Sep 1, 2023

In the shell

A short winter's day, one of those days when it never brightens up properly, neither light nor dark, from morning till night only gray.
I go to work in the dark and come back in the dark. I don't mind. In a month the sun will beat on my window and wake me up before the alarm does. In two months, I'll wake up every day in a puddle of sweat choking with the heat. I don't mind dreary weather, I prefer it, as it leaves me alone. 
I reach home but before I drag myself inside, I take a look at my plants on the windowsill. They are dark green and have no flowers, at this point they look more like weeds, but I don't care. My apartment has the only bit of color in all this gray. Hmm, well that's not true, a few floors above someone is drying their undies and a handful of socks. Decolored rags flapping in the humid evening air. Feeling queasy, I get inside.
I go upstairs and turn the stove on to warm my bones a bit with the evening meal. I catch someone with the corner of my eye. A man is standing outside looking like a gopher with his neck stretched out. He's studying something, I can't figure out what. He stands in the shadows and stares intently at something then scurries away. This insignificant event would have floated away from my attention never to bother me again, but the next day while having dinner I saw him again. And the next day after that.
The sight of the curious man has become routine. Day after day, I get home, I peek out and he's there, standing in the dark, in front of the apartment building, looking at my window. He comes, takes a look and leaves. I don't know what he wants, I don't know what he's looking for, what he's inspecting, but day after day he's there, he takes his fancy and leaves.
When I come back from work, I hang around a bit to see what's so damn fascinating. Nothing. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong place.
He can't see anything inside, with the blinds drawn there's nothing to see. I give up and spend a few minutes admiring the plants on the windowsill. It's easier to get the big picture from the outside. One needs to be turned and another moved a bit to the left, but it's mostly fine. There might be room for one more.
For a moment I think, maybe that's what he's doing, coming and looking at the flowers. He could be a neighbor. Maybe he's looking at the plants and he's thinking about getting his own. He probably hates them. These thoughts pass quickly. Lonely people make up stories to keep from getting bored.
I get in the apartment, pull the blinds. I stand behind them with the light turned off and watch him through the slits as he stands there looking up. He's standing next to a lamppost that hasn't worked in the 9 years I've lived here. I can only see his outline, but he's standing there in front of my apartment in the dark looking at me. We just sit like a pair of nitwits looking at each other without seeing each other.
What does this man want from me? Should I just go downstairs, and see what he wants, what he's looking at? 
Do I sound like a crazy person? Isn't he allowed to look? It's not my street, is it? It's not like I own the building. I bet that's what he'd say to me, "Get the hell out of my face! A man can't just sit in the street for two minutes, he must be watching you?!".
Writing scenarios in your head is the ballad of the bored man. I suffer from "scenarioitis" at work and now I'm having fun with it at home, great. No point in thinking about it, I wouldn't have anything to say to the bastard anyway.
I spend some money on thicker curtains, I used to just pull the blinds, but that is not enough anymore. I bought a curtain with thick fabric to hide behind.
A morbid idea creeps into my head: "What if he’s trying to steal from me... or worse?". What if he comes around every day and checks up on me? He checks when I am home and when I'm not. Making little notes: he's late today, this is his day off.
I go to bed with that thought in my head. I wake up groggy like I heard something. I grope in the dark, reach for the door, pull the knob, but it's locked. I go back to bed, but I gotta get up again, to check if I left the window open. It's the second floor, but I still think someone could climb in. Isn’t that ridiculous?
If he follows me, I can follow him. As soon as I get home, I sit at the window and wait for him to come around.
He usually doesn't stay long, there are days when he just pauses a bit by the lamppost and moves on. To me, it looks like he's going to the main entrance. He could also go around the building, in the back towards the canal.
There's an encased river with putrid water in the back. He would have to swim it if he wanted to get across, the footbridge is a damn long way. People don't walk there because of the smell, but what do I know, maybe he does canal work.
If he comes into the building, he’s my neighbor. Problem is, I don't know any of them. I don't bother them, and they leave me alone, that’s fine with me. 9 years in this building and I only know the name of that finicky old lady that makes sure we all pay up the maintenance fee. Hmm, she would know him.
If he has a problem with me, he should just come and tell me! What? Do I turn on the washing machine at 5 am? Do I bang the chairs in the kitchen? Do I spill water over his windows when I water my plants? Anything? Just tell me! Eh, it doesn't matter, if he's from the building and just likes to sneer at my window, screw him. 
Ahh! But why doesn't he just come and tell me what the problem is?
Another day goes by, and I buy some drapes. They're thick, almost as thick as a blanket, the darkest ones I could find, a dark brown.
- 1 -
I come home, turn on the TV and forget for a few minutes. I allow myself to think that he didn't even come today, that it's all in my head, that I've imagined it. For a moment I believe it. I come to decide, that the man can't be down there anymore, he just can't. I peek out just a little to check, a little check can't hurt.
I reach behind the curtain, gently pull it aside and lift the slat of a blind with one finger. Slowly, imperceptibly, I lift it. I let my eyes adjust to the darkness and finally, I see him. He's dirty but his eyes shine with the low light. As I begin to see better, I realize something is wrong. He's looking at me, but he's lying on the ground. He tries to get up but can’t. He gives me a little nod and opens his mouth, I think he's trying to say something. Why is he lying on the ground? Did he faint, is he drunk? Something's wrong, something's happened, clearly, something's happened to him. Shit, this is all I needed.
Maybe he got dizzy, fell, and hurt himself. I should just let him lie there. He deserves it. I spin, I squirm, and I finally decide to get down, what if he needs an ambulance? 
- 2 -
I dress in a hurry and go down the two flights of stairs to check on the man. I feel like the steps are slipping out from under my feet. My heart beats like a drum in my ears, but I try to calm down.
I need to make a plan. First, I’ll ask him if he needs an ambulance. Maybe he had a heart attack? Well, come on, not everything requires an ambulance. Maybe he just tripped in the bloody dark. Did he twist his ankle? Maybe he just needs someone to pick him up. I can see it now, he's just some old guy from the building and I end up helping him get back to his apartment. I might even get him a glass of water. Okay, that's fine, and then I'll ask him what’s with all the rubbernecking.
Shit, he won't be in the mood for that. The man's lying on the ground, and I come in with the 3rd degree.
I get downstairs, I don't see anything. He's disappeared without a trace. It's too dark to see anything. Maybe he crawled off somewhere. I'm groping around, he can't have gone far. This is so stupid! I can't search the whole neighborhood like this.
I trip over a brick, pick it up from the ground, and casually glance toward my apartment. I freeze. Someone's in my house. He's looking through the blinds at me. The light is on, and I can make out the outline, I can see his eyes. It's the dying man. He's climbed up to my apartment and now he's staring down at me in crowning glory. This must be a joke. The scumbag tricked me, he only wanted to get me out, and I like a moron, like a dimwit, like an absolute cretin, left the door open.
I'm an idiot. A thief stalks me day after day, and I just walk out of the house and leave the door open? "But please, come in."
I should have figured it out. He knew I could see him, of course he did, and instead of busting my door like some yobo, he tried his little maneuver. And what do you know he just ran into the last imbecile on earth, and it all worked out.
- 3 -
I make a run for the apartment; in the dim light of the entrance, I can see the brick I grabbed from the ground better. It's a full brick, baked, red, and wet. It's old, you can tell it's been sitting in a sunny wall for years. Yeah, they don't make bricks like this anymore, I bet I could smash rocks with one of these. I decide to take it with me, so I'll have something to defend myself when I get upstairs.
I run up with bated breath, climbing 2-3 steps at a time just to catch the bastard.
I open the door and yell, "Get out!". Can you believe the scumbag doesn't even answer? I go in and get ready to hit him with the brick. Who the hell does he think he is, coming into my home!?
I search everywhere and again nothing, no trace. I take turns looking in the kitchen, the balcony, and the bathroom, he's gone. I look dubiously at the closets where he might be hiding, I pull them open. I open the drawer where I keep my money, it's okay. I walk around the apartment and I don't think anything's missing. If he's taken anything, it's nothing conspicuous.
Is this lunatic playing with me? Why did he come into my house? To show me he can get in? Unless...
I approach the window cautiously. I poke my head through a corner of the drape, snake-like, and as lightly as I can, I push aside a patch of curtain and fit my eye between two blades of the blind. Is he there?!
The asshole is downstairs, safe and sound. How on earth?! He sees me and raises a hand out of the gloom. The bastard! He waves at me to come down. Is he fucking kidding me?! He comes in and out of my house, and now this? Is he playing with me? Does he think I can't catch him?
How did he get past me? He didn't come up the front, that's how I got down. Either he went around and up the back stairs or climbed up the building. Ohh, he just climbed the wall to the second floor? I must be losing my mind.
The apartments are aligned along a hallway flanked at the ends by stairs. One leads to the front entrance and the other to the rear exit. I came down on the front stairs, he came up the back, that's what happened. That's okay, I can do that too. I will take the back stairs, if I catch him there, I'll smack him in the head, if I catch him outside, I'll smack him in the head. A win-win scenario. The son of a bitch won't get away.
- 4 -
Almost no one takes the back stairs. If you get out that way, you'll just find the metal carpet beater and the canal, that's it.
I go out the back, around the building, and what do you know, our man is indeed downstairs. The stinking asshole stands guarding the main exit. I can't believe it; he's waiting for me. I approach him gingerly, feeling a rush of blood go to my head. He can't hear me, at least I don't think he can, and I can only hear my heartbeat thumping in my ears. I'm 20 paces away, I swallow dryly. To get closer, I step onto the grass. Creeping, 10 steps, he's almost motionless, looking up, offering me the top of his head on a platter. He wants me to hit him on that bald spot! There's a breeze blowing from his side, and I can smell something awful, this incredible stench coming from him. Something sappy seems to ooze down his body. I feel a vein pulsing frantically on my temple. This is the moment I've been waiting for. I squeeze the brick so hard that my fingers turn white. I'm so close I can see a muscle quivering on his throat. He's about to turn!
I can't get any closer. This is it! I throw the brick at my stalker's head, and that's enough. A terrible sound. He doesn't get to turn around. He falls face down. I take a step back and feel a sort of relaxation, a softness, pass over me. I did it. The angst I felt for days is gone.
The tightness has disappeared, it’s been replaced by torpor, I feel hot, I breathe heavily, I'm suffocating. I begin to realize the enormity of what I've done. Tension gives way to trembling, I get cold and hot. I can't sit still, I'm shivering. What's next?
What if someone saw me? I am so fucked. I can't stay here. Someone will definitely see me if I stay! I back up slowly and go back the way I came, after all, no one uses the back stairs.
- 5 -
I hide in the stairwell and listen. The whole city block is dead at this hour, it's perfectly quiet. It's so quiet I can hear my breath like a blizzard coming from inside my chest. I must calm down. Strange echoes come up the unlit stairs. Each breath sticks and multiplies on the walls. I cut my breath in half and listen. No, there's no one there, I only hear myself. 
It's stupid to wait any longer, I either run back to the apartment and pray some old hag doesn't notice me, or I go back and somehow deal with the body.
One plus one makes two, I can't leave him on the street. How stupid can you be, the cops will come, idiot! Did I leave a track? Fingerprints on the brick? Shoe prints in the grass? If I leave him there, they'll come, they'll interview all the tenants, they'll investigate. They'll see what state I'm in and they'll figure it out. Even if nobody saw me, even if they have no proof, they'll still sit with me, in a dark little room, until I tell them something, and then ... everything. But if I get him out of there, no one will come, no one will call the police.
I need to get rid of the body, at least move him from the front of the building; buy myself some time.
I gather up my courage and turn back. I go out the back, creep around the building, careful to stick to the shadows. I step timidly on the ground; I can’t leave a trace. Shit, they will find something no matter what I do. I can't give them any reason to look for evidence here.
I find him face up. I foolishly think maybe he's okay, maybe I didn't hit him so hard. He looks like he's sleeping, his eyes are closed, and his face is dirty. His nose is broken, and blood is coming out of it. It takes me a moment to recognize him. In the dark, lying on the ground is a man who looks exactly like me. If I get past his general dirtiness, he could be my brother, he could be my twin. Even the clothes on his back are identical to mine. What the hell?
I try to take his head in my hands, I feel it soft where it should be hard. I feel his hair wet and greasy. His skull is crushed. The twin, the clone, whatever he is, must be dead. I don't have time to think about all this. I must get him out of here before someone sees us. I grab him by the arm as I would a drunk friend and drag him to the back of the apartment complex.
The eminent danger has passed, no one walks next to this stinking canal, but I can't leave him here. The canal is the only solution. I'll dump him in the canal and the water will do the rest.
I take him down to the river and dump him. What a surprise! The corpse drops and sits neatly on the concrete bank, with no intention of rolling down to the water. I jump after him on the slanted concrete and carry him in my arms. I carry him into the stinking water, just to be sure. I drop him down into the sludge. I hope he finds another place to rot.
I can only pray for rain. If it rains the river will swell up and take him away, if it rains it will wash away any footprints. This miserable weather will help, the important thing is that I got rid of the body. If they don't find him here, they'll have no reason to look all the way to my building. The river runs through the whole town, who would figure it came from here?
I'm in the clear. My God, did I just kill a man and drop him in the canal? Was he even a man? What a night.
- 6 -
I use the back stairs. I'm careful not to let anyone see me. I try not to attract attention. If anyone sees me like this, they'll get suspicious. It's better if no one sees me. And there's not a soul in sight, not even someone casually taking out the garbage. What a life.
I get back inside the apartment and a curious feeling comes over me. I look at the drawn curtain and head toward it. I slowly pull it closed. But I also want to check. I want to make sure I haven't accidentally left something behind, that there isn't something on the ground that could get me in trouble.
I approach the window and... I see him down there. He's looking right at me. I recognize him immediately, he's another me, another copy, but this one is fine. He lifts his head and looks at me defiantly. I back away. Nothing surprises me anymore tonight.
Of course, there are more of them, if there was one, why not more? Every person on Earth is “me” and they're all coming for a visit tonight.
I take the stairs calmly. Try to sort out my thoughts. Formulate a plan. What do I say? What do I do? Fuck the plan, I'll just talk to him. I’ll ask him nicely: What the hell do you want from me?
- 7 -
I poke my head out the building's front door but stop before the rusty hinges start their song. I poke my head out a little expecting to see the third or fourth “me” around there, but he's evaporated. They come and go like flies.
I look left and right, I see nothing. I wonder if the copy in the river has vanished as well? They don't seem to last.
I look up, at my apartment window and I see the fourth, or whatever number he is. He looks at me fearfully. I move as slowly as I can, as not to startle him. I smile and wave him down. He suddenly disappears from the window.
Okay, well, I'll wait for him, maybe he'll come down.
- 8 -
I wait and wait, and he doesn't show up. He must have disappeared up the stairs. Or maybe he went back to whatever place he came from. Either way, I'm not leaving. If I stay put, one of them will show up next to me and all this will have an explanation.
Or maybe not, why would there be an explanation? Maybe he'll come snapping his fingers and then “I” will disappear. I must at least try and talk to one of them. They're probably just as confused as I am.
I thought it was some asshole who kept coming and looking at my apartment. Was it just one guy? Was it a different guy every night? Did he vanish after he got out of my sight?
I lift my head and scan the window. If I could only ... I hear footsteps behind me; something hits me in the back of the head.
- 9 -
I fall flat on my face. I think I broke my nose. The pain wakes me up. I try to get up, but it's impossible, I've lost all strength in my arms and legs. I manage to turn over on my back. Nothing hurts, but I have a sickening feeling of vertigo. When I raise my head, I lose my sight. With every inch of altitude, my vision narrows until it disappears altogether.
I give up trying to lift my head. I'll just sit here quietly. Someone will eventually come to help me. I turn my head, and lo and behold, the brick he hit me with is sitting right next to me.
I look at it stupidly. A nauseating impulse passes over me, I feel like vomiting. Is that the same brick I hit him with? What the hell is happening? I was perfectly content with my life, with my routine. All I wanted was to be left alone.
If it's the same brick… Did I somehow manage to hit myself in the head with it? What if there are no clones, aliens, or twins, what if there’s just me? What if all those people I've been chasing were me?
Up at the window, I see one of the blinds moving. That's how it started. That idiot will see me lying down and he'll try to help. I must move. If he doesn't see me everything will be all right, none of this will matter. I try to move my legs, but it's no use, my legs don't work anymore. A paralytic numbness runs through my body. If all of this is on repeat, then the guy that finds me... will find me dead...
Oh my God, what if he wasn't dead? What if he wasn't dead when I tossed him in the river? Did I drown him?
I look up again; I see myself peeking behind the blinds. He's definitely seen me now. There's only one chance to stop all this. I suck in a breath and try to yell, but something snaps in the back of my head. Only a whisper escapes my lips, "Don't come down". The lights go out.

This mystery takes place in a time loop. The story unfolds circularly as in a seashell. I have numbered the parts of the story to make it easier to follow. The story only has one character, and I will identify him by the part of the story he is in.
1 - the protagonist sees 9 lying on the ground in front of the building.
2 - the protagonist comes down the front stairs, the stranger has disappeared, but he sees 6 at the window.
3 - the protagonist finds the brick and climbs up the back stairs, he sees 7 downstairs. 7 beckons him to come down.
4 - the protagonist comes down and hits 8 in the head, then hides in the stairwell in the back.
5 - the protagonist is hiding in the stairwell at the back of the building (this is when 1 sees 9). He decides to grab 10 from in front of the building and throws him into the canal.
6 - the protagonist wet and dirty from the canal climbs back up using the back stairs. He sees 2 downstairs.
7 - the protagonist comes down the front stairs convinced he needs to talk to one of the copies. He sees 3 at the window and beckons him to come down.
8 - the protagonist waits for one of the clones to come out of the front entrance, but he is hit on the head from behind by 4. 
9 - the protagonist turns around facing upwards. He sees 1 at the window and tries to convince him not to come down.
10 - the protagonist has lost consciousness; he is carried by 5 and thrown into the canal.
PS: I adapted this mystery from an older story I wrote in high school called "The Scarlet Brick". That story ended without any explanation, so I came up with the most convoluted explanation possible for this one.

Photo by Jan Steiner
Versiunea în română: În cochilie
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May 25, 2022

Rusty blood

At the end of a long hall stood a man in a gray jumpsuit with his dirty hands raised above his head, laboring on his machine, a sheet cutter. The iron machine shaped, pressed, folded, cut, and decapitated metal plates at will. Located in the rear of the factory hall, she was too heavy to move, so she lay forgotten there next to ever-increasing piles of junk. Stiff bearings, dull drive belts, rejected sheets, oil cans and wire brushes surrounded the machine from side to side.

The gray-haired man spread grease over the path of a worm wheel. He lovingly took Vaseline from the crook of his palm onto his fingers and stroked every place where the iron was to touch iron. The mechanic babied his machine like a mother would a child. Each piece had its faults, every position had its kink, nothing worked right the first time he tried it.

The mechanic pulled out the traction teeth and began brushing them with steel bristles. He went on brushing until his overalls were pouring with sweat. The mechanic wiped himself with the same cloth he polished the metal piece, and put the metallic teeth back together.

He took the lid of a can into his mouth and poured the oil lightly in the lubrication tank. The old hands moved the gears, waiting to see a shiny film of grease over the iron teeth. He checked with his hand where his eyes could not reach. The mechanic pulled out a slick hand, pleased with the result. The man worked carefully, tuning the machine like a piano. Any unusual noise would have betrayed a problem.

Satisfied with the work, he fastened the metal panel back into the chest of the machine. He closed up the panel with only two screws. The old man knew the next problem would come from behind the same panel.

He opened a beer and sipped proudly. With a brown bottle in one hand and a dirty rag in the other, the mechanic wiped the oil off the machine. "Better to have a bit on the outside than not enough on the inside," thought the old man. It wasn't going to be sufficient, the machine would always ask for more.

Hot air was passing through the old man's gray hair as he cursed it with clenched teeth. He looked irritated at the vent which could no longer cope with the heat.

From behind came, in a whirlwind, a man in an unironed shirt, from the other end of the hall. The unshaven man had a grimace on his face.

"Sir," the mechanic greeted his boss.

The engineer pretended not to see the beer and tapped him on the shoulder.

"What do you think, John, will it work?"

"It will," the mechanic answered confidently.

"We have work to do."

"Good, that's what we're paid for."

"No, it's not good, in fact it's pretty dire. I have commissions for every single cutter in the hall and the new ones fuck up so badly, you wouldn't believe it. I set them up, put on a couple of test sheets and within 5 minutes they are already decalibrated, I reset them, test again, and they work well for another 5 minutes, then they just stop."

"It's the heat, that's why they muck up."

"This antiquity is the only one that still works in this fever."

"Yes sir, I've been meaning to tell you, we aren't at the beach, maybe you should stop the hot air blower," the old man said pointing at the AC.

The engineer nodded thoughtfully and broke the bad news.

"This whole mess will fall on your head."


"You and the old hag need to get us out of this. It's a big order, John. I can stall for time, but I have to give them something. You'll have to ride her hard until these shitty new cutters recover."

"Yeah," the mechanic replied tersely.

"I'll get you a kid."

"For what?"

The bony engineer turned his back and repeated gruffly.

"I'll bring you someone, God damn it."

The mechanic pulled the control levers out completely. He inspected and fixed them in place with a measuring billet. He tossed a galvanized sheet onto the workbench and started the machine. The apparatus cracked mechanically over the metal sheet. The old man brood unhappy with the result, the machine had made a crease along the cutting line. He scratched the raised edge with his fingernail, then removed a screwdriver and scraped clean a clearing ditch. The metal sheets wouldn't even sit straight because of the heat. Another crack and the sheet was cut in two. The old man measured the cutting indication and contemplated the result.

He felt a look at the back of his neck and turned nervously. A young boy brought him an armful of cut plates.

"Good morning, I brought the models."

"Leave them."

The boy carefully placed the pile of molds next to the machine and waited for the mechanic to turn around.

The old man unscrewed a blade from its clamps and inspected a few grappling screws. He got out of the machines' belly with the guillotine and tried it with his fingernail.

"What do you want?" he asked the boy, seeing that he was not leaving.

"Well, the engineer told me ..."

"What did he tell you? Get on with your work, go."

The old man fixed the blade to the grinder and began to work it. After a few minutes, he put the blade back and glanced at the molds left by the boy. The new templates had strange, complicated shapes. The machine was not designed for them. The old man gritted his teeth and placed the first template on the work bed.

He measured and set the control levers to the new positions and then pushed two iron wedges to force the machine to work with the difficult format. He listened intently. The first sheet came out badly. He loosened the screws leaving a small play for the machine to choose its own path. The second sheet came out better.

There was a screaming question from the other end of the hall.

"What do you say, old-timer, will it work?"

"Yea sure bring me the crappies templates and expect everything to work out," thought the mechanic. He ignored the question and kept looking from the machine to the plate and from the plate to the machine, searching for a solution.

She was capable, she just needed to be tickled the right way. He knew what she liked. The machine once ate zinc plates like hotcakes, but not these types of patterns. The old man didn't know if she would manage the new frames. The work had become more and more difficult, he needed a work plan with several passes while the new machines did the job in one run. But what can you do? They wanted complicated designs. John and his machine had been abandoned in the back of the hall, and the rest of the factory was waiting for both of them to die. "The old hag" was still working but only small and unpretentious orders, whatever the newer cutters had missed or messed up.

John and his machine had worked hard enough, they had been pulling on zinc plates for decades. The machine had lost its accuracy, the clamps and the step teeth were spent. He was left working with the spare flywheel, but it didn't matter, John had to retire and his machine, old as the devil, had to be retired as well.

With his departure, it would become scrap metal. She had done her job well, but now she was a museum piece.

"They don't make them like they use to, but maybe that's for the best. No one else will have to suffer you," whispered the mechanic.

"John, I brought you a boy. Where is he?"

The man shrugged his shoulders.

"He's not a bad kid. He's young and wants to learn. He's a mechanic, I smelled it on him."

"What does that have to do with me?"

"Isn't she a two-man job," the engineer said staring at the old cutter.

"She is."

"Well, what other incentive do you need? Take him in."

The chief left and the silent young man appeared behind John once again. The mechanic felt a growing sweat stain envelop his back.

"Kid you better make some noise when you move around, you're going to give me a heart attack."

The boy stood silent while John looked him up and down. He was missing the first phalange on his right index finger.

"Sit down, I don't know why they brought you in."

"I'm just here to help, you might need another pair of hands."

"She was in need of two pairs of hands 10 years ago, but they only brought you in today. I don't want you, and I don't need you. I've managed on my own long enough."

"I also heard you've wrapped up your years. You could retire," the boy dared.

"You don't say, I'm glad you've told me, I had no idea."

John looked at the boy, the boy was speaking straight.

"Make some room next to the machine, clear away all this junk, we'll start tonight."


"Didn't the boss tell you? You listen to me now. We'll work at night, it's cooler."

The boy gathered the rubbish, making neat piles of all the rusty bits, and then swept the floor clean.

"What's your name kid? What do they call you?"

"Andrew, but they call me the piano man," said the boy, pointing up with what remained of his index finger.

The old man burst out laughing.

"Ha, those asses, they do know their nicknames. I'm not calling you that, but don't you be calling me sir either, John and that's it.

"Okay ... John."

"Feels a little too friendly? You'll get over it."

The old man took one of the models and placed it on the desk. He adjusted the rulers and turned a wheel with a handle. The crank passed the machine through all the working steps. The mechanic turned the lever tenderly, waiting for a final snap, and then hurried curiously to see the result. One by one, the mechanic took each sheet and studied the conclusion. After he went through the handful of plates, he turned to Andrew with a wry smile.

"Do you know what's the best part of sitting in the back of the plant? We're closer to the exit. Let's take a break. Do you smoke?"

"Not really."

"Even better, you can enjoy our fine industrial air"


It was a hot day outside, the air was coming at them in waves from every direction. The old man pressed the asphalt and felt it soften under his feet. On the street, the trucks were pulled to the right, waiting for the cool of the evening to continue on their way. John retreated into a shady corner and lit a cigarette.

"What do you think?" asked the gray-haired man.

"It's a little better outside, at least I can use my lungs."

"It's bone dry, that's why you can breathe. After the pricks go home, we'll roll out the big door. The air conditioning might work in the assembly line, but that air doesn't reach us."

The engineer came out from behind holding the test models made by the old man. He slammed the door and looked for the mechanic. Blinded by the light, he put his hand to his eyes trying to find him.

"John, I looked at the AC, it's pretty much baked, it can't handle the heat. I opened one up and the wires were melting inside it. I don't know what else we could do, maybe dig ourselves into the dirt like moles.

"All right, pick the ones that are urgent and leave it to me. My hag doesn't mind the heat. I and the kid will stay tonight and work on them."

The engineer looked at the test models.

"They'll be straighter tonight," John said, looking at the templates.

"It will take more than one night."

"However long it takes."

The engineer nodded without saying anything, the hand that was rubbing his chin ended up scratching the back of his neck. He was adding things up.

"Okay, free til' nightfall."


The mechanic and the apprentice returned to the hall. The air in the hall was filled with hot oil and diesel. Like a crab in a soup, the mechanic crawled up to a wooden bench and laid down. He crumpled his overalls in the shape of a pillow.

"You'd better take a nap, we'll be pulling an all-nighter."

The boy looked curiously at the old man, you couldn't pay him to sleep at this hour. He went on looking for work elsewhere.


When evening came, the two set to work. Andrew loaded the sheets on one side and John lifted them on the other, checking them against the model from time to time, adjusting as he went.

"We are ants in a great colony, Andrew," the old man said over the noise. "And when you are an ant, sacrifices have to be made. You have to break your back, for the good of the colony."

"So this is an ant's life?"

"Well, aren't we carrying stuff from left to right? That's ants' work. That is how we covered the earth."

"What if I don't want to break my back?"

"You could have been a cricket, but it wasn't meant to be. We here are ants, the ones above are crickets. They sit on branches of bone, and look at us with hunger in their eyes."

"And that's fair?"

"I didn't say it was fair, I was just saying we are ants."

"Any escape from this ant's life?"

"No, I don't think so, no escape. We have to endure, that's it. On the other hand, will rejoice when we croak, that's when all our suffering will pass."

The men worked all night occasionally taking cigarette breaks. With the arrival of the sun, the machine began to growl unhappily. The mechanic looked at the last stack of sheets as the light began to shoot down the hall.

"No more kid, that's enough. Take these up-front and go home. I'll finish up."

Andrew picked up the stack and hesitated as he left. The old man waived with his back turned.

"See that you get some sleep."

"I would sleep standing up after tonight."

The mechanic looked over the machine, rolled up his sleeves and untied the metal panel held up by two screws.


When he returned at dusk, Andrew found the old man lying on the bench with a hat on his face. He stared at the open panel and stretched his neck inside, inspecting the machinery's guts.

"She'll bite your nose off if you're not careful," the old man said from under his hat.

"I was just curious what you were working on."

"You should be happy that's not your concern, she's my migraine for now, but your time will come, don't you worry."

Work on the second night came at a familiar, lighter pace. The boy wanted to put on more plates, to speed up, but the old man tempered him. Every few plates the mechanic took out a ruler and measured the cuts, stopping Andrew from work as well.

"She is plowing along nicely, but you should be careful she doesn't slip right under you. In the end we might realize we did all that work for nothing.

The mechanic looked over the last plate and frowned.

"Look," and the old man pointed to the edge.


"Can you hear her?"

"I don't know."

"She wants to fumble."

Andrew pricked up his ears and listened, then put his hand on the machine, imitating the old man.

"You'll hear it after she chomps on your ear for a couple of months. Go get some oil from the big hall."

"All right," and the boy hurried off.

"You know what to get, right? I don't want you to come back with their kitchen oil."

"Oh come on..."

"Well it wouldn't surprise me, go on."

Halfway through the walk the boy decided to return and grab an empty canister as a model. He returned to the hall and saw the old man with his sleeveless hands deep inside the machine.

"What are you doing, I told you to leave."

"What happened?!"

"Go away!"

The boy approached and saw the old man's hand stretched rigidly into the machine's insides. Blood was dripping in between the old man's fingers over a pair of sprockets. He jumped trying to pull the mechanic out.

"Did she grab you?!"

The old man broke away and slapped him, knocking the boy to the ground. He picked up one of the dirty rags next to the cutter and tied off his hand.

The boy was speechless. Drops of blood were frozen on his face. The mechanic sat down on the bench, holding tight the rag being tinted with rosy hues.

"Don't you ever listen?"

"What were you doing, pops?"

The old man scratched his forehead with his fingernail, trying to find his words. He looked at the dirt on the fingernail and wiped it on his overalls.

"Well don't you just want to know everything. Very well. If you want to work with this machine, you should know. She doesn't want oil, she wants blood."

"Have you gone mad?"

John smiled and took a transmission chain in his hands. He began to count its rings like a string of rosaries.

"Look at her purr. She'll run fine for a while. She just needs a bit of human lubricant from time to time. I pinch a vein, and then she runs smoothly. She doesn't ask for much oil, but she does want a bit of your soul. Go on, have a look, see how she runs."

"She's going to stall."

The plates the machine was spitting out were once again perfect, but with a crimson film spread all over the cut edge. The machine finished all the raw plates, and Andrew got up and added a few more blanks to the work table. Every sheet she spat out was spotless.

The old man leaned back, leaving the boy to convince himself. Andrew, with his eyes peeled, was putting more and more blanks on the stack, but the machine was just going faster and faster.

"What the hell?" Andrew whispered as the machine picked up speed.

The boy approached the old man, and he motioned him to sit down. He fell beside the mechanic, puzzled by the cutter quietly chopping up molds.

"She'll be fine for now."


"Didn't you see, that's my blood inside her. It knows what to do."

"How long have you been doing this?" Andrew turned, looking warily at the old man.

"How long? Ever since I got her. The last geezer showed me, and I am showing you. She's been running on the blood of everyone that's worked on her. This machine has all of us inside her, all the way up to the last man."

Andrew stood up as if bitten and looked over the old man.

"I'm not doing that."

"Did I ask you too? She's my cutter, I'll take care of her. When you have one of your own, you can do whatever you want. You can shit in it for all I care."

The boy left furiously picking up the finished sheets as he went.

"I'm taking them up-front."

The work was easy that night, the machine was running non-stop. Andrew was feeding her and retreating waiting for the catastrophe. Smoke, fire, the machine coming apart in two, but nothing, nothing happened. It was impossible, the machine was running better than ever. As she was going now, completely reliable, she could be operated by a single man. Old man John didn't need anyone else as long as he had blood in his veins.

With the sunrise, the pile of sheets was double that of yesterday.

"She's working as fast as the new cutters," the young man said cautiously.

"She'll do better tomorrow. She's just limbering up, I'll show you what she can do."


The next day, after all the day laborers had gone home, the old man untied his bandage and dug deep into the clotted blood with a knife. He pressed hard into the crust until it split in two, and a few drops fell to the base of the machine. Meager offerings. He widened the wound by turning the knife and letting a string of cherry blood drip into the belly of the machine.


"Don't worry, it's not a big deal."

The blood was sprinkled inside the cutter, blessing it with movement and intelligence. A willow smell of hot oil mixed with blood filled the hall. Andrew turned his back, trying to control a pulse of vomit. He threw himself on the sectional door chain, tugging at it frantically. With the door wide open, new air managed to replace the old.

"That's it, I'm done," said the old man, wrapping a bandage over his wound. Tonight we're overtaking the new cutters.

Andrew got to work and the old man retreated to the bench, staring blankly through the walls, somewhere far away. The old man was smiling absently. She was hungry for work now, she would chew and spit out everything she got. The clunky mechanical movements from the start turned into a fluid flow and the work stacks melted one after the other. The machine was moving so fast that it needed, once again, two people just to keep up with her. The old man joined Andrew picking up the finished plates.

Andrew worked tirelessly. Sweaty and spent, the old man pulled him up on the bench to take a break.

"She's a beast," Andrew spat wearily.

The old man nodded, not wanting to talk bad about the machine.

"Why don't you tell me how you managed to get rid of that finger?"

The boy rubbed his shortened pointer on the scar as if it had been itching.

"A cutter in the big hall."

"She didn't like you at all."

"I just put my hand in when I shouldn't, that's all."

"Listen, all these machines have souls. They are like women, don't laugh, it's true, some are sane and some insane. If you want to make them work, you have to get along with them, give them what they want".

"Cut myself like you?"

"Learn to listen, pay attention to what they need, learn how to read them. It's not enough to have a mechanic's hand, you also have to have a mechanic's ear and eye. Understand?

The old man continued to a whisper as if to keep a secret.

"You can get rid of her if you want, you can tell everyone she's broken, no one knows how to work her anyway. You will find a place somewhere else, you're young, you can always find more work."

"Pops, I lost half my finger in the big hall, and they threw me here with you, do you think anyone else wants me around?"

"Work slowly. Do everything slow at first. Learn each step and understand why it's taken. They will forgive you if you move slowly but do the job well. You can gather speed in time," the old man muttered, taking his place next to the machine.


The week passed unnoticed, John splashing the guts of the machine night after night with Andrew keeping watch behind him.

When the time came for the old man to take his hand out of the machine for the last time, the boy took out a clean handkerchief and tied it over his wrist. Andrew bandaged the old man swallowing hard. John, too tired to protest, smiled at the boy.

"You're mothering me."

"That's enough, John. You're completely spent."

"Yea, but we finish tonight. We showed them all, didn't we?"

"Yes, John."

"Stop sighing like a midwife, we'll finish by morning. Imagine, the two of us better than the whole damn factory. They dilly-dally all day and we work all night.

John poured water from a bent plastic bottle into a kettle and put it over the engine.

"I'm making coffee. Want some?"

Andrew watched the old man in silence as he dragged his feet back and forth.

"I'll make you some," the old man concluded, looking for another sachet of coffee.

The water from the kettle began to splash on the walls, and the old man poured two envelopes inside. He spun the coffee around in the kettle, looking for two containers. He turned two cups out of a drawer and blew the dust out, then poured the coffee.

"It's hot, if we drink that we'll sweat like hogs."

"That's right, that's how the Bedouins used to cool down", and John handed him the cup.

With the coffee, the old man seemed revived and began to work side by side with Andrew. He checked the plates cheerfully and answered his questions with a smile.

Another night with record production. One machine covering the work of a whole division.

With the arrival of the morning, a thread of cold air reached the feet of the two.

"It's going to be cooler today. They might get the new cutters to work. What do you think?" Andrew asked John.


"What is it, John?

"It hit me all of a sudden. I'm ... I'm tired. Age, what can you do? I didn't think the day would come when I wouldn't ... man I'm dizzy. I can't stay up as I use to. I think I better go home now, haven't seen the old bed in a week.

"Let me help you, John."

"Leave me alone, go and finish up. You're a good lad. You did well."

"Okay, John, see you tomorrow."

The old man walked cautiously past the long hall up to the road. There he dragged his feet up to the bus station. John looked for the bus hiding in the sunlight. He closed his eyes only for a moment and the pains and aches finally forgave the old man. The bus passed on.

Andrew finished the plates, filled the oil tank, and began wiping the machine. With the end of work the tense metal began to relax. Black streaks made their way through the joints. Andrew took a cloth and passed it over the traces, spreading them in a layer of burgundy red. He rumpled the cloth and continued wiping until all the residue was gone.

The lanky, wavy-haired engineer appeared out of nowhere, behind Andrew.

"You did a great job, you pulled us out of quite a mess. I'll make sure some dough comes your way. I can't just leave you guys hanging. Where's the old man?"

"At home," Andrew answered dryly.

"Aha ... you two got along nicely. You'll get his cutter after he retires, and he has someone to pass the trade to. Everyone wants to leave something behind."

"Don't you want to scrap her anymore?"

"Scrap her after she saved our asses? No, but, it's not up to me, the boys on top have the last word. Go on, run home, if you keep loitering around I'll have to put you on spring assembly."

Photo by Werner Weisser - Avantrend
Versiunea în română: Sânge ruginiu

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Nov 8, 2021

If summer comes

A boy with blue lips was smiling at him through the blizzard. The storm roared through the woods, fighting with the trees, and this kid showed up out of nowhere and was in front of him pointing at something. The tips of his fingers were black and sticky, and with two of them, he was guiding him back. The man turned to look, and through a break in the wind, he noticed a stone hut. It sat there small, square, with a single window and drawn shutters, facing the weather for centuries.

In the absence of a path, any refuge was impossible to find, and tonight the hike had turned into an adventure where the protagonist becomes an example from which others can learn. However, the traveler did not panic, he meticulously continued his search even in the absence of a footpath. Where others would have turned around, he was walking forward with experienced steps. The traveler was on a mission, and the bad weather did not steer him back to the safety of the path, on the contrary. He was looking for his friends, lost in the mountains, far from any track, in the dark depths of the forest. He had been a few steps from the cabin and had missed it, but luck had been on his side.

The kid was sitting in the middle of the storm with a torn T-shirt over his stomach, shaking from every joint. The traveler grabbed the boy's hand and dragged him into the cabin. The boy burst into tears trying to free himself, but nothing slowed the traveler, he pulled the boy firmly and safely inside.

"Michael? Is that you? Were you behind us?" he heard this from inside.

The traveler looked up and right in front of his eyes was the reason for this whole adventure. His two friends, Julian and Andrea, who had disappeared, were now well and good, looking at him amused and slightly puzzled. They had that look of  "what a coincidence to find you here". Michael looked at them uncertainly, they seemed to him like a mirage. Was there such a thing as a snow mirage? The cabin had been a fortune, but to discover them inside was truly miraculous.

"I found the little one outside, put a coat on him."

At the sight of the child, Andrea took off her jacket and jumped to help.

"Where did you find him?" Julian asked.

"He was outside by the cabin."

"In this weather?"

"Yea, just look at the way he's dressed."

Michael was visibly tired, breathing heavily after each reply.

"I'm glad we came across this shelter, can you imagine trying to pass the night in this weather," Julian mused contentedly.

"And where exactly have you two been? We've been looking for you for the past two days."

"Two days? Come on, you're exaggerating, we got a little ahead of you guys this morning. We climbed the Furor before you did, that's all."

"And why didn't you come back?"

"We went down the other ridge, maybe no one saw us."

"But that was two days ago."

"What are you even trying to say? We got a little lost and ended up here. What's the problem? Why do you keep saying two days? Today man, we reached the peak today."

A chill passed through Michael and he turned around with a strange presentiment. The cabin had a single room divided according to use, each wall was assigned a purpose. The wall that carried the front door had on the right a small table with cutlery for two and a bowl that announced it as a kitchen table. There was room for one person to sit. To the left of the door was a wooden hanger, made from a single white tree, that seemed rooted to the floor. On the right wall, as you entered, sat the stove, and next to it the bed was covered with a simple blanket of faded gray. On the wall opposite the stove was a workbench with grinding and carving tools for wood. The table bore the marks of abuse, being chamfered and hollowed out by clumsy blows. The little cabin had only two chairs, each guarding its place in front of the tables.

Andrea put her coat on the boy and pulled him next to her, where he was completely numb.

"Honey, what were you doing all the way up here?"

The boy, in shock, remained silent. Michael was looking in his backpack for a flashlight.

"I'll hang it outside, if anyone else comes looking, they will find us."

Michael went out in the storm again with his flashlight and a cord ready. The snow caught his feet like a trap. At only 4 inches, the snow seemed to cling to his legs and pull him back, making him move cautiously. "I would like to find an Eskimo and ask him what the hell they call this swampy snow," Michael thought as he clung to a tree. He secured the flashlight on a branch at one end. The wind seemed to be pulling on it in all directions, so Michael roped it tight on the other end, hoping it wouldn't be picked up and thrown in the middle of the forest. The wind seemed to intensify with every second spent fighting the branch. The howling wind was cutting his face with blades of ice, just sitting outside began to hurt. He covered his face and walked back blindly to the cabin.

He opened the door and heard Julian cursing.

"What happened?"

"Someone's pranking me," Julian said, sucking on his forefinger and thumb. "I was trying to light a fire and this match ... look, it went off in my hand like a firecracker.

Julian took the next match and propped it on the abrasive strip, then flung it with a flick into the stove. It ignited in the air and fell over a few yellowed papers where it began to burn tempestuously. Julian closed the stove's cast iron mouth.

"What did I tell you, someone's idea for a joke."

"You are the one to talk. At least I found you. How's the boy?"

"He fell asleep," Andrea replied.

"The next time you two wander into the woods, let someone else know, ok?" Michael controlled his tone, trying not to disturb the child.

"I really don't see what the problem is."

"Reckless," Michael murmured, "People get lost on this mountain all the time. We'd better be more careful."

Andrea put the boy by the stove and began rubbing his hands and feet. She wiped his fingers, but they remained black.

"What is that? that can't be ...", but Michael stopped, remembering the sharp wind outside.

"I don't think so," Andrea replied, taking the child's hands and pressing them to her own cheek. "They're warm", she smiled. "I think they're just stained."

"Strawberries and blackberries in this weather?" Julian mused.

The child was white as a ghost and had fallen asleep with his mouth open. Between the eggplant-shaded lips, even the boy's teeth seemed to have a bluish tinge.

"I have penicillin with me if he needs it", Michael turned to search in his backpack.

Andrea pulled her hand from the boy's forehead and motioned a "no".

Julian was staring out of the cabin through the small window.

"It's clearing up outside, it must be earlier than I thought. Do you have a watch?"

Michael took out his phone, it blinked "low battery" and turned black. Andrea tried her phone.

"It's dead."

"It's the cold," Julian shrugged. "That happened to the camera, while we were up there."

After a few moments of silence, Andrea took the two chairs and placed them next to the bed, fashioning a place for all four of them to sleep.

"We should try to rest," she said. "We have to get the little one back home tomorrow morning."

Lying on the side of the bed with their legs outstretched on the chairs, dressed from head to toe, the three closed their eyes and joined the boy in a dreamless sleep.


It was dark and cold when Michael woke up. The fire seemed to have been extinguished for a long time, and the position in which he slept had turned him crooked. He cracked his bones trying to rearrange himself proper. All in all, he was well-rested. He took a kettle hanging from a nail and went out as quietly as possible to gather firewood. He let the others sleep.

"Psst morning", Julian gently stroked Andrea.

With her tousled hair, Andrea wiped her eyes and answered with a yawn.

"Should we wake up Blue Tooth?" he asked.

The child slept between them with a smile on his face. The boy's skin had regained its pallor, but his teeth retained a bluish tinge.

"Give him some time". Andrea put her hand lightly on his forehead. "It's fine. We just have to figure out what to put on him when we get out of here."

"I'll give him my jacket and wrap myself with the blanket. I'll be fine until we get back to civilization," Julian assured her.

Michael entered the cabin with a kettle full of snow in one hand and a load of branches in the other. He had a strange grimace on his face, half frowning, half constipated, he looked ridiculously serious. Michael scanned them from head to toe. He set the kettle and the wood next to the stove and took a piece of rusty iron out of his pocket.

"There is something very strange going on here," he said.


"This is my flashlight."

"How can that be your flashlight?

"I tied it to that mountain-ash just outside. It IS my flashlight."

Julian approached and gingerly inspected the rusty flashlight.

"Are you sure?"

"I tied it with my own hand."

"And it rusted, just like that, overnight?"

"Yes, while we slept."

"That's just great, what type of Chinese crap is this?"

Julian took the flashlight from his hand.

"That's not even the weirdest part. While I was out gathering wood ... I saw the sunrise twice.

"You saw what? How?"

"I don't know how."

"You mean the sun changed its mind? Maybe it forgot something and went back to get it."

"It's not a joke, if we wait ... I think it will happen again."

Julian sat down on a chair studying the flashlight. At his back, the day turned to twilight, and then tonight. Andrea approached Michael and asked him in a whisper.

"What does this mean?"

"It means another day has passed," Michael said looking outside unnerved.

"What do you mean another day has passed? We just got up. How long now? Fifteen minutes? and it's already the next day?" Julian mocked them.

"That flashlight has been outside for weeks, maybe even months ..."

"That's nonsense," Julian said as he hurried out the door.

"Jules noo", that's all Andrea managed to say, but Julian was already out.

The two looked at him from the doorway.

"It's nothing, it's just cloudy. Michael buddy, I think you got that disease, what's it called ... "cabin fever". And you, dear, you got it from him. It's that type of crazy you can catch. Just one day in the wilderness and you've both lost your minds. What the hell are you looking at me like that for? Did my beard start to grow or something? Come on, really, it's nothing.

Andrea joined him looking around. There was nothing unusual around the cabin. Michael was looking at the cloudy sky. Suddenly the clouds dissolved, revealing the black heavens.

"Look, Julian, stars."

"What are they doing ..."

"Revolving around the Northern Star."

"They can't be moving that fast" Julian continued aghast.

"Inside!" Andrea ordered.

The three of them entered and Andrea slammed the door, putting her body in front of the entrance.

"Are we ok in here? What's going on outside?"

"I don't know," Michael replied. "I need time to think. Let me think ..."

Julian put two fingers in his pocket and took out a matchbox "Bean & Sons - Guaranteed to light up even after weeks in humid conditions". The guarantee was written, on the package, larger than the company name. Julian took out one of the camping matches and pressed it to the abrasive strip.

"Time outside is clearly fucked up, let's see if it's equally fucked up inside, and saying this he struck the match over the wood in the stove.

The wood instantly turned into torches and then began to glow like embers. Michael looked bewildered at the speed and violence of the fire.

"We need to wake the kid and leave. Now!"

"Boy, we have to go," Andrea snapped.

Andrea picked up the boy and dressed him. Michael took his backpack, tightening the belts close to his body. Julian pulled the blanket over his shoulders, while Michael tied it around his waist. The child tried to resist but to no avail.

"I don't want to go out, I don't want to go out anymore," he managed to say.

"We don't have a choice kid, if we don't leave now, we may never leave," Julian insisted.

"Are we ready? Come on ... don't ... leave the damn fire," Michael said.

Julian glanced out through the small window above the working desk and stopped. He swallowed hard trying to find his words.

"Too late," he said at last.

In front of the cabin, the snow seemed to come out of the ground. It grew flooding the forest. Wave after wave, higher and higher, up to the knees, then up to the hips, higher and higher without stopping. The cabin sank into a white sea that frothed all the trees wave after wave.

After a few tense moments, Michael dropped his backpack from his shoulders and deflated. Julian fell into a chair and sat in amazement watching the show outside.

"Aren't we going to leave?" Andrea asked.

"It would bury us alive" replied Michael, staring blankly.

"If we had been faster..." Andrea began.

"If we had been faster, we would have ended up as Popsicles", Julian cut her off.

Michael reset to a previous state avoided looking outside. He checked the stove with his unmittened hand and decided to undress. He rummaged deep in his backpack and pulled out a can of meat and a few single-serving instant coffee packets. He picked up the kettle with snow and watched in amazement as it began to bubble with boiling water in a matter of seconds. He poured the coffee into the water and contemplated the fate of the can. He unwrapped the branded paper and made sure it touched the stove for just a moment. After that, he motioned for the others to approach. Michael was searching for a piece of bread when Andrea stopped him.

"Wait, we might have something", she took out four black biscuits as thick as a finger from her backpack.

Michael took something resembling cooked meat and spread it on each biscuit in equal proportions. Andrea found some polished metal cups in the cupboard under the kitchen table and dusted them off.

"Should I give him some?" She asked, tilting her head toward the boy.

"Yeah, he deserves some too."

The child gaped at the coffee and nodded. Julian couldn't take his eyes off the snow. Andrea brought him a biscuit to eat at the window.

"What's going on outside?" she asked.

"It's snowing," Julian said. "That's what it looks like when it snows."

They ate their biscuits softly, letting each bite last as long as possible. Their food was the only normal thing around them. Morning came once again outside and now the dance of the snow dunes was fully visible.

"Thanks for the grub", Julian said, then, looking at Andrea, he continued. "Remember when we said we would get old and fat together? One of those things might come sooner than you think."

Andrea looked at her hands, counted the cuts and wrinkles in her skin, and considered the places where her veins came to the surface. Even with all the paranoia, they still looked fine. But who really looks that closely at their own hands, maybe they were changed, maybe not. They didn't feel any different. "The nails, yes ... shouldn't they have grown?", she thought.

"Time seems to pass us by. I don't think we're aging, but possibly everyone else is", Michael supposed.

"You have no way of knowing until we get out of here ..." Julian reckoned without waiting for an answer.

They calmed down, the first instinct to flee had passed. The cabin was protecting them, they were safe inside. They were silent, thoughtful, and pondered the issue of escape. Sitting still, they listened to the sounds from outside trying to understand them. They looked around for an explanation and hung their eyes on every detail, the tools, the chairs, the stove, the strange coat hanger. They were looking for a button that would stop all of this. Julian began to feel the carving tools, sharp metal rods that did not reveal their purpose to a layman.

After investigating the whole room, Michael was now studying the boy. Andrea approached the child.

"Can you tell me your name?"

The boy was silent.

"I'm Andrea, he's Michael and that's Jules by the window."

"Peter", he whispered.

"What a serious name you have Peter. Can you tell me why you're dressed like that?" Michael tried.

The coffee helped the child's shyness, he was eager to talk.

"I don't know," he snapped.

"Do you remember how you got here?"

"I came ... I came with my parents on a trip."

"What happened to them?"

"I got lost... I don't know."

Peter wanted to start crying, but Michael looked at him unemotionally, there was no place for crying in this discussion, so he refrained.

"I kept looking for them, but I didn't find them, I lost them ..."

"He couldn't have gone that far on these slopes." Julian turned his attention back towards them.

"I walked for a long time," the child reproached him. "I got tired, I fell asleep, but it wasn't cold. When I got up, it got ripped," and the child pulled on his T-shirt as proof.

"It's okay, we can patch that up. How did you get to the cabin?"

"It got cold, I was frightened, I was running ... and then I found it."

"That's when you saw me?" Michael continued.


Michael smiled and patted the child.

"Okay Peter, I understand".

Michael looked outside and then looked back at the boy. An idea sprouted in his head, a possible exit.

"Pete here got lost in the woods when it was still warm."

"I would think so, the way he's dressed."

"And he didn't stay out for too long, he couldn't have. For him, winter landed just yesterday. This weather wasn't even in the forecast when we went climbing this damn mountain."

"That's usual mountain weather for ya, but who knows how things work in this little corner of heaven," Julian shrugged.

"I don't think things work that differently. Things move faster, yes, but otherwise everything is the same. The stars are in the sky, the weather is changing and the seasons are flowing. We shouldn't hurry, if we wait quietly for two or three days, we will leave this place in the summer.

"Time flies and the best thing to do is not to hurry", contemplated Andrea.

"Oh the irony, but I think he's right," Julian agreed finishing his coffee and continued cheerfully, "that's our way out".


"Can you imagine the look on their faces when we get back? What are we going to tell them? Oh, the ground ate us up for a few months, but we're fine. And the boy? Well, we found a boy in the woods", Julian was amusing himself.

Peter was sitting in a corner, looking morose and wanting his parents to come and pick him up. Andrea turned him toward her.

"It's not your fault Peter, I'm sure your parents will be very happy to see you no matter when we come back."

Peter didn't seem very convinced.

"Do you think people know about this place?" Julian continued.

Michael spun a finger in the air.

"Someone knew," he replied, "Someone built this cabin, and it wasn't aliens."

"Maybe it's a refuge," Andrea said.

"A refuge for strays like us?"

"Maybe for the locals. Someone spent a lot of time here. I think someone lived here. Look at the kitchen, look at that workbench."

"Maybe they hid here," Michael added.

"Hid from what?" Julian asked.

"I don't know, their problems. How old are these things? Maybe the russians were invading, or the french, or the germans.

"What about the Mongols" Julian continued, as the three of them smiled, "I can't quite figure out, how can anyone live here?" 

"It's simple, you plant your tomatoes today and pick them tomorrow," explained Andrea.

"And when you finally go pick up some vegetable oil from the store, you'll find people driving flying cars," Julian added.

"We shouldn't tell anybody, we should leave this place hidden."

"You think the mongols will be making a comeback?" Julian was pulling his leg now.

"No, not that, I was thinking maybe we keep this place for ourselves."

Julian flicked a copper still and listened to the strange high-pitched ringing it produced.

"Nobody would believe us anyway."

"And now? What are we going to do now?" Andrea asked.

"Now we wait and see if summer comes." 

Photo by Polina Barinova @LOOP12098
Versiunea în română: Daca vine vara
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May 20, 2020

The friendship train

"You would think life could be better but you would be wrong"

I'm standing on the train taking me home. Don't get me wrong, I have a seat, I have a ticket with an assigned seat and so I could take a seat on the train taking me home. But it's a shitty seat, it's full of shit. I mean to say, there's a lot of shit on my seat, spreading on the backrest. It looks like goose droppings, or bird droppings anyway, I should taste it to figure it out. Not that I eat shit with such regularity that I would guess it’s origin from the first tasting, but instinctively something tells me it would give itself away. You know how you can tell by taste if an egg is from a a goose or a hen, well so it must be with this shit. It's white, with some greenish yellow. I'll remember this shit for some time to come. Maybe I could trick my chairmate into eating it, he has the face of a man who has eaten a lot of shit in his life, what’s another tasting from the back of my chair. Ehh, I'm losing my temper, no matter what creature shat on my chair, this will keep me up standing all the way to Buzau. So I sit in the hallway next to the rows of chairs and push my back against the window. I can hardly let all these chubby ladies get by me. The corridor is tight, too tight not to rub your ass or tits on me, it’s a real friendly train.
I am in Bucharest-Chisinau proclaimed “The Friendship Train" by the voice of the North Station. It's a long train made up of dark green wagons with white stripes and completed at the end by a few burgundy carriages. The green ones are Moldavian but look Russian by their letters, and the burgundy ones are Romanian by their rust. They are ugly fat conductors from both countries in the corridors, haunting like ghosts in search of tickets and bribes. I like them, they look like the kind of people who would steal your wallet and have a beer with your cash at the next station. That's why I like them, I like that they would drink, I like that they would steal your money for such a simple pleasure, so honest. It must be wonderful to have a job on the move, to be a professional passenger, without responsibilities, to go from car to car as in a ship at sea.
The train is intangible as long as it moves, the snow, the people, the animals, the motorcars, they are all pulverized if they don’t get out of the way. Come to think of it, the engineer doesn't have any responsibilities either, if he sees you on the rails, it's already too late to matter. What an adrenaline rush, smashing cars on the railway. Shitty salary, of course, but those days when you slap a minibus around must be worth it. I can see him opening his little window and swearing at the people jumping left and right in little pieces: "Damn commuters, next time take the train". Where else do you get the opportunity to literally smash your competition. Cheers of joy and approval coming from behind “Yes sir, they deserved it, why where they on the railway in the first place”.
The train goes slowly towards our Moldavian brothers or our Moldavian cousins or our Moldavian racketeering uncles. I have nothing against our neighbors, the Moldavian drunks, and the Moldavian ladies aren’t bad either. So towards them, towards our Moldavians. And these Moldavian chicks look at my seat with longing, it’s the only empty seat in this whole stinking train. These red-haired girls decide that it's not so bad to sit with shit at their backs and they convince themselves, that they will not lean backwards, that they will sit firmly on their buttocks for several hundred kilometers paying attention to an exercise in posture. One of them comes to me and asks me shyly, pressed, confidentially, so that none of the others can hear, if the seat is free. I smile, nod my head up and down, and answer "no". I can’t remember where I heard Russians nod like this when saying “no”, but I was wrong because this confused girl sat on my chair anyway and assumed the stiff back position. I wanted to tell her that the seat was indeed taken, but that would mean I'm somewhat of an ass-hat, and no one wants to admit that to himself.
Reconciled with the lost seat I start having a better look at those seated next to me. Tough hands sit on the chairs next to me, worked hands, sunburned, muscles gained through work sit next to me. Veins from sun-baked hands sit next to me.
An old man is huddled together with two others, three of them on two seats. He sits with his cap on one side, you'd say he's a sailor if we weren't so far from the sea. The old man is slender and looks tougher than the young moujiks next to him. They’re construction workers, they insulate communist apartment buildings during the week and return home on weekends. The capital demands heavy hands for good money and these men break their backs on scaffolding for it.
The old man has faded blue eyes and a sort of finality in him. It seems to me that his back held him up right just enough to get himself seated, that once seated he got stuck in the soft fake skin of the chair. A chair presumably without goose shit on it. That's just a guess, because I didn't get to see their chairs, they were all seated when I showed up. I think someone put a goose over the chairs on the luggage rack and from there “bombs away” on my backrest. But that happened on another trip, because now there's no trace of a goose. More than likely a  goose, but I'm not getting into that again.
A thread of light penetrates through the curtains and falls on the eyes of the young worker next to the window. Gramps takes off his cap, revealing a thick bald spot, and puts it over the lad nailed by the light beam.
“Is that better?”, he asked.
“Thanks pops”.
The old man dries up a one-liter bottle of beer and tosses it in a saddlebag between his legs like a well-done thing. Then, still with his hand in the saddlebag, he secretly takes out a bottle of colored spirits, washing his mouth with it he then passes it along to the fellow next to him. A boy with ripped knee jeans takes a mouthful and a glaze moves over his eyes. He rubs his face and smiles at the old man. The old man winks at him and nods to pass it along. To their right by the window in a half-open hoodie with no T-shirt on is the lad who was trying to take a catnap. The unshaven man takes a eager mouthful and wakes up immediately jumping on his feet.
The liquor tickles their tongues and makes them talk.
In front of them, next to the chair that would have been mine, is the fourth scaffolder, he is sweating with his hair glued to his forehead. I've never seen a man with so many muscles have a more embarrassed look on his face. More robust than the others, he had broad shoulders and his nose was broken to the right. His nose made him ugly and gave him a hissing breath. He licked his upper lip when he spoke, but preferred to be silent. The old man did not hand him the talkative liquor, he took another swill and put it half empty back in the bag.
It was obvious the old man had been handsome in his youth, but from his stories this hadn’t helped him at all. He had taken up a beautiful wife who pretended to work when he was home but was the village whore for the rest of the time. The young men were grinning from ear to ear as the old man flourished his life stories so they would learn from his mistakes and avoid beautiful women.

This filthy train is full to the brim with people, but these scaffolders are next to me and I like to listen to them. Of course, there are also Merlin Monroe hotties with windy hair and sunglasses. Not to mention brunettes half-melted in their chairs, who remember from time to time not to sit bow-legged on a train crowded with construction workers. There are guys with earrings in their ears and a dubious looking dude with an nail in his eyebrow.
A lass with sunglasses takes a long look at me, I must have admired her too intensely or maybe she wants to scold me for rubbing against all these women fluttering around back and forth on the train. She takes off her glasses and looks at me, she has deep dark circles around her eyes. I whisper to her like a prayer, “Don't love, put the glasses back on, you look much cooler with them on”.
I can't believe it ... she listened to me ... Or maybe she read my lips who knows. Now she’s bored playing with her feet under the chair. I should go over there and figure her out ... I should... 
Oh my God, this hellion in front of me... she’s the mother of all chatterboxes, I can't have a strait thought in my head for all the noise she’s making. She is standing in front of me turning some poor bastard’s head into mush. I can only see this poor man’s head nodding. She has a book in her hand, but in an hour and a half she hasn’t put it to her eyes once. She hasn’t stop talking all this time. I can't think anymore, damn it.
I take refuge between the wagons for a bit of peace, here the rails break beneath my feet but at least I can’t hear that woman's voice. I sit in that place between the wagons, with two metal plates sandwiched between me and the angry ground below. Between the bellows and the metal plates I can see a torrent of earth, gravel and railway sleepers flowing under me. I get dizzy, I try not to look. It's an adventure up here between the wagons, death is close and the cigarettes taste better. This is the last place where you can smoke on the train, the last quiet place, until they’re modernized into airtight passages. Fuck them with their modernization… Fuck innovation. Fuck it.

Photo by Paul @causeimluap
Versiunea în română: Trenul prieteniei
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