#2 the lion roars

PART 1 – LIQUID PEACE

PART 2 – PATIENT PAPER 

The police station was accommodated in an old building, a school from the 19th century.

It took me three hours to get anywhere near Benny.

They had me fill out seven forms, both sides, all identical. The policeman in charge ripped two forms apart, and I had to start again. “Hand slipped.” His comment slapped my ears. This was nothing but mile high harassment. I knew it. The police man knew it, and I tried not to get too angry.

Then they had me write down what happened from the phone call on, till now.

Time delaying tactics. Maybe they searched and bugged my apartment right about now. They must have turned Benny’s upside down already.

 I tried to remember, if there was anything suspicious in my flat, something that could get me in jail.

Nothing to hide…

No political literature, beside what was permitted and encouraged. Some family photos, but I’m the only one left alive, so no danger on that end. No newspapers or magazines, no radio – lucky me. Only cigarettes, coffee and booze and dirty laundry.

Still, they told me to wait.

On the other side of the dirty window, the sky caught fire on the margins. The sun would be up in less then half an hour. Exhaustion burned under my eyelids, like sand. I attempted to close them, it stung like salt on an open wound. I feared my eyelids wouldn’t go all the way down. I pushed with with my fingertips against them. The burn eased a tiny bit, only to be replaced by headache. Benny mattered now most. As soon as I opened them, the artificial light made them water. I had to focus on Benny.

 From somewhere outside, they dragged Benny in, hands cuffed behind his back. He stumbled forward, face pale and bright and full with terror and relief. He was scared to death. From the stains on his clothes, I could tell he had wet his pants.

This was, what a man on death row looks like. Nausea greeted me. God! I had to push that thought out of my head fast.

At first glance there seemed nothing wrong with him, only a split lip. His wet hair stuck to his sweaty forehead. I was three feet away from him. I could reach out, but I knew better than that.

The uniform holding  his left elbow grunted. “He fell all by himself. Clumsy, like a child.” The other man at his right and the policeman, I gave my forms to, laughed. The smell of ethanol and urine hit me. It was a roaring filthy laugh, a laugh you laugh at a salt covered foaming snail, or at a cringing burning spider.

The man on his left pulled a lighter out of his pocket. Benny whined and jerked back as far as he could. I had to swallow hard, clench my teeth, so no reaction escaped me. The uniform at his right lifted his right elbow, forcing him down. His face got close enough to the flame that he could have breathed it out. He did nothing. He just trembled.

 

Behind me, the slick voice from the telephone harrumphed. The man put away his lighter, and the other uniforms straightened up. Everything went silent.

“So you are friends with Jews and Hungarians, doctor?” That man… The hair on my neck stood on end. Benny’s face fell, he winced. Slowly, I turned around.

The man leaned with his elbow over a filing cabinet, posture most casual. He was bigger than me, wiry stature. He had broad forehead, a long crooked nose, broken once but healed well and bushy brows. His dark eyes seemed to sparkle with mischief.

From the edge of his lips hung a lit cigarette. Ash clung to the paper. His clothes were elegant, no uniform, coat and shoes handmade. He blew smoke through his nostrils right into my face. I didn’t breathe. Manicured hands, I noticed. Nothing cheap about this man, this was no foot soldier. This was someone, a big someone. This was an intelligent, well educated high ranking officer. He smiled a peaceable smile, perfect teeth hid behind his lips.

This man could only mean trouble.

I steadied my voice. “Only this one.” What a stupid thing to say! My head was empty, there was nothing witty to say.

“Your boss says, you are a capable man. A bit soft, but capable nevertheless. We’ll see about that.” He looks at his manicured nails with interest.

He noded a tiny bit, and the men shoved Benny into my back. I felt him bump into me, grab for my jacket and going down unto his knees.

The man chuckled and waved a hand. “So collect your garbage and go.”

Monkey on the Road – tiger, burning… (3)

Part 1 – The Cold Mountain

Part 2- Tea with Jade and Tiger

The silhouette of San Chou gleams between the three green hills of the southern part of the Yellow River. Like a hungry locust reaches a rice paddy, I reach San Chou, five days after Jade, Tiger and I part at my father’s house. My father is Zhang Dee Yang, the most honored governor of Li Jiang. His high hopes are resting on my shoulders. Jade and Tiger, his friends come along to help me complete my mission.

Dressed like a wandering astronomer, nobody takes noticed of me. I merge with the river of craftsmen and farmers going to the Moon Market in the heart of San Chou. I have no troubles at all. The whole village is busy preparing for the Moon Festival anyway, so no one pays attention to the flood of strangers mixing with the villagers on the streets. Children laugh, dogs bark, horses leave their droppings everywhere. Life pulsates in this seemingly happy village. Nobody knows, that it’s rotting  from the inside, with the poison of the infamous Black Viper, a gang of thieves and murderers.

In the first hostel at the outskirts of the village, I ask for martial arts schools. San Chou has three, the owner tells me. He smiles a polite but expectant smile, so I buy a pork bun and a hot cup of tea.

That’s a start!  The whole way to the village I muse how to infiltrate the Band of The Black Viper. I will find  some shady characters and tell them good fortune, let slip, that danger is around the corner. A big black snake ready to bite them. I will observe very carefully.  I know where to look for shady characters… “If you look for trouble, search for the troublemakers.” That is what my master in the Monastery says. Martial arts scholars have a clear stroke of trouble on them, no doubt about it.

I’m one of those trouble makers indeed. Before my father sent me to Mount Shongshan, I was a no-good, lazy boy, bound to destroy myself and my foster family. I knew nothing.

The memories of my training well up in my heart. I sip the tea and smile at the years on Mount Shongshan. The wise monks were firm, never allowing anger, fear or joy in their scholars. I cannot imagine that my dear teachers were ever able to giggle, to burst into a fit of laughter or shout at someone. The tea tastes mild and refreshing, I bite the soft bun.  The taste of it’s dough fills my mouth. The spicy pork meat swipes away the gentle sweetness around it. What an excellent bun! I think of the constant hunger and the countless hours of hard work and pain in the Monastery, to school my mind. “Character is the silver you get, when you refine the rocks from the mine.” My foster father says, before he sends me away. The last thing he says to an angry little boy, who just stole the horse of a drunken soldier. The horse, he had to kill and replace, because I made it fall and it broke one of it’s legs… I did not know, what he meant with his farewell words. Years later, my master completed what I could not understand with my angry blazing heart. “But first, you have to crush them, then heat them, so they lose their stubborn efforts to cling to their habit of being rocks…”

Master is right, I decide. Troubled souls have an affinity to martial arts. They are attracted to what they think of as an act of violence, like moths to the fire.

The owner of the hostel comes to refill my cup. I ask him for a room, for the duration of the Festival. He seems happy, and he shows me into a tiny room under the roof. “Three days in advance.” He smiles bowing deeply, and I pay making a sour face. He will get greedy, if I do not show, that the two wen he wants hurt my moneybag. Downstairs, I take two more pork buns. I have to take a look around the village.

A little boy, not more than three summers, squats at the entrance of the hostel and looks quizzically at me. Snot runs down his dirty round face, and he sweeps it away with the back of his puffy hand. I give him a bun. His little moonface brightens up, he bites a mouthful, barely able to close his lips, or chew. “Is this what father saw in me? A hungry little runt? Was it pity?” He shoots up to his feet, suddenly with a troubled look. Fear crawls over his smooth forehead, fear that I might change my mind and take back his tasty treasure. With a shriek around the mouthful of bun he runs. My gaze follows the boy running as fast as his tiny feet carry him. He disappears in the shadows between two huts on the other side of the street. At least he isn’t hungry anymore, and nobody else needs to pity him for today.

“You have a good heart, I can tell.” Behind me a boy tugs at my sleeve. “But you are a stranger here, I can tell that too.” I turn around and look at him, eight summers, maybe nine. He is thin, hungry too, not fitting his clothes. He is, what I need.

I will pay the boy three wen to show me around. One coin for each school. I will give him another, for food. San, my guide, walks with me towards the heart of the village. He does not question anything I say to him. He seems to know everybody around… He must be a beggar of some sort. Tiger and Jade are nowhere to be seen, so I start my observations and take notes. San is explaining everything to me. Each school has one active teacher, and one older master. The number of scholars are variable. Southern Fist has eleven boys, Wing Chun has fifteen and Northern Legs has seven.

I try to remember every scholar entering and leaving the school. It is most likely, that the criminals have some sort of training. I will have to ask the masters for drop-outs without attracting too much attention… Or maybe I will ask San, he seems to know a lot about the people living here.

After that, I check the administration. From the outside it looks fine. I send San away with four wens, and make him promise not to steal for today and to hide his coins from the elder boys. “You may come back to the hostel tomorrow.” I tell him, seeing his sparkling eyes. “I might have work for you.” I lie.

Then. I catch a glimpse of Tiger. San sees me. He sees Tiger. I shoo him away. Tiger leans at the garden wall of a house nearby, in a beam of sunlight and throws me a disgusted look.

Where is Jade?  That smile… My stomach falls. Is she in trouble, and Tiger plots something to get her out? Inside me things add up in a bad way. I have to check for myself.

I have a brilliant idea! I go to the entrance of the administration and knock at the door. Truth is a tool, as much as lies and betrayal are.

A soldier lets me in, and I demand to see the high official. The courtyard of the administration is tidy. Busy officials rush from the entrance to the house. The soldiers guarding the house look sharp. They notice every tiny movement. So far so good, I tell myself.

The soldier leads me to a wooden door at the northern side of the building. I’m shown into a small dark room, with one chair and one table. After a minute, a thin old man comes in. His feet shuffle him forward, a cane supporting his unsteady steps. His clothes are richly embroiled. His hat marks him as a high ranking official.

As he sits down, he nods and flashes his complete set of teeth. Only as he indicates with his hand, I start speaking: “My Lord. I am a wandering scholar, an astronomer. I’m here to warn you. A man I noticed on the other side of the street is spying out the administration.” The man shows no reaction. Odd. Maybe, if I speak louder. “I know him from my hostel, where I made a horoscope for him. A truly dangerous and brutal man.” I try and bow slightly in front of him. He indicates me to stop, stands up and shuffles out of the room. Surely, to check my claims. Or…

Four soldiers barge in. Swords drawn. All pointing at me. The man comes back in, with a most satisfied smile.  “So we caught you, Monkey!” He barks a little laugh, and turn towards someone outside. “Call Miss Jade.” This is not how I planned it. “You’ll see that our prisons are as comfortable, as the ones in Li Jiang.” He points his bony index at me and grins.

Love, isn’t it?

All deadly things possess cruel beauty.

For soul, a hungry fire, consuming duty-

for eyes, charcoal and diamonds,

for voice, a guttural growl, then silence.

For skin, a hot summer night ‘n bright stars.

Light headed music oozing from cheap bars…

All deadly things possess magnetic pull.

You bite trouble, poison just a mouthful,

better you nibble, or lick…. Kiss! Try’n inhale.

Immune to that rush? Don’t worry, you’ll fail.

Tingling under your fingers, a nervous tic,

Lips on lips, teeth meeting with a click…

All deadly things make you sincere…

So greedy, so wolfish, so ready to disappear.

The Goblet of Lost Chicago

a Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenge - here

The shopwindow was white. It kept snowing. Wouldn’t stop anytime soon. I had to clean it away as fast as possible. Long time since I saw anything else than winter. Actually it’s been snowing nearly daily since the …thing. And the thing was a freak weather event, that’s what the telly said.

Some months ago I met an actual meteorologist. He said, it was an unnatural event, with it’s center above the North Atlantic Ocean, somewhere between Greenland and Canada. He was on his way up there, to see with his own eyes. Babbled something about a military experiment – a great heap of steaming nonsense, but he was a customer.

He bought a great deal of ropes and alpine gear from me, some supplies too. He asked about dogsleds, so I pointed him to Charlie, in Egg Harbor. Left me a lot of money  and propane coupons, good for three months. Mary was delighted with the coupons, but she had to go shopping with the money right away. One day, we waited too long and we could  only buy half of the goods we could have, the day before. A mistake not to happen twice.

So while Mary went shopping, I went to meet Charlie and Walt. We had a private little business to keep our supplies stocked. Walt got in some great loot. We won’t have problems for the coming half year.

cold ‘n’ empty

  • content warning (language, violence)

You are in serious trouble, when you are on foot and heading to the meanest part of town.

Blue Hill, the dangerous. Not one day without headlines of murder and mugging in Blue Hill, the bellybutton of mayhem. The tabloids are full with that kind of crap.

Well, it’s not that they aren’t right… They certainly are, but that doesn’t even scratch the surface.

And you are the one who knows that, far too well.

You were born there. And you worked your ass off, just to get out of there, to get good grades, a good job, a good life… A future…

But now? Your future, your dream is to be taken away? Just because some old fart is too narrow minded?  

You know that a gigantic mountain of shit is coming for you. You can smell it. It comes down your alley, to drown you, to put you in cuffs and throw you in jail for the rest of your days.

But you’ll have none of that.

It’s just bad luck, that’s all. Anybody could fall for that, you tell yourself.

There is no other way out, and you thought that through. Here you are, far past the point you could have turned things around. Just fix your eyes the future now you’re probably never have.

Nevertheless, here you are, on your way, voluntarily, at 3 o’clock in the morning, in the middle of the worst winter since God knows when.

Nasty detail, you have an appointment with a shady brute, called Pitbull Joe. Even more, you have an envelope with ten thousand Euros hidden in your jacket, just for that short sweaty bastard. 

You fucked up big time, when you are about to pay a man handsomely to kill your fiancee’s filthy rich dad.

At least it’s not snowing anymore, you tell yourself and pull your cap deeper. The icy wind finds its way into your sleeves as you pop your collar up.

Your hands shake. You notice, as you light another cig.

It’s the cold and the exhaustion, you tell yourself.

A lie.

Is it the fifth, or the eights? How stupid, you lost count already. „Not good with those numbers.“

Your voice cracks in the dimly lit street. No one hears you. „Such a mess!“ You don’t sound like yourself tonight.

Nevermind, everything will turn out just fine, you keep telling yourself. „Just once!“ You’ll be a lucky man, killing two birds with one stone.

The snow crunches under you boots. You listen to your own steps gnawing away the remaining road to Blue Hill Park and White Church. Only down the street, you can see the towering big trees.

There is one bright spot, Pitbull Joe was right. One streetlamp is lit. That marks the spot, is what he said. The brand new looking white Hummer parked nearby looks too convenient to be there on coincidence.

You stand there, alone at the intersection, not decided what to do. Your body wants to be elsewhere. Badly. Your mouth goes dry, you swallow hard. No turning back.

The car door at the back opens. A big man heaves himself outta there. A muscle man. Then Joe hops out of the Hummer. A white pit bull shoots past his legs, right towards you. Involuntary your body takes a step back. Bad move, you tell yourself. You will yourself forward. One step, then another. The pit bull stops abruptly at a short whistle. It plunks its butt into the snow, observing you, chipped ears pointing up. It looks at you like you’re a squirrel. You look over its head at the grinning short man.

„One word from me, he tears you to shreds.“ He laughs.  No, that’s something to impress junkies or whores, not you.

It’s your luck that Joe has no idea who you are. More precisely, who you were in another lifetime. Now, you look like a presentable part of society, with a nice job and good income.

„You’re wasting my time. I’m here for business.“ You tell loud enough to sound sharp and angry, but not loud enough to yell. His smile freezes. Joe looks at his companion, and shakes his head.

„Are you on your period, or what? Teach him a lesson!“ He points at you, then he turns back at you with a slick grin. „You want something from me. Remember?“

The muscle man, reaches you before you decide which way to jump. He grabs you by your collar and slams his huge fist into your stomach. Thank god you didn’t eat. Your guts feel like huge knot, pulling your knees to your chest. You lean into the muscle man’s grab for support. Pull yourself together! The ground is not your friend! Hot sour saliva drops on your expensive shoes and jeans. Your lungs refuse to let in any air. You cough. Nothing much your confused muscles could do. Somehow you keep steady, on your own legs.

„Now, that we’ve established that, let’s get to business,“ Joe says.

Still you can’t stand fully upright, as you want to, one hand clutches at the revolting guts. Pull a pokerface, things go as planned. And you did expect Joe to show off. Just keep him thinking you’re a rich spoiled brat with no dirty tricks up your sleeve. That’ll make him careless.

„I’ve got what you asked for,“ you rasp into the cold air. The vapor clouds you exhale do not dissolve. You sound miserable enough, Joe comes closer to you, grinning.

„Give.“ Joe commands. You pull the zipper of your jacket down, and take out the thick brown envelope you had in your breast pocket. You give it to him.

He opens it and pulls out the photos. Your fiancee’s dad, your father-in-law to be is smiling happily with his second wife from the pic. His home and work addresses, car types and plate numbers are printed on a paper you clipped to the photo, as well as his timetable for the coming two weeks. All the stuff you know off.

Joe looks at you. „So you want him dead.“ You nod. „He looks rich.“ You nod again. „Why do you think ten thousand are enough?“ You waited for that one. And you have the perfect answer for a scum like him. „He keeps plenty of cash at home, has paintings, and his wife has lots of nice jewels, plus the cars. You break in, when he’s at home, and kill two bird with one stone. Take what you like. I don’t care.“ You point at the photo. „Thirty thousand at home, fifty thousand at work, cash. You just have to reach out and take it. And while at it, take his life too.“

Joe squints at you. „What’s in for you?“ He asks.

„I’m taking over his company. He tried to ruin me. He has to pay.“ That seems to satisfy Joe. You didn’t exactly lie, you just didn’t tell the whole story.

„Keep watching the news.“ Joe waves at the muscle man and he lets go of you. The dog follows them as he whistles. The door of the Hummer closes and the engine comes to life. The car speeds away, down the empty road. You watch the rear lights disappear in the distance.

It’s time to go home. You’re tired. Your eyes burn. You feel cold and empty.

Your stomach still hurts. Blue Hill is a draining place.

A vacation will do you good, somewhere warm. Yes.

You’ll go on a nice three week vacation with your fiancee. Hawaii, or Maldive Islands. You have the wedding ring you bought the other day in your pocket.

You’re going to ask her, when she least expects it.

And then you are going to be a good husband and comfort her, help her over her loss.

The Stain

It even threw my shadow in front of me. „Don’t look back!“ I told myself. Whatever that was, I mustn’t look back.

My fingers stretched forward. Finally I could feel and grab a piece of rectangular wood and carpet. The open door! I had reached it! The strange glow faded rapidly.

I pulled myself up, clutching at the doorframe. Clouds of breath vapor puffed fast into the darkness of the house. „Stand up!“ I commandeered myself. My bad knee throbbed, it wouldn’t stretch properly. But I got up, anyway.

The wind had blown in enough snow, that it blocked the door, no thought on moving it. I propped my back against the hallway wall, swept off the framed family photo. My numbed muscles didn’t move. I reached after it, but was too slow. It fell to the ground.

The sound of shattered glass ripped the silence. No! Curled fingers hovered over broken Maria and Amy. Too late. Again! They gazed up to me, their eyes pierced me between the cracks in the glass. I felt pinned in place. They kept smiling happily. That smile… They were my last link to a better world, to a good and bright place, where things worked out just fine. Hadn’t I atoned? How much longer?

Something cracked. Their smiles tortured me, mocked me… But that wasn’t their fault, not at all… Only mine alone.

The shape of my daughter fogged up in the entrance. She materialized straight from the white wind gusts. Someone inhaled sharply. Everything was right again, back to normal, back to perfect. It was the little girl I saw earlier through the window. She was my Amy again.

Daddy?“ She stood in the doorway, scared. A betrayed expression crawled over her face. As if I had taken her favorite plushy away, and have been waving it in front of her, out of reach. „Daddy? Are you mad?“ Her wary words trembled over to me. She was honestly hurt, and about to cry. I knew that face, the way her chin and lower lip quivered.

What are you?“ I shouted, not sure I wanted to know. „What the hell are you?“ There was no answer to that. No answer she could give. Amy held her arms out, wanted me to pick her up. I was a real jerk, asking such stupid questions. How cruel from me, showing her my fear and hate — to a child! When did I start venting on my child? What was wrong with me? I’d never do that, at least I thought I’d never do that.

But she wasn’t my baby girl, was she?

She was something else. But did that make her less of a child? Amy grimaced, big tears formed clinging to her lashes. No. She was a nearly my baby girl. I knew, if she started crying, she wouldn’t be able to stop. She’d get those red spots all over her face and neck and hands, and she’d keep sobbing for hours. Like her mommy used to, when she got upset.

Daddy? Up! Up, up.“ She demanded a bit more urgent. „Pwease?“ I took a step forward to her. Couldn’t stop myself. I didn’t want to. „Pweeeease?“ Come on, old man, pull yourself together!

Are you… Amy?“ I asked carefully. Say something else! She nodded so eagerly, that her beanie almost came down. How strange… My hands shook, my knees almost gave out under me. Where did this feeling come from? A warmness spread from my navel to my back, leaving me without strength. She beamed up at me with her dark eyes. They glowed with a soft fire. „Are you really my baby girl?

Mhm.“ She smiled wholeheartedly. She believed it. I was her father. I wanted to believe it too.

That was crazy! But she was so real. On my doorstep, she stood there, wanting to be held. Like any other little girl would want to be held by her daddy.

Amy from the photos wasn’t here, Maria wasn’t here either. My wife would think I was crazy… And maybe I was. Even considering something this twisted…

I kept thinking, that I had gotten a second chance. That this time, everything was going to be okay. I’d take good care of her, I’d protect her, no matter what. I surprised myself by taking another step forward.

Should I hold back? Should I run? Where to? And why? I didn’t wanted to. Not anymore… I let my body do, what it longed for. I picked Amy up. She had the same weight, as the last time I held her.

My Amy! My other Amy, my second Amy. Her innocent child smell hit me. Crayons, cookies and strawberries. I’d never want to miss that again. My knees trembled a bit, butterflies fluttered in my stomach. This time I was going to be a proper father.

Are you hungry, baby?“ She nodded and sighed with relief. „What do you want to eat?“ There had to be pancakes dough somewhere in the cupboards. „I can make us some pancakes with syrup and chocolate chips. How’d you like that?

She hugged my neck and gave me a big wet smooch on my cheek. „You’re the bestest daddy in the woods.“ I smiled.

Something bright and warm whirled in my chest. 

I — I thought, this time…

I could be happy.

the stain

Someone bent up my fingers, my arms, unwrapped me from Amy’s little broken body. The doctor talked to me. I saw his mouth move. Never heard a sound though.

His rubber gloved hand unwrapped the quilt. I saw what I had wrapped up, what I held in my arms.

That wasn’t my Amy any more.

No… It was…

A bloody rag doll. I couldn’t peel off my eyes from the deformed head, the blue eyes staring to the left and the right, at the same time. Not my Amy!

They told me that I screamed and howled. They made me stop, by sticking a needle into my arm, sending me spiraling into unconsciousness.

Bang.

My arms flew up. Must’ve dozed off.

Bang!

What was that? 

Something hit the window. I blinked. A bird? A snowball? My tongue felt fuzzy, stuck to my palate. It was much darker now.

I should have a look. If it was a bear going through my trash can, or a puma? I had to deal with that. Where did I put the shotgun? Was it even loaded? Ammo was somewhere in the kitchen.

The hard labor of standing up started, and the quilt slit down to the carpet. I put the empty bottle on the table.

The dim light shining in, outlined the furniture. It was enough so I wouldn’t bump into them on my way to the window. I stood there for a while, had to steady my spinning head, or was it my racing heart. I couldn’t tell the difference anymore?

As the world stopped moving, I hobbled towards the window. I took me some time to reach the curtains.

Nobody outside, just the pale blueish gray cover over everything I knew. No tracks visible.

BANG!

From somewhere on the left a snowball slammed against the glass. „Whoa!“ It spooked me.

Caught myself on a fistful of the fabric hanging near me, nearly keeled backwards. The curtain tore. A heatwave rolled over me, from scalp to toe. My knees wobbled a bit more, but I stood again, fairly secure. I peeked out. Something moved. Then I saw it.

And what I saw, made me sober the instant. I held my breath.

„Daadddy!“ Amy’s voice rang clearly in my ears. „Come outside, daaady!“ She danced around in the snow, her blanky around her shoulders, her pink beanie on top of her head. „Let’s play!“ My tongue hurt. I wanted to scream, but the words were glued somewhere in the back of my dry throat. How was this possible?

Everything was right. Was that really my baby? Her blonde piggy tails swooped up and down as she hopped around.

„I wuv you!“ She pulled my heart strings. It stung and burnt. As if she knew, what I longed for, she blew me kisses. Then she started to sing the princess in the woods. The window was cold to my touch. It fogged up around my fingertips.

She was still there, dancing and singing. „Snowman, daddy. Snowman!“ She cheered and beamed up to me.

„I’m coming!“ I wanted to scream. Amy! My little darling is back! Ugly noises left my throat instead. The backyard blurred and swam. Something warm ran down my cheeks. She started to form a big snowball, stretching out her little tongue, like she used to, when she was concentrating really hard. I sobbed. „AMY!“ She giggled and waved for me to come outside. „I’m coming,“ I gestured her. „I’m coming!“ As fast as I could, I hobbled towards the entrance door.

„Please be there, please be there. Please…“ I begged and closed my eyes. My hand tore the door open, felt snowflakes landing on my hand, my face, my toe. Bone chilling cold greeted me, but I didn’t care. My eyes flew open.

„Oh, Amy!“ She stood there, waiting for me, only a few steps distance between us. „Amy! Baby! Where have you been? I was looking for you all over.“ She shrugged, like little children do, with all of her body. Embarrassed she pointed behind her, then to herself. „You were in the woods?“ I asked, barely believing it. She nodded happily.

Have I been looking on the wrong place? Was she there all along waiting for me?

Amy cocked her little head, as if catching to my thought. „Yes, daddy.“ She pulled her shoulders up. „I was waiting for you. But you didn’t come. And I was really tired and you had a piece of wooden doll in your arms, and you and mommy… You cried a lot. And I was scared, that you be mad, if I come out now.“ How could I be angry at my little baby?

I threw my legs out. Long eager steps took me towards my little darling. I closed the distance between us, arms stretched out for a hug. The snow melted under my feet, my socks were wet and I fell to my knees before Amy, but this time it didn’t hurt. I could move without effort. Snowflakes landed on my neck.

I embraced Amy, sucked in the air around her. She smelled like children ought to. She smelled of cookies, crayons and strawberry shampoo. And smoke? My arms remembered her body and welcomed it with force. I couldn’t hold back, I tugged her close and squeezed. „Oh, Amy. Amyamyamy. I worried sick, baby.“ Those words disappeared in her blanky, in her piggy tails and mittens.

„Shhh, daddy.“ Her voice was dripping in my ear. „It’s okay. Don’t cry.“ Her tiny hand petted the back of my skull. It felt like heaven. I had her back, back in my arms. I’d never let go again. Never!

„It’s okay, daddy.“ Her voice buzzed with distortion for a moment. „I stay.“ No, that was only my imagination. „Forever.“ That voice!

I yanked my head back to look at Amy’s perfect little face. Everything was like I remembered. Big brown eyes, little nose and a small mouth with full soft lips, pink cheeks. Where did that voice come from, then? „Was that you, baby?“ I asked her. She stared into my face. I couldn’t read  anything in it. Something was different, though. I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Her eyes! I remembered them clearly. Why did I notice just now?

They have been blue two years ago, but they were dark now. How was that possible? Eye colors did not… Change?

Her tiny mouth twitched and stretched into a sick grin. Her eyes glistened. Like the eyes of a rat. They went all black, tuned to some otherworldly channel. I swallowed. „Amy? Baby?“ I didn’t sound like me. „Are you okay?“ Her eyes bulged. „AMY?“ No!

The distorted voice answered with my daughter’s mouth. „Amy isn’t here, daddy.“ The grin widened to full teeth. There were too many teeth in that mouth! „What’s wrong, daddy?“ Oh, God! „Don’t you wuv me?“ No! I pulled back, but lost my balance. The icy sensation burned on my back. The snow was powdery, slipping into every wrinkle of my pullover and pants. „You wuv’ me now, daddy?“ I gasped.

The wind picked up. Its force bent the firs. They squealed and groaned. The gust swept over the roof, whooshed ice crystals into my face, into my eyes. It stung, like pins and needles. I couldn’t see.

My legs numbed, didn’t move at all. My hands trembled towards my baby. That was impossible! That mouth stretched beyond its anatomical possibilities. I saw so much more than her pink gum and the too many teeth. I saw bone and working muscles. „NO!“ She chuckled, as I scurried towards the house on an all four. The wind stuffed my mouth with tiny ice shards. She danced around me, singing the princess in the wood, with my Amy’s voice.

That thing wasn’t my daughter! It was something… else. I saw something pink reach into the furious white gusts, she giggled. Oh, God! „You are not my Amy!“ I screamed into the howling sound around me. It wiped all silhouettes away, replaced it with a wall of white. Sick laughter reached me, the kind of psycho laughter you don’t want to hear from a four year old. Never from your own four year old. „Are you scared, daddy?“ She buzzed, „let’s play!“

The way she said, „daddy,“ chilled my blood. The voice was deep and guttural. The hair on my neck stood on end. Where was the gun? I had to get the gun.

The thing, that looked like Amy, screeched. I caught a whiff of smoke and strawberries. Somewhere ahead, only a few steps away, there had to be my house, entrance door still open. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t see it.

„Come on, old man. Keep moving!“ I cheered on. „Get back to the house.“ More laughter drifted to me, over the wind gusts. The ice whooshing past my face glistened, reflecting some soft light. I stopped. There was something bright behind me.