When men don’t come back home

QuandoOsHomensNaoVoltamParaCasa-1

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this tale is part of the book:

The End Times Survival Guide
Ricardo Kelmer – Miragem Editorial, 2020
fantastic – horror – science fiction

What to do when the unexplainable suddenly barges into our reality and old truths are rendered useless? Where are we to go when the end of the world is upon us? In the nine short stories included in this book, none of them short of mystery and supernatural, people are amazed at events that challenge their understanding of reality and of themselves and trigger crisis situations so intense that people’s own survival is put at stake. This is a book about collective and personal apocalypses.

(script for a movie soon)

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WHEN MEN DON´T COME BACK HOME

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QuandoOsHomensNaoVoltamParaCasa-1Hi, Lu… Please read the letter carefully. You are the only person I trust. I want you to know that in spite of it all, I still love you. Kisses. Marc.

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Luciane felt intrigued when she read the note. She hadn’t heard from her boyfriend for a week. People in his job had told her he hadn’t shown up in the last three days. The doormen at the building knew nothing of his whereabouts and he wouldn’t answer the phone. She initially thought Marc had been upset by their recent argument and decided to go on a break. But his disappearance didn’t really make sense.

She decided to talk to him face to face. She entered the apartment with her own copy of the key. She saw nothing unusual, everything seemed normal. She found the note on the bed, next to the painting he liked so much, the princess sitting on a bench at the edge of a forest. The same painting that had been the reason of their fateful argument. She had never been able to understand what was so special about that painting, but Marc had great admiration for it and she simply could not grasp it. She put the note aside and read the letter.

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The margin of a lake, a small anchorage and a moored boat. A path that begins at the anchorage and leads into the forest, among the trees. At the very beginning of the path into the forest, a wooden bench and a very beautiful princess in medieval attire looking sad while staring at the path’s curve as if waiting for someone who will suddenly come out of the woods…

I found the painting in a thrift store and I liked it immediately. The princess seemed so sweet and loving to me… And I felt this familiarity as if I knew her from some other place, some other time. I bought the painting and hung it on the wall of the living room. You must remember that day: I showed it to you, you saw it and laughed, and said I had always had a thing for princesses and that if I ever met one, I wouldn’t think twice to leave you for her. Remember?

First, I hung it on the corridor so I could look at it every time I walked by. Then I brought it to the bedroom and hung it next to the bed so I could fall asleep looking at it. Many times I tried to tell you how fascinated I was by that painting. But you just mocked me for everything I said.

I was convinced that the princess was stuck in the forest. She was dejected and spent her days alone, weeping from the sorrow of being away from her country. But there was a subtle sparkle of hope in her eyes: she awaited the arrival of a knight who would set her free. He would come from the forest, around the curve of the path. He would take her by the hand and they would climb into the boat that would transport them to the princess’ country. Until then, she waited and sang a melancholic song that traveled through the forest and one day would be heard by her savior.

At night, I would caress the painting as if that could mitigate the princess’ grief. I would remove the glass, stroke the paper with my fingertips and almost feel the relief of the trees, the lake water, her skin, her hair…

Then one night, I had a dream. I was in the forest and walked the path among the trees. I was looking for the princess and had to find her before dusk. And there was only one way to do that: following her song. But it was very windy and her voice was swept away by the wind gusts. I tried many paths, I knew that she was near, I could feel her presence… but I could not find her. It was getting dark and I was afraid of getting lost in the forest. I was very sorry for not finding her, but I came back.

I woke up in the middle of the night weeping. The dream was still present in the bedroom and I could feel the wind and hear the echoes of the grievous song. I had been so close… She was there somewhere… and I had failed to find her. I wasn’t worthy of being her knight and that was the most painful thing to me.

On the next day, I skipped work, impressed by the intensity of the dream. I told you about that, remember? For the first time you listened to me carefully then you told me I was exaggerating and I was going to be insane if I didn’t change my behavior. You picked the painting up and left, saying it was in bad taste and you were going to throw it away.

I ran after you to the living room. I reached out and took the painting away from your hands, but it slipped and fell and shattered on the floor. When I saw the shattered glass, I was very upset and felt great pain in my heart. I tried to pick up the pieces. You crouched to help me and apologized. But I pushed you away in anger and told you I didn’t need your help. You were scared and stared at me. You certainly thought I wasn’t very mentally sane or perhaps you had for the first time a glimpse of how much that painting mattered to me. I don’t know. We haven’t spoken since then. You slammed the door hard and went away.

On the next day, I made up another excuse and skipped work again. I wouldn’t have any focus anyway. At night, I had the second dream. I was back in the forest and I could hear the princess’ song gliding in the wind. She was closer now than on the previous night… I wanted to go ahead, but it was dark already and I was afraid of being stranded in the forest forever. Torn by the dilemma, I decided to return, feeling devastated for abandoning the princess once again.

Once again, I woke up soon, so disheartened I was sighing. For a brief moment, it seemed the bedroom was the forest. It seemed so real I could almost touch the leaves on the ground. I swiftly held the painting to my chest as if holding someone whom I loved so dearly I wanted to bring them inside me. I pressed the princess against my chest and hoped hard the dream wouldn’t end. And it worked for a while. I touched a branch then I held it… But soon the forest was gone and I was back in my bedroom, just me and my deep sadness. Then I told the princess that she had to be strong and wait just a little more because I would find her soon. And that was the last thing I thought before I fell asleep, hopeful that my sleep would transport me back to the forest.

But I didn’t go back. I woke up in the morning feeling so disappointed I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t go to work. How could I work knowing she was still there, all alone in that forest?

I really couldn’t think about anything else so I went out for a walk. When I looked at the lake in the park, I heard the princess’ voice. It was far away, I could barely hear it. But yes, it was her. I was ecstatic! That was a sign. So I went back home convinced that I would meet her at night.

It’s very late at night and I can’t sleep. I should be with the princess soon. And I will take her back to her country. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be back.

Marc

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Luciane kept staring at the paper. She tried to organize her thoughts, but her mind was a whirlpool of questions going round and round continuously. What in the world was going on?

As a matter of fact, she didn’t care at first. But Marc’s interest in the painting did catch her attention eventually. But she hadn’t gone as far as thinking that the situation would ever come to this. She remembered he had been quiet and pensive lately, posing questions and sharing philosophical musings about life. Maybe she should have been more tactful and tried to understand what was going on. He said he needed to spend more time alone and she thought that maybe he didn’t want her anymore. Or maybe it was nothing like that. Maybe he still loved her indeed.

Those days away from him had been spent on rethinking some ideas. Maybe she would apologize and try to be more understanding. After all, she loved him very much and couldn’t even think about living without him. Of course he had his share of flaws, but her utmost concern was not to lose him. Nothing was more important than that now. And that is why she’d decided to go after him.

But now, that letter… “What if it were just a prank?” she thought, suddenly angry. Yes, Marc would be one to do something like that. She was worried sick while he was somewhere out there just laughing about it. Yes, he must have been up to something and she was being treated like a fool, wasting her time on the vagaries of a guy who thought of himself as a valiant knight involved with a marriageable princess. He had met another woman and come up with that silly story, she could see it now. Now he would have to go after her to explain the situation. She had more important things to do.

So she slammed the door and left.

*     *     *

QuandoOsHomensNaoVoltamParaCasa-1He didn’t go after her, though. Days went by and his silence made her nervous. She missed him. And she was very worried. That letter didn’t make sense. And there was still the issue of his job: he had been absent for a week, his work mates were worried, too.

She went back to the apartment three days later. She had absolutely decided to call the police. She went into the bedroom and picked up the painting that lay on the bed. Then she saw something so strange she had to cover her mouth to suppress a scream. In the painting, on the exact spot on the curve of the path into the forest, there was a new figure, someone who had not been there the last time. She looked more carefully and realized… it was Marc.

Luciane dropped the painting on the bed. A cold chill ran up her spine. She looked at the painting again. There was indeed a new detail in the picture, someone coming out of the forest and walking towards the princess. The image wasn’t very clear, but it certainly was a person. And it seemed to be Marc’s face. The same shape, hair, eyes… Or maybe that person had always been there. No, that was impossible.

Luciane closed her eyes and said to herself, mentally: Marc is inside this painting. While she resisted the idea, she felt attracted to the thought at the same time. Marc was in that painting. She could feel it. And the longer she let herself get involved by the idea, the more absurd it became.

She looked at it again. What if there were two paintings? Replacing the first painting with that one might just as well have been part of Marc’s prank. But no, no… Why would he ever go to such lengths, why? That didn’t make sense.

She decided to sleep in the apartment. She was afraid, but she felt she had better discard the idea that her boyfriend was pulling a prank, that he had always been the kind not to miss a joke. While she slept there, maybe she would catch him coming in to replace the painting again. She had to try it.

She was so anxious she could not sleep. She got up as soon as the morning broke. The first thing she did was to pick up the painting. There was the same person coming along the path, but the image was clearer now. She had no doubt about it: it really was Marc. And he was very close to the princess, almost touching her.

Luciane stared at the painting in awe. She could see more of the figure’s features now, as if someone had altered the painting. There was no mistake: that was indeed her boyfriend… dressed like a medieval knight.

“Marc…” she whispered, caressing the painting. “Marc, are you there?”

She suddenly realized what she was doing and began to cry. She cried for the boyfriend whose whereabouts were unknown and because she might be the victim of a bizarre prank. And she cried especially for fear that all of those strange events might actually be true.

*     *     *

QuandoOsHomensNaoVoltamParaCasa-1The young lady behind the counter raised her eyes off the book she was reading and looked at Luciane.

“Good morning. My boyfriend bought this painting here last month.” Luciane took the painting from her backpack. “Did you sell it to him?”

“Yes, I did. I remember it. Is it damaged?”

“No, that’s not the problem. I mean… Well… Do you remember if the painting had this one detail here, this knight?”

“What do you mean?”

“Try to remember, it’s important.”

“I don’t see anything wrong with it.”

Luciane sighed. That wasn’t going to be easy.

“Miss, I know you’re not going to believe it, but… Look, I have compelling reasons to believe that my boyfriend… fell inside this painting.” There, she’d said it. She really had. “He is this knight who is coming along the path…”

The clerk looked at the painting then looked at Luciane. She saw the tired, anguished look on Luciane’s face.

“Your boyfriend… fell inside the painting?”

Luciane felt like crying again. She put herself together and tried to speak, but she couldn’t. She felt absolutely ridiculous. The clerk kept staring at her. The entire situation was absurd, surreal. She realized it was futile, that she looked like she was out of her mind.

“Forget about it,” she said and put the painting back into the backpack. “I should not have come here.”

She was just about to leave the store when a man came out of the adjacent room.

“Please don’t go.”

Luciane turned around and saw a short, dark, pot-bellied type. He wore jeans, tennis shoes and a large shirt hanging out over his waistline. He looked fifty years old. He had an intense but friendly stare.

“I would like to listen to your story if you don’t mind.”

*     *     *

QuandoOsHomensNaoVoltamParaCasa-1The small room had soft lighting that shone through the stained glass of the window. The air had a mild scent of incense. There were antique objects such as chests, candlesticks and statuettes, many books in a wooden shelf and beautiful paintings on the walls.

Luciane sat on a chair that seemed to be five hundred years old. She observed the man who was sitting across the table. He had feminine manners, a Spanish accent, black eyes and a gentle stare. His head was bald on the front, but a long braid on the back rested upon his back. An exotic figure.

The clerk came into the room carrying a tray.

“Lemongrass tea, my dear,” said the man. “It’s good for your nerves. Thank you, Daphne. You may leave us alone now, will you? I won’t see anyone else.”

“Ms. Bernadette has an appointment at six, Mr. Javier.”

“Cancel it, woman. Tell her my grandma had her period, I ran to her rescue, and have a nice day.”

Luciane laughed. Exotic and funny.

“Daphne started this month, she is still learning how things work around here. I have this thrift shop, my angel, but I also read the tarot. And I take care of other issues. Have you never heard about Javier’s tarot?”

Javier’s tarot… What kind of place was that?

“You must be wondering where the hell you’ve brought yourself into, oh my god, aren’t you? But don’t you worry, you’ve come to the right place, I am going to help you. Come on, tell me all about that story.”

Luciane assessed the situation. She was sure he was the biggest con artist in the area. That Spanish accent of his surely was part of the scam. The very long braid on his back, the effeminate manners… Maybe he was not even gay, it was all part of the show. Where was the white tunic, why didn’t he wear one? He certainly wanted to avoid the stereotype. People like him sure knew their game. Well, she had nothing to lose from telling him. To whom else could she ever talk about that anyway?

So she told him that Marc had bought the painting in that store and become overly attached to it. She told him about the crisis in their relationship, their argument over the painting and that they hadn’t spoken to each other for a few days. Javier listened carefully.

“One week later, he wouldn’t answer the phone, so I went there and I just found this painting. I went back there on the next day and Marc began to be part of the landscape, dressed as a knight…” she said with an embarrassed smile, nervous and expecting Javier to smile back. But he kept staring at her very seriously. “And here I am.”

She didn’t mention the letter. It was deliberate. She wanted to test the man’s abilities.

“What do you think might have happened?” he asked.

Luciane calculated that he wanted to know what her own expectation was. Once he knew it, he would play the game accordingly. Conniving people.

“Honestly, I really don’t know.”

Javier asked to see the painting. She took it out of the backpack and handed it over to him.

“Hmmm, good taste in men.”

He held the painting with both hands and closed his eyes. He remained in that position for some time, head tilted backwards in a slow, circle-like movement, breathing deeply. She watched his movements carefully. She wanted to laugh, but restrained herself. When everything was finally explained, Marc would have to pay for that whole ridiculous situation. Oh, yes, he would, the jerk.

Javier opened his eyes.

“This is some heavy stuff, my angel.”

“What?”

“Listen, I couldn’t quite see the details, but that’s some pretty strong spell that was cast on your boyfriend.”

“A woman?”

“A woman. But I couldn’t see who it was.”

“What do you know, I never realized I had a rival…” she said, sarcastically. And she couldn’t avoid thinking of a few female friends, certain work mates from his office… But no, that whole stuff was predictable. The charlatan now was ready to tell her that he could reverse the spell and how much it would cost her, but he liked her so he would make it at a nice price…

“This woman is powerful.”

“Do I know her?”

“Maybe. But he’s known her for a long time.”

“And what is going to happen?”

“Looks like he is bewitched. As if he had been lured by her.”

Luciane remembered the princess’ sad song…

“She must have lured your boyfriend with this painting. He came here, he bought it, and took it home. Bam! He walked right into the trap.”

“But where is he now?”

“The painting is showing it, my love. The princess represents the woman who cast a spell on him. He has joined her already.”

“Are you telling me that rascal is going around cheating on me?” she said with a smile, trying to look like it didn’t bother her. But then she found herself furious at the hypothesis. Maybe that little cousin of his who would sometimes come to the city…

“In other words… it’s exactly that.”

“But what goddamn woman would make a man leave his home and job behind and disappear without ever telling anybody?”

“Heavy stuff, my angel, I told you. Don’t you believe in witches?”

“No.”

“But they do exist.”

He could only be making all that stuff up. But how else could she explain the change in the painting?

“Of course, you’re free not to believe any of these things I’m telling you, my dear. But as it turns out, while you’re skeptical, your rival is making headway.”

He put the painting on the table.

“Javier, I’m not the most skeptical person in the world, I can tell you that. But you have to agree with me that this whole story is rather absurd.”

“If it’s absurd, what are you doing here?”

His voice turned to a more serious tone. His stare was grave now.

“Very well. Let’s say I believe you. Now what?”

“Now you write me a check for a thousand bucks, and we can begin. My price is usually two thousand. But I really like your eyes…”

“A thousand?! No way.”

“If you think your boyfriend is not worth that much…”

“Maybe he isn’t. What if I don’t have all that money?”

“Can’t you get it somehow?”

“What if I can? How can I be sure it is going to work?”

He leaned forward and his stare changed once again. It became more gentle and alluring. And she could feel it like smooth waves… they rocked back and forth inside her own eyes…

“It is going to work, my angel.”

“What if it doesn’t?” The waves rocked back and forth, back and forth… a nice rocking motion… intoxicating… sleepy… “Will you give my money back?”

“I never fail, my dear.”

For a brief moment, she almost let herself go along with the back and forth motion… But her strong will suddenly rose, shook up her thoughts and brought her back down to reality. The sleepiness went away.

“That is no guarantee, Javier, and you know it.”

He leaned back in his chair. He laid his elbows on the armrests, brought his hands together on the stomach and locked his fingers. He stared at her gravely for a few seconds. There were no waves coming from his eyes anymore.

“And you tell me you don’t believe in witches…”

“What?”

She thought for a second that he might be trying to hypnotize her.

“How old are you, Luciane?”

“Twenty-seven.”

“You’re young. You could be a great witch if you wanted. There are lots of people out there who could use your services. You have the type, you’re strong… But not with those shoulder pads, my angel. Please. They don’t become you at all. If you’d like, I can be your fashion designer, you give me ten per cent of your profit, what do you think? Fashion designer for a witch. Fancy.”

“I just want my boyfriend back.”

“I’ve seen very few women with your strength. And I’ve been in many places.”

“Are you the type who takes advantage of desperate people, Javier?”

“I only charge those who can afford it.”

“Whether I can or not doesn’t matter. I am discussing the guarantees of your service.”

He smiled.

“You win, sorcière. You don’t have to pay anything now. But if you get your boyfriend back, I want fifteen hundred.”

“Twelve hundred.”

“Thirteen hundred. Take it or leave it.”

Luciane felt ridiculous. That couldn’t be happening. She was haggling with a charlatan to recover her beloved man…

“Deal.”

“Wise decision,” he said and rose from the chair, pointing to the painting. “I’m going in today. And I’ll bring him back.”

“You’re going into the painting?”

“I’ve gone into many. Your boyfriend is not the first to fall prey to this trick. But let’s cut to the chase.” He walked to the door. “Bring the painting.”

“Where are we going?”

“To the crime scene, of course.” He opened the door and left. She went after him. “The energy of the spell must be still there. I’ll have to sleep one night in your boyfriend’s apartment. Daphne, I’m leaving early, you may close. See you tomorrow.” He turned to Luciane and said softly, “You really should reconsider becoming a witch…”

“I’m not interested.”

“What a waste, my angel Mikael, what a waste…”

*     *     *

QuandoOsHomensNaoVoltamParaCasa-1It was eight o’clock when they arrived at the apartment. Javier went into the bedroom and repeated the procedure he had followed at the store: he closed his eyes and jiggled his head focusing on something. Luciane watched from the door. The bedroom gave her chills. For a brief moment, she still thought about giving up. But it was too late for that now.

“The portal is right here, in this bedroom,” said Javier after opening his eyes. “Listen, I’m going to need thirteen white candles. Brand new ones, you hear me? The supermarket is still open. I’m going to sleep in the bedroom, you sleep in the living room. You can eat something if you want, I’m going to sleep on empty stomach.”

“What about the painting?”

“It stays with me for the night. Don’t worry, I’m going to find your boyfriend and he will come back to you, charming and handsome.”

Half an hour later, Javier went to the bathroom and changed his clothes. He said good-bye to her and went to the bedroom carrying the painting and the candles.

Luciane laid on the couch in the living room and remained alert. But she couldn’t hear any sound from the bedroom. What was going to happen? She was exhausted and sleepy, her eyes felt heavy. Maybe the neighbor downstairs, maybe… The jerk definitely might fall for that cheap kind. Or the cashier lady at the drugstore…

*     *     *

QuandoOsHomensNaoVoltamParaCasa-1The noise of the traffic, the honking, buses passing by… Luciane woke up scared while the brightness of the morning came in through a narrow opening of the window. It was nine o’clock. She had slept soundly after several days of bad sleep. She rose from the couch and ran to the bedroom. She opened the door and saw nobody. The melted candles were on the floor. The painting was on the bed. She approached it and saw Marc. He was sitting on the bench next to the princess, holding her hands.

“Good morning, princess…”

She was so startled she tripped over her own legs and fell and let out a scream.

“My holy Saint Sebastian, what is happening here, girl?” Javier was at the bedroom door wiping his face with a towel. “Geez Louise… And people think homos overreact.”

“Where is Marc? What happened?”

“First of all, calm down. The world is going to end, but not today. If anything has ended, it’s the toilet paper in the bathroom. You had better take care of that.”

“I’m calm already,” she said while standing up.

“Let’s have breakfast, I have something very important to tell you.”

*     *     *

“I was wrong. This is not the work of people of this world.”

Sitting at the kitchen table, Javier had a grave expression.

“It isn’t?”

“I had actually suspected that when we were at the store.”

“Suspected what?”

“The lost princess. I had heard stories about those spells, but never come across one. This is my very first time.”

“I still don’t understand,” Luciane said, pouring two cups of coffee.

“Thank you. Well, the lost princess is a very beautiful princess, the most beautiful woman that has ever existed. And I know a lot about beauty. In fact, I was a juror in a pageant, did you know that?”

Luciane remained serious.

“She is from a very distant kingdom beyond the lake. A kingdom out of time. And only a fearless knight can help her get back home.”

She laughed.

“Marc, a fearless knight?! You have to be kidding… That gutless goon is terrified of heights.”

“The princess did not underestimate him.”

Luciane became serious again, remembering the letter. She felt it would be useless to think in logical terms. She had behaved so far as if she were on the borderline of two realities and choosing neither. Maybe it was time she made up her mind.

“This lost princess, does she really exist?”

“Yes. But only for men.”

“And why the hell is she doing this to him?”

“First, because she needs to go back home like I told you. Also because your boyfriend fell in love with her.”

“But he loves me.”

“This has nothing to do with you two, my dear. It’s a men’s thing.”

“That dog…”

“This is not a good time for fighting. And I am no therapist.”

“Frankly, things don’t get any worse than this. To be traded for a watercolor princess…”

“She is just as real as you are, dear. Except she lives in his world, understand?”

“Men are pigs!” Luciane was still angry. “They’re helpless, they can’t see a tushy come across their path… Especially a princess’ tushy!”

“I can’t believe you’re jealous.”

“Jealous? Don’t be ridiculous, Javier…”

“The cure for jealousy is psalm 115, you hear me? Seven times a day during seven days. Facing the direction of the church of Ephesus.”

She swallowed hard at his teasing. She was very angry and could not hide it. If Marc was not happy with her, then why didn’t he talk to her about it? He didn’t. He just went after the first woman who came across his path. A watercolor woman from another world, how pathetic.

“They say the princess has an incredibly beautiful voice. She sings and lures men like the mermaids.”

“So she is a princess and a singer. Just my luck.”

“But there is a way to make her stop singing.”

“What is it?”

“Meeting her in person. Exactly what he did.”

“Then call him back, Javier.”

“Tuh-tuh. It’s not the right time.”

“Why not?”

“When it’s time for the man to meet this woman, you should not stand in his way.”

“Why not?”

“It’s an old law of the world of magic, my love. I didn’t invent it.”

“Laws exist to be broken.”

“That is one law I will not break, sugar, not a chance, look at my finger…”

“What do we do then?”

“In this case, nothing.”

“Great. And how long is he going to be there?”

“I don’t know. But he’s going to try to take her back to her kingdom.”

“Is there any sex involved in that story?” Luciane asked, seriously.

Javier laughed.

“I’m serious, Javier.”

“That is going to depend on him.”

“Then it must be happening already.” She stood up angrily.

“Sounds like you don’t trust your boyfriend much.”

“That is none of your business.”

“You should be proud of him. Few men have the courage to go and meet the princess. Even fewer succeed in taking her back to her kingdom. Most only care about having sex with her. She rejects those.”

“And what happens to them?”

“They return and remain the same. But if the man regards her beyond the physical desire, she knights him into a very special order. He returns another man. Wiser, more mature.”

Luciane thought for a while.

“I have to show you something, Javier.”

She felt ashamed while she showed him the letter. Javier read it in silence. Then he folded it and handed it back.

Why didn’t you tell me that before, you venomous reptile?” he asked, very serious. “It would have saved me trouble.”

“I’m sorry. I just wanted to see if you were really good. Now I see you are.”

“Typical of a witch. A witch who still has a lot to learn. Anyway, I can’t bring him back. We can only hope he doesn’t fail.”

“We can forget about that.”

“Don’t underestimate men, my angel. Many leave carrying one truth and eventually find others.”

“I’m supposed to stay here and hope my boyfriend is strong enough to resist the princess? I don’t think that is going to work… Look at their faces, they look like lovey-doveys…”

“Girl, Marc must have been through hell because of that temper of yours…”

“I have the right to be mad. Besides, I’m paying.”

“You’re not paying anymore, dear. Nobody can go there and bring your boyfriend back. I’ll bet my braid on that.”

“Some sorcerer you are, you can’t even snatch a man from the arms of a stupid princess.”

“Ah, my angel, you still have a lot to learn about magic…”

“Well, teach me then. Now I want to learn.”

Javier looked at her with a mix of laughter and shock.

“What for, you crazy little thing? Don’t tell me you want to go there and bring…”

“Could I?” she interrupted him.

“I really doubt it. Even if you could, I wouldn’t recommend it.”

“What if I just wanted to watch?”

“That’s risky.”

“How so?”

“It’s her world, only men go there.”

“I want to go.”

Javier finished his coffee, stood up and washed his cup in the sink.

“Forget it, Luciane, it’s really very risky.”

“I’ll sign a document taking full responsibility. Don’t worry. Just tell me what I have to do. Then you bow out and I’ll do the rest.”

Javier sighed. One didn’t always have the privilege of watching a witch like her in action. However…

“How much do you want, Javier?”

He didn’t answer.

“I’ll pay you thirteen hundred, alright? And you teach me what to do.”

“I don’t know, I think we shouldn’t take chances…”

“Fifteen hundred.”

Javier was startled by the strength of her words. The witch was finally coming out… He observed the woman in front of him, so driven she had no doubt she could accomplish what she had in mind. But what could happen?

“Two thousand, Javier. Are you in or not?”

“Two thousand,” thought Javier. “Enough to spend fifteen days on the beach eating shrimp. Far away from those crazy men chasing women. What a day! First the lost princess, now a jealous witch willing to take her on face to face and break the sacred laws of magic. That would be an interesting clash to watch…”

But no. He wasn’t willing to condone the violation of such an important law. His name would go straight to the black book. On second thought, though… he didn’t have to incur such a high risk. He could just merely escort her to the forest and let her fend for herself. She was a witch anyway, wasn’t she?

“Three thousand,” he said. “And don’t haggle because I won’t do something that crazy for less.”

“Deal.” Luciane smiled with satisfaction. “I’m going to the bank to withdraw the money.”

“Wait, woman. Listen, we can only do it at night. I’m going to the store and we meet here later, OK? But you need to stay calm.”

“I am calm.”

“Sit down, look into my eyes and be very honest with me. Into my eyes, that’s right…” He grabbed her by the shoulders and stared hard into her eyes. “Do you promise you won’t do anything, that you’re just going to watch?”

“I promise.”

“You don’t sound very convincing.”

“I promise. I swear.”

“If you violate the laws, I don’t know what could happen to you.”

“I’m not going to do that.”

“You have to show that you’re on your boyfriend’s side, that you trust him. As much as he trusted you by telling you that story. That’s important. Do you understand?”

“I understand.”

“Do you really understand?”

“Yes.”

No, she didn’t understand. Javier could tell. Of course she didn’t understand.

“Then you may bring the money.”

*     *     *

The two laid on Marc’s bed with the painting between them. It was ten o’clock at night.

“Remember, we’re going to wake up soon after the dream like Marc told you in the letter. The portal is going to be open to the forest. As soon as it opens up, we go in. If we take too long, it disappears.”

“That easy?”

“Easy?! By gobbleddy golly! Of course not, woman! This portal only opens up once in a man’s lifetime. And it’s going to happen today again because the energy of the spell is still lingering around here. Let’s sleep now. It’s going to be a long night.”

He was still skeptical that a woman would be able to go into that world. But it was worth a try.

Luciane closed her eyes. Magic, portals, creatures from another world, all those things were making her very excited. It was like a new strength she never suspected she could have had suddenly manifested in her, and that gave her a strange and pleasant feeling of power. Javier had warned her of the danger, but the one in danger was her boyfriend in the arms of a man-hunting princess. But she, Luciane, could bring him back. Yes, she had that power, she could feel it like blood flowing under her skin.

Maybe Javier was right. Maybe she really was a witch. Right or wrong, she would find out on that night.

*     *     *

QuandoOsHomensNaoVoltamParaCasa-1They woke up like Javier had described. Luciane opened her eyes in the darkness of the bedroom. She was still sleepy, but could perfectly see the forest trees… They looked like shadows, but… yes, they were there, the trees were in the bedroom!

“Javier?”

“Don’t talk now,” he answered almost whispering and got out of the bed on the other side. “Come on, stand up.”

She put her feet on the floor and stood up. It felt like a dream, but she could feel, little by little, the concrete reality of the bedroom overpowering her senses and her thoughts as if pulling her back…

Then she saw Javier go into the beaten dirt path among the trees and quickly followed him.

And it was like waking up. She suddenly felt awake. She was walking in the forest. The silence was so deep and so perfect she felt scared. The trees, the smell of the woods… Everything was real but a little cloudy, like a dream. She was walking, but couldn’t quite feel the floor. She touched the trees, but couldn’t feel them entirely. She felt her senses were numb. Her thinking, however, was in perfectly working order.

That couldn’t be true, she thought. It had to be some kind of dream…

“Stop thinking, you fool! If you keep questioning it, you will be thrown back automatically!”

Javier was shocked: she had accomplished it. The things a jealous woman would do…

“Where are you, Javier?” She could hear, but not see him.

“I’m stuck along the way, I can’t go in any further. But don’t worry about me. I can see you from here.”

“Where are they?”

“Focus.”

Luciane closed her eyes and suddenly knew she was supposed to turn left. She walked for some time. She wasn’t afraid anymore. She felt strong and determined. Going past a curve, the saw the wooden bench, and a little bit farther was the lake and the small anchorage. She ran towards it anxiously. But she found nobody. Just water and mist. And the silence.

“They’re gone, Javier!”

“Then you came in too late, dear.”

“But they can’t be too far…” she said, looking around. The mist over the lake, however, wouldn’t let her see much farther than a few yards.

“I guess that was for the better, Luciane.”

She dipped one foot in the water. It was smooth and warm.

“Hey, what are you doing?”

She didn’t answer.

“Luciane!”

She dipped the other foot.

“You dimwit, you’re not going find anybody in that fog!”

She kept going forward and could vaguely feel the lake floor under her feet, the water slowly crawling up her body…

“Luciane, get out of there while you still can. You may never find your way back.”

She began to swim and it was like swimming in clouds.

“Marc!” she shouted, going increasingly farther into the mist, and her shout echoed for a long time in the infinite silence of the lake.

She shouted again, louder. And kept waiting and floating… But she heard nothing, no response. She swam again, even farther into the mists. After some time, she heard it:

“Lu, is that you?”

“It’s me, Marc! I’m here!”

Luciane was overpowered by an irresistible wave of joy. Marc was there somewhere. She had made it. She had challenged the laws of magic and won. Javier was right: she really was a witch. And how much had she missed for not knowing that?

“Where are you, my love?” she shouted, excited.

Little by little, she could make out the features of the boat in the mist, then she saw Marc stand up and push the boat with a long pole. She saw his knight apparel, the chain mail, the tight slacks, the boots… In other circumstances, she would have found him absolutely ridiculous and would have had a fit of laughter. But not now. He looked beautiful… He was her man. Only hers, no other woman’s.

But there was something odd… There was something off about Marc, something different… She kept looking at him while she floated. He was definitely more handsome, but there was something else… There was this dignity. Yes, dignity, a knight’s loftiness, as if worthy of someone… at the service of a princess.

She immediately lost all the joy of the reunion and had this terrible feeling of being replaced by another woman. Marc had never behaved that way for her. What about the princess, where was she?

“Lu, what are you doing here?”

“I came to get my boyfriend back, of course,” she answered, clutching at the boat.

“Luciane, don’t!” It was Javier’s voice. “You don’t need to climb!”

She climbed quickly.

“My love, what are you doing?” Marc asked, startled. “You can’t stay here.”

“I ask you, Marc, I ask you,” she said very sternly, standing up on the boat. “What the hell are you doing here while I… By the way, where is the bitch?”

“Who?”

“The phony princess.”

“Can’t you see?”

Luciane could not see anybody except him.

“She must have fled when she saw me. At least she is smart.”

“Lu, you can’t stay here.”

“Just tell me one thing: what does that princess have that I don’t? Will you? You can say it, I won’t be mad.”

“We will discuss that later, Lu. I have to escort the princess to her kingdom. When I come back, we…”

“No, you’re coming back now. Let’s go home. You have no idea the hell I’ve been through since you disappeared.”

“I can’t, Lu. Please understand…”

“Marc, I admit I made a few mistakes… Do you still love me?”

“Lu, you’re ruining everything!”

“I won’t go back without you.”

“I can’t go back now!” Marc yelled in anguish. “Don’t you understand? I can’t!”

“Then I’m going with you. I want to see that kingdom.”

“Luciane, you crazy heretic!” It was Javier’s voice. “Get out of there now!”

“Two men trying to give me orders… One thinks he is a knight and the other is a raving queen. Just what I needed. Marc, how can you be in love with a woman that doesn’t exist, you fool? I exist, look at me…”

“Lu, I’m going to have to kick you out of this boat…”

“I am a witch, my love. You can’t fight me.”

“Luciane, don’t do that!” Javier shouted again.

Marc wrestled and immobilized her. But Luciane tried to escape and they both lost their balance. They fell in the water and sank fast. The lake became all silent again.

A few seconds later, a body emerged to the surface. It was Luciane.

“Marc!” she shouted, desperately. But she didn’t hear anything. “Marc!!!”

No answer. Just the silence of the lake.

“Javier, help me!”

But Javier didn’t answer either. Luciane looked for the boat but didn’t find it. She was surrounded by the mist, the endless mist. And the infinite, frightening silence. The deafening silence.

“Marc!!!” she shouted, increasingly desperate, looking for the margin that she just couldn’t find.

But nobody answered.

*     *     *

QuandoOsHomensNaoVoltamParaCasa-1Javier got up early in the morning. He felt tired. Next to the bed, there was a painting with the image of a forest, a lake with an anchorage and a wooden bench. No princesses or knights.

Minutes later, he closed the door of the apartment and left. The sun shone bright on the street. He put on his dark glasses, hailed a taxi and got in. He said good-morning to the driver, gave him an address and made himself comfortable in the back seat.

Why did women have to be so stubborn, he thought. He warned her so many times, and she just wouldn’t listen. What a shame. What a waste of such wonderful talent. And the young man, so handsome… He opened the pocket of his coat and checked the wad of money: three grand for his service.

Passing by the park, Javier saw the crowd and a police car. The taxi slowed down. He took the opportunity to ask an old lady about what was happening. She told him that two bodies had been found in the lake. A young man and a young woman.

Javier almost asked the driver to stop. But he decided against it. He was sure he would hate to see what he would have seen.

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Ricardo Kelmer – blogdokelmer.com

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(script for a movie soon)

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this tale is part of the book:

The End Times Survival Guide
Ricardo Kelmer – Miragem Editorial, 2020
fantastic – horror – science fiction

What to do when the unexplainable suddenly barges into our reality and old truths are rendered useless? Where are we to go when the end of the world is upon us? In the nine short stories included in this book, none of them short of mystery and supernatural, people are amazed at events that challenge their understanding of reality and of themselves and trigger crisis situations so intense that people’s own survival is put at stake. This is a book about collective and personal apocalypses.

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> Amazon (kindle) english/portuguese

> In portuguese – blog 

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