Never Forget

This was inspired by a prompt from Tomi Adeyemi’s writing prompts.

**

Jocelyn had said to do everything by the books.  She’d attacked Konrad and might have killed him, if not for the timely arrival of his younger brother.  However, she claimed that the attack was justified.  Konrad was violent and dangerous, she said.  He’d killed everyone in her family and driven her to an act of revenge out of pain and sorrow.  Those were serious charges so it didn’t matter who Konrad was.  They needed to hear her side of the story and then get his side of the story before they simply arrested her for attempted murder.

Holly stepped into the interrogation room and frowned at the woman seated at the table.  Charlotte Kovachev was a pretty woman with brown eyes and blond curls.

“They thought I’d forget,” she said, her voice soft.  Her brows furrowed and she shook her head.  “But I remembered.  Everything.”

“Start at the beginning,” Holly said, her voice soft.  She shook her head.  “You claim that Dr. Engel is a murderer.  Why is that?”

“Dr. Engel,” the woman said.  The way she said the name, it was as if it left a bad taste in her mouth.  “He wasn’t a doctor the first time I saw him.  He was just some gangly kid with a giant sword and an attitude to match.”

Holly blinked at Kovachev.  She’d never heard Konrad described as having any kind of attitude.  He was usually polite and soft-spoken.  Rather than argue, she nodded slowly.  “Is that so?” she said.  “Tell me about it?”

Back Into the Routine – Henry, Konrad

Now, back to Henry for bit… then on to Konrad for the very end.

**

Henry blinked when he received the email from Konrad. He opened it and smiled faintly as he read the message. The kids had all had a fairly good first day and they had already made a few friends among their classmates. He was going to give them a snack – some apples and peanut butter – and then they would start doing any homework they might have.

Nodding, Henry returned his attention to his work. It had been two weeks since he’d been in the office. It had taken that long to get the kids settled in his home. Now, their furniture and personal belongings were in place. Liese had been to see a child psychiatrist, who confirmed that she was bipolar. She was responding well to her medication, for which Henry was grateful.

Today, since the kids had begun school, so he felt safe going back to work. Now, he just had to get back into the swing of things at his office. Most of his day was spent reading reports and gathering information. His team was specifically tasked with dealing with Singers and other such beings.

He was just reading over a report that detailed what the Bureau knew of the Singer that had killed Kamile and Adrien. It had vanished, presumably banished by Adrien as a last act before his death. It would be some time before the demon would be able to gather enough strength to harm anyone. The question was: where had their gifts gone?

Members of the Cross Families had five distinct gifts. There were the True Crosses, like Adrien. They banished demons or purified the vessels they had chosen to inhabit. They could also use their power to heal members of their family and a host of other things that went along with fighting the demons directly.

Then, there were the four Defenders. Kamile had been one such, called a Staff. She was, specifically the Balchunas Staff. Each Defender summoned a magical weapon: a staff, lance, sword or hammer. In addition to summoning their weapon, each Defender had a secondary gift. Staves had the gift of Reading – knowing the thoughts of those around them. Lances had the gift of Seeking – being able to locate the other Defenders and their True Cross. Swords had the gift of Seeing – an intuition that allowed them to know someone’s true nature. Hammers had the gift of Knowing – an intuition that allowed them to anticipate trouble before it came.

In any case, their deaths meant that their gifts were passed on to someone in the next generation. Henry chewed at his lip. Had any of the kids inherited the gifts of one of their parents? He hadn’t noticed them as having any gifts. However, it was entirely possible.

“Montgomery,” he said, glancing over at her. “How would I be able to tell if one of the kids became a Cross or a Staff?”

She stared at him for a moment before her brows furrowed. “If a Cross sings, they can… sort of feel it,” she said. Then, she shrugged. “If one of the kids is a Staff, they’ll start being able to read people.”

“Some say even latent Staves can do that, though,” Ryoga added. He shrugged when Henry frowned at him. “What can I say, Boss? Everyone I knew who was Hammer – either at that time or who went on to be one later – was strangely intuitive.”

“Liesel acts like a little Hammer,” Daryl said, nodding.

“Noted,” Henry said. It was entirely possible that their parents’ gifts had been inherited by someone in Alleman. He looked over at Sachiko. “See if you can get word to Havensburg, Alleman. Either the Engel Cross or the Balchunas Staff might have awakened there as well.”

“You got it, Boss,” she said, nodding.

At that point, Henry began pulling up the contact information for the local Council of Elders. He presumed that the Elders in Fair County had gotten in touch with them. However, if one of his children was the Engel Cross or Balchunas Staff, he needed make sure they were aware.

When he looked back down at the clock, it had gotten rather late in the evening. The members of his team were grabbing their jackets and heading out for the day. He was about to call them back when his telephone rang. Scowling, he lifted the handset out of the cradle. “Shepherd,” he said, wondering who it could be at that hour.

“Mr. Henry?” a childish voice said. “It’s Johannes. We wondered… did you want for us to wait dinner until you got home or… were you going to eat at your office?”

Henry blinked. It hadn’t occurred to him that the kids would wait for him. Perhaps it should have, though. “I’ll be there in half an hour,” he said, his tone gentle. “Did Konrad make something or do you need me to stop and pick something up?”

“Brother made Fleischpflanzerl and potatoes and green beans,” Johannes said, sounding both pleased and excited. “It should be ready by the time you get here.”

Henry blinked and nodded. “I’ll be right there,” he assured the boy one last time. Then, he hung up his telephone. He gathered his coat as he typed the word into his computer’s translation program. It returned the translation of food, which was no help at all. He was certain that it was a specific type of food. The question was: What? Clearly, it was something that went well with potatoes and green beans. At the same time… Konrad seemed to think that anything went well with potatoes and green beans. The only other vegetable he seemed to like was cabbage. His younger siblings seemed to agree.

 

Konrad peered out of the kitchen when he heard the door open and close. “Welcome home,” he called, giving Henry a weak smile. “I’m sorry if Hansel bothered you while you were working.”

“It’s fine,” Henry said, shaking his head. “I just lost track of time. It wasn’t anything that couldn’t wait until tomorrow.” He shed his coat, hanging it on the tree by the door. “He said you made fleisch…” Henry trailed off, obviously struggling with the word.

“Fleischpflanzerl,” Konrad said, nodding. “Flattened meatballs? You’d probably think they were like little hamburgers.”

“Hamburgers,” Henry said, his eyes widening. He nodded as he stepped into the kitchen. “Now the potatoes and green beans make sense. Not salad?”

“We’re eating them hot, so…” Konrad trailed off with a shrug. He pitched his voice a bit louder and called his younger siblings. They were scattered all over the house. Markus was in the basement, working on some project. His sisters were in their room, playing with their dolls. He realized that he didn’t really know where Johannes had gone. His brows furrowed.

At that moment, Johannes bounced into the house from the back garden. He paused to struggle out of his coat and then he washed his hands. With them still dripping, he hugged Henry. “Welcome home,” he sang.

“Hey, Sprout,” Henry said, lifting him up to set him on his hip. “Did you have a good day at school?”

Johannes frowned and then shrugged. “I made friends of two boys,” he said, his wide eyes locked on Henry’s face. “They’re Erik and Fritz and they live down the street from us, next door to Maggie!”

“That’s good,” Henry said, setting the boy back on his feet. He smiled as Liesel and Frieda came into the room. “Did you learn anything interesting in school today?” he asked.

Liesel grinned. “Emmy can hold her breath longer than anyone in the class,” she said, nodding. “Clara almost fainted trying to beat her record and Ms. Weatherly told us it’s not good to hold your breath for so long.”

“People need to breathe or they die,” Frieda added, nodding. Her eyes were wide and her tone was very serious. She pointed at the refrigerator and added, “Mr. Hopkins taught us how to draw teddy bears. Liesel’s looked better than mine does, but he said mine looks good too. I just need to practice.”

Henry looked at the two drawings that were pinned to the refrigerator with magnets. One was a very basic bear with circles for each of the paws and a round little body and head with half-circle ears. However, the other bear looked like a girl of far more than eight years old had drawn it. There was even a bit of shading in it.

Konrad had been at a loss as to what to say about the difference. On one hand, he wanted to praise Liesel for how well she’d done. On the other hand, he didn’t want Frieda to feel bad about her own effort.

Henry only hesitated for a moment before he smiled. Nodding at Frieda, he said, “Your bear looks very nice. Keep working at it and I’m sure you can do even better.”

Liesel nodded. “That’s what Mr. Hopkins said,” she agreed.

Meanwhile, Konrad had returned his attention back to the hamburgers and potatoes. He laid out the burgers on a platter. The potatoes went into a bowl. The green beans went into another bowl and he carried the vegetables over to the table. “Markus Adrien,” he called. “Dinner’s on the table.”

Markus appeared at the doorway to the basement, flushed and panting. “Sorry,” he said, his voice breathless. That was when Konrad noticed that he was also a bit pale.

He was about to speak when Henry said, “All right there, Chief?”

Grimacing, Markus held out one hand. “I cut my finger a little bit,” he said. As Henry caught his wrist, he apologized again.

“I’m not angry,” Henry said, his tone calm. He guided Markus over to the sink and ran the hand under cold water, washing away the blood, so that he could see the cut.

Konrad set the platter of hamburgers on the table and directed the others to sit down. It gave them something to do and got them out of Henry’s way. “Is it all right?” he asked, his voice soft.

After a moment, Henry nodded. “It’s not deep,” he said, his voice soft. “It’s just that it’s in a spot with a lot of capillaries.” He wrapped Markus’s hand in a towel, pressing down on it for a moment. “Hold that there while I get a bandage.”

“Yes, Mr. Henry,” Markus said, his voice faint. He sat down beside Konrad and looked up at his brother with teary eyes. “I’m sorry,” he breathed again.

“Accidents happen,” Konrad said, his tone gentle. “You don’t need to apologize.” He waited until Henry had bandaged Markus’s hand and then he grimaced. He probably shouldn’t have let Markus work in the basement without supervision.

Frieda said grace and then they began plating their food. Henry waited until everyone had their food and then he looked at Markus. “Do you want to tell me what happened?”

“I was shaping wood and… the knife slipped a little and… then there was blood and… I sort of panicked a little,” Markus said, his voice strained. Tears welled in his eyes and he shook his head. “I thought that you’d be angry at me.”

“I’m not going to be angry that you hurt yourself,” Henry said, his tone gentle. He looked over at Konrad and shook his head. “It’s not your fault either, Konrad. Like you said: accidents happen.”

“I should have been keeping a better eye on him,” he murmured. “I… didn’t even know that Johannes went outside! I was focused on making dinner.”

Henry nodded slowly. Turning to Johannes, he said, “If you want to go outside, you need to let someone know, Sprout.”

“I’m sorry,” Johannes said, his eyes wide. “I saw Maggie in her yard and I wanted to ask her if she knew Erik and Fritz, since they live near her.” He looked up at Konrad. “I didn’t mean to worry you, Brother.”

Shaking his head, Henry said, “So long as we learn from our mistakes, there’s no need to apologize.” He looked over at Markus and said, “If you hurt yourself, you need to tell me or Konrad right away. We’re not going to be angry or tell you that you can’t do your carving. At the same time, we need to know if you’re injured, so we can make it better.”

“I’ll remember,” Markus said, his voice soft. He grimaced and then said, “I kind of… left a mess downstairs.”

“We’ll clean it up after dinner,” Henry said, nodding.

Konrad heaved a soft sigh and focused on eating. At first, he’d felt like they were burdening Henry – intruding in his life. Now, he realized that Henry didn’t mind looking after them. On top of that, Konrad wasn’t quite ready for the responsibility of looking after his younger siblings. He closed his eyes and said a silent prayer of thanks that his parents had planned what would happen if they were killed. Without Henry, they probably still wouldn’t be getting back to a sense of normalcy. With him, they were already back into their normal routine.

Back Into the Routine – Konrad, Markus

Continuing the story, we’ll see how Konrad and then Markus settle into their classes.

**

Konrad couldn’t help but worry about his younger siblings.  Was Markus handling his first day back at school all right?  Was Frieda fitting in with her classmates?  Was Liesel paying attention and not acting out?  Most of all, was Johannes adjusting to his new environment?

At the same time, he had worries and concerns of his own.  He was not the most outgoing person under the best of circumstances.  These were hardly those.  He was at a new school, in a new town and his parents had barely been laid to rest two weeks before.  He was still reeling from the sudden loss himself.  However, he was meant to graduate in June and that gave him three more months.  Two weeks absence in a senior year was too much.

His classmates were pretty quiet, until the time came to transition from homeroom to their first class of the day.  Then, he felt like everyone was talking at the same time.

“You transferred in right at the end of our last year,” one boy said.  “Why?”

“What’s with that hair?” a girl asked.  “Do you bleach it?”

Konrad flushed and then frowned at her.  “I’m an albino,” he said, his voice faint.  “It’s albinism.”  The condition was surprisingly common at his old school.  Apparently, that wasn’t the case at this school.   In a softer voice, he said, “It’s the result of a founder’s effect in Haven, Maine.”

Then, he looked at the kid who’d asked about his transferring so late in the school year.  “My parents were killed and our legal guardian lives in Shepherdstown, so… we had to move.”  He hugged his books to his chest and added, “You’ll barely ever see me, so don’t worry about it.”

At that moment, he saw a small break in the crowd and slipped through it.  Then, he quickened his pace and headed off towards his first class.  He had no idea how many of the kids in his homeroom would also be in his literature class.  He just hoped it wasn’t that many.

“Hey, Konrad,” a voice called.  As he glanced back, he saw a girl with light brown curls just behind him.  She grimaced and said, “I’m sorry… about your parents.  That’s… really tough to have to go through.”

“Thank you,” Konrad said.  He felt tears sting his eyes and ducked his head.  Blinking them away, he took several steadying breaths.  He glanced up to find that she was walking beside him.  Not knowing what else to say, he said, “It was… pretty horrible.  They were murdered and… I just walked into the house and… found them.”  It must have been worse for Markus, though.  He’d been home when it happened.

“That’s messed up,” the girl said, her tone one of sympathy.  She heaved a sigh and added, “I’m Winifred Carmichael, but… most people call me Winnie.”

“Konrad Engel,” he said, mostly out of habit.  Of course, she already knew his name.  Giving her a weak smile, he added, “Some people call me Konsel.”

Winnie smile faintly.  “Cool,” she said, nodding.  Then, as they slipped into the classroom, she said, “You got any brothers or sisters, Konsel?”

“Oldest of five,” he said, giving her a wry smile.  “Markus is ten.  Frieda and Liesel are both eight – twins.  Hansel is only six years old.”

“Gotta be tough for him,” Winnie said, grimacing.  “Kids that age… don’t really get death yet.”

“I think he understands just enough to be upset by it,” Konrad said, grimacing.  He shook his head and added, “Normally, I cannot speak to girls… like, at all.  Has anyone ever told you that you’re easy to speak with?”

Winnie smiled.  “My elder brother says that all the time,” she said, nodding.  As she sat down, she waved at the chair beside her own.  “Do you need help with, like… notes or anything?  I mean, I’ve read a little about albinism and… sometimes albinos have trouble seeing, right?”

Nodding, Konrad said, “I have a really good auditory memory.  If I hear something, I don’t forget it.”  He grimaced.  “The only time I have trouble with notes in class is if the teacher just puts up an overhead and says, ‘Copy these’.”

“Mr. Spencer barely touches the chalk,” Winnie said, shaking her head.  “You’ll be fine, then.”  As other students began taking their seats, she said, “What’s your next class?”

“Physical education,” Konrad said, grimacing.  He hated physical education because he had a lot of trouble with most sports and, even at his old school, the teacher wasn’t always able to accommodate for his condition.

“Ms. Beare is really cool about adjusting things to the needs of the students,” one of the boys said.  “I’ll show you where the locker rooms are after class.  I’ve got gym next too.”

“Thanks,” Konrad said, blinking.  At least not all of his classmates were nosy.  Alternatively, these two were being nice to get to know him better.  Somehow, even if it was almost the same thing, it seemed kinder.

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Back Into the Routine – Henry

The start of my new writing for this universe.  Henry brings the kids to school for their first day back… then, he’s off to work.

**

It was the first day of school for the kids.  Henry had made certain that their paperwork was in order the previous week.  The Elders in Fair County had helped him out there.  However, he wanted to see the kids to school himself, rather than just putting them on the bus and sending them on their way.

They met with the principal first.  He outlined how Konrad’s schedule would go.  He would be finishing out the school year with them, but most of his classes would either be the online classes that he’d already been doing or distance learning classes that he could do on his home computer.  He only had to take English literature and physical education at the school itself.

Then, he brought Markus down to the class that he would be joining.  He peered into the room and smiled.  “Mr. Goldblum,” he said, “this is your new student: Markus Engel.”

Markus glanced at Henry and then greeted the teacher politely.  He glanced around at the students that would be in his class as Mr. Goldblum pointed to a desk.  “We’ve a space for you right there, Markus,” he said.

Henry started to leave, but paused when he heard Markus say, “My name is spelled with a k, Mr. Goldblum.”  He spelled it for the teacher, while the students chuckled to themselves.  Henry glanced at Markus and sighed in relief.  The boy was giving the teacher a sheepish grin.  Whatever his classmates intended, he was confident enough that he thought they were laughing at Mr. Goldblum’s mistake.

Nodding, Henry followed the principal to the second grade class to which the girls were both being added.  Ms. Weatherly greeted them with a sunny smile.  “Now, which is Elisabeth and which is Frieda?” she said, looking from one to the other.

Liese grinned.  “I’m Elisabeth,” she said.  Her voice held no hint of self-consciousness.  She glanced over at Frieda and said, “She’s Frieda.”

“We call her Liese,” Frieda added, her voice soft.  In the same soft voice, she spelled the name for the teacher.

Ms. Weatherly nodded.  “That’s a very pretty nickname,” she said.  “There are your seats, girls.  Welcome to the class.”  Then, she pointed towards two empty seat.  Henry noticed that they were near each other, but not at the same table.  He was relieved that they didn’t seem bothered at not being seated in the same group.

That just left him with Johannes.  He looked down at the boy, who was still hugging his oversized bear close.  “Are you ready, Sprout?” Henry asked, his tone gentle.  Wide, hazel eyes met his own and smiled.  “You want to meet your teacher and your classmates?”

“Can I keep Herr Braun with me?” he asked, his voice faint.

As Henry glanced at the principal, the man nodded.  “I explained the situation to Miss Brighten,” he said, his voice soft.  “She understands that he’s not ready to… let it go yet.”

“Thank you,” Henry said, nodding.

Miss Brighten was talking to the students when they arrived.  Henry listened as she spoke, curious as to what she would be saying.  Was she giving them a lesson?

“Today, we’re going to have a new friend joining us,” she said.  “His name is Johannes and he came here from Maine.  Can you all say that name with me?  Johannes?”  The students repeated the name a few times.  Then, she nodded encouragingly.  “Now, Johannes brought a friend with him from home because something very scary happened to him recently.  You all have cuddly friends that help you when you’re scared.  Right?”

“I have a doll,” one little girl said, raising her hand.

Miss Brighten nodded.  “That’s right, Emily,” she said.  “So, until Johannes is feeling less scared he’s going to bring his friend with him to school.  All right?”  There was scattered agreement from the kids and she smiled.  “Well, good,” she said.

The principal tapped on the door and smiled.  “Are you ready for us?” he asked.

Miss Brighten smiled at the principal and then nodded.  “Good morning, Mr. North,” she said.  Her greeting was echoed by several students.

Nodding at the kids, he said, “Hello, children.”  Then, he waved at Henry and said, “This is Mr. Shepherd.  He’s Johannes’s guardian.”

“Thank you for understanding about the bear,” Henry said, his voice soft.

“It’s fine,” Miss Brighten said, extending her hand.  As he shook her hand, she said, “It’s very nice to meet you, Mr. Shepherd.”  In a softer voice, she said, “You are a saint for taking in these kids.”

“Their parents were dear friends,” Henry said, shaking his head.  “They needed someone and… maybe I did too.”  He gently ushered Johannes forward and said, “Go ahead and say hello to Miss Brighten, Sprout.”

Johannes looked up at her, hugging the huge bear to his chest.  “Hello, Miss Brighten,” he said, his voice soft.

“Hello, Johannes,” Miss Brighten said, crouching down to look him in the eye.  “Does your friend have a name?”

“He’s Herr Braun,” Johannes said, his voice soft.  “Braun means brown, because he has brown fur and brown eyes.”

“Herr Braun is a very large bear, isn’t he?” Miss Brighten said, smiling.  She beckoned him into the room and said, “Ryan, can Johannes and Mr. Braun sit beside you?”

“Yeah,” a boy with dark hair said.  He smiled as Johannes sat at the desk beside his own.  Henry smiled when he saw that there was a chair beside the desk.  Johannes set the bear in the chair and gave Miss Brighten a shy smile.

“He’s still learning English,” Henry warned her, as she turned to bid them a good day.  “Sometimes he’ll slip into Allemani or Leituvan.”

“I know Allemani, so that shouldn’t be a problem,” she said, grinning.  Then, she waved and added, “Thanks for the heads-up, though.”

Henry watched Johannes for a moment longer.  When he seemed to be settling in all right, Henry gave the principal a weak smile and nodded.  “Thanks for letting me tag along until they were settled.”

“No problem at all,” the principal said, waving his words away.  He nodded.  “We’ll be bussing them home.  Konrad should arrive first, so… if you aren’t home yet, he can get them off the bus.”

Nodding, Henry said, “I’ve got to get going, but I’ll try not to stay late at work.”  He wanted to be there when they got off the bus that first day.  He was well aware that Jocelyn would have other ideas.  After all, he’d been off for two weeks.

A New Life

This is the second part of the story with the Engels.  Now, back in West Virginia, they stop by Henry’s job so that he can touch base with his team…

**

Johannes trailed along behind Shepherd, holding tightly to his hand, even as he hugged his bear to his chest.  He liked the bear.  It was soft and cuddly.  Even with Markus focusing most of his attention on Frieda and Konrad focused on Liesel, he didn’t have to feel alone.

He felt much less alone now that he had met Shepherd.  The older man had given him the attention he’d been missing for the last week.  He couldn’t blame his brothers for not paying attention to him.  His sister needed them, after all.  He was the youngest, the smallest and the quietest.  That meant he was overlooked a lot.

“I just need to check in with my team,” Shepherd said, as he flashed his identification at two men wearing uniforms.  His voice was soft and blue, like the fluffy, dark clouds that made light rain.  “Then, we’ll head to my house and figure out the sleeping situation.”

“How many bedrooms does your house have?” Konrad asked.  Johannes noticed that his brother was speaking more quietly than normal, with blues so pale that Johannes could hardly see them.

Shepherd chuckled and Johannes looked up at him.  In spite of the smile on his face, Johannes thought that maybe, he wasn’t really amused or happy.  “Three bedrooms,” Shepherd said.  He ruffled Johannes’s hair.  “We’ll figure out something for the short term.  I’m pretty handy, so it won’t take much effort to fix up the attic into two or three more bedrooms.”

“We don’t mind sharing,” Frieda said, looking up at him.  Her voice had started it’s normal vibrant golden tone, but faded to pale yellow as she added, “We shared at… home.”

Shepherd nodded.  “Konrad’s a young man, so he needs his own space,” he said, in the same gray-blue voice as before.

Johannes made a curious noise.  When Shepherd crouched to meet his gaze, he said, “Muti put Konrad and Markus together.  She said I needed my own room, because I was a baby.”

“You’re not a baby anymore, Hansel,” Shepherd said, smiling.  It was a genuine smile this time.  “You’re a big boy, like Markus.  Now, Konrad needs his privacy.”  He straightened and then said, “Would you like to press the button for the elevator?”

“We’re going up?” Konrad asked.

When Shepherd made a noise that meant they were, Johannes bounced forward and hit the top button.  Catching Shepherd by the hand again, he said, “Frieda can hit the button for the floor, if she wants.”

“That’s very nice of you, Johannes,” Shepherd said, as the elevator chimed and the doors slid opened.  He ushered them into the car and then looked at Frieda.  “Press the button that says seven, please.”

Frieda reached up and hit the button with the number seven on it.  Johannes frowned as he noticed a bunch of dots below the number.  “What are dots for, Herr Shepherd?” he asked, touching them.  They were raised, so that he could feel them with his fingertips.

“Blind people read by touching them,” Shepherd said.  “It’s called Braille.  These dots mean ‘number’ and then the other set mean the number for the floor: one through ten.”

Johannes nodded and then the door slid opened once again.  He let Shepherd lead him off the elevator and kept close to him as they moved into a large open office area.

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Unexpected Concerns

This is the story that introduces Konrad and his siblings.  I wrote it just over a year ago.  It fits with the story that I’m writing now, which is why I’m posting it now.

**

Henry tried to remember the last time he’d seen Adrien and Kamile.  Their first meeting had been pure chance.  They had just come to the United States from Alleman and Henry had just married Ann.  That was eleven years ago.  Kamile had been pregnant then, with what they hoped would be their second child.  Just a few months later, those hopes were fulfilled and Markus was born.

The memory of holding the tiny boy brought a smile to Henry’s face.  It had been shortly after that when Henry had been deployed.  The Engels had settled somewhere in Maine and he’d stayed in West Virginia with his wife.  The families had kept in touch through letters and cards, as well as occasional phone calls.  They’d come down for the funeral of his wife and daughter.  Now, he was returning the favor.

He slipped into the church feeling just a bit out of place.  Religion and faith had always been at the center of Adrien and Kamile’s life.  For him, it was pushed to the edges.  He thought about God and believed, in his own way, but he didn’t make the time to attend church, not even on the big holidays.  Since his wife and daughter had been killed, he had one focus: stopping people like the one who had taken them from him.

The church was already crowded with people.  Two closed caskets stood in front of the altar.  In the front row, to the right side of the church, sat five young people: Adrien and Kamile’s children.  He’d met Konrad when the boy was six years old and he’d held Markus when he was only days old.  However, he’d only seen the younger three in photographs.

The youngest boy was hugging an over-sized stuffed animal of some kind to his chest.  His face was buried in the soft plush.  The little girl beside him was crying softly, while her elder brother rubbed her shoulder.  Markus stared at the coffins as he rubbed his sister’s shoulder, but his face was an emotionless mask.  He looked as if he were in shock.

The other little girl was sitting in Konrad’s lap.  She was giggling as if there was something humorous about the affair.  Konrad rubbed her back soothingly, but he looked as if he was getting close to his breaking point.

Heaving a sigh, Henry moved up to the pew behind them.  A few people shifted over so that he could take his seat.  As the funeral progressed, there were prayers and songs and words of comfort.  Henry could hear three of the five children crying by the end of the service.  Konrad was stoically biting his lip to hold back his own tears while the little girl he held continued to laugh.  The sound had an almost hysterical edge to it.

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Six Minutes

This little scene was inspired by a prompt from Tomi Adeyemi’s site.  This is set when Konrad is working at a hospital.

**

“Six minutes. That’s all the time I have,” the old man said. “Six minutes until the pain is over.  Six minutes until I finally die.”

Konrad frowned slightly.  He glanced over at the clock on the wall.  He could just make out the time: six minutes until eight o’clock.  Looking back at the old man on the bed, he shook his head.  “I don’t understand,” he said, his voice soft.  There was no judgement in his tone as he asked, “What makes you so sure you’ll die at eight o’clock?”

The old man smiled and looked at the clock.  “Five minutes, now,” he said.  Then, he turned back to Konrad.  “I was born on this day eighty years ago, at eight o’clock.  It’s fitting.  Don’t you think?”

A smile touched Konrad’s lips.  “There is a certain kind of symmetry to it,” he admitted.  Then, he shrugged.  “Life’s seldom so neat, though.  Life is chaotic… messy.  I kind of like it that way.”

The old man chuckled softly.  Konrad knew he was, indeed, near death.  He was old and in poor health.  It was highly likely that this would be his last hospital stay.  “Mark Twain died on his birthday.  Did you know that?”

“He also was born and died when Halley’s Comet was coming through,” Konrad said, nodding.  He shrugged.  “So… are you saying that, sometimes, life is symmetrical after all?”

“Maybe someone likes to keep us guessing,” the old man said, giving Konrad a playful wink.  He glanced at the clock, but didn’t read the time out loud.  Instead, he turned back to Konrad.  “Do you have somewhere you need to be?” he asked.

Pulling the chair closer, Konrad sat down.  He shook his head.  “I’m here for as long as you need me,” he said.  “Is there anything you want to let someone else know?”

For a moment, he expected the old man to laugh off the question.  Konrad knew that he had no family.  His siblings were all gone and he’d never had children.  His wife had died two years before.  What possible message could he have for anyone?  Certainly, he wouldn’t have anything to confess and Konrad wasn’t a priest besides.

However, the old man nodded.  “You got a girl?” he asked.  When Konrad nodded, he smiled.  Then, he began extoling all the wisdom he’d gained from sixty years of marriage.  Some of it was things Konrad had heard before.  However, there were a few kernels in there that were new to him.  When the old man was finished, he looked at the clock and chuckled.  “I missed my appointment,” he said.

Konrad nodded.  “Happy birthday,” he said, his voice soft.  He watched as the old man drifted off to sleep, but it was just sleep – not death that took him.  As Konrad stood, he found that he hoped the old man would go when he was truly ready and not a moment sooner, but no later either.  “Sleep tight,” he said, as he headed for the door.

Finding Forgiveness

This little scene was inspired by a prompt from Tomi Adeyemi’s site.  This is not a happy story, but it helped me understand Konrad’s character a bit better.

**

Henry glanced from the woman that his children called “aunt” to Konrad and frowned.  He knew she wasn’t really their aunt.  When you came right down to it, they weren’t even related to her.  However, her husband was their father’s cousin.  They called him their uncle out of courtesy and, by extension, she was their aunt.  Why, then, was she so cold towards them?

It was a practice in self-control to wait until the woman had left him alone with Konrad.  The moment she had retreated to the kitchen, he looked over at his son.  “What is her damage?” he breathed.  He shook his head.  “I thought, at first, that it was because of how difficult Liese can be or because everyone expected her to just open her house to five kids, but… it goes beyond that.  Most of her anger seems directed at you.”

Konrad grimaced.  He dropped his gaze and shrugged.  “We don’t talk about it,” he said, his voice soft.  “Uncle Roderich… he doesn’t blame me for what happened, but…” he trailed off.  “It’s been easier to just not think about it.”

Henry nodded slowly.  “What happened?” he asked, his voice faint.

“A couple winters ago,” Konrad started, “there was a bunch of us… playing around a frozen lake.  It’s easy to forget how deep that lake is when it’s covered with ice.”

He sighed and looked out the window, to where his brothers and sisters were playing in the yard.  “I fell through it and… Elsa didn’t even hesitate.  She – she just lay down on the ice and reached for me.  She tried to pull me out, but she fell in too.”

Tears welled in Konrad’s eyes and he took a steadying breath.  “The other kids ran off, maybe to get help.  I don’t know,” he said, rubbing at his face.  He shook his head and shrugged.  “I thought we were both going to drown or freeze, but Elsa… she… All of a sudden, she went under and then, I could feel her, holding me.”

He looked over at Henry and shook his head.  “She kicked off from the bottom and pushed me out.  I climbed out of the water and… I looked for her, but she was gone, Teva.”  He took a shuddering breath and wiped at his eyes again.

“I barely made it home and… I told Vati what had happened,” he said, closing his eyes.  “The whole town, it seemed like, was down by the water looking for Elsa, but I knew it was too late.  They found her… hours later.  The paramedics tried to save her, so did the doctors.  They said… she wasn’t dead until she was warm and dead, but…” he trailed off again.

More

A New Addition

This little scene was inspired by a prompt from Tomi Adeyemi’s site.  I had fun with this one…

**

“I had a cat when I was a boy,” Henry said, as he watched Liese play with her new kitten.  She had named the little fluffy white cat Edelweiss, after a white flower and a song her father had taught her.  “We always had an animal in the house: a cat when I was really small, then a dog.  I had another dog when I first moved out on my own.”

Markus frowned at him.  “Why didn’t you have any pets when we came then?” he said.  When Henry looked at him sharply, he shrugged.  “You obviously like animals, but you… stopped getting them.  Why didn’t you keep any more pets?  Was it because you weren’t home enough?”

Henry shrugged and nodded.  “That was part of it,” he said.  He heaved a sigh and said, “When Anne and Emily died, all I had was this old dog we’d gotten when we were married.”  He shook his head.  “He died, as happens with all living things and…  I didn’t know what to do.  I just knew it needed to stop.  Grave after grave after grave… I got tired of burying my friends.”

“It was the last piece you had of them,” Konrad said, his voice faint.

Henry looked at him intently for a moment.  Then, he realized that Konrad was absolutely right.  When Buffy had died, it was like losing Anne and Emily all over again.  It had ripped open a wound that wasn’t quite healed yet.  He nodded slowly.  “I just wasn’t ready for a new pet,” he said, smiling at Markus.  He nodded again.  “I’m ready now, though.  Edelweiss is Liese’s cat, but… she’ll be part of the family.  So, in a way, that makes her everyone’s cat.”

“Edelweiss has enough love for all of us,” Liese said, smoothing the cat’s fur.  In a soft voice, she added, “When she dies, she’ll still be a part of our lives.”  She looked up at Henry and shrugged.  “The dead stay in our heads, because we loved them.”

Henry smiled and looked at Konrad.  “What?” he said, his voice hardly louder than a whisper.

“She means… they’re always on our minds,” Konrad said.  “We think about them often, because we loved them.”  He shrugged and added, “The ones that loved us are never really gone either.”  He touched his chest and said, “We can always find them.”

“Even pets,” Henry said, nodding.

Conflicts in Opinion

This little scene was inspired by a prompt from Tomi Adeyemi’s site.  I enjoy the interplay between Jocelyn and Henry…

**

“In your heart, you already know what you need to do,” Jocelyn said, her voice soft.  Henry blinked and she nodded.  “There comes a point in everyone’s life when they need to stand or to fall on their own, Henry.  Konrad’s at that point now.”

“I don’t see any reason why I can’t just… help him a little bit,” he said, shaking his head.  “We both know he’s capable.  He just needs some direction – some guidance, so that he can use the right language to help them see that too.”

“I’m not going to ask this of you, Henry,” Jocelyn said, frowning.  “This isn’t a request.  It’s an order: stay out of it.”

Henry frowned.  “Is that the last word you have on the matter, Lady Director?” he asked, his tone just a bit mocking.

She narrowed her eyes and clenched her fist.  “Do not challenge me.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he said.  Then, he whirled on his heel and stalked out of her office.  Jocelyn stared after him for a moment, trying to decide if she should follow him.  Ultimately, she decided against it.  He was frustrated as it was.  Once he had a chance to cool down, he would probably come back and apologize for his tone.

She was just about to get back to her work when here was an almost timid knock on her door.  She looked up to find Konrad Engel peering around the door at her.  “Do you know that your office assistant isn’t out here?” he said, his voice soft.  He was wearing a very smart dark blue suit with a red tie that had thin blue stripes running along it at a diagonal.  His usually tousled pale blond curls were tidy and he was wearing glasses that made his eyes look enormous.

“Kim has the day off,” Jocelyn said, nodding.  She folded her hands on her desk and asked, “Is there something I can do for you, Mr. Engel?”

He blinked and stepped into the room.  “It’s doctor,” he corrected, his tone polite.  He gave her a wry smile.  “I wondered if you might be willing to write a letter of reference for me, ma’am.  I have two from my professors and one from my pastor, but… being a director of operations… I thought one from you might carry a bit more weight.”

Jocelyn gave him a faint smile and nodded.  “I would be more than pleased to write a letter of reference for you,” she said, her voice soft.  “I’m honored that you would think to ask me.”

Konrad smirked and adjusted his glasses.  “Teva means well,” he said.  Then he shrugged.  “He’s like a lot of people, though.  He mistakes my social phobia for shyness.”  He looked up, actually meeting her eyes.  Even as his face turned a vibrant crimson, he said, “I’m not shy.  It’s just…” he motioned between them and added, “…this scares me.  The way some people are afraid of fire or heights or caves – that’s how I feel about speaking with women.”

She smiled.  “Is this some sort of therapy session, then?” she said, tilting her head.

“For me, you could say it was very therapeutic,” Konrad said, nodding.  He smiled.  “Here, we had a conversation and I didn’t once embarrass myself or say anything foolish.”

Jocelyn smiled.  Konrad could be charming, when he wasn’t falling all over himself trying to get away from her.  “I’ll give you the letter as soon as I can,” she said.

“Danke schön,” Konrad said, and then he bowed politely before he slipped out of her office.

As she stared after him, Jocelyn was struck by how different he was from Henry.  At the same time, it was clear that the older man had influenced the younger one’s development.  Shaking her head, she murmured, “Henry worries too much.” Then, she opened a blank document and began to write the letter of reference that both of them had requested from her.

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