Once you reach a certain age, the heliphone starts ringing. It always does around or a while after midnight. Nowadays, it rings more often. Past loves are calling in from the afterlife. The other night it was Amalia.
“I didn’t see you at my funeral. Why didn’t you come? Why not bring me any flowers? After all, we spent some good times together.”
“Oh, dearest Amalia! Your voice sounds just like before. Australia was a bit far for me. Where are you now?”
“Much farther than Australia. You remember that day in the dunes?”
“Wonderful. I often dream of it.”
“So how come you didn’t marry me?”
“Blame it on my immaturity. I didn’t realize how good you would’ve been for me.”
“That figures; you were proposing all over the place after you left me. Are you any happier now?”
“It would’ve been nice to share our lives. If I’d had more than one, I would’ve done it.”
“I’ll keep a seat reserved for you here then. Till soon.”
The heliphone broke off. That “soon” gave me the shivers. I got up and made myself a stiff Martini. What did she know?
Earlier this week, I got another call from Irene.
“Nobody came to my funeral. Only Cindy, you remember, our bridesmaid, and that bloody husband of mine who’d left me alone most of the time. Why did you divorce me? “
“Probably for the same reason your second husband left you alone.”
“We had so much fun together, don’t you remember that sofa?”
“I do, delightful, but you embezzled my money.”
“Come on. All that paper’s just monopoly money. You can’t take it over here.”
“Where’s over here?”
“The purgatory. I don’t know why they put me here. It’s always cold. I spent time enough in jail.”
“Terrible. It surprised me you got married again.”
“I got him the same way I got you.”
“By pretending he’d made me pregnant.”
“Yeah, I remember that. I think purgatory is fine for you.”
The line broke off. I shivered again and took another Lorazepam. Was I lucky I got rid of her. She took all my money and still keeps calling me. That heliphone is a nightmare.
Mid-week wasn’t any better. It was Marilou, the fat girl from Switzerland, who I heard via the grapephone had suddenly passed away.
“I got heart trouble because I was overweight.”
“I’m so sorry, Marilou. I guess you’ve got plenty to eat now and can’t die anymore.”
“I still hate you. You only made love to me in the Alps because you got high rubbing my big boobs. You were a pervert.”
“I remember you telling me that. I broke my back, lifting you all the time because you couldn’t stay up on your skis.”
“I offered you my millions of Swiss Francs, but you only wobbled in between my boobs, said ‘Ahhh,’ and left me.”
“You told me the Swiss tycoon you married did it for your boobs too.”
“He was supposed to go before me. Now he’s got all my money and married an ultra-slim pin-up from Vanity Fair.”
“Are you calling him too?”
“His phone is off the hook. I hate Vanity Fair.”
The heliphone died away. Marilou was one of those sad moments in life you want to forget but keep being reminded of. How did she get my number?
Last night was the worst ever. It was Anita from Norway, my biggest regret in love life.
“I wish I’d married you,” Anita said.
“A bit late to tell me that now. What happened?”
“My husband murdered me.”
“Oh, no! Why?”
“Because I kept dreaming aloud at night mentioning your name, saying that I loved you.”
“I hope they put him on death row.”
“Death row does not exist in my country. But hell does here.”
“Awful. You think I could do anything?”
“Go to his prison and poison him. I want him in hell right now where they’ll knife him with red-burning forks every second.”
“But they’d catch me and put me in prison as well.”
“Don’t worry. I’m told we have our ways up here and I’ll protect you.”
“But I won’t get you back, Anita. What’s the point?”
“You’ll be here soon enough, darling, and we’ll live happily ever after.”
That was enough to whip me into a frenzy, and I swallowed two Lorazepams, but I stayed awake all night, shivering.
* * *
I’m on my way to Oslo now with a dose of cyanide wrapped in foil paper and my heliphone in my pocket to get word where that prison is.
Sitting cramped in my window seat, I wondered why the moon had this mocking smile on his face. My heliphone didn’t ring. Maybe because of secret regulations between Heaven and air traffic control?
I still didn’t know the whereabouts of Anita’s husband’s prison. I stumbled through customs on arrival at dawn. A voice told me that the cab driver would know. “Oslo fengsel,” he confirmed. After going through town, he turned into a long driveway lined by leafless trees and snow-covered grounds, ending at a somber red-stone building. “You wait,” I said and went in. The guards watched me, quizzically. I’d dressed as a priest, my faith-inspiring white-collar shining trustingly behind the white scarf around my neck. I didn’t speak a word of Norwegian but had many times mumbled Anita’s husband’s name, Wilhelm Lassen, that bloody Viking.
I sat in the bare visiting room when Wilhelm Lassen entered, accompanied by a guard, and took the only other seat across the steel table, his face one question mark. The guard left and shut the door. I gazed at Lassen’s hands. As I’d suspected, he didn’t wear rings in prison. I hoped he spoke a bit of English.
“My name’s Father John,” I said. “I’m bringing you a final word from Anita.”
The man’s face grew grey; his lips tightened; his eyes squinted. “Anita dead,” he said with a rolling accent. “I did do nothing. She suffered breath shortage. Who are you?”
“Her confessor when she lived with you in Geneva. She left this small package with me to hand you in case she’d die before you.” I pulled a blue jewelry box from my pocket and handed it to him. In it was a golden ring I’d dipped with a tweezer into a small base with liquid cyanide in the airplane toilet a short while before landing. A friend at a chemical factory gave me the deadly stuff, believing I’d use it to kill persistent mice in my basement. If Wilhelm slid the ring on his finger, his skin would absorb the cyanide, and death would follow soon.
Wilhelm opened the box and stared at it. “My wedding ring?” he asked. “I thought I’d lost it. Rar,” (‘strange’) he muttered. Then he shifted it onto his ring finger, looking sad.
The guard came in and warned me my time was up. I stood, said farewell to Wilhelm, and left as fast as I could. The cab driver took me rapidly to the airport, and I grabbed the first flight out to Amsterdam to erase my footsteps, hopefully having left pandemonium at the Oslo fensel. In Amsterdam, I got the last seat in a crowded United flight to Washington; mission accomplished, I reckoned.
Back home at night, the heliphone rang. It was Anita.
“Thank you, Johnnyboy. He’s nicely burning in Hell, screaming his lungs out.”
“But won’t I be punished?”
“No, you’ll be rewarded in Heaven when you get here in a while. Can’t wait.” Her heavenly voice drifted away.
“Crime pays in the afterlife,” I whispered and fell asleep, uncomfortable about Anita’s eagerness of my forthcoming passing.
Wilhelm’s death was reported as a suicide.
MORE WICKED STORIES IN SHIVER SNICKER SCHMOOZE
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Hello! SHIVER SNICKER SCHMOOZE IS PUBLISHED!
To get your fun book (for only $6.99 or equivalent): click on the following link:
A glimpse of the 12 stories:
The Flatfooters reflects my exchanges with friends in and from the broader Middle East and my fears that something like this might happen when driving home in fierce sunlight on I-95 south. (SHIVER)
Ghana-The Burial Train of Mr. Ashok resulted from a pressure cooker Algonkian Writers Conference with Michael Neff (recommended). (SNICKER)
Killing The Elephant Poacher is based on my World Bank work in the Central African Republic and a first step to developing a Boutique Killer assassin series. (SHIVER)
Leave Flying To The Birds came from a bad landing while piloting a small plane. (SHIVER/SNICKER)
From the Horse’s Mouth is how my horse felt about my horsewoman instructor. (SNICKER)
Mother Centipede was inspired by Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Stephen King’s Just After Sunset. (SHIVER)
The Mice Patrol and Attic Ghosts Talking are tales of mice and squirrels in our household and were sparked by reading Mark Spencer’s wonderful book Ghost Walking. (SNICKER)
Chantal’s Baby Grand really happened but don’t tell anybody it was me. (SCHMOOZE)
The Heliphone is based on bad dreams as you can imagine if you know my Double Dutch life. (SNICKER/SCHMOOZE)
The Medium stems from my younger days when I lived irresponsibly and had to apologize to a revered baroness whom my family and the entire country knew. (SNICKER/SCHMOOZE)
The Train Rider is a tragicomedy, remembering a society friend I played tennis with during my youth in Holland and whom I tragically found riding in the train gone mad. (SNICKER)
Links of other books for winter and dark days:
https://amzn.to/2IwinKc Francine – Dazzling Daughter of the Mountain State: Corporate scheming and love.
Enchanting The Swan: Classical music and musicians muddied in banking fraud, murder, and…love.
Get them now in paperback or Kindle. Or great gifts for Sinterklaas (Holland) and Christmas ( Everywhere).
A short story book is on its way to entertain you.
On writing stories: I came to the conclusion several years ago that the best way to learn the craft is to start writing short stories. Short stories like novels must have a beginning, a middle and an end, the end usually following shortly after the middle. I composed Some Woman I Have Known (Koehler Books 2015/Sun Hill Books 2018) from memoir-short stories about my diddle daddling in love until I married, and some outstanding women I met. It got me a PAN membership at Romance Writers of America. An honorary spot for a guy among all the famous and good women-writers.
Now I am launching a short storybook, entitled Shiver, Snicker, Schmooze, which contains 12 short stories in various genres, some short-short, others somewhat longer, which my muse bubbled up for me and got my fingers hitting the keyboard. Some based on real-life, others on the after-life, brought forward to the present time, spawning a smile, a tear, a shiver, or a schmooze. To entertain you during a boring train ride, that awful waiting in the airport lounge or sitting comfortably by the fireplace.
Soon to come:
ENCHANTÉ will announce when the Short Story Book is available on Amazon.com.
COVER DESIGN BY MELANIE STEPHENS OF MS Illustrations (Frederiksburg VA)
Squirrels Charlie and Charlene got fed up with their leaking roof in the sycamore tree and decided to find a better home for their upcoming babies. The nearby shed in their yard was too low, and the pine-oak they used to hang out in was removed by those unsocial humans they had to put up with. The sycamore tree had one advantage, though: a branch reaching to the humans’ roof.
“Come on Charlene,” Charlie said one early morning, shaking off raindrops from his tail. “Let’s go over there and take a look. Maybe we’ll find a hole somewhere.”
Charlene found this a great idea. The two rushed over the branch and hopped on the roof, the branch still waving up and down after they landed.
“Shoot,” Charlie said. “They covered the chimneys.”
“Over here,” Charlene squeaked, putting her claws on the gutter and looking down. “You see that vine on the wall? Next to it is a vent. Try to get in.”
Charlie studied the vine. Then he hung off the gutter and dropped into it. “It’s holding,” he squeaked. “I’ll jump over.”
With an athletic swing, he landed on the vent and peeked in between the louvers. “It’s an attic,” he said. “Nobody there. Only a noisy machine and lots of dust.”
“Can you get in?” Charlene pressed, getting impatient because the clouds were turning dark, announcing another rain storm.
“Easy, girl, I’m trying.” Charlie put his claws on a lower louver and pressed his back against the upper one but there wasn’t much movement. “It’s hard,” he complained.
Charlene dropped into the vine. “Move right,” she said. “I’ll come over and we’ll try together.”
“Don’t!” Charlie warned, seeing the gardener coming with his loud sputtering mower. “Hang in there, I’ll come back.”
Both hung in the vine, hiding until the mower was gone. Charlie swung back to the vent, making room for Charlene. She followed and both pressed their shoulders in between the louvers and created a suitable opening to sneak inside.
“Not bad,” Charlene said. “Enough room to squat on the wood.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Charlie said. Just at that moment, a thunderclap blasted and a violent shower clattered on the roof and against the vent. The squirrel couple sat high and dry, hearing the gardener cursing and shutting off his mower.
“This is great,” Charlene said. “I can have my babies here.”
The night approached and Charlene gave birth to three little squirrels. Nicely protected from birds of prey and cold showers, Charlie and Charlene enjoyed peaceful family life. Early mornings Charlie ventured outside to get food from the yards.
Then one night the attic started getting spooky.
“Do you hear that, Charlie?” his wife asked, concerned.
A little cloud appeared and two mice peeked out.
“Hi,” one said. “I am Maxie, and I lived here before.”
“And I am Maxine,” the other mouse said. “We both lived here before, but we’re dead now. “
“What!” Charlie said, worried. “Are you ghosts?”
“They poisoned us,” Maxine said. “Me, Maxie and my babies. So mean.”
“Would they come here to kill us, too?” Charlene asked, looking scared at her babies.
“When they hear you squeaking, gnawing or grunting as you do, they’ll come after you,” Maxie said.
“Oh no!” Charlene cried. “Not now, the babies are too small yet to carry them outside. And that rotten weather.”
Suddenly the little cloud covered the mice again. “We’ll be back another time,” the squirrels heard. “We only get so much time.”
Charlie and Charlene shivered, hovering over their little ones, and tried to be as quiet as possible.
* * *
“Hi, John,” neighbor Kevin said. “Do you know you’ve got squirrels in your attic? Look up there.” Kevin pointed. “They creep through your vent.”
“I’ll be damned! We thought we were hearing noises.”
“You better get them out before they chew your wires.”
* * *
That night, my wife screamed. “John, John, the mice are back!”
Fast asleep, I woke up with a shock. “What, what, where, where? Can’t be, I killed them all.”
“There,” she hollered. “On the dresser!”
True. Maxie and Maxine sat there, enveloped in their half-open little hazy cloud, staring at us.
“I thought we killed you,” I said, in awe of seeing micey spooks.
“Murdered, you did,” Maxie emphasized.
“Our whole family,” Maxine whined.
“You weren’t paying rent, remember?” I tried to justify, feeling guilty. They looked so sweet. “And you were messing up things big time. Droppings all over, toilet paper chewed off, rice bags torn, sofas sullied, and I can go on.”
“Why not treat us more humanely?” Maxie asked. “Why leave us in the freezing cold while you’re happily warm inside?”
“Don’t do the same to those squirrels up there,” Maxine said. “They just had three lovely babies.”
“That’s why you came back spooking to tell us that?” my wife asked.
“We have to go now,” Maxie said. “They give us only so much time.” The little cloud closed over them and they vanished in the dark.
“I think I had a nightmare,” my wife said.
“Me too,” and we went back to sleep.
* * *
The next day our favorite carpenter, painter, construction specialist and handyman, Yimy Romero, and I opened the attic door and looked in. And, yes, we saw them sitting up, their silhouettes visible against the outdoor light streaming in through the vent.
“We can take care of them,” Yimy said. “No problemo.”
“Let’s give them a month, their babies are still blind now,” I said. “I’ll send them an eviction notice.” I laughed.
“Oh, yeah? How’s that?” Yimy grinned.
“I think we have a communication channel.”
“Better throw some mothballs,” Yimy advised. “That’ll kill them.”
* * *
The following night, my wife poked my side. “I hear some rustling,” she whispered.
I sat up and the darling mice couple appeared again on the dresser, the little cloud surrounding them slowly opening up.
“What are you going to do?” Maxie asked.
“Chase them mice out!” my wife screamed, horrified.
“Okay, Maxie, Maxine, tell them four weeks, no more,” I said. “Now beat it and don’t come back next fall!”
* * *
A month later, Yimy came and we looked inside the attic again. Empty. Charlie and Charlene had moved out with their offspring. I cut the vine and Yimy’s grandson (his faithful help) pulled it down. With a long ladder, Yimy covered the vent with a thick mesh.
Charlie and Charlene now sit in the backyard, close to the high Holly shrubs, loving each other, nibbling on nuts, their babies roaming nearby.
Credits: David Gylland (picture left); Val Vesa (picture right)
This story was inspired by Mark Spencer’s delightful book Ghost Walking. (Mark did some editing too)
“A beautiful story — full of suspense, drama, and enduring love centered around music. John Schwartz has created a whole world and a wonderful escape. The characters jump off the page with such personality and imagery that this book could make a great movie. Enchanting the Swan is a very enjoyable read, and I recommend it highly.” Neal Cary (Cellist -Professor – William&Mary)
“Enjoyed the book. Well written book. A very heartbreaking love story.” Vera Wilson
“Enchanting the Swan was a nice read, and a deviation from the predictable boy meets girl and falls in love formula. There were many turns in the book that are reminiscent of life in that they were off the path to the end result. The writing was very image evoking and it all made for a good story that kept me reading until the end. Looking forward to more from this author!” Amy
“A lively composition! The various moneyed people, their elaborately appointed living quarters, and their high-wheeling lifestyle add a dash of pizzazz.” Kirkus Reviews
Our Beechcraft stood at Executive Airfield near Charleston in the glistering afternoon sun. Friends dropped us off after a weekend fishing off the South Carolina coast. We loaded our bags in the hull and walked back to the flight desk for weather information. Tom, my muscled friend from college and a Boeing 737 captain, and I drew up our flight plan. We had been flying the Beechcraft for several years now and enjoyed the fruits of our investments, going out each weekend if we could. I had been flying small planes since I was twenty-five. As I did well in my career as an investment banker, I could afford purchasing the aircraft. Tom pitched in as well.
“Fueling done?” asked Tom
“All fine. Here’s your invoice,” the attendant said. “Weather report OK, but you may hit some thunderstorms near your destination. Nothing to worry about.”
It was my turn to take the Beech back to Manassas in Northern Virginia, our hub. I started the engines, let them roar a few times, and taxied to the run way. Patrick Allen of Dreamstime.com took our picture. A few moments later we were airborne. Soon we would be home to tell the funny boat stories and show off our tanned bodies. Sunita, my wife, would be waiting anxiously. She would never come along. Andy, my son, and daughter Sonia, sometimes flew with us, but they were busy with parties this weekend. Besides, Sunita did not like them coming along. Tom was engaged to his umpteenth beauty, a smart girl from Manilla, but she felt terrified in small planes.
We were flying under visual flight rules in clear skies at an altitude of 9,500 feet, enjoying the scenery of fluffy clouds, the patches of forests and fields gliding by below us, the sonorous hum of the engines. As the weatherman had predicted, after about an hour and a half we began to experience some turbulence but the bright cumulus turned dark much faster than we heard.
Tom radioed Flight Watch for an update and they reported that conditions ahead were changing rapidly. I contacted Flight Service and activated our instrument flight plan, as visibility deteriorated fast. We contacted Air Traffic Control, and the Washington Center controller reported significant storms developing along our planned route. Tom and I discussed if we should return or reroute. But from the cockpit, the sky to the west looked darker and even more menacing. The controller suggested we proceed in northeastern direction to avoid the worst of the storms. Knowing they might have a better radar overview than we, we accepted the new course. It didn’t look much better, but at least it seemed less threatening.
Then flying conditions got suddenly pretty rough. We could not see anything anymore because of the harsh rain and thick clouds. I asked Tom, who had more experience, to take over the controls. We were about twenty minutes from Manassas. The hazardous weather and fierce lightning was now all around us. Turbulence shook the aircraft pretty badly and the instruments beeped several warnings. Tom struggled to keep the aircraft level. The controller informed us of severe thunderstorm activity near Manassas. Tom sneered that it couldn’t be worse than what we were having already.
The controller said landing was still possible and instructed to descend to 4000 feet, but there the clouds were even darker. Lightning kept slicing through them.
Hail began to clatter and the turbulence became increasingly violent. Then the aircraft experienced a sudden loss of 2000 feet. “Damn! Microburst!” yelled Tom to the tower. “Loosing speed going down!” We were far too low, still half a mile from the runway and facing tough headwinds. I led the landing gear down at about 100 knots. Tom applied full throttle to gain height but the aircraft continued to be pushed down. We saw the ground approaching fast. Tom tried to pull up again and level but the Beech veered abruptly to the left in strong gale winds and the nose pitched downward. We hit the ground, skidded and spiraled several times with tremendous shocks, and came to a very rough halt. My seat broke loose or cracked, I didn’t know what happened, but I felt a terrible pain in my back. Luckily no fire broke out and the canopy was still intact, but rain, hail, lightning and thunder continued unabated. Tom leaned forward over his stick, his shoulder hugged in a forward position. I couldn’t move.
“Tom!” I screamed. “The hell wake up man! I feel like I’m dying.”
I noticed a slight shrug in his shoulders, thank God he was alive.
“Tom!” I yelled again.
He came through slowly. His hair was bloodied and his lips were cut. “Come on, John, don’t panic! The tower knows. The meds are coming. Hold on!”
We tried to loosen our seatbelts but everything was twisted. My vision blurred and my senses numbed. The last thing I heard were the ambulance sirens. Thank God! I just hoped they would be in time to get us out before the plane blew up.
* * *
We woke up in a bright white hospital room. Sunita stood near my bed, with the kids, tears in her eyes, but so glad I was alive. Tom’s fiancée, with her typical Philippine name, Mahalina, stood at Tom’s bed, holding his hand. He looked like a Sikh and a surgeon with his head in a ball of white bandage.
“You guys are very lucky,” Sunita said. She wore her black hat as if she had been preparing for my funeral. “Better leave that flying to the birds.”
I laughed, Tom grinned painfully. He couldn’t move his face.
“Yes,” he mumbled through his bandage. “Flying is for the birds.”