. Was diese Gegenstände waren oder welchen sie ähnlich waren, wusste kein Hockenheimer. Obesia betrat das Café und wählte den leeren Tisch neben Frederick aus. Bald kamen sie ins Gespräch. Obesia war beeindruckt von Fredericks Humor und Intelligenz. Natürlich wandte sich ihr Gespräch auch dem Wassermonster zu. Wie alle Hockenheimer diskutierten auch sie die offiziellen Maßnahmen und stimmten den meisten von ihnen nicht zu. Frederick und Obesia trafen sich auch am nächsten Tag und am Tag danach wieder, und zu diesem Zeitpunkt hatte sich in ihren Gedanken der Keim eines Plans entwickelt. Ein Plan, der so gewagt war, dass sie nur mit gedämpften Stimmen darüber sprechen konnten. Die anderen Gäste im Café stupsten sich an, zwinkerten und sagten: „Schau dir nur diese beiden an. Zwei Menschen mit alternativen körperlichen Proportionen, die sich verlieben. Sind sie nicht süß?“ Aber die beiden Verschwörer dachten nicht an Liebe. Inzwischen waren sie überzeugt, dass ihr Plan die schreckliche Kette von Ereignissen stoppen würde.
Ein paar Tage später, an einem Mittwoch Mitte Januar, kurz vor Einbruch der Dunkelheit, hätte eine seltsame Szene jeden Passanten getroffen, der mutig genug war, aus der Stadt in Richtung Rhein zu schlendern. Hier erstreckte sich das flache Land, das der Fluss in Zeiten geschaffen hatte, als er sich noch majestätisch zwischen Odenwald und Pfalz schlängelte, weit und ununterbrochen. Heute folgt der Rhein einem Bett des Ingenieurs Tulla, der den Fluss begradigt hatte um die Navigation zu verbessern und Überschwemmungen zu reduzieren. Der Kraichbach teilt sich an dieser Stelle in zwei Bäche: den Alten Kraichbach und den Kraichbach selbst. Beide fließen in den nahen und doch in der Ebene versteckten Rhein. Die Rheinbrücke und der tausend Jahre alte Speyerer Dom waren nur für diejenigen sichtbar, die auf den Zehenspitzen standen. Späte Vögel überquerten eilig den Himmel, um rechtzeitig für die Nacht ihre Schlafplätze zu erreichen. Die Fledermäuse fehlten noch. Sie würden erst im Frühjahr wiedererscheinen, um ihre hungrigen Bäuche mit dem Überfluss an Flussmücken zu füllen. Wie zu allen Jahreszeiten wehte nur sehr wenig Wind im Rheintal.
Eine Frau von beträchtlicher Statur schlenderte in einem weißen Kleid, das von einem schwarzen Umhang bedeckt war, und auf festen Schuhen, am Wasser entlang. Sie schob einen altmodischen Kinderwagen mit großen Rädern. Die Abdeckung des Kinderwagens war geschlossen, so dass das Kind im Inneren nicht sichtbar war. Es war aber auch niemand unterwegs, die Hockenheimer hatten bereits ihre Türen, Fenster und Fensterläden verriegelt. Sie befanden sich nun in ihren Stuben, spärlich beleuchtet von ein paar Kerzen. Seit der letzten Entführung waren vier Nächte vergangen, und in regelmäßigen Abständen wandten sich die gedämpften Gespräche dem Wassermonster zu, meist gefolgt von energischen Versuchen das Thema zu wechseln.
Die Frau ging nicht in eine bestimmte Richtung. Stattdessen folgte sie einige Minuten dem Fluss in Richtung Rhein, drehte sich dann um und folgte dem Kraichbach bis zum Altwingertweg wieder zurück. Der Kinderwagen war offensichtlich schwer, denn ihre Wangen waren rosig geworden und sie schnaufte als sie weiterging. Dies ging eine ganze Weile so. Um neun Uhr läutete die weit entfernte Glocke der Pfarrkirche St. Georg.
„Wie lange müssen wir so weitermachen?“ flüsterte die Frau.
Überraschenderweise antwortete aus dem Kinderwagen die Stimme eines Mannes. „Das Monster hat immer in den Stunden um Mitternacht angegriffen.“
„Sind wir dann nicht zu früh?“ flüsterte die Frau und ihre Schritte wurden langsamer.
„Nein! Erinnere dich an unsere Theorie. Wenn wir richtig liegen, schwimmt das Wassermonster stromaufwärts vom Rhein, seiner Heimat. Es braucht dann einige Zeit um nach Hockenheim zu schwimmen. Und dann müsste es noch ein Haus finden, in das es eintreten kann, ein Haus, in dem entweder Fenster oder Türen unverschlossen sind. Nein, meine Berechnungen sagen mir, dass es bald durch den Fluss kommen sollte… wenn es heute Abend zuschlagen will.“
„Ha-joh, Frederick, du bist so schlau.“
„Danke, Obesia. Aber ohne dich könnte ich das niemals ausführen! Vielleicht ist es besser, wenn wir jetzt zur zweiten Phase gehen. Was denkst du?“
Obesia sah sich um und stellte den Kinderwagen so nah wie möglich an den Bach. Sie bremste die großen Räder ab und schaffte es nach einigem Fummeln, die Abdeckung abzunehmen. Da war Frederick, ein Kinderkleid aus hellster weißer Baumwolle über seiner normalen Kleidung. Frederick zwinkerte Obesia zu und legte den Finger an die Lippen: „Schhhh!“ Obesia zwinkerte ihm zu und arrangierte sein Kleid so, dass es über die Seiten des Kinderwagens hing. Sie trat zurück und sah sowohl den Bach als auch den Kinderwagen anerkennend an. Dann nahm sie noch einige Anpassungen vor und ging dann, nach einem sanften „Viel Glück!“ zu einer Parkbank, die etwa vierzig Schritte entfernt war. Sie setzte sich und wartete.
Nach dem Regen der letzten Wochen war der Himmel jetzt außergewöhnlich klar. Die Kälte kroch von den Feldern herauf, und die Luftfeuchtigkeit schlug sich auf ihrer Kleidung nieder. Der Mond war aufgegangen. Er schien größer zu sein als sie sich je erinnern konnte. Mit kaltweißem Licht schien er auf die Szene hinunter. Das einzige Geräusch war der Bach, der langsam an ihnen vorbeizog.
Nach einer Weile bemerkte Obesia, dass sie ihre Augen kaum noch offen halten konnte. Sie war eine Frühaufsteherin und folglich war dies weit über ihre übliche Bettzeit hinaus. Um ehrlich zu sein, erwartete sie auch nicht, dass das Monster in der ersten Nacht in der sie Fredericks Plan ausprobierten, auftauchen würde. Es wäre ein zu großer Zufall gewesen. Wie sie besprochen hatten, müssten sie diese Übung wahrscheinlich mehrmals wiederholen und auch an verschiedenen Orten. Trotzdem war der Ort gut gewählt. Wenn das Monster vom Rhein kam und das Wasser als Route benutzte, musste es genau diesen Punkt passieren. Weiter draußen in der Ebene verzweigte sich der Kraichbach in viele Nebenbäche, die sich entweder wiedervereinigten oder direkt in den Rhein mündeten. Obesia tastete unter ihrem Umhang. In den breiten Taschen steckten zwei Hämmer, für jede Hand einen. Würde Frederick sein Messer zur Hand haben? Dumme Frage! Frederick hatte ihr die große Klinge gezeigt und wie flink er damit umging. Nein, obwohl er sich in einer äußerst gefährlichen Position befand, hatte sie keine Angst um den kleinen Mann.
Ein einsamer Reiher ging über ihr vorbei. Etwas muss den Vogel gestört haben, da Reiher normalerweise nach Einbruch der Dunkelheit nicht unterwegs waren. War es ein Fuchs oder eine andere Kreatur gewesen? Langsam nickte Obesia ein und sackte seitlich auf der Parkbank zusammen. Einige Zeit verging.
Plötzlich öffnete Obesia die Augen. Sie schaute geradeaus zum Wasser. Nichts war zu hören, doch etwas hatte sie aus dem Schlaf gerissen. Sie schloss die Augen zu kleinen Schlitzen und blieb zehn, zwanzig, dreißig Sekunden lang reglos sitzen. Dann wurde am Ufer des Flusses eine Form sichtbar. Eine große dunkle Hand kratzte im Gras. Obesia erstarrte vor Angst. Die Hand grub sie sich tiefer in den Boden und der daran befestigte Arm zog einen großen Körper aus dem Wasser. Schließlich tauchte eine starke, tropfende Gestalt am Ufer auf. Sie war höchstens zwanzig Schritte entfernt und zwischen Obesia und ihrem Kinderwagen. Die Gestalt, nackt und dunkelgrün, hatte eine enorme Brust, die von langen, dünnen Beinen getragen wurde. Auch die Arme waren lang und muskulös. Die Kreatur starrte Obesia mit großen blassen Augen an, die unregelmäßig blinzelten. Große Kiemen flatterten auf beiden Seiten des Gesichts.
Das Monster stand still, leicht gebeugt und beobachtete sie schweigend. Nur das Tropfen des Wassers von seiner Haut war zu hören. Obesias Herz schlug schnell. Was wäre, wenn das Monster sie angreifen würde? Sie würde nie genug Zeit haben um die beiden Hämmer aus ihrem Kleid zu ziehen. Wilde und ängstliche Gedanken gingen ihr durch den Kopf…
>>> Willst du das Ende dieser Geschichte lesen? Hol dir eine Kopie für nur 0,99 in einem dieser Buchhandlungen: www.clemenssuter.com/books.
With great pleasure I announce the release of my new book: “Short Stories”. I have bundled all the stories that I have written over the past years in a single volume. Rock-bottom pricing for fun reading.
Within days, this book will also be available directly in iTunes or in any smartphone bookstore (I will keep you posted here in this blogpost).
Read about the young man who finds a mysterious tunnel beneath his garden; strange goings-on in a French forest; a robot reporting home about its visit to Earth, or the tale of the watermonster of Hockenheim, which kidnaps numerous children: these stories will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Clemens P. Suter, established author of visionary SciFi predicting (in2010) the corona pandemic, lets his imagination run wild with stories full of suspense, humor and… action!
“Obesia opened her eyes. She looked straight ahead towards the water. Nothing could be heard, yet something had called her out of her sleep. She didn’t move, for ten, twenty, thirty seconds. Then a shape became visibly, on the bank of the river. A large dark hand clawed in the grass. Obesia froze with fear. The hand didn’t move for a long time, but then, slowly, it dug deeper in the ground, and the arm attached to it drew a large body from the water beneath. Finally, a fat, dripping figure climbed on the bank. It was at most twenty steps away, and directly between her and her pram. The figure, naked and black-green, had a tremendous chest carried by long thin legs. Its arms were long too, and muscular. The creature stared at Obesia with large pale eyes, blinking regularly.”
“Grandfather, grandfather!” The two boys burst into the kitchen, throwing their schoolbags into the corner. Old Hans woke up with a start, his smoking pipe in his mouth and all. Guiltily, he glanced in the direction of the woodstove, where his daughter Annie, the mother of Hans Junior and little Fritz, was preparing the afternoon meal. But, as she was stirring the cabbage soup, her back was turned towards him, and she hadn’t noticed that he had been dozing off.
“Yes, my children, welcome home. How was school?”
Fritz was the first to have pulled off his jacket and shoes, and to put his slippers on his feet. “Grandfather tell us the story! The story of the monster, as you promised this morning!”
Hans smiled into his beard. For certain the two boys hadn’t picked up much in school today, too nervous to hear his tale. Now Hans Junior also snuggled up to him. “Please grandfather!”
“Well…,” said the senior, “it is still some time until lunch, so I could start at least. But first, throw some more wood on the flames, the room is getting a bit chilly! And Fritzi could bring me some of the cold coffee, the pot is right next to the stove. And then come over here and sit next to me, each on one side.”
Annie turned her head towards the three: “Are you forgetting about me!” she smiled. The boys got of their seats and ran to their mother and kissed her cheek. Soon the fire in the oven was roaring again, and grandpa also had his cup of coffee in front of him. He puffed on his pipe. “Now let me see, where do I start…”
The boys looked up at him eagerly, their cheeks red from the winter cold and anticipation. The candle on the table flickered. “Ah yes,” started the old man, “It must have been, well, at least 30, 40 years ago…” His face became pensive and a bit sad, as the memories slowly came back to him.
It had been a December, a few weeks before Christmas. The town of Hockenheim rested peacefully on the plain of the Rhine valley. People were going about their business; children were born and went to school, young adults fell in love, couples founded families, and old people died. The virus that had caused so much havoc all over the world was long past, the economy had somewhat recovered, and the extremist government that had followed the pandemic had been overthrown and replaced by some law and order.
Yes, all was well in Hockenheim. Up until one night: a Tuesday, old Hans could remember it well, as Tuesdays he went to play chess in the old church building. He had returned late and his wife had gone to bed. Annie, their little girl, slept peacefully in her cot. In the small hallway of the house, Hans pulled off his wet coat. November and December had been very rainy, and the Kraichbach was almost overflowing with water; almost, since many decennia before, a city council had decided on a water management project, which now proved to be quite beneficial. In reality, the Kraichbach was a small, meandering brook, which carried water from the hills in the east, passed through Hockenheim, and poured into the Rhine a few miles to the northwest.
Hans decided to have a small sip of red wine before turning in and had just lighted a candle and filled his glass when a terrible banging on the house door sounded. “Das der mi veräbble will!” cursed Hans, as he hurried to the door and pulled it open. Outside stood his neighbor Roland and a policeman. Hans looked at the two in astonishment. “What’s up?” he said.
“Follow us. Quickly!” said the policeman. Hans looked at their faces, which were pale and serious; yes, filled with fear. He realized that something of great importance had happened. Hurriedly he grabbed for his coat, which was still dripping with water, and the cold of the garment on his shoulders made him shiver. Upstairs, Annie started crying, and his wife called.
“It’s OK, darling,” shouted Hans. “It is Roland… and a policeman. I will be back soon.” Without waiting for an answer, he stepped out of the house and pulled the door close behind him. The two men were already moving. They left the Schulstrasse, turned into the Hirschstrasse, over to the Ottostrasse, and from there, past the city hall, into the Marcus-Zeitlerstrasse. Several men stood in front of house number 15, torches in their hands and grim looks on their faces. The policeman pushed them out of the way and the three men went to a room at the back of the house. A woman, unknown to Hans, sat in a chair, crying. A man, probably her husband, stood next to her, holding her hand. He too had tears in his eyes. The policeman pointed at a children’s bed. He looked at Hans and said only one word as if it was enough to explain the entire situation.
Hans felt a shudder running along his spine. He realized why these men had collected him. The mayor was out of town, and Hans was acting vice-mayor; a role that was honorary at best, without any pay, but, in emergencies such as this, with some limited responsibilities. He looked from one to the other and inspected the bed more closely. Obviously, a child had slept here, a girl by the look of it. Hans stepped to the terrace door that led to the garden, and touched the glass; to his surprise, the door was unlocked and swung open, so that he and the others in the room could look into the dark garden. Hans didn’t say anything or ask any questions, instead, he stepped out into the rain, the policeman followed him and switched on his torch. They walked through the grass until they came to a wall at the end of the garden. Instinctively, Hans decided to follow it to the right. Soon they came to a door, which was also not locked, and from there into a small passage, which they followed. After just a few paces, the policeman pulled Hans’ sleeve. “Look,” hissed the man, pointing at the ground in front of them. There, on the red sandstone, was a footprint. They bent down to inspect. It was the size of a man’s foot, but broader, the impressions of individual toes clearly visible, but far apart, and seemingly connected by webs. Hans immediately concluded that this footprint wasn’t of human origin. It looked like the print left by a giant frog, an amphibian. A strange smell hung in this alley, a smell of fouling river water and blood. A sense of dread came over them and they checked their surroundings for any movement, but the owner of the footprint was not to be seen. Hastily the two men scanned the rest of the ground, but no more footprints could be found. The policeman ran back to the house and soon all available men spread out through the dark town.
This makeshift search party did not return before the light of morning started to appear in the east. The men had been unable to find the missing girl. But they had found one more wet footprint and a shred of the girl’s nightgown, close to the bridge where the Kraichbach crossed underneath Karlsruherstrasse.
Annie banged the heavy pot with cabbage soup on the table. “Lunch,” she said, wiping a lock of blonde hair from her eyes. “Get the bread, Fritzi.”
The four of them settled down and as always ate in silence. No storytelling during meals! The two youngsters looked at each other and grandfather expectantly. The old man slurped his soup and pretended to ignore the boys. After the meal, he brushed the breadcrumbs from his beard and stuffed his pipe. The boys put more wood onto the fire and Annie started to do the dishes and cleaning the cooking corner.
The next day, the town was in an uproar. People met on street corners and at the many bakeries and hairdressers that enriched the village, and speculated about the occurrences of the night before. Soon, all agreed that some monster, a water monster, had been responsible for the girl’s abduction. Nobody seemed to think that the girl was still alive; many Hockenheimers regarded optimism as a distraction. The wet footprints were a telltale sign that something had crawled out of the river, a river now overflowing with water. The city council, together with the mayor who had by now returned, tried to calm the populace, but to no avail. An edict was released with some simple directives, including the advice for people to stay indoors after sunset and to keep all ground floor windows and doors closed and locked. Some immediately started to follow these guidelines, but many decided that they were ineffective and even humbug, yet remained incapable of offering any coherent alternative measures.
And so, the town continued to live in fear for several days. Although the search continued, no trace of the girl was found. People started to become more skeptical about the theory that a water monster, whose existence was hypothetical at best, had indeed been the culprit, and the anger at the city council grew. “Ha-noi,” they set to one another, “Well no, it is hard to believe that this was a monster. It probably was a man, a pervert, a drifter from out of town. A foreigner perhaps?”
But five days later, deep in the night, the inhabitants of the Goethestrasse were brutally pulled from their sleep as a horrible cry echoed through the streets. Next, pounding footsteps and excited shouting could be heard, as the night watch, which the mayor had stubbornly installed against the wishes of the city council, rushed to the scene. The men came upon traces of blood and wet footprints leading towards the east. The men followed these hurriedly, batons in their hands. They followed the Karlsruherstrasse, and as they came closer to the Kraichbach, they could see a huddled yet massive shape moving about in the distance. The shape climbed the landing of the old bridge, opposite of the age-old statue of Saint Nepomuk, the protector from floods and drowning, and stood straight on the parapet for a few seconds, then lifted its arms and threw what looked like a bundle of white clothes into the water. It jumped forward… and was gone.
The men of the night watch arrived at the scene. They shone their lights into the muddy water. For a few seconds, there appeared to be some movement of a body swimming downstream. Whatever it was, it stayed well underneath the surface and moved very rapidly. It obviously made no sense to follow its route in the dark of the night.
Back on the bridge, the men were met by a horrible sight. They found a bundle consisting of the shreds of a cotton nightgown, covered with blood. As they unpacked the bundle, the bloodied foot of a young child became visible. Some of the men turned away and threw up into the river. Apparently, the creature had decided on a late-night snack before returning home – wherever that may have been. In any case, the Watermonster of Hockenheim, as it was now officially called, had claimed its second victim.
After that, nothing was the same in the town of Hockenheim. Each day, as soon as the sun started to go down, even the most skeptical went into their homes and barred their doors. Many, especially the parents of young families, had boarded up their windows. The town started to look like a ghost town, and not only after hours. This was exacerbated by the many closed-down stores in the Karlsruherstrasse.
But the water monster did return and managed to claim a third and a fourth victim from houses that had not been protected well enough. The town was under siege from an invisible, formidable enemy. Needless to say, Christmas and the Silversternacht – new year’s eve – passed by almost unnoticeable, and in many homes without the traditional Christmas Weihnachsgans and without Kartoffelsalad und Bockwurst.
Grandfather sucked his pipe. The boys looked at him eagerly. “What happened next?” whispered Fritzi.
“Well,” said Hans senior, “Here is where Frederick Quicksilber enters the story. Frederick lived with his mother on the east side of the town, close to the cemetery. An unlucky fellow, as Frederick was just a small guy, a dwarf.”
“Father!” called Annie from the sink, “You shouldn’t use that word anymore.”
“Yes, right,” said grandfather. “Uhum. Let me put it this way: Frederick was a person of alternative bodily dimensions… in a minimalist sort of way. Smart and humble, he was, dear Frederick. But his efforts to rescue the town from the monster, which indeed he did, wouldn’t have been possible without help from that tremendously fat woman over from…”
“Father!” shouted Annie again.
Grandfather’s face got quite red. “Arschkrott,” he said under his breath, and puffed smoke from his pipe agitatedly. “Hum. Hum. How do I put this… this woman was also of alternative bodily dimensions… but optimized towards… hum… but towards a maximized body mass index.”
“Why do you want to mention all of this, father? Can’t you just skip describing the way they looked?” asked Annie.
“Herrgottnochmal! It just happens to be relevant to the story,” grunted grandfather, struggling to quiet down. “Well, anyway, this woman with, ah, a maximized body mass index, of extraordinary proportions, went by the name of Obesia Guirlande. Obesia lived alone and was perhaps a bit older than Frederick. Up to that moment, they had known each other only in passing.”
One day, Frederick had a coffee in an old café at the end of the Karlsruherstrasse, which went under the name Etcetera – a name that meant “and other similar things.” What these items were, or to what they were similar, no Hockenheimer knew. Obesia entered the café and selected the empty table next to Frederick. Soon they entered into a conversation. Obesia was impressed by Frederick’s wit and intelligence. Naturally, their tête-à-tête also turned to the water monster. Like all Hockenheimers, they also discussed the official measures that had been taken and, typically, didn’t agree with most of them.
Frederick and Obesia met again the next day and the day after, and by that time a seed of a plan had started to develop in their minds, a plan so daring that they could only talk about it in hushed voices. The other patrons in the café nudged each other, winked and said something to the effect of: “Just look at those two. Two people of alternative bodily proportions, falling in love. Aren’t they cute?” But love wasn’t on the mind of the two conspirators. By now, they were convinced that their plan would put a stop to the terrible chain of events.
A few days later, on a Wednesday in the middle of January, close to nightfall, a strange scene would have met any passerby brave enough to stroll out of the town in the direction of the river Rhine.
Here, the flatlands, created by the river in times when it still meandered majestically between the Odenwald and the Pfalz, stretched far and uninterrupted. Today, the Rhine follows a bed created by the engineer Tulla, who, in order to improve navigation and reduce flooding, had straightened the river. The Kraichbach splits into two rivulets at this location: the Alter Kraichbach and the Kraichbach itself, and both make their way towards the Rhine, close by, yet hidden in the plain. The bridge over the Rhine and the cathedral of Speyer, dating back a thousand years, were only visible to those that stood on the tips of their toes.
Late birds crossed the sky, hurriedly, to reach their sleeping spots in time for the night. Bats were still absent; they would only reappear in spring, to fill their eager bellies on the abundance of river mosquitoes. As in all seasons in the Rhine valley, there was very little wind.
A woman of considerable stature, dressed in a white dress, which was in turn covered by a black cape, on sturdy shoes, strolled next to the water. She was pushing an old-fashioned pram with high wheels. The cover of the pram was up, so any passerby would have been unable to look at the child inside.
Yet, nobody was about. The people of Hockenheim had already closed and bolted their doors, windows, and shutters, and were now in their Stube, their low-ceilinged living rooms; sparsely lit by a few candles. It had been four nights since the last abduction, and at regular intervals, the muted conversations turned to the water monster; mostly followed by forceful attempts to change the topic.
The woman was not heading in any particular direction. Instead, she followed the river in the direction of the Rhine for a few minutes and then would turn around and follow the Kraichbach all the way to the Altwingertweg, and back again. The pram was obviously heavy, as her cheeks had turned rosy and she was puffing as she walked along.
This went on for a considerable time. A faraway church bell sounded nine in the evening.
“How long do we have to keep this up?” whispered the woman. Surprisingly, a voice answered from the pram, the voice of a man.
“The monster always attacked in the hours around midnight.”
“Aren’t we too early then?” whispered the woman, slowing down.
“No! Remember our theory. If we are correct, the water monster swims upstream from the Rhine, its home. It will then need some time to swim to Hockenheim. And then it would still need to find a house that it can enter, a house where either windows or doors are unlocked. No, my calculations tell me that it should pass through the river soon… if it intends to strike tonight.”
“Ha-joh, Frederick, you are so smart.”
“Thank you, Obesia. But without you I could never carry this out! Perhaps it is better if we now go to phase two, what do you think?”
Obesia looked around and moved the pram as close to the brook as possible. She put the brakes on the large wheels, and after some fumbling managed to put the cover down. There was Frederick, a children’s gown of the brightest white cotton over his normal clothing. Frederick winked at Obesia and put his finger to his lips: “ssssh!”
Obesia winked back at him and arranged his gown so that it hung over the sides of the pram. Obesia stood back and looked approvingly at both the brook and pram. She made some adjustments, and then, after a soft “good luck,” she walked to a park bench about forty paces away.
She sat down and waited.
After the rain of the past weeks, the sky was now exceptionally clear. The cold crept in from the fields, and the humidity of the air condensed on her clothing. The moon had risen, it appeared more gigantic and stolid than she could remember. It looked down at the scene with cold white light. The only sound was the water in the brook, as it passed slowly beneath them.
After a while, Obesia noticed that her eyes started to fall shut. She was an early riser, and consequently, this was far beyond her usual bedtime. In all fairness, she also did not expect the monster to appear tonight, on the first night that they tried Frederick’s scheme. It would have been too much of a coincidence. As they had discussed, they would probably have to repeat this exercise several times; and at different locations too. Still, the location was well chosen, if the monster came from the Rhine, and used the water as its route, it would have to pass this exact point. Further out in the plain, the Kraichbach split into many subsidiaries, that either re-united or ran independently into the Rhine.
Obesia fingered under her cape. Two hammers were stuck in the wide pockets, one for each hand. Would Frederick have his knife at hand? Stupid question! Frederick had shown her the large blade, and how swift he was in handling it. No, even though he was in a most dangerous position, she did not fear for the little man.
A lone heron passed by overhead; its head fixed straight towards its unknown destination. Something must have disturbed the bird, as normally they do not travel after nightfall. Had it been a fox or some other creature? Slowly, Obesia nodded off and slumped sideways on the park bench. Time passed.
Suddenly Obesia opened her eyes. She looked straight ahead towards the water. Nothing could be heard, yet something had called her out of her sleep. She closed her eyes to small slits and stayed as still as possible for ten, twenty, thirty seconds. Then a shape became visible, on the bank of the river. A large dark hand clawed in the grass. Obesia froze with fear. The hand didn’t move for a long time, but then, slowly, it dug deeper in the ground, and the arm attached to it drew a large body from the water beneath. Finally, a strong, dripping figure climbed on the bank. It was at most twenty steps away, and directly between her and her pram. The figure, naked and black-green, had a tremendous chest carried by long thin legs. Its arms were long too, and muscular. The creature stared at Obesia with large pale eyes, which blinked irregularly. Large gill-like structures flapped softly on either side of its face.
The monster stood very still, slightly hunched over, and observed her in silence, only the dripping of the water from its skin could be heard. Obesia’s heart started beating even faster. What if the monster would come pounding at her? She would never have sufficient time to pull the two hammers from her gown. Thoughts raced through her mind.
Just then, a baby cried out. The child’s voice, very nearby, surprised Obesia, until she realized that it came from the pram. Frederick! He had imitated a small child’s voice to lure the monster away. Brave man! Immediately, Obesia strengthened the impression that she was asleep by smacking her lips and imitating a big snore, which made her breast visibly rise.
Slowly, the monster turned its head towards the origin of the cry, then back at Obesia… it seemed to be considering its options. Then it began to walk towards the pram, but backward, its eyes and attention still focused on Obesia.
The trick had worked, the water monster had decided that the child would be an easier prey than this gigantic woman.
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“Grandfather, can you tell us a story?” The old man had fallen asleep in his favorite chair, but woke up with a start as his two grandsons entered the room. “Certainly my boys,” he said, and cleared his throat. He pondered the question only shortly. “How about the story of the Naked Truth and the Dressed-up Lie?”
“Huh? the Naked Truth? Did you invent that story, grandfather?”
The old man chuckled. “By Jove, no. This story is as old as the world. After all, in every language the Naked Truth is a well known phrase…” He sighed, and his face darkened. “Although most people wouldn’t recognize the Dressed-up Lie if they walked past him in the street. Well, anyway. Here ‘s the story.”
Many, many years ago, the Truth and the Lie went for a walk in the forest. The two weren’t the greatest of friends, and often they would heatedly debate, but overall they respected each other – the main reason being that the people could easily tell them apart. On this day however, as they walked through the dark forest, the Truth did become slightly nervous, after all, if the two were just alone together, could the Lie still be trusted? But the Lie behaved innocently and happy and exchanged pleasantries as they strolled along. The trees stood very close, and only little sunlight managed to reach the ground. Birds and insects zoomed about, and a deer jumped through the undergrowth, shocked by their presence. “The Truth out for a walk with the Lie. How extraordinary! Let’s hope that things turn our alright,” the deer thought, and disappeared from view.
It was a hot day, and the Truth and the Lie became quite tired and thirsty. Presently the two came upon a beautiful, silent pond, surrounded by wild trees. The water was cool and dark; black almost. The surface of the water was as flat as a mirror and as they stood on its bank, they could look down through the crystal clear liquid, almost to the bottom. Neither fish nor frog disturbed the quiet.
“Let’s go for a swim,” said the Lie. “I am so hot, and the cool water will do us good. Just a quick dip, and then we return home.”
The Truth looked at the Lie, and then at the water, and agreed. “I can see no harm in that,” said the Truth. The Truth stepped behind a tree on the left, and the Lie stepped behind a bush on the right, and they both started to undress.
The Truth was undressed first and slipped into the water, and swam away from the shore. It was truly refreshing. The Truth could feel how the exhaustion disappeared miraculously. The Truth swam from left to right, and right to left and dived down into the depths of the quite water. After surfacing again, the Truth called out: “Hey, Lie, why don’t you jump in as well? The water is fantastic.”
But there was no answer. The Truth called out again, and again, and finally, after looking around whether anyone was there that could be offended by the Truth’s nakedness, the Truth climbed out of the water and searched for the Lie.
But the Lie had disappeared, and so had all their garments. The Truth was very upset. “I should have never believed the Lie! If the Lie says ‘Just a quick dip and then we return home’, the Lie means ‘I won’t take a dip, and you will never get home’! How could I have been so foolish?” The Truth realized that it would need its clothing to survive in the world. And so, the Truth started chasing the Lie, all the while shouting “Help! Help, hold the thief!”
But as always, the Lie was faster, and more inventive, and better at hiding, and the Truth couldn’t catch up. After a while, the Truth, out-of-breath, gave up chasing the Lie.
Evening came, and the Truth finally arrived at a dusty road that ran by the forest. A farmer, with a shovel over his shoulder, came walking towards the Truth. The Truth stepped up to the man and asked: “The Lie has stolen my clothing! Did you see the Lie?” The man turned away in disgust and said: “Bah! The Lie stole your clothing? As if I would believe you! After all, you are completely naked! Disgusting! Go away, go back to the pond in the forest and hide in the water! I don’t want to have anything to do with the Naked Truth.”
And that happened each time the Naked Truth spoke to humans; although they had respected the Truth in the past, they now found the Truth abhorrent and yes… unbelievable.
And so, ashamed and rejected, the Naked Truth had to withdraw into the dark forest and has to spend its time submersed in the deep, black water of the hidden pond. As soon as it attempts to surface, and reveal that it is the Naked Truth, humans will turn away disgusted. The Lie, on the other hand, roams the world dressed up as the Truth, and receives respect… and, yes, even love.