Short Story Series (IOE #1): Hollow Whispers

The Short Story Series were originally published on Through Frog Eyes as a collaborative effort between a guest photographer and my writing. I am relaunching the stories individually for all those who are new to the website and Marie Balustrade´s writing. The IOE Series features guest photographer Ismael Ortiz Escribano from Spain for four stories. Click HERE for the full set.

© Ismael Ortiz Escribano

It was close to midnight in Zaragoza as the first drops rain created the first geometric patterns on the sidewalks. This was an indication for all the stragglers finishing up their drinks in the outdoor cafes to call it a day and catch the last rides home. Exhausted waiters began wiping up the tables, putting up the chairs and sweeping the pavements while the bartenders cleared counter tops and issued the final warnings. The lights along the small alleys of the Casco Viejo, as the heart of the old city is referred to, dimmed one by one, chasing the party-goers towards the plaza instead. The two men standing outside the tapas bar frowned intensely at each other, one heaving with anger and the other with fear.

“How many times have I told you never to trust that woman?”

“Hey, I’m sorry, I really am, but she came at me with a butchers knife this time while I was still on the toilet. There was no way to defend myself with my pants down!”

“You fool, you always have your pants down and that’s what gets you into trouble. Need I remind you about last week and pretty young thing she caught you pawing?”

“Yes, yes, yes, no need to add insult to injury. But you have to understand, I have my needs too… so, are you going to give me the money or not?”

“Give? Since when do I ever give anything? I will lend it to you with the usual terms. A body for every 1000 Euros.”

“Anything in particular this time?”

“The younger the better.”

An aimless walk through the streets the next morning was a good way to start the day and escape the usual squabbles at the breakfast table. Although the cold air helped clear his foggy mind from the lack of sleep, last night’s conversation with The Friend sent chills down his back, an all too familiar and unwelcome sensation. The task of procuring innocent youth for the other man’s twisted desires was easier ten years ago, when he himself was younger, had far less wrinkles, and could charm them with a fresh pastry and a cup of coffee. The youth today was a lot street-smarter, wary of strangers, and ready to kick you where it really hurt.

Ten years ago he wasn’t rolling in debt either, making the “assignments” more exciting rather than burdensome like today. Caught between the proverbial devil and the deep blue sea, there was no escape from the situation. Poverty and unemployment drove a man over the edge, and The Friend knew exactly how manipulate the situation to his advantage. Looking around at the run down walls and abandoned buildings that looked desolate by day and haunted by night, the subtle stench of urine mixed with stale beer that assaulted his senses reminded of his own disastrous marriage.

"MIsteriosa Vision" (Mysterious Vision)
© Ismael Ortiz Escribano

He continued his walk into the suburban areas of the city where the spaces between houses grew bigger, and run-down multi-story buildings were replaced by sprawling bungalows that smelled of old money. These were the places he could only dream of entering as a guest someday, at the most as hired help if he ever got a proper job again. Stopping to contemplate the estate for a few minutes, his eyes fell of the peculiar display in the driveway. Either it was time to visit the optometrist again change alcohol of choice, but he could have sworn the bicycles were floating above ground! Rubbing his eyes several times didn’t help either, the bicycles still didn’t touch the ground.

Shaking his head and stuffing his hands into his pockets he was about to stomp off in a huff when he suddenly remembered who lived there. Why yes! Yes indeed… this was the perfect hunting ground, since the family who lived here had three children, all below twelves years old. Time to apply for that gardening job after all. 

"Fuiste Refugio" (You Were Shelter)
© Ismael Ortiz Escribano

Three days later he was on the run with his precious cargo. It had been far easier than he thought once he got hired as the new gardener of the property. He quickly befriended the elderly cook who had been with the family for over 20 years, having worked for the parents of the current tenants. An all too trusting and talkative woman, she had no trouble letting him in on a few family secrets after a few glasses of wine. By the second day she had him bringing the afternoon snacks out to the children, and they never questioned the change in routine. Slipping the drugs into the juice was literally child’s play thanks to the abundant shrubs and trees in the vast garden he had to traverse to reach the playground.

After several hours of driving he deemed it safe enough to stop and take a break. The sedative was beginning to wear off and the two children were stirring, it wouldn’t be long before bedlam would ensue in the car. The third child had been sick that day so she stayed indoors, which was truly a pity, he said to himself, because that would have meant a hefty bonus from The Friend, not just for the extra body but for the tender age. Oh well, there would be other times… for now he had to focus on the two who were tied up in the back seat. Just as well that the old church was coming up, it would be the perfect place to subdue them, and even if they screamed bloody murder, there was nobody around for the next 30 kilometres.

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