Posted by Jason Sizemore on Jan 7, 2013 in Apex Publications Blog: Matters of SF, Fantasy, and Horror | 0 comments
Frank W. Haubold
PAIRS OF YELLOW LIGHTS GLIDE along snowy roads. Men in red coats scurry through the night. Masks hiding behind masks. Everywhere, silence. The thousand-legged animal has retreated into its cave.
The resinous scent of dying trees permeates rooms. Doll’s eyes smile into the flushed faces of children. Mountains of glittering gifts ask for forgiveness.
Mary stares into the candlelight. The man’s face is in shadow, and that’s good. Mary doesn’t know whether she could bear his smile.
Grandma Elfi is visiting. She and the man drink mulled wine. Mary knows he won’t beat her on this sacred night. And she hopes he will be too drunk to release the beast that lurks behind his smile.
“Silent Night” booms from the speakers of the new hi-fi system. Mary thinks of Mummy’s gift that she has hidden under her pillow, how it glints when she holds it to a candle. Her eyes shine when the man kisses her on the forehead. She memorises the lines on his thin neck. The animal does not like light. That’s why they always close the shutters at night and, perhaps, because of the screams.
“You mustn’t think about the past when he was still a human being,“ Mummy said. “If you’re weak, he’ll kill you.“
Mary knows Mummy was right. Tonight she will think only of the animal, not of the past when Mum was still with them. Not tonight.
Grandma Elfi says Mum will be an angel now, but Mary knows better…
She opens her gifts and emits small, sharp cries of joy. They like her delighted shrieks, he and the animal.
Mary closes her eyes, as she kisses him on the mouth. He smells of mulled wine and smoke. It isn’t even eight, and his eyes are glassy. The wine has taken effect.
“Thanks, Dad,“ says Mary to the mask behind which the beast lurks. “You’re so sweet.“
Grandma Elfi’s smile is touching.
* * * *
It’s late. Outside their home, ringing bells announce the end of Midnight Mass. An immense crowd swells out of the church gates. The men wear long, dark winter coats, the women, their festive-season hairstyles. Acquaintances and business associates shaking hands, saying goodbye. Engines humming, and then the marketplace is silent beneath the warm glow of streetlamps.
Mary has lit a candle. Only one, otherwise she would see the ugly stains on the walls and the ceiling—and Mum’s Christmas present that’s now covered with blood. The man lies quiet on the couch. Mary has wrapped a scarf round his neck, so the chill can’t get inside him.
The animal is dead. Mary is sure of that, she’s checked.
She’s cold, and she wants to be able to feel something: anger, pity, sadness. But there is nothing, only the cold that eats into her body.
The coloured boxes and caskets under the Christmas tree become suddenly bigger and rush towards her.
But Mary falls softly. A huge, silly-grinning and over-stuffed teddy in the colours of Dad’s favourite football team absorbs her fall. Mary stares at the flickering light of the candle and would like to cry.
If she can only cry again, everything will be good, Mummy did say that.
FRANK W. HAUBOLD was born in 1955 in Frankenberg (Saxony). After graduation and military service, he studied computer science and biophysics in Dresden and Berlin (Ph.D., 1989). Once he had gained his doctorate, he moved to Chemnitz, then Glauchau followed by Meerane, finally settling in rural Waldsachsen where he has lived and worked since 1996.
Since 1989, he has been writing novels, tales and short stories in various genres (science fiction, fantasy, horror, contemporary literature) and now has numerous publications in German and international magazines. These include Nova (Germany), Albedo One (Ireland), Futuro Europa (Italy), etc. as well as other publications in and outside the fantasy scene. Until 2009, he edited for EDFC Passau, producing five anthologies in total. In 2009, his science fiction collection of short stories The Star Dancer was published and, in 2010, he edited the anthology Dream of the Sea for Projekte-Verlag Cornelius GmbH.
Many of his novels and short stories have been nominated for literary prizes, and reached top positions in various competitions. In 2008 he won the German Science Fiction Award in both categories (best novel with The Shadows of Mars and best short story with “Homecoming“) and “He Who Picks the Bones” (reprinted in this collection) was short listed for the International Aeon Award 2009 for short fiction. More information on Frank can be found at www.frank-haubold.de